Dear Heather, (Or, A Mental Healthcare Manifesto In Response to Ignorance)

Dear Heather,

We the people with mental illnesses are all natural variations of humankind1, whom some have chosen to deem abnormal/unstable and in need of care. Historically, the mental healthcare system – the very system that claims to care for us – has caused us significant harm.

The field of psychology is an inexact science with a flawed, even sadistic, past and present. So inexact and sadistic in fact, that gays and lesbians were (and quite frankly still are) subjected to “conversion therapy,” and being transgender and the ordinary experiences of transgender folk was (and still are) considered mental illnesses, among many misguided treatments and diagnoses.

I’m sure you are aware of these inexplicable transgressions within your field.

We the people with mental illnesses are simultaneously told that our mental illnesses do not define us, yet here we are, with these diagnostic labels receiving treatment. For many of us, these diagnoses and experiences of hospitalizations become facets of our continuously transforming identities. These identities related to mental illness intersect with our preexisting notions of self and those aspects of our being that have yet to be uncovered, formed, or accepted.

My intersectional identities (at this moment) are as follows: gay, bigender/nonbinary, Jew(ish) and sexual assault survivor.

So why, you may ask, am I linking history and identity? Well, if you’ve truly acknowledged history and done the research, then it is apparent that the forces of white supremacy and the various forms of prejudice (including but not limited to racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia) mainly and historically produced and/or upheld by white people are at the root of the struggles marginalized communities face. In fact, these forces are responsible for constructing the identities that non-white, non-cishet people are forced to function and navigate the world within.

I believe it is your responsibility to create a safe environment for those who are unsafe in this world, a world that has prioritized and valued the experiences and feelings of white, cishet men and women over any and all other experiences. For those who fit into this category like yourself2, it is pertinent that you recognize your own privilege when providing much needed mental healthcare to the various and intersecting marginalized communities, who (because of racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are more likely to be mentally ill. It might seem like an impossible task to undo and undermine the dangerously constricting falsities imposed by those who came before us, but it may just be the most necessary and worthwhile of pursuits.

As a queer, trans person who just so happens to be mentally ill, I believe that you and every other mental healthcare professional ought to correct the wrongs of those before you and make a diligent effort to prioritize the mental health of marginalized communities. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of our interactions and discussions, you have not only perpetuated these wrongs, but have defended and made excuses for your decision to do so.

Therefore, I find it crucial to reinforce the following:

  • People with PTSD shouldn’t be called paranoid.
  • Transgender and nonbinary people should not be questioned or compared to cisgender people.
  • LGBTQAI people should not be stereotyped as being predatorial.

I know nothing of your upbringing or life experiences but I do know this – you have chosen a profession that falls in line with a grand and endless humanistic pursuit.

Never stop reminding yourself of that.

All the best,

Annette Covrigaru

  1. As are all people, of course.
  2. Please do feel free to confront me and correct me on your identities if I’m mistaken, as one regretful mistake I made when discussing the topic of privilege with Scott was assuming he was heterosexual.

Annette Covrigaru is a gay/bigender American-Israeli writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. They were a Lambda Literary Emerging LGBTQ Voices nonfiction fellow and writer-in-residence in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kaaterskill Basin Review, TQ Review, Stitch, Emerge and Cosmonauts Avenue. Annette is currently completing a master’s degree in Holocaust Studies through the University of Haifa. See more on Annette’s website.


I Paint You in Bubbles

Together in the bath, I paint you in bubbles. I craft bubble biceps, bubble forearms, bubble shoulders. I build bubble pecs, careful of not to touch your breasts. I ruffle on a soapy beard, but you look like Santa, it’s too full, too fake. With a capped razor, I shave your baby cheeks, scrape and shape a face I think is manly. You smile and your mustache smudges.

When I reach for the cloud between your legs, you flinch, but you don’t stop me. We work together to shape genitals. You cup together balls of suds while I stroke a bubble patch into a shaft, round it, add girth. I trim the length and you add on a bit extra. I circumcise you.

Complete, you shimmer, like an illusion of handsomeness. We sit silent, the steady fizz of evaporating bubbles between us. I look away and pick at the ingrown hairs on my legs until the water turns cold.

When I turn back it’s your familiar body again, shiny smears like scars where the bubbles had been. I meet your eyes and I see him, determined, torn.

A final island of bubbles, the deflated remains of your penis, floats between us. I take a part of it and craft a plaster over the tiny puncture mark on your thigh, the first wound. I swear I can feel the throb of testosterone beneath my fingers. You take the last of the bubbles and, in gentle strokes, place a plaster over my racing heart.

