Trans Activism and Burnout

Most of my posts just flow, and as frequent readers of this site might have noted, I can usually bang out a fair number of them in rapid succession. This one has been a serious struggle for me, though. I started it once already, and it rapidly turned into an as yet unfinished almost 2,000 word diatribe, mostly filled with political frustrations, and very little of the originally intended QMH content.

Well, it went into the round file. The circular file. File G. File 23. The garbage.

Let me start, then, by making a simple definition, just for clarity’s sake. Burnout, to me, is not just the loss of motivation to do something, but also the surrounding frustration, lack of a sense of purpose, and getting no further joy from that work. Each one feeds into the others, and the dissatisfaction grows rapidly from there. For me, this necessitates some backstory.

Over the past few years, I’ve worked hard to try to participate in activism that was relevant to my interests and identities, and also to recruit others into that activism. Trans folk, and trans women in particular, have long had an inclination and good reason to hide from society, to “go stealth” as we call it in the community. Societal pressures pushed us into a permanent closet that more closely resembled a mausoleum than the relative comfort of the closet. Our past was dead and our present remained cold and isolated, with few if any places we could reveal our history in a safe and confidential space.

With the knowledge of my personal experience, and the related experiences of some others I knew well, I began to try to shatter that image in our community. In any group I participated in, I strongly advocated for us to be publicly out and as open as our safety and personal lives would allow us to be. It wasn’t simply our own lives on the line anymore – we were responsible for each other and we had to set an example for the next group of trans individuals to follow – to know that we were out there, we aren’t just freaks or flukes, and that we can succeed. Transition isn’t a social or career death sentence anymore.

Over time, what I found though was that right or wrong, too many of us were far too concerned about our own lives. At support groups and events committees, I’d hear over and over again how people didn’t think that “this issue” was fair, or “that problem” should even exist. It didn’t matter if we were discussing public facilities access laws or harassment by law enforcement, people could come together in complaining about it. In a perfect world, these wouldn’t be issues, and we wouldn’t have to stand up and demand rights and protections. This, however, is not a perfect world. For me, this slowly engendered some bitterness in me, because I felt the weight of the community falling on my shoulders as I was increasingly out, loud, and proud of my identity.

All of this weight, all of this responsibility, I eventually found to be too much. I think my breaking point really came with the death of my best friend in May, 2011, and revealed itself in full when I quit the support group I used to take part in. I quit as the result of the way one of the “facilitators” treated one of our girls with a speech impediment, which I saw as counterproductive in general, and in specific with the erasure of the feeling of a “safe space.”  I also quit the planning committee which I had recently taken over facilitating, as they were both part of the same program. It was the “IRL” version of  a “rage quit,” and while it did me no good in correcting the problem, it did trigger a series of changes.

For one, the last of my energy in activism was dedicated to the destruction of that group and the LGB appeasing trans community there. Doing so spawned some good changes, as a new group rose shortly from the ashes of the old one, and I found out that a great deal of the members from the old group supported me in my decision to leave and in the resolution that the old group had run its course. Sometimes, we all need to channel a little Sylvia Rivera and throw a desk to be heard.

The other thing that happened was that my desire to be involved in activism diminished drastically. I was sick of it, and moreover, it gave me more stress than happiness or fulfillment.

Those of us with any kind of health issues know too well that one of the first things a doctor will tell you is to avoid stress and if nothing else, rest. Mental health follows suit, and is probably even more susceptible to being triggered by stress. In my case, depression and personality disorders are hardly something to be mixed into activism and people focused activities.

Depression is a self-replicating monster of a mental health condition. It worsens and is worsened by a penchant for being rather short with people, and a serious sharpening of my attitude and disposition. Infighting and animosity towards other members of a group don’t ever seem to do much to further a larger agenda, and now, if I want to help, I’m better off stepping back.

What this all boils down to for me is that I’m done. I’m worn out, I’m tired, and I don’t feel like I have the energy to pull for a whole community anymore. I can mix it up with the best of them online, come up with clear and concise factual information to counter any argument, and dispose of conservative trolls on the most conservative of forums. The fact remains though, that I just don’t have the energy anymore, and I think it’s time that I finally focus on my own life, and advocate for myself first. Everyone else – it’s time to pull your own weight around here.

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  1. By Katie Bongiorno

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