Our theme for the month of November is “the periodic table.”
The afternoon and evening of October 20th this year was a blur of hospital lights, the inhuman hums of equipment and voices, specifically my wife’s, and a single word from strangers that blipped like a lighthouse in the night.
The night that bled into the next day is a bit clearer. Lots of nurses checked on me; I think I played music from my phone (or maybe it was a movie on Netflix?). Most distinctly, a sensor on my IV stand would scream at me if I wasn’t breathing often or deep enough. If I needed to be woken up multiple times a night for my body to get O2 then so be it, no matter how much I needed the sleep.
Was I in any real danger of my body and brain not getting the oxygen it needed? I’d say no, but it doesn’t change the fact that we as humans don’t really get a say in what our bodies need. If we cut out water, things shut down. Cut out food, things work slower. If the oxygen composition of our breath strays too far from 21 percent, brain cells break down. We don’t fall apart instantaneously, but that doesn’t stop our bodies from breaking down.
As meditation becomes more mainstream, therapy becomes less of a taboo, and more people are declaring their own individual truths in an ever-diversifying world, we are beginning to understand that our souls are not so different. If trauma is not processed, it soaks into every corner of our lives. If we enclose ourselves in a tomb painted as what we’re “supposed” to be, think, and do, we rot inside like a corpse. If we breathe disbelief and dismissal into the faces of marginalized people who are gasping for air, we are denying them so much more than simple affirmation. We contribute to the cerebral hypoxia of their souls, no matter how sweet our own breath might smell.
As I lay in my hospital bed in the middle of the night, I replayed my fuzzy memory over and over and kept coming back to the fact that everyone referred to me as He. My doctor had known I was trans the second we started discussing a hysterectomy to cure my horrendous periods. He even laughed when I told him, “I’m a trans man, so just take it. It’s not like I’m planning on using it.” The fact that they passed that fact on to everyone else floored me even harder than those two rounds of anesthesia. On top of that, I couldn’t believe the difference it had made after a surgery that had been bumped up from two hours to six due to some unexpected problems (message me if you want more details—they’re gross but kinda cool). Waking up was rough, but something about waking up in a world where I was safer than I thought made it easier.
I also couldn’t help but think of Kyler Prescott, a trans teenager who was admitted to the hospital for suicidal ideations in 2015. After his stay, where the hospital staff continually referred to him as a girl, Kyler took his own life. As I tried to fall asleep after the IV sensor had woken me up, yet again, I wondered how much of a difference being treated with as much respect and compassion as I was would have made for Kyler and so many others like us. How different would so many things be if marginalized people were given air for their souls instead of being suffocated by ignorance and misunderstanding paved over by good intentions and well-wishes?
I hope this is the last way I’ll have to rephrase the statement, “care about and just try to understand marginalized people so we can live” this year. I am tired. Not in the same way I was after a night of little sleep after a major surgery, but certainly the same amount, much like so many others in this country. I know the coming year, and the years after that, aren’t going to be easy if we as a nation want to see real genuine healing. I can tell you this much: something as simple as giving people the oxygen they need, in both body and soul, is a momentous start.
Finnely King-Scoular (’14) is stationed at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, VA, where he lives with his wife, Rosalind (’13). His writing, including the Faerie Court Chronicles series from NineStar Press, focuses on contemporary fantasy with an emphasis on LGBTQ+ representation.