3/31/2017

mar31

‘I had a brother. He was my mother’s first son with her first husband. He was three years old when I was born and, as we grew up, we were best buddies. I have all the memories you can imagine. We hiked, we biked, we chased girls. We smoked, we drank, and we got matching tattooes. He was taller and had more of a presence than I ever did and he made life more of an adventure than I imagined it could be. He was everything I wanted to be until he started having these crazy breakdowns. He would become another person and sometimes, it was like he wasn’t even a person. He’d either become completely silent or he’d get violent. I didn’t mind the silence. Sometimes, I’d try to help him ride it out but when he got violent, he’d scare me, my mother, and my sisters. He would threaten that he was going to kill himself or that he would set fire to our house while we slept.

My father bought a gun and showed me and my mother how to use it if we ever had to. I never thought I’d have to until that terrible night. My father was away and my mother, my sisters, and I were watching TV. My brother had been silent for several days and there was a tension hanging around us all. He’d gone out and was gone for a day or so after an argument with my mother and she’d told him not to come back until he’d calmed down That night, at about eleven o’clock, he came home. He wasn’t calm. We had locked the doors and he started beating on the door, almost to the point that he was going to break it down. He had a hatchet and he started chopping at the door to get in.

As he nearly destroyed the door, my mother and sisters ran to hide in one of the back rooms. I ran to get my father’s gun and, as my brother was coming through the door, I shot him. He screamed and fell and, when he tried to get up, I shot him again. I’d never seen anyone die before but he stopped breathing right in front of my eyes. To this day, I’m still haunted by the fact that I killed my mother’s son. I killed my brother. It was treated as self-defense, of course, but that doesn’t sweeten the pot. We’re taught that life is precious and that we should hold on to it as long as we can. But, sometimes, life can get ugly and when it does, you have to do what you have to do.’

Dear Salt Lakers,

This man did not want me to take his portrait and understandably so. He sent me this photograph of an angel that, he told me, sits on his brother’s grave. I’ve never seen or heard such pain when I’ve talked to strangers. I can’t change anything that happened to this man. I can’t change anything that happens to anyone I interview. But I can listen and I can validate. I can help the people I meet to know that whatever their story is and, no matter how brave they have to be to share it, there’s power in letting it out into the open, to letting it breathe, and, in so doing, I think they find peace and healing. I hope they do.

Mike
Humans of Salt Lake City

3/30/2017

mar30

‘We weren’t trying to get pregnant. My first emotion was fear because we’d only been married for six months. But we approached it with a ‘we can do this’ attitude. I started to get excited and I fully jumped in with doing the research and planning things out. It was around Thanksgiving and we told our families so everyone was thrilled.

One day I came home from work and I was cooking something in the microwave when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. I dismissed it, having never been pregnant before. I just thought I’d twisted myself wrong or something. It started happening more over a few days. I got worried and ended up going to my general doctor because I didn’t even have a gynecologist yet.

I went in for tests and when the doctor called me and asked me to come in to hear the results personally, I started worrying. She told me to go see a gynecologist. It took me a few days to get up the courage to go because, at that time, in the back of my mind, I knew something was wrong. But I thought, ‘if I let that thought in,’ it would take over everything. I remember laying there during the testing and I remember feeling so betrayed that my body was having trouble doing a perfectly natural thing. The doctor came in later, with tears in her eyes, and said, ‘I’m so sorry, the baby has stopped growing.’

At first, I broke down and I thought the miscarriage happened because it was unplanned and that I’d sabotaged myself by not being prepared. My husband was so supportive and said we’d get through it together. As a woman, our identity is so tied to motherhood and I was devastated that I couldn’t even become a mother. I would tell myself that it wasn’t my fault and I’d write notes to myself that it was nobody’s fault. It just took me a long time to believe it.

My husband was feeling the pain, too. But, he was more worried about me than about himself. We’d gone from ‘oh crap,’ to ‘we’re so excited,’ to ‘oh crap’ again. It was a real journey where we reminded each other that we love each other no matter what. He’d remind me that, as a woman, I am more than my body. I am more and I can go on. I’ll never get over it completely but I’m able to accept it and move forward.

Today, I have two beautiful children. We got what we wanted and we’re a family. It was a journey to get where we are. It shaped us and it was painful but it is what it is. We think of ourselves as a family of five. I’ve learned to be mindful and more aware of when people are going through good or bad things. We do the best we can even if things don’t go as we plan. Life doesn’t always go how you think it will. Regardless, sometimes, being human is both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.’

