Category: true story

True Story: I’m a Recovered Addict

This is part of our True Life interview series, in which we hear about different people’s interesting/amazing/un-nerving experiences. This is the story of Laura* an incredibly funny, smart, driven girl who fell into meth at the end of high school. Tell us about your relationship with drugs and alcohol growing up.

My parents were very open about alcohol and drugs and because there wasn’t a huge air of mystery about the whole deal, I was A Good Kid growing up. I wasn’t afraid to fly my freak flag even if it meant not fitting in with the other kids; I was too academically motivated to jeopardize my glorious future; plus, all my friends were too nerdy to even drink. Then junior year of high school, I fell, hard, for a sort of unsavory guy and ended up following him to lots of parties where binge-drinking and drug use were the order of the day. I actually barely participated: got drunk a few times, maybe smoked pot once, but the environment played arpeggios up and down my repressed inner bad-girl chords.Which drugs did you get into? And how did that happen?By the beginning of senior year of high school, I started a methamphetamine addiction that would last for about two years and didn’t take long to completely control my life. Senior year was the peak of high-stress testing for my academically rigorous diploma program. Between six hours a night of chem homework, applying to a staggering 32 high-caliber universities and spending every weekend sweating blood in debate, I wanted two things: to occasionally feel like a kid again, and to somehow fit thirty hours’ worth of work into a 24-hour day. Oh, and losing forty pounds wouldn’t hurt either. What do you know — methamphetamines seemed to perfectly fit the bill.

One day in calculus, one of my good friends — another repressed bad girl — slipped a tiny baggie of white powder into my textbook. We cut English class to snort it in the girls’ room. By the end of the day, I’d finished two weeks’ worth of assignments, drank a gallon of water, not eaten a morsel and lost six pounds. No exaggeration. Plus, it filled me with confidence and a sense of love for everyone around me. It was love at first snort. She hooked me up with her dealer and I was never without a magic little baggie of my own.

How did you finance your habit?
Babysitting. Is that a small-town cliche or what? But when you’re a high-school girl with no interest in fashion, all of your cash is disposable. I made a few hundred dollars a week on babysitting and snorted at least half of it — usually more. Lord knows I wasn’t spending the money on food. By the time I got to university and was snorting (and by then smoking) even more, I had the good luck to be funded with a very generous quarterly stipend. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I regret funding my habit with money that had been given to me as a gift because I was a promising young student. The only thing I can say about my defense is that at least I was never spun when I was babysitting children. Can’t say the same about being sober while taking my classes, though.

How did it affect your grades/relationships/etc?
That’s one thing about methampetamines: they could definitely be worse for your grades. Often when I got spun, I was insanely productive, practically sneezing out term papers and memorizing text books. That is, when I didn’t get spun and stay up all night obsessively trying on all of my (ever-smaller) clothes or tweezing all the hairs out of my legs. But by the time I neared the end of my addiction, I forgot to ever come down and get sane again. I’d write a eight-page paper in an hour, convinced it was brilliant, then look at it a few weeks later to realize it was absolute raving lunacy. But maybe because I’ve always been obsessively academic, my grades didn’t really suffer: the worst that happened is that I had to drop a class the quarter that my addiction hit its all-time high.

Did the people in your life know you were struggling with this?I tried to keep my addiction a secret from everyone I cared about because I knew they would try to make my stop and in my junkie’s lizard-brain, the most important thing was to keep that from happening. By the time I was in college, I was afraid to speak to my parents and refused to answer their phone calls, for fear that they’d realize something was up. By function of living together, though, my roommates — who were my best friends — realized I had a problem. I’d lock myself up in the room for hours to smoke, then come out as a manic parody of myself. I’d sit in the dining hall with them, picking at a slice of bread, and incessantly smack my mouth which was always cotton-dry despite the gallons of water I drank.

Other people have drug problems, I’d tell them. I just have a drug hobby. And although they sometimes asked me to seek help, they didn’t push it too hard. I think this is partially because they were afraid of completely alienating me, and partially because they — like me — were sheltered academics and had never had any exposure to drug addiction. They wanted to believe that I was right.

Was there a low point that made you decide that you wanted to quit?
I accidentally OD-ed, thank god. My rock-bottom had been flying upward to meet me for a while: after about a year of being almost permanently spun, I’d started suffering from tactile, auditory and visual hallucinations. I’d stay up all night writing pages of whacked-out prose, then become convinced there was a man standing outside my window staring at me, and be too paralyzed with fear to do anything but sit there, my pulse a 220-bpm machine gun.

For the three-week bender that led to my OD, every night when I lay in bed, a rat would chew its way through my brain. I’d smell that vermin sewage scent, feel its feet scrabbling on my cheeks, hear its little jaws closing around my ear drum, then ripping away the walls of my ear canal and getting into my skull. Sometimes I could “catch” the rat and throw it against the wall. Other times, its whole body would get wedged inside my brain, nibbling, nibbling, nibbling, and I would lay there crying until it went away. When it did, I would always stand in front of the mirror for ages, touching my ears and face and amazed not to see any blood.

The day of my OD, I’d been spun for three weeks and had to write a paper, but my mind was already at the brink of insanity and for the first time ever, I couldn’t make words come out. Desperate, I smoked bowl after bowl, trying to regain the feelings of confidence and brilliance that usually accompanied a high. After my last bowl, I had the sensation that my teeth were falling out, so I ran to the mirror. My tongue started talking to me and telling me it would knock out my teeth to punish me — weirdly, my first reaction was horror at the thought of being toothless — who would date me then?!