Megan Crosbie is a queer writer and occasional performer from Edinburgh, who often writes in the boundary between flash-fiction and poetry. Her writing has been published in journals such as Firewords Quarterly, Northwords Now and Litro. In her free time, she enjoys travelling, drag shows, and too many vegan donuts. You can support Megan’s work here:

Ten Years After the Big Game

Last night, I wore a miniskirt
to the reunion
instead of my helmet.

The teams were the same:
girls with Venus legs flytrap shut;
boys chasing tail
so no one thinks they like ass.
But I had switched sides.

Coach saw my nicked-up knees
and lead the offensive.
But you can’t unring the bell,
or unscrew the girl,
so I beat him to the punch
and gulped a big glass of fuck you:
my square jaw set;
my Adam’s apple bobbing
like a minor toady.
It was a bravura performance:
not a side-eye in the house.

Ten years after the big game, they all know
I can’t pass like I used to.
But I can strut.

KKat is an IT consultant in a Deeply Red state. He is genderqueer, poly, and part of the local kink scene that always hides in plain sight in every outwardly conservative city. He lived awhile as a woman, although later events indicate she is probably more the result of severe childhood trauma than a true “second self.” His poetry is an attempt to come to terms with all this: why it always comes out as wink-wink and full of sly sexual puns is a mystery yet unsolved.

Deconstructing a Conversation With an Emotionally Abusive Ex

Deconstructing a Conversation With an Emotionally Abusive Ex


“Trans Guys Can Be Assholes to Each Other Too”

When my ex and I were dating, I came to realize that he looked different to me when he was being, as I like to describe it now, a douchecanoe.

I do not mean that I saw him through a different light; I mean that his physical expressions were a tell. His eyes would glaze over as if he were shutting down, shutting himself off from me. His whole face would seem to sag and shift, morphing into a poorly constructed mask. It was different from his pain and grief, different from his boredom, and certainly different from his happiness.

After eight months of radio silence, he wants to talk. We meet at a coffee shop and he walks straight back to the table without ordering. He sits down and when he opens his mouth, I see it in his eyes and the set of his jaw: he’s about to be a dick, again.

He says: “First, I recognize that I hurt you. I am sorry for that. I am sorry that you were hurt, but I do not regret the actions.”

“A general piece of advice: Be wary of anyone who apologizes for your feelings and not for their actions.”

A general piece of advice: Be wary of anyone who apologizes for your feelings and not for their actions.

I don’t truly remember what his second point was because I was busy sighing to myself for having agreed to meet with him, but he says: “Third, you crossed a serious line with me.”

He pauses and I meet his glazed eyes and hear my heart starting to thud. I remember how long it took me to reconcile his behavior for what it was. I remember the months of not knowing what exactly I was apologizing for, just that everything was wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it and I thought it all must be my fault because he was good and I was bad. I remember the supernova inside my chest when things had started going wrong between us.

He continues: “You tried to talk to me when I told you I didn’t want to talk. That’s not okay.”

Let me present a scenario: Say that someone who I am in a relationship with punches me in the face. I’m shocked. I don’t understand why or where this came from or what I did. I know in the back of my mind that it’s not okay, but I love this person, and I think “There must be an explanation.”

So I try to ask. Maybe I’m even shocked enough that I can’t ask at first, that it’s not until I’m crying on a bus the next day that I realize something was wrong about what happened. I ask them to help me understand what happened, what I did, why they did this, and they tell me they don’t want to talk about it right then. And maybe I let them get away with that for awhile before I bring it up again, or maybe I push. Either way, they never give me an explanation. The next time they punch me in the face, I ask again. I think, “I just need help understanding. It’s okay. It’s okay, I just need their perspective.”

This time, they tell me they’re not in the mood to talk at all and put me through a week of silence. When we speak again, I’m so relieved to be talking to them that I don’t bring it up at all. If I did, they might withdraw again and ignore me entirely. I’m hurt and confused and I don’t know what to do.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“I’ve promised myself two things about this meeting: I am not going to apologize and I am not going to argue.”

He sits there after he says this and I almost want to laugh at him. It isn’t funny, but it’s ludicrous. I take a deep breath. I’ve promised myself two things about this meeting: I am not going to apologize and I am not going to argue.

I say: “Interesting apology.”

I take another breath and I consider the argument, consider trying to make him see. But I don’t need him to see. I don’t need anything from him. “I’m not going to argue with you. I recognize that you live in a very different reality from mine, and at this point in my life I don’t think it would do me any good to try and get you to understand my reality.”

He huffs something and I repeat: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

He says: “But you’re not going to talk to me either.”

