The Stygian Nightmare of Lacking ID

Every Friday morning, from nine to noon, I work in the Social Services Ministry at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, here in my adopted home of Tucson, Arizona. The people we serve are mostly people experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness, who need help with transportation, information, and perhaps most critically with identification.

Theft among those without stable housing is depressingly common. So often my clients come in, frequently at the point of tears, to tell me that they had been robbed of their meagre possessions while they slept in a wash or in an alleyway. The perpetrators take everything, including the victim’s photo ID.

Those of us who enjoy some degree of economic security may not realise how critical having identifying documents really is. We need them to drive, buy age-regulated substances, and to prove we are who we say we are when dealing with the government. For those without housing, however, having a valid photo ID can mean the difference between sleeping in a shelter or out on the street. Being able to access the behavioural health and substance abuse treatment services so many of them need. To use the clothing vouchers we give out at GSP, you need a valid photo ID. To get on waiting lists for permanent housing, you need a valid ID.

So if your entire life is in a backpack, and that backpack gets stolen, what are you to do? Well, hopefully you remember your social security number, your ID number, and your mother’s maiden name. Because in that case I can give you a voucher, you can go to the DMV, and be issued an Arizona driver’s license or state ID. But if you don’t? Well, the nightmare begins.

Hopefully, you were born in Pima County. Because then I can help you get a birth certificate, fill out the form and send in the check by mail. Once you’ve got the birth certificate, you can go get a social security card. Once you have that, then you can go get a picture ID.

If you weren’t born in Pima County, then I can’t do a damned thing except give you a list of places that might help you. Maybe. If they have the funding. If they’re open when you can get there. If their caseload isn’t full.

Already stigmatised and vilified by the rest of society, people who are experiencing homelessness who lack identification become unpersons. Living, breathing, thinking, and feeling ghosts. The damage this does to the psyche is incalculable. How many times have I seen a client break down in tears, saying “I don’t know what to do,” over and over again, as I try in vain to console them? I don’t know. All I know is that it breaks my heart again and again.

What consolation can I give a person who has become an non-entity in the eyes of society? You  need ID to get other forms of ID. Maybe, just maybe, you get your foot in the door if you remember all those strings of numbers, dates, and names that establish that you are who you say you are; but keep in mind, many of the people we serve at Grace St. Paul’s have untreated mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. The pain inflicted on them every day is too much to bear, so quite understandably many of them turn to drugs and drink. Quite a few who might be able to function quite well with the right medications cannot afford them, and the conditions they live in drive them into psychosis.

Under these conditions, being able to retain the necessary information to reestablish one’s personhood is a herculean task. I do not judge any one of them for being unable to meet it. These are people like you and me. A gentleman (who I’ll call Paul) that I aided last week was an accountant less than three years ago. His wife (who I’ll call Susie) contracted lymphoma, and the insurance he had through his work didn’t cover the full costs of the treatments. 

Paying to try and save Susie’s life drove them into debt, and they sold their home of twenty years to try and cover the astronomic costs. The hospital billed them into financial oblivion. Susie died all the same, leaving Paul with a mountain of debt. He was evicted from his apartment when he fell behind on rent, then terminated from his job because of his “unprofessional appearance,” the result of sleeping in his car and being unable to access a shower.

Two days before he saw me, all that Paul had left in the world was stolen, including the only pictures he had of his wife, as well as his birth certificate, social security card, and state ID. When he spoke to me he sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. I tried to maintain my composure, but I broke down crying too. The worst thing was, I could do nothing to help him. He was born in Michigan, and I can’t help with out-of-state birth certificates.

“I should have made more friends,” he kept saying. “Then we might have had some help… But Susie and I… we were happiest just sticking by each other. I never thought… I never thought I’d lose her.”

This shy, sweet man got chewed up and spit out by the cruellest vicissitudes of fate. Paul became an unperson, left to fend for himself on the street. He doesn’t have any family left, no one to turn to. Now, without ID, he can’t even utilise the meagre services available to the dispossessed of Tucson.

