by Toni D’orsay
I need your help. Really.
First off, I apologize. I haven’t been up for blogging of late.
It is summertime. Summer time means heat, and heat means sweat ad sweat means I get driven and distracted until I finally cave in to pay attention to things I would really rather not have to deal with.
Also, I’m tired. It has been a very busy first half to this year, and I’m still trying to play catch up.
That aside, though, to the point: I need your help.
For 8 years now, This Is HOW has been helping trans people in Arizona and beyond. The fact that you are able to read these words — and any of the others here from 2008 onward — is due to this is how.
They saved my life. Regina Gazelle Wells put her heart and soul into this — ten years getting it started, four years running it, a sacrifice that is hard to measure from a woman who is once again exploring all the joy of her life.
She saved my life.
I struggled for the first year in my transition to make it. I had these grand plans about how I was going to cut my costs and increase my output in the company I had and I had dozens of cool designs and lots of plans and all the rest, but transition is a pretty overwhelming thing early on, and after cutting those costs I had delay after delay after distraction after distraction. I was homeless a tad more than 3 months into my transition. Helped by friends in Arizona and Florida, got back to Arizona and got a place and six months later was homeless again.
This second time, I recalled a bridge that had been near a place I once lived. Having been homeless in my 20′s, I knew it was a good camp site and that there was a nearby shelter space I could use during floods, and I’ve survived by my wits in a wilderness once before.
I wasn’t really planning on surviving, though. I was really planning on finding a nice place to decompose. Literally. One that wouldn’t be likely to be found readily.
By the time I was evicted for the second time for being trans, I was already feeling as if I was worthless. 1200 applications in 6 months, to jobs all across the board, all of them well within my capabilities during a boom cycle. I had returned to school, and I turned to the school and waited, spending down the painstakingly saved surgery money I was going to use to live in a motel room.
They said they could absolutely find me a place.
Then they asked if I had a problem being housed with gay guys. I said no. Apparently, the gay guys said yes they had a problem. Then they asked if I had a problem being housed with gals. I said no. Apparently the gals said yes, they had a problem.
Then I get told they can’t find anything for me, but here’s a craigslist advertisement that we haven’t called or anything on that is also completely off all available bus routes making it improbable for you to get here and back safely and with anything resembling time to do your homework so you can remain at the top of your class.
I had 400 bucks left. A little more, actually — right around 460. 30 of which I spent n a nice lunch the next day.
A friend I had met at a support group, one that I didn’t know very well at the time, said she would bring me to a place I’d hear d about. It was new. It was in the seedy, scary part of town. There would be lots of those other trans people there.
I had lunch, met her, went to see this scary as all hell black woman. I gave her my 400 dollars. I went back to my hotel room and hid the fuck out for two more days. It was easy — i’d already paid for them. I gave her the money not because I actually planned to be there at that moment, but because I believed in what she was trying to do, and what the hell — go broke big and go out helping others, you know?
I have never said that last part, ever.
I was absolutely terrified, but my choices really were do this or go live under the bridge until people had forgotten me and I could die quietly.
Her boyfriend at the time, a guy named Casey, showed up and dragged my ass on over there, me and my meager belongings, the 100 pounds and change plus a bike that was all I owned in the world as far as I knew at that time.
(sorry, my dog is snoring behind me).
It was December. I had lost faith in myself. In other people. In the world. I was not at rock bottom. I was below it, buried alive and not even aware of it yet.
No drugs had brought me here. No alcohol had brought me here. I was educated, smart, experienced…
I hated being a trans person.
That was December.
I had a few hormones floating around. I got a new roommate. She was a Native gal. She’d just had her’s stolen, robbed and beaten and strung out, they’d brought her in.
I gave her, in the end, half of what I had.
I tried to hide away in my room, spend my time on the computer — but they wouldn’t let me. I had this thing to do and that thing to do and I had to go here and do that and meet this person and talk to that one and I had to get on food stamps (OMG the horror of that!) and …
It was January, and I was house manager. Being yelled at, mistreated, learning what this was about and figuring it out and discovering that I could do stuff again.
I just needed help to find that out.
I just needed help to see it. To learn to fight for it. To recover that god awful galactic ego you all know and love me for having.
I needed help.
The end of February rolled around and I had my name and I had my boobs and I had my ID a few days later and my birth certificate and and and and
I left TIH in July that year. I’d grown past what they had for me.
I was back in September. I was suddenly chair of the Board and Assistant Executive Director.
We had the best fundraisers ever. I’m given credit for it, but it wasn’t really me — all I did was reign in excess and count the farking money.