I say: “At this point, talking to you would be arguing with you.”

He tips himself back in his chair and mutters “Nor are you going to apologize, apparently.”

Scenario: Someone I’m dating punches me in the face, then asks me to apologize for my reaction.

Okay, Dick Cheney. Sorry you shot me.

“Scenario: Someone I’m dating punches me in the face, then asks me to apologize for my reaction.

Okay, Dick Cheney. Sorry you shot me.”

I’m not sure if I laugh out loud, but a tiny spark of morbid enjoyment has grown up inside of me. He has no power over me anymore. I might be imagining it, but it seems to me as if he’s realizing this and he doesn’t like it.

I say: “Well, considering your apology wasn’t particularly apologetic, no, I don’t really feel the need to at this point.”

He asks me what my reality is, even though I’ve just said I’m not going to try and explain it to him. Here he is, asking me for something that uncannily resembles that which so offended him eight months ago.

I tell him that the universe is a strange place. I tell him how it was weird timing to hear from him because I had just finished writing an article about our relationship, an article about emotional abuse and empathy. I don’t give him details, just the broad concepts.

He says: “Can you recognize that you did things that hurt me, too?”

This guts me. I’ve spent all this time trying to accept his behavior as abusive. I’ve thought a lot about what it would take to make him see that, and how I wish he would open his eyes enough to try to see my experience. How to talk to him about what he did without his immediate response being defensive rejection.

So how can I justify my own immediate defensiveness? What if I’m wrong and he’s on the other side of this table, thinking about how he spent six months trying and failing to justify my actions until he was forced to form the words “emotional abuse” and slap them across his memories of me?

I feel the apology lick up my throat and I clamp it down hard. Later, I will spend the next three days asking myself “Why is this different? Do I believe in my experiences? Is this all a continuation of the invalidation in our relationship? Did he want me to apologize for my actions when he couldn’t apologize for his?” but for now:

I will not apologize and I will not argue.

I say: “…Sure. Yes. Our relationship was toxic and I recognize that it wasn’t good for you either.”

He huffs some more and pivots back to the article. He says: “I’m really pissed off that you used me as research without my permission.”

I say: “Well, it’s not about you. It’s about my experiences in our relationship. And those experiences belong to me as much as to you.”

He says: “It’s really hard for me to see you as human when you’re like this.”

I can’t help it. This conversation is ridiculous. “As opposed to what? A frog?”

He says: “When you’re sitting there, diagnosing me.”

More deep, deep breaths.

I facilitate a support group and in that space we talk a lot about “I” statements. I think about reframing this for him. That what I hear is not him accusing me of not being human, but of him feeling that I am not thinking of him as human.

I say: “Remember, when we were dating, and I would try to ask you about things that were going on with us? And I wouldn’t try to assume, but I was just trying to ask, and you would get really upset and accuse me of trying to tell you what you were thinking or feeling? You’re kind of doing that right now.”

He ignores this. He says: “If I could go back… I should have left sooner.”

I don’t need him to see. I say: “Yes. I shouldn’t have stayed.”

He says: “I tried to make you see that I believe relationships happen if they’re supposed to happen, when they’re supposed to happen, and you can’t force them. It’s clear that you were more in-love with me than I was ever going to be with you –“

I finally let out the incredulous laugh that’s been building since this conversation started. “Again, with the assuming feelings thing.”

He looks startled, but he keeps going. He says: “I’m going off of the patterns that I had seen from you, and you just kept wanting to rehash conversations and it felt like nothing was ever over. And I tried every way of saying that I believe relationships just are, they just happen.”

Again, why did I keep asking about being punched? Why couldn’t I accept things as resolved after days or weeks of silent treatment? Why couldn’t I see that if a relationship wasn’t perfect on its own with absolutely no effort or emotional labor, then it was never going to work?

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I say: “I’m not going to argue with you.”

“I could have given in and told him I was sorry that I hurt him, but not for my actions. Except that is not a real apology, and it goes against my principles to give false apologies.”

There’s more. He keeps talking and I keep telling him that I’m not going to argue. I’m proud of myself for more or less sticking to my resolve. I could have given in and told him I was sorry that I hurt him, but not for my actions. Except that is not a real apology, and it goes against my principles to give false apologies.

The truth is that I never wanted to hurt him, and I’m sure that I did. I realized while we were still dating that he lives in a very different reality from mine, but I imagine that reality is as real to him as my own is to me. I could analyze his accusations as projections, as with the reframing of “seeing me as human,” but whatever happens in his reality happens. And in the context of it, he has to do what is before him to do. I can’t change that, but I won’t give in to it.