Paul and those like him are why I so despise capitalism, especially in its American incarnation. Why I so despise every politician who wants to put more hoops to jump through to access any public assistance. Why I believe that healthcare and housing are human rights, not luxuries. Why I do not give a single fucking shit about a millionaire’s so-called “property rights,” knowing that the ten thousand dollars they might spend on a party could be the difference between stability and ruin for so many people of lesser means.

At the end of our time together, Paul thanked me for listening to him.

“I’m sure you hear stories like this all the time… I know you’re doing your best, and I’m sorry…”

“Please, please don’t be sorry,” I begged him. “I only wish I could do more to help.”

“I’m not sure I can keep going, Beatrice,” he said as he stood to go. “I’m so fucking tired.”

The look in his eyes burned with rage and despair. I didn’t know what to say on Friday. I don’t really know what to say now.

I’ll fight for you Paul. You and everyone else who has been chewed up and spit out by the Moloch of Capital. Everyone who has ended up losing their lives to the greed and callousness of the monsters who eat off golden plates. I’ll say it now and with my dying breath, and every day inbetween; it doesn’t have to be like this. We can change this world, and we can only do it by destroying the parasitical, wicked, and lecherous class that holds power. We can slay the dragons of capital and take their hoards to feed, clothe, house, and teach the whole world.

Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the Earth! For justice thunders condemnation, a better world is in its birth!

Why I Write

I write because I love it. I really do. I love to put proverbial pen to paper (or fingers to my keyboard) and forge a story or an essay from a jumble of thoughts. I love to have the organisation and permanence of the page to contain the messy fireworks show that is my brain. 

I write because I think I have some good ideas, ideas that tend to improve once put to paper. On paper I can give my own thoughts an honest assessment, whereas in my own mind they are assailed by a deep-set self-loathing implanted in me by years of gender dysphoria and the cruelty of others. Writing liberates my thoughts from the prison of my mind, and with editing and rearrangement and revisions I can make those thoughts better, clearer, and stronger. That’s why I write for myself.

My goal in writing for an audience is to educate, to entertain, and to provide a new perspective. I’ve always loved sharing information, ever since I was a little child and wanted to tell everyone about Scottish castles and the fantasies that I’d derive in my head. I like to tell stories, and in writing I can craft those stories to be better than anything I could tell off the cuff. Stories matter, and the way they’re told, who they’re told to, can change the world.

I want to be a writer because to be a writer is to sow the seeds of thought, of future culture. The words we read and hear shape the words we say in the future. My words are shaped by my predecessors, and I have the audacity to say that my words might help shape future culture to be a little more compassionate and thoughtful. I have no illusions about being the godmother of some great revolutionary movement, but if I write a story or an essay that sparks the mind of someone down the line, I’ve done my bit, and left the world a little better than I found it. That’s what we’re all really here for, right? To live our own lives well, and to improve the lives of others, both living and still yet to come. The way I can do that best is with my words, and my words are best when I write them down.


Exciting things are happening with An Unremarkable Girl! The memoir, co-authored with my amazing and supportive Mum Nan Seymour, is about my young life as a transgirl growing up in Utah and my struggle to inhabit my identity in the face of a conservative society and my own struggles with mental illness. We’ve recently signed with an agent and are beginning to explore our options for publishing- expect this blog to be a lot more active in the days to come! If you enjoyed this piece (or any of my writing) please feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you prefer. Thanks as always for reading!

Paralytic Perfectionism

Hello all! This is the first time in months I’ve posted anything, and I am nervous. Why am I nervous?

Because I hate to pick things back up.

I do. I always have. I love starting fresh, with a clean slate of paper, and working on it. I love starting things- new jobs, new hobbies, new projects, bring ’em on.  But I have ADHD. I’ve discussed ADHD before on my blog and today’s post is about the most insidious and frustrating outgrowth of my ADHD, Paralytic Perfectionism.