3/29/2017

mar29

‘I couldn’t give you a specific reason why I was bullied. There was no reason that anyone ever pointed out. I was just constantly tormented and threatened by the mean girls who’d say they were going to beat me up after school. All of my close friends would leave when they’d hear them. They were afraid and didn’t want to get involved. It was bad enough that I was getting bullied and not having my friends’ support made it harder. When I was sixteen years old, I was struggling with depression and stress because of the bullying. My mother even thought that I wasn’t going to make it to adulthood and that I would eventually commit suicide. For her, mental illness meant you were seeing or hearing things. That’s what she knew and understood, and, obviously, it’s much more complicated than that. I was eventually diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.

I was bullied all through junior high school and when I tell people that I spent most of junior high in the principal’s office, they think I was a bad kid when, in fact, I was hiding. It was a hard youth and when I got a chance to talk to someone and get some medication, it was very helpful but it was very hard. Nobody wants to talk about depression and anxiety. People either don’t understand because they don’t have it or because they don’t realize they have it and don’t know what it means. You can’t just tell someone with anxiety and depression to just snap out of it.

Today, I go day by day and I try to stay focused on my tasks. I’m focused on raising my son and on making other people smile, which makes me feel better. I’m better able to deal with my fears. My job now is to protect my son and to consider the actions I have to take to keep him safe. I try to stay strong and don’t want him to be afraid of the things I’m afraid of. I want him to have the best experience that he can and to experience it his way. I think, if anyone knows a child who is being bullied, please stand up for them. Make sure they know someone is there for them and cares. They shouldn’t feel alone and afraid or that no one hears them. The pain of bullying needs to be stopped when it starts so the rest of their lives aren’t ruined. I’ve been there and I know how hard it is. It’s OK to be afraid or broken while you’re trying to make it through but people need to help each other heal and to focus on what’s beautiful about each other and not our weaknesses or our fears. Even though I still struggle, I want to be a voice and I want my son to have a voice because when I was a kid, I didn’t have one.’

 

3/28/2017

mar28

‘I have two lesbian mothers. They were together for ten or twelve years, they had me, and then they split up when I was four. My birth father was just a donor. I’ve never felt the need to have a father figure or that I’ve been missing anything without a father. I have two parents who both love me very much and they’ve both been a huge part of my life. I was bullied a lot when I was a kid and people thought I was a lesbian because of it. But because of my situation, I’ve been exposed to all kinds of facets of life and I’ve also been raised with amazing values. Both of my mothers believe in being good people and in being positive contributors to society.

Because gay marriage wasn’t actually legal when I was born, both people in a gay couple with a child didn’t have equal parental rights to the child. The non-birth parent had no rights to the child. Thankfully, my non-birth mother was able to legally adopt me and become my second parent. She even changed her last name to make it easier for me and my life. When they got divorced, there was a custody hearing and both of my mothers got equal custody over me.

I think I had the best life as a child. Both of my parents worked to raise me and spent time with me. I love both my mothers the same. If I didn’t have both of my mothers, I’m sure I would feel a disconnect, like something’s missing but, in reality, it’s not missing at all. I live full-time with my non-birth mother and I visit my birth mother and that’s because she has gone through multiple relationships which makes things a little difficult. She’s in a relationship now that I would say isn’t so great and it’s not impacting us in good ways. Still, she’s a big and important part of my life and I see her all the time.

We’re all just people and what anyone does behind closed doors really shouldn’t be anyone else’s business. There are so many other residual and more important issues to worry about and to deal with. That’s why I’m going into social work. There are so many homeless gay and lesbian youth because their families have kicked them out. There are outrageously high suicidal rates. I think my experience with two lesbian mothers has led me on this path to want to help others, and to be able to help others, who are struggling with these issues and to make a difference in their lives. So, I’m grateful for my experience and my insights and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.’

3/27/2017

mar27

‘I don’t remember the accident. I was supposedly cruising along in the snow in Idaho. I slid off the road and hit a truck. From pictures I’ve been shown, I hit my head against a low five-inch metal bar at fifty miles an hour and ended up with a traumatic brain injury. I cannot remember the accident. I can’t even remember many months before the accident and I can’t remember the coma I was in afterwards. The passenger I was with was not hurt as badly as I was.

I didn’t just wake up two months later…rather, I became cognizant of self. I believe that’s when my personal spirit returned to my body from wherever it was. I didn’t know where I was or why I was there. I had never broken a bone in my life and had hardly ever been in the hospital. I’m a healthy guy and I never get sick. My father died at the age of forty-nine and he died with regrets. I have always tried to really live and to do it without regrets.

I was wearing diapers when I came to. I had to get my teeth put back in my mouth so I could learn how to eat and speak again. I was completely mentally handicapped but being kept alive was an absolute miracle. The biggest miracle is that God brought my brains back. I’ve always believed in God. The only time I ever forgot that was after the accident. I was able to learn again that He’s there for every one of us even when we don’t know it or remember it.