When he leaves abruptly, on his way out he says: “If you see me around, you can say hi.”

Before this meeting, the last time I saw him was at Pride, two months after we broke up. I waved and he couldn’t even acknowledge me, except to glare. But he’s out the door now and I don’t call after him.

Another piece of general advice: You don’t owe toxic people anything. Not apologies. Not explanations. Not the time of day.

Gideon C. Elliott is a Seattle-based queer trans man whose previous written work has been mostly academic in nature. He has an essay published in Manifest: Transitional Wisdom on Male Privilege edited by Meghan Kohrer and Zander Keig and spends some time writing bad poetry about the state of our political environment. When not at work, he can usually be found volunteering or in a park crying over other people’s dogs. You can contact him at or follow him on instagram: @theimmortaljellyfish.

On Disclosure

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series about discovery/disclosure and the complexities of learning to how, when, and to whom to disclose various aspects of the self.

Labels and I have never been strangers. We have been intertwined in an elaborate series of dances, negotiations, bitter arguments, crying fits, and desperate bargaining. While I lacked the vocabulary necessary to describe my gendertrash identity, class-based language was freely available. The brutal thrashing of situational poverty and middle class aspirations introduced me to code switching.

To name is to (dis)empower. My bicultural education and consciousness began mid-transaction at the local grocery store as I watched my mother carefully tear along the perforated lines of actual food stamps. The entire store went painfully quiet, even the squeaky shopping cart wheels could not penetrate the overwhelming silence. It was as if an alarm went off with every disconnection of the small tabs connecting one stamp to another. All eyes were on us. Blood rushed to my face and ears as I sat on the small plastic seat of the cart with my legs straddling the cold metal. I didn’t understand why I was suddenly overheating. My mother’s fingers fumbled to complete the delicate task of removing the correct number of stamps. I could see her shame.

No. It was not her shame. Fuck that. Humiliation was inflicted upon her, a single mother of three, by the judgmental assholes behind us in line.

Their faces further recoiled as the cashier dropped the handful of small coins into my mother’s hand (food stamps were even dollar amounts). Welfare queen. These coins were precious. Desperately collected each month with each transaction. If she saved enough we could afford toilet paper because food stamps could only be exchanged for food and she made “too much” money to qualify for cash assistance.

“We’ll make it work.” A slogan? Mantra? No, it is the battle cry of the impoverished.

“I found myself crossing the threshold of working class poverty into the twilight zone of the middle class when I went to school.”

I never went hungry and always had a roof over my head. Though, I found myself crossing the threshold of working class poverty into the twilight zone of the middle class when I went to school. Relatives paid for my siblings and I to attend a private religious elementary school. I learned quickly that I was out of my league.

I was six when I was taught my first personal lesson about disclosure and code switching. The playground glowed green, gold, and red with the bright sun of a fall afternoon. I don’t recall the question asked of me, only the unfiltered answer: My parents were divorced because my biological father had sexually abused my two older sisters.


The brisk autumn air stung my lungs and rendered me speechless. Was it this cold ten seconds ago? The moment was gone as quickly as it came. My reputation firmly established.

I did not realize this was the lens through which my peers would continue to view me until middle school when I absentmindedly brought the subject up again. The look on my classmates’ face was of disbelief and horror. All this time they legitimately thought I had fabricated the story. They thought I said that to get attention.

“The world was not to be trusted with my most vulnerable parts.”

Attention seeking behavior. I didn’t want their fucking attention. From that moment on I only wanted to disappear. The world was not to be trusted with my most vulnerable parts. The second or third hand bright pink cat sweater, unintentional high-water jeans, and off-white sock covered toes protruding from my beloved blue faux suede shoes betrayed me and put my class status on display for everyone to see. I had to control what I disclosed about my family and myself. I listened intently to what was perceived as acceptable. Still I failed. Often.

People watching. I continued to listen and watch the people around me everywhere I went. They all knew something I didn’t. Where do I being to probe, peel back, examine, dissect, and question? I could rarely muster the strength, courage, or confidence to raise my hand in class. My body became heavy, heartbeat quickened, face flushed, throat constricting, hands and legs started shaking both chair and table, and finally the moment came. All eyes were on me. The tremble in my voice was not subtle nor my question succinct. I exhaled my mustered confidence and gazed down at my oversized sweatshirt, fingers desperately searched the discolored ribbed cuffs for an escape route.

When would I learn? Silence was safe and insulating but quickly became isolating and cold — like that rush of autumn air when I was six. Did anyone else feel as small, unintelligent, unworthy, and undesirable? Surely my life could not be the only one falling apart. My classmates must be hiding too.

