October of 2015, we had just left Grand Junction, Colorado, with a four year old and a one year old, heading west with hopes of actual help to get out of this situation. Maintaining at the same level is all we had managed to do since getting our camper van in Manitou Springs. Getting the camper was a great step up for us, but we needed to do better than just skim by. So, our course was set for the West.
Utah was stunning, just breath taking with the desert and mountain ridges. I had never seen views like it before. Before leaving Utah, we were supposed to take I-84 West toward Portland where I-15 splits off from I-84 and goes North to Montana. Well, I continued on I-15, went North and didn’t realize the mistake until it was too late to turn around and the best way to Portland, was to go all the way across Washington from Spokane to Seattle, to Portland. We wanted to see Seattle anyway, but we also wanted to see Portland. The three weeks we spent in the Sea/Tac region previously, was beautiful and adventurous, but something kept calling us down to Portland.
During our time in Portland, we grew fond of the “Rose City”. During the spring and summer months the town resembles Emerald City! With brightly colored green moss growing anywhere it can find a place to sprawl; on roof tops, parking lots, tree branches, fence posts. Roses and other brightly colored flowers are sprinkled liberally throughout the town, around the neighborhoods and down the streets. Two large, beautiful rivers flow through Portland, making the nighttime city lights look even more dream-like. It is really amazingly gorgeous when first driving in on the Broadway bridge, seeing all the lights and huge glowing deer sign in Old Town, cascading the reflection off the water.
Within two months of our arrival, I had an interview with a local call center that handled multiple contracted accounts for the position of sales and customer service agent. I landed the job and was excited to have my first job as James. Although I have had many medical conditions, I’ve not been determined to be “disabled”, so I did not put it on the application. The first day, I was nervous but so happy to be there and thought a desk job would be perfect. Only having campaign sales experience of two months, I wasn’t very versed in sales pitches, but the trainer said it was simple to just follow the script.
The first two days of training went swimmingly, we took our first calls, I made a couple initial sales. The third day of our training class, a co-worker, obviously uneducated in being respectful to a transgender person, asked me why couldn’t I just use the ladies room instead of the men’s room and said “did it really matter?” This caused an instant rush of panic and general discomfort around this person, which thankfully was on the shift right behind mine, but unfortunately used my same station and we met in passing. I tried to still be kind and cordial. The next time this occurred it was the main supervisor, Raymond. Raymond called me “sister” when explaining how he understood my feelings on the birthday of my late first husband and needing to leave early after having a customer on the phone from the same town as we used to live, I had to excuse myself to the restroom to calm down, stop crying, rinse my face and then asked to leave. Many calls due to my voice, despite introducing myself several times as James, I would be called Jane, or be asked why I was a woman with a man’s name. It was truly degrading. I called Basic Right’s Oregon twice but backed out because I kept thinking why did it matter that a homeless, bastard, trans man was being disrespected, dead named and misgendered? I should be thankful they even allowed me to work there. I continued to work there because my family needed me to.
A couple weeks into the job our van broke down on the side of I-205, we couldn’t tell what was wrong but large plumes of white smoke had been coming out of the tail pipe and the engine was too hot! I tried to get attention of people by jumping and waving, after several minutes one man finally stopped. He informed me he was on his way to take his wife to work and thought it was something simple like maybe we needed a tire changed. He identified the issue, which was a broken plastic outlet to the radiator causing the contents to spew out rapidly on the backside of the motor, if we cranked the van, we could ruin the engine. He couldn’t stay and we had no one we could call. I posted a help needed status in a few Portland area groups in just the nick of time, minutes before my phone died and we couldn’t crank the van to charge it again. We had just enough phone battery to tell the information we needed and to see a few people begin to respond. Finally, the phone did die and two people drove up several minutes later, with AAA to help. They took us to their place, had us stay the night, cooked breakfast for us, drove us to the auto parts store and allowed us to fellowship with them. Katherine was able to get the outlet repaired with a six dollar part the next day!
By fortune, we met another lovely couple that we became friends with. When our camper had troubles again they agreed to allow us to camp near their place, where they had our camper towed. During these weeks travel was accomplished by foot, bus or train, which notably increased travel time. Katherine took a break from the lifeline and I took off work to attempt the repair on the water pump ourselves, but to no avail. A mechanic friend of theirs was able to help us get back running and we were free to roam the city in our own wheels again.
For several days in the early summer I got sick with green goo. That’s the best way I could explain what was happening with my nose, throat and lungs. I took off several days due to coughing beyond my control and lots and lots of green goo. After that, the sales kept flowing, people at work were generally friendly, the boss said hello with a large, blinging white grin; I thought things were going well. I had put nearly five months into my job. Barely any time had passed and we had another bout with our van. This time we broke down at the Safeway just caddy-cornered to my work place. Three days spent pondering on what could be wrong with the van and why the mechanic wasn’t returning our calls. We replaced the battery and was sure that was the magic trick, sadly the engine didn’t turn over. Even after I had ridden the bus down to the Auto Parts store with the dead battery, in hand, heavy, dirty and illegal to take on the bus; which I didn’t know until after I got to the parts house. I was left to figure out my own way back to the camper since every driver at the station refused to take me back to my stranded family. After asking several other customers could they give me a ride, one individual originally said no, then returned to offer me a ride back. A sigh of relief as I climbed into the tall man’s blue Volkswagen. He said he was from Wisconsin and was a “Transplant Oregonian”. I told him I liked his Vanagen and we made small talk on the way back to my humble little home on wheels.
Ignorant of the fact I was nearing the end of my job, I hadn’t received any warnings; no write ups, no conversations about my attendance, no inquiry to what was going on, why all the appointments, no feed back or reviews what so ever. Being let go came as a surprise to me. I thought they had been understanding of our delicate situation and the medical issues I battle daily. I believed they were liberal, inclusive and respectful; but they proved me wrong and then let me go. I filed for disability for the fourth time, shortly after this.
Katherine, our children and I have crossed many bridges, over come many battles, surpassed many trials to come back to this spot a year later. These experiences, along with our children has taught us patience and how to work together when faced with adversity. The people of Portland opened their hearts to our family that blessed us more than I can ever express here. We have been humbled by their embrace.
Being back in the Seattle-Metro, has shown me just how much we’ve changed in these several months. Jay will be six the end of this year, Marie is nearly three. Katherine has put in eight months as an advocate, volunteer and crisis intervention operator, which has seasoned her in a way that daily life wouldn’t have in ten years. Friends have come into our lives that we will be forever grateful for meeting. Old friends have gone their way, I guess in order to make room for the new.
From my feeble understanding of the Jewish faith, this week is the New Year. When Jewish people all around the world cast their sins and the old from the year before out into the water to be renewed for the year to come. A ceremony in which bread takes the form of the transgressions and water is cleansing and healing. During the last two days, I’ve had a chance to look back over the previous year and see how far we’ve come as a family, as individuals and as travellers.
We’ve grown, we’ve changed, we’ve lived and adventured another year together. It’s been a wild, awesome year; hard times were had, new tasks accomplished, names changed, happy moments, life lessons, acceptance of ourselves and our past.. in short, it’s taught us about life, about survival and about being a family and sticking together through the difficulties no matter what.