Since the accident, some of the people who worked for me either quit or stole my business from me. I found the will and the strength to rebuild my business. As time went on and I started remembering things, I re-taught myself the things I needed to know. Through it all, over two years, God enlightened me to the things I knew, the things I did, the differences I made. There’s a bigger picture than just life and living. We’re here to be happy people…to treat others with respect and decency and love. Love is the center of general happiness. The bigger picture of humanity is the love that we can and should have for each other.’

3/26/2017

mar26.1

‘I grew up in a polygamous family. My father is still polygamist. I am my father’s second wife’s first child. He was married and Mormon with his first wife and they had their kids. Then they converted to the Apostolic United Brethren. It was hard on my older siblings because being Mormon was all they knew and suddenly, he flipped a switch and changed everything. We’re all really close. I’m the middle child…I have seven older siblings and seven younger siblings. They all got along with my mother and she was friendly with them. We all lived in Lehi for a while and then we moved south. We lived there for a few years before my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer and she passed away when I was nine. My dad has a second wife. When I was younger, I would sneak up to her house and hang out with her and eat snacks and watch TV. So, I’ve been really close with her my whole life.

When my mother passed away, my dad’s second wife actually moved in and raised my mother’s four kids. It was amazing because she was a woman we already knew and loved as a mom. She took care of us. It wasn’t just my dad dealing with things alone. He’s not ‘out’ as a polygamist. He’s a real estate agent and he keeps it quiet so it doesn’t hurt his sales. He was once showing a couple a house and the woman said she didn’t like the house because it had a ‘polygamous vibe’ to it. So, he keeps a low profile about it but the government has never bothered him. I think it’s something he worries about even if he never says so.

I’m not choosing to live a polygamous life. It wasn’t hard for me to separate myself from polygamy. I mean, I didn’t really know what I was doing. But, in high school, I took a seminary class and was considering joining the Mormon church and I told my dad about it. He was disappointed but he was supportive. He really wanted some of us to stay but only my one older sister did. I ended up deciding that religion wasn’t for me at all. He didn’t mind. He still loves me and we have a really good relationship. I think the problem I had with polygamy is that I just don’t want to share. I’m just not made or built for that. I want to be married to one man and for him to be married just to me. My sister and her sister-wife are living the plural life perfectly but it isn’t for me.

There was nothing to escape from. I wasn’t held against my will. The only things anyone was ever strict about was like, don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, or swear…just normal moral manners. My experience was nothing like all the bad things you hear about in the news. No one was abused or molested or mistreated. We are connected on a spiritual, emotional, and social level. My mother encouraged and expected me to treat my dad’s second and third wives with respect and that’s what we did. It’s just how I was raised. My father supports his wives. He’s legally married to one and, technically, the other is a single mother who lives with them. He takes care of everybody and, believe it or not, we’re all one big happy family.’

3/26/2017

mar26

‘Even though I was born female, inside, I have always known that I was male. I can remember telling my mom when I was little that I was a boy inside. She didn’t react favorably. So, instinctively, I knew that that was not something people should know about me and that I should hide it. My real first name is Amanda but I started going by Kris when I turned eighteen. Even though I’m really close to my mom and my grandma, they won’t call me Kris even though that’s my middle name. It really bugs me because I’ve never felt like an Amanda. Going by Kris makes me feel so much more comfortable in my own skin.

I wish I could know what my male voice sounds like but, in spite of that, I’ve decided not to transition from female to male. I decided that my husband is more important to me than my body and I’m willing to give up the chance to feel comfortable with my body as long as I can be with him. What if I transition and I’m still not comfortable with my body? I would lose my husband and still not like my body. We’ve been married for ten years and if I were to transition, we would get divorced. It’s the first time there’s ever been a deal breaker between us. I’m also very close to my mom and my grandma and I know that they would not support me if I were to transition.

Being transgender is not fun. If I could choose between being ‘normal’ or transgender, I would pick normal in a heartbeat because it’s so hard to fight with what society says is normal. There are people out there who exist with so much dysphoria and pain that, if they don’t transition, they are condemning themselves to a death sentence. Those people are the ones I really feel for. But I’ve lived with my decision not to transition for a long time. I’ve pushed my male self down as far as I can and I know it’s possible to live as a female. I’m finding ways to be happy even if I’m not the right gender for me. I accidentally came out to my son as transgender when he was nine. He asked me what the letters LGBT stood for. He asked me if I was any of those things and I explained, ‘Yes, I am transgender but that I am not transitioning. That’s why I have short hair and don’t like to wear dresses or makeup. So, I’m just a little bit different from other moms.’ He said to me, ‘That’s OK, Mom. I like you being different.”