I left again in April, a disagreement with Regina, who remains one of my closest friends, and one of the reasons why we are so close,. I just won’t put up with her bullshit and she won’t put up with mine.
Then I was her advisor. Every week she would show up. I tried to get other things done, I wrote a lot, I traveled and lobbied. I joined anther organization, I left it. I learned about our community, I thought and wrote and I’m pretty proud of the way a lot of the stuff I wrote about is used in many place today.
I watched the work start to kill her. To drain her heart and soul out of her. I was scared with her during those years — the early years, when we were more worried about the city or the state or some jerk neighbor shutting us down. Those were years when advertising online was dangerous, when a story in the news paper would have people making up excuses to get you thrown out and tossed away.
I have never had the level of street smarts, the sheer chutzpah that Regina had. We made a killer team, and god, bitches, I am telling you, if we ever have to team up again, the world is ours.
But I had the background, the education, the knowledge that she didn’t. And I was just as fearless as she was. The word was she’d cut you, I’d bury you before you had time to realize you down.
I know, that’s all manner of violent and ugly and if you want to crap on it you may — but that’s how it is sometimes on the streets, and I don’t lack the knowledge. That’s how we could see each other.
But beneath that was love. Love for our brothers and sisters and siblings. Love that made us cry as we struggled to figure out which bill to pay.
Finally, she asked me to take over. More accurately, she tricked me into it, but that’s a whole nother story in and of itself.
We reduced costs. We moved. Twice. We bought a property. We improved programs, we expanded efforts, we worked our asses off.
The board changed over some. It will again in the future, as well.
If I can get some help from you.
I burned through everything I had to raise the money to get that house. That’s why you don’t see me jumping up and down with constant asks.
It takes 2500 dollars a month to fully fund the regular programs we have. We’ve been bringing in about 800. The rest we kick in ourselves. I had big plans, big goals, but those have to be on hold now. They’ll take another 2500 a month to fund, but that’s going to have to wait until next year, because I am pushing hard on grants and related funding since now, for the first time ever, it is available.
We’ve been doing this for 8 years. Over 3300 trans people — men and women, in Arizona and beyond — have been directly helped by our work and efforts. That’s not counting the indirect work, either.
This whole time, we’ve only ever received one grant. From Phoenix Pride. It helped us buy the house. We’ve reduced costs to 25% of what we once spent, but without the donations from every day folks like yourself that have supported us for those 8 years, we are running out.
I did do a push last year to try and get folks to donate 10 bucks a month. But here’s the thing: trans people don’t have that kind of money, usually.
They all know someone who does, though. If they think about it, if they haven’t done what I almost did, if they are out in the world making friends and doing things, they know someone.
Here’s the help I need.
I need donations.
I am literally looking at not being able to buy toilet paper, folks. They need it, the people in the house we run. They need shampoo and sheets, food and we just got hit with a broken refrigerator. I have a whole new way of doing personal development and life skills training, and I can’t even roll it out because we need to cover the more important stuff.
We don’t have the money to get the bus passes so they can look for work, and we had to shut off the internet to cover other bills.
I’ve asked now and again, but I’ve not been in this rough a patch in a long while. We need the help. We need the donations.
its easy to do. I’ve got a square — I can do it right over the phone, or google chat or hangout or even facebook instant messages.
We have paypal, of course, as well — http://www.thisishow.org
You can mail it to me — email me and I’ll send you the address.
We need the help. We need you to tell all your friends, for one. Let them know that we are out here, that we are at the leading edge of helping trans people, and that when you see places like Chicago House and Morris house are doing things, we were there before them.
ANd we are thrilled to see them.
Right now, we have 5 clients. Four of them were referred to us by local state agencies. They refer them to us because we are the only game in the entire state.
That’s it. IN Arizona, there are couches to surf, and there are rooms to rent, but no one gives people a chance like we do. No one.
I know a lot about being undocumented, being homeless, domestic violence, sex work, prison release and re-entry, substance abuse and the dark side of transition because of this work. Because we deal in all of those things — the stuff no one else really wants to talk about.
We deal in kids and adults and seniors. We deal in people of color and white folks. We get them coming from all over the world, all of the nation.
We need help. I need your help. I am not the only one who has had her life saved because of this how.
I tell my story because I am comfortable telling it. Over the next several days, I will tell the stories of other people. No names. Just events. No Pictures, just hope.
I am not good at that. It smacks too much of late night infomercial for starving children to me, of exploitation.
But I will try, because people don’t realize the work we do, and the way we do it.
Just want to make a quick donation? Try this!
Or, go to any Bank of America Branch and make a deposit using the following info:
This Is HOW
2308 E Monterosa St
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Account # 004570045193