The clean slate of paper. You start with the clean slate, you pick up your pen, and you start to write. The first couple sentences come easy- after all, you have a good idea, right?


Wait, you’re four or five sentences in and you’re losing your idea. That’s okay, you say, I’ll find it with some good old trial and error. So you try, you make a mistake. No big deal, right?


No. It is a big deal. How can you possibly write the entirety of the essay if you can’t get the thesis statement right? How can you continue? After all, the body of the text has to flow naturally from the starting point, and if you’ve made an error at the starting point, you’ve failed. You haven’t erred, no, you’ve failed. It will never be as good as you want it to be, you’ll never be as good as you want to be, why can’t you just not make mistakes, why can’t you just do it right the first time???

Paralytic Perfectionism.

If you make a mistake, it’s not okay, because it means so much more than the misplaced word or incoherent sentence. It means you’re not good enough. Now this train of thought may rightly seem crazy to some people, but if you suffer from ADHD, it can consume you. So you step away from the project, thinking you may return. And then it moulders in a drawer, in an unopened computer file. Now and again you’re reminded of it, and the thought of the mistake, the unfinished project, lances into you. You’re reminded of all the other things you’ve left undone, all the other things you have to do. You spiral.

So you stop trying new things. The beautiful tabula rasa becomes a taunt. You can’t do it. You can’t do it. Paralysis. Don’t move, don’t talk, don’t think. The only way to avoid these hundreds of cascading little failures is to lock yourself away, to stop. To sit. To regret.

Until you don’t. Until one day you remember that no one cares so much about your little mistakes. Until you remember that no mistake made could possibly weigh on you as much as the ghosts of all those abandoned projects, forsaken correspondences, those tupperware containers filled with rotting mysteries at the back of the fridge. And in a frenzy of activity lasting a few days you manage to do a month’s worth of writing, calling, cleaning. Soon enough, you’ve cleared things up, and the tabula rasa, the blank slate, is restored.

Until you mess it up again. The cycle continues. But each time it gets a little shorter, your recovery a little better, you get a tiny bit more comfortable with making mistakes. You still rue that you didn’t learn how to gracefully accept shortcomings as a kid, you may blame someone for not teaching you, but now you realise that you’re an adult with ADHD. You know why you feel like this. There’s a reason for your pain. A reason that can be dealt with.

So you come back to the blog you’ve neglected for months. And you tell yourself you can write a few posts, at least, before you drift away again. You tell yourself that this work matters, because it does. You leave the door open to do better.

And that’s all you can do.

I live in Tucson Arizona now, and I’m hoping to be more regular about this blog. If you like what I write, please reach out and let me know! Ask me any question that comes to mind, and if you really like this post please feel free to share it on whatever social media you deem appropriate.

I’m still me, so regularity may be a pipe dream, but I can promise a content storm for the next little while!

How I Learned To Live, Wanting to Die

Thanksgiving Day, 2007. I stand in my basement bedroom, a cord in my hands. The most insistent thought beats like a drum in my head- Die, die, die. I wrap the cord around my neck and I pull. I pull, hoping to strangle myself. I don’t think through the fact that even if I could make myself pass out by this course of action, once I passed out my grip would release and I’d be able to breathe once more. It’s hard to think clearly when all you want to do is die.

That was the first time I tried to kill myself. Over the next decade I’d try or begin to try many more times. I tied belts around coat hooks and door knobs and attempt very slow and ineffectual hangings. I’d linger for a while at the edges of cliffs or on the top of the Salt Lake City Public Library, while a small voice would say “Jump!” In September of 2011, I drove my mother’s car into a rocky slope on the side of a highway in Idaho, going 87 miles an hour. I survived with just a few scratches.

These urges were overpowering before I transitioned, before I started treating my ADHD and my bipolar disorder. They’ve reduced over time, but sadly they haven’t ever completely gone away. I’ll go a week or two now without considering it, which was unfathomable to me only a few years ago, but the urge still crops up from time to time. I think the reality is the urge may never really go away.