“Hide-and-seek was never my game.”

Fortress of solitude. Hands clasped around closed eyes, I rocked back and forth faintly whispering, “If I can’t see them, they can’t see me, if I can’t see them, they can’t see me,” in a desperate attempt to self-soothe. But they always found me. Hide-and-seek was never my game.

Unknowingly, I hid in the center of rooms surrounded by microphones and fact checkers. Well-intentioned, but thorn-covered hands occasionally broke through the crowd. A conditional respite that drew blood one too many times. Frustration bubbled over when I could not “reasonably” explain my sullen emotions, explosive behaviors, and spectacular failings. I withdrew even further into myself thinking safety could be found within. I found my hiding place, but it was already occupied.

Faggot. I was 11 years old the first time I was called a faggot. The sun was casting beautiful expressions of yellow, orange, and red across the playground as we held hands under one of the tall trees marking the oppressive border of the school grounds. Our matching bowl-shaped haircuts often made us indistinguishable from one another at a distance and in crowded hallways between classes.

The trance of sunset was broken by the shifting of greased bicycle chains and gears as they approached us with long blond hair, spotless white sweatshirts, boot flared jeans, and tennis shoes there were clearly not purchased at Kmart. I waved as they approached. They were, after all, a year our senior and lifelong members of the popular club, and I was hopelessly optimistic.

“I did not understand why this one word had broken him, had broken us, creating a cavernous divide between us…”

Brakes engaged, tires squealing, her voice rang out and I suddenly became aware of how heavy my stomach was. How did she know? Our relationship ended abruptly a few days later on a quiet side street as we walked toward a local park. I did not understand why this one word had broken him, had broken us, creating a cavernous divide between us, with caution tape and large flashing orange signs shouting “CAUTION: DO NOT ENTER.”

When tomboys were cool. This was the beginning of my education in middle school gender politics. It was my final year of being one of the guys. I had already learned that I could either date boys or continue to act like one. I chose the latter. We exchanged crude jokes and secretly passed the latest Mad Magazine from one to another behind the large oak tree near the unforgiving metal playground equipment. Chasing each other from one end of the playground to the other acquiring grass stains and exchanging copious hair-frizzing noogies. I thought I was free.

“Strangers no longer defaulted to masculine pronouns and instead became emboldened, empowered, and justified in asking what I was.”

What are you? Shoulders forward, head down, my white-knuckled hands gripped the hem of the community college t-shirt that extended to my mid thigh. My prepubescent ambiguity had been non-consensually taken by newly emerging breasts. While my feminine peers excitedly picked out training bras and capped sleeved, skin tight t-shirts, I was quickly running out of options. Strangers no longer defaulted to masculine pronouns and instead became emboldened, empowered, and justified in asking what I was. No one ever asked who I was, not that I could have answered that question either.

Checking the mail. I loved being the first one home after school because I got to check the mail, not to mention the precious few minutes of having the house to myself.

Water bill, mortgage statement, bank statement, credit card offer, grocery store coupons, and a Teen People magazine. My paternal grandparents had gifted me this subscription assuming that, as a 15 year old girl, I would appreciate it. I scoffed at Josh Hartnett’s pretty little face on cover, wondering, who legitimately reads this garbage? My saunter down the driveway came to a halt as I read the lower right hand corner of the cover, “Born with the wrong body: Transgender teens answer your questions.”

“Even though my questions had not been entirely answered, at least I knew that I was not alone.”

I re-read the story three times behind the locked door of my bedroom before the weight of excitement and anticipatory terror settled in my body. Even though my questions had not been entirely answered, at least I knew that I was not alone. I was gendertrash.

Now what? I had to tell…someone. Anyone. Who could I trust with this fragile little being I had hidden away so carefully for 15 years? Nervously, I knocked on her office door. The warm glow of the lamp created a notable threshold between it and the cold florescent hallway. My heart beat wildly until it was all I could hear. Just say it. You practiced this line all weekend. Don’t waste her time with bullshit silence, spit it out!

Relief and unprecedented panic. All of the sudden my depression, suicide attempt, and self-harm “made sense.” This disclosure of my trans identity was the first of many. Close friends and family were largely unsurprised and generally supportive. Hell, I only lost contact with half of my biological family, save for a few “pray the gay away” articles and brochures I received in mail.

I had renewed my relationship with disclosure on what I thought were my own terms. Maybe now disclosure would be my choice.

(I was wrong.)

To be continued…

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K.M. Shultz is a transfabulous activist and future clinical mental health counselor. Currently, he works with college students with disabilities to make campuses more accessible. His true medium is mixed-media art, but he’s starting to dabble in writing.