Help Me Believe I’m Human

(All non-Kris characters in bold are played by Nate)

My first memory of 2013 is a hospital bathroom.
I figured out it was a hospital because I said “I have to go to the bathroom” and two nurses carried me three feet from my bed to the toilet.
They held me standing up because I said I had to pee.
I pulled down my pants to sit down,
“oooh. Wow.”
I didn’t know why I couldn’t feel or move my entire right leg,
so I decided silence was my best option.

That night I dreamed that I was crashing for the night at a new friend’s house, and her roommates had a secret plan to set the house on fire for insurance money.
They opened bottles of carbon monoxide to put everyone in the house to sleep
I heard them scheming so I ran to my new friend’s room to alert her,
but she was in with them, and I was part of the plan,
she threw me back in the bed
and zipped up a giant net cage around the bed so I couldn’t escape

The next day I woke up inside the cage
My dream’s new friend looked just like the nursing assistant sitting next to my bed
I couldn’t feel or move my right leg
and then I realized that my front tooth was missing!
Later, when I saw myself in the bathroom mirror, my front tooth was missing!
The next day I was trying to tell Nate about another dream I had, and
my front tooth is missing!
Kris, do you remember you called me at 5am this morning?
What? I did?
Telling me to come pick you up from the co-op because you didn’t have your wallet.
Woooah. I remember that. I was so mad at you. I was like “you’re my brother, you have to be there for me and I got $41 worth of chicken cut up and now I can’t pay for it!” I guess it was a dream. Can we go back to my room now? I’m tired.
Kris, this is your room.
No, the bathroom is over there.
Anyways, I knew they’re moving me, because three days ago I was in a totally different room from yesterday’s
Nah, you’ve been in this room for two weeks now.

I didn’t know yet, December 2012 had been my apocalypse!
I’m two blocks from my house, in the bike lane crossing a cross-street,
car guns through a left hand turn.
I put a good crack in the windshield but the concrete left a bigger mark on me
Helmet saved my life
Didn’t stop my brain from flying around
Oxy-codone kills your memories,
so my Intensive Care Unit experience is in stories told by my angels

I had to have surgery to get a tube inserted into my stomach
so they could pump my food straight in.
“Jess Jess Jess Jess.” I could barely talk out of my trach.
ck ck. (point at crotch)
Are you trying to say dick?
Am I… Am I…
Are you trying to ask if you’re a boy or a girl?
OK well. It’s a little more complicated than that. You started out a girl, but then you kind of switched to boy, and for the last years you’ve been pretty much just trans.
…Does that sounds right?

(huge smile and sigh)

According to my ICU file, I was a post-operative transsexual woman.
Thank god my vagina doesn’t need dilating,
cuz you know those doctors didn’t google what to do with a trans woman’s vagina.

I could feel their ignorance, even in my semi-conscious, drugged up state.
Sometimes my critiques were misplaced, or maybe just foreshadowing
The nurses ditched the bedpan for a portable toilet they’d lift me up and set me on.
“You’re so transphobic!! You’re only making me pee like this cuz I’m trans!
The transphobia in this hospital!!!”

Weeks later, in brain injury rehab,
I had the ecstatic realization
that if I could learn to walk heel toe, heel toe,
I’d be able to walk in heels again
[Nate laughs]
since my brain injury cut off my brain’s connection to my right leg and foot,
picturing my toddler self in heels made me laugh too
but my therapist wasn’t laughing at my wobbling
the doctor said your brain injury makes you more sensitive, to everything
–true —
I think having no human rights makes you seem more sensitive too
my bed alarm would siren if I put one foot on the floor
if a certified nursing assistant was scheduled to shower me at 5 in the morning,
she dragged my ass out of bed into the lukewarm water
When I was pissed at her, she couldn’t tell me that she wouldn’t treat a human like that, but refusing would get her fired
Doctor said I would not be released from rehab unless I accepted all the meds he prescribed
I was the one supposed to be healing,
But with little agency in that process,
I needed a reason I was treated like a non-human
The nurse running away from my vagina
when she was supposed to be holding me up at the sink
provided a logic of something to blame
I didn’t think I was being oversensitive to call that transphobia
doc said I’ll certainly talk to the head nurse about that,
I think I took you off prozac too early

blaming transphobia for my lack of human rights was a drop in the bucket
nurse discomfort with my strange body was one example of many
of a system that makes people inhuman when it saves money
for my last two weeks in rehab, I couldn’t fall asleep without being doped up
night was when the people who made me human were gone
night was when Nate or Anise or Rose or Mom were replaced by some nurse
pumping all kinds of meds into my stomach I had no knowledge of or choice about

At least the hospital taught me how to walk again
how to chew and swallow, how to get into a car
But months later,
no number of delectable dinners and cross-town bike rides can purge me
of this convulsion my body held for two months

I tried to figure out why no amount of good the hospital did
could make up for the inhuman actions the hospital system breeds
You know, I’ve felt lucky since the first day I thought about my white skin
and parents with jobs
and Christianity
and ability to walk around in a world that was constructed for people with my body and brain.
In the hospital, I felt luck coursing through my body
because I’ve never had this experience before.
Society de-validates people’s humanness constantly,
but I’m rarely one of the victims

Sure, privilege is having your humanness legitimated more often than not.
So privilege is lack
Lack of the need to make new ways to validate each other’s humanity
so we’re more stunning than we ever knew we could be
Lack of the necessity to make friends
who will always make you believe you’re a real, deserving human,
Lack of the need to make family
who will protect us and guide us
whether or not we understand where or what from

I realized that privilege persists because of all these lacks
White people need racism because we don’t know how else to be
White culture doesn’t teach us how to build friendships
that knock down all our walls, laugh at our insecurities, require that we’re stunning
When we’re lonely, if we’re in an “in” crowd of people, it feels ok
It’s easier to believe we’re deserving humans
when we see other kinds of people just doing some things wrong —
if they made some changes, they’d deserve as much as us
It’s easier to feel protected and guided if we only need to be protected from ourselves

Obviously lots of us gays have all these lacks too
lots of us white gays especially
when tons of us fought for marriage as if some legal contract will make us lack less
I realized our biggest lack is family

I didn’t know I had family besides my biological
Until Anise sat with me in the rehab hospital for hours, every day, for two months
Until Jess spent every night for 6 weeks sleeping in a chair next to me so they could be my advocate to help decide what drugs were pumped into me
Until Nate, 5 years younger, became my older brother for 10 months
Until Eric moved out of our apartment in Philly half a year early so we could move to Minneapolis together
Until Elizabeth helped me clip my pubes
Until Adrienne cooked me 6 meals a day
and listened to me babble for hours relentlessly.

We all deserve this.
We all deserve to know that if we get run over by a car, it’ll be ok
if we get made unhuman,

in the hospital,
or by the cops,
or in prison,
or by deportortation,
we all deserve to have people with us who believe we’re human,
whether or not we can believe it ourselves
Figure this out with me.
Figure out how queer family can make us stunning.


Published by kris gebhard

Kris (pronouns they/them) is a clinical psychologist, poet, percussionist, and gardener currently residing in Chicago, IL.

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