This morning I found myself pondering it a moment. Some voice in my head says “just end this sordid tale, here and now.” But I managed to ride out the impulse. There’s no one magic fix to suicidal ideation. Having supportive people to talk to helps, certainly, as does therapy, but the ideas will still crop up, and they are alarming and discouraging, especially when one is otherwise on an upwards trajectory.

So, how do I cope with occasionally and persistently wanting to die? Ironically, I’ve embraced Death as a kind of deity, and a source of joy.

I had a realisation walking in the Salt Lake Cemetery (which is my favourite place to stroll); that all of us are fated to die, and that is a very good thing. Death gives life its meaning. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “it is the scarcity which makes anything precious.” Death is the one true unifying characteristic of life, and indeed of the universe itself. Everything will eventually decay and die and run out of energy. Our story has an end.

Knowing this, accepting it, I realised that more than anything I want the story of my life to be an interesting one. It doesn’t have to be a happy story, and hell it probably won’t be, but I’ll be damned if people don’t have a lot of good tales to tell about me at my funeral.

So how does this help when I feel suicidal? My life’s been pretty interesting so far- what would be the real harm in writing that last page myself? Setting aside the grief it would cause those who love me (because once I’m dead that won’t really affect me), it would make a bad story if I took the shortcut to the end. It’s not how I should end my story, plain and simple. I may die the second after I post this from an aneurysm, later today in a freak accident, or in 75 years in a bed surrounded by close friends and family, but all of those, I believe, would be better than if I’d killed myself this morning.

Death is universal and unavoidable. She will take us all into her cold and tranquil arms one day. But I firmly believe that the moment anointed should belong to her, not to me. So I breathe deep, I text or call some friends, and remind myself that the urge will pass. That I don’t have to take that grave responsibility onto my shoulders. Because Lady Death is the one who should write those closing words- “And then, Beatrice died. The End.

Until those words are written I need to live, to write, to laugh, to love, to cry, to drink, to dance- all the pain and joy of life is still mine to experience. I’ll keep writing my story, and when Lady Death comes for me, I’ll embrace her as an old and cherished friend. When she wants me, she’ll have me, but the choice will be hers, not mine. What peace it brings me to know that.

Remark from the Heart: Depression

A “Remark from the Heart”, shall, on this website, serve to be a no-bullshit no-frills no-frippery kind of warning label. This is “hot off the press” writing as my mother would call it. Uncompromising and impolite, others might call it.

Today’s remark is on the subject of depression, a demon which has dogged me ever since my early years, and her twin sister in sorrow, dysphoria, the disconnected sense of misery most transgender people feel between their gender and their physical appearance. They come in tandem, usually, and one will typically engender the other.

They kill my ability to write. Even getting these few short remarks on the page, messy and discombobulated as they are, is taking a Herculean mental effort. There are sort of gossamer webs between the active part of my brain and my fingers, slowing the nerve impulses. The words are there in my mind, but they fade and fray as they travel down the nerves to my hands, and I have to exercise an absurd amount of willpower just to communicate them.

The sisters completely deflate me. I’ve spent maybe twenty-five minutes total out of my bed today, and it’s almost six pm. Admittedly, having recent snowfall and arthritis means that there’s a physical pain aspect to this as well, but if I wasn’t so damn depressed I’d at least be sitting at my back table to write, and maybe I might have done a dish or two rather than letting them pile in the sink.

Depression isn’t romantic. It’s ugly. It’s matted hair, oily skin, messy rooms, rotting food. It’s having the feeling that everything is wrong, desiring to change it, but having no will, no energy, and no hope by which to do so.

TrenchI logically know that it will pass- it always does. But when I’m down here in the trenches, the salvos of self-hatred bursting around me and pouring out so much toxic feeling, it doesn’t feel like it will abate. Everything is grey and brown and pale sickly blue, and as I huddle here I can only try to remember what it feels like to hope for happiness again.

This will abate. Yet no one, least of all myself, can make me believe so- not at least until the fog finally lifts once more, and I see the sun on the other side.