I realized I was OD-ing and tried to get dressed to go find help, but my hands were melting. If I tried to pick up my jeans, I thought my fingernails would ooze off; when I reached for the door to run outside naked, I thought my hand would liquefy to a puddle of goo and be unable to turn the knob. So I just lay there on the floor, naked, screaming for help until the guy across the hall came in and helped me call the RA.

How did you go about getting help?After I OD-ed, the hospital kept me overnight and made me eat something substantial for the first time in weeks. After they released me, I was still deluded enough to think I could seek help without telling my parents what had been going on. I asked the Residence Dean to help check me into a one-week recovery program in the psych ward of my university’s hospital. But after about an hour there, I realized it wasn’t going to be a hilarious, cinematic Girl, Interrupted experience. I wanted my mommy. So I called my parents, arranged to get a week off of classes, and went home to confess what I’d been doing to the people I’d let down the most. To their everlasting credit, my parents didn’t scream at me once. They force-fed me and watched me every moment of the day, true, but they didn’t tell me how disappointed and angry they were. They just helped me start my life without methamphetamines.

How has your recovery been going?
Recovery was, in many ways, easier that I imagined it would be, after I got through the wrenching experience of admitting to my friends and parents that I had a problem. I immediately cut off ties with my former dealer; cutting off contact with other user friends wasn’t a problem, as I didn’t have any in college. For the first several months, I would seize up with the urgent desire to get spun — I can’t even tell you how many nights I cleared everything out of the drawer where I used to keep my stash and snorted up every stray little dust mite and paint chip, hoping to find a spare crystal. But because I cut off my contacts, I had no way to get drugs, even in my weakest moments, and after being completely clean for a while, the cliche is true: it got easier every day.

One horrifying experience that helped: I stayed at my parents’ house that summer after freshman year, when I was busy getting clean. One night, after I’d been clean a few months, I got a call from my former dealer, who had stopped using because she’d gotten pregnant. She’d had her baby three nights before and called to ask if I could come over and babysit. She and her boyfriend had missed getting spun, and now that they had the baby, they wanted to go out and smoke meth again.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t watch the baby. In no small part because I knew there would be drugs in the house. So I told her no and helped her find somebody else to watch the baby — jesus, that poor baby — so it wasn’t left alone. And the whole time, there was that little voice in my head: this could have been you in five years. Don’t let that happen.

In a few months, I’ll have been five years clean. And most days, when I think about my history as a junkie, it just feels like a movie I’ve watched rather than a life I’ve lived. But every time I smell a dollar bill or watch someone snort a line in a movie, I know that all the obsessive junkie tendencies haven’t just gone away. Even thinking about smoking meth or snorting a line makes my muscles seize up and that old lizard-brain start kicking in again. I still drink moderately, I’ve smoked pot a dozen times or so, I’ve even snorted one or two social lines of coke after being clean on meth, and these things haven’t been triggers for me. But I know I can never do methamphetamines again, not even once, or the junkie beast will come roaring back to life. And I can’t let it happen again.

Any advice for others struggling with addictions?
Tell someone. Right now. You know all those people you’re shutting out of your life because you don’t want them to find out? The reason you don’t want them to find out is that they love you and they will make you stop. But it will be better that way. And if you’re anything like I was, you might be thinking, “I’ll tell them soon. I’m just in too deep now — give me a few months to sort out my life and start recovery one my own!” No. That’s the addiction talking. I don’t care if you’re superman: you cannot quit an addiction on your own. Your friends and family, the people who love you no matter how dumb you’ve been or how much what you’re doing is hurting them, they are what’s going to get you through this. And they’re not going to hate you for it. They only want you to get better.

If telling your friends and family is too big a step, then just tell anyone. Tell a doctor at Planned Parenthood, tell the cashier at the grocery store, heck, email Sarah Von and let her forward it on to me. The secrecy eats away at you just as fast as the drugs do. You don’t have to walk alone.

Have you struggled with addictions? Any questions for Laura?
*Not her real name, obviously.

True Story: I’m Transgender

This is part of our ‘True Story’ interview series, in which I interview interesting people about fascinating/challenging/non-traditional things that they’ve done. This is the story of Anna.
For the unititiated, could you give us the definition of a transgendered person?
Let me begin with the usual disclaimer. I do not represent every transgendered person and my opinions and thoughts on the matter are just one person’s viewpoint, blah and etc. I think the stock answer is that transgendered is an umbrella term for people who, for one reason or another, cross gender boundaries.So, transsexuals, cross dressers, intersexed, people who identify as gender-queer, butch women, femme men, two spirits, drag kings/queens, and people who present as androgynous could be considered to be transgendered.To strangers on the street, I identify myself as a woman. To friends and people I feel comfortable with, I identify myself as a woman who happens to have started off as a male to female (MtF), preoperative transsexual.How old were you when you realized you were different from other people of your gender?
I started feeling out of place from an early age…maybe six or seven. I think it takes a while for a kid’s gender identity to develop, so for the first five years, I felt like any other happy, almost genderless kid and I behaved how I wished. There wasn’t any one defining moment or realization, it was a lot of little moments. Like, when I was six or seven, I wanted to take ballet classes with my sister sooo badly. I knew that boys could enroll in the class, but I knew it wouldn’t be the same. I’d have to dress differently and would be treated differently, so I never asked.

Gradually, I started to feel out of place and increasingly uncomfortable with having to behave like other boys. I distinctly recall knowing the word transvestite in the fourth grade and I used to wonder if I was one. Writing this, I realize that this experience isn’t much different from the one a lot of “different” kids had growing up.

When did you ‘come out’ as transgendered? What was the reaction to it?I suppose I ‘came out’ to myself during my first year of college. We had a ginormous library on campus and I spent my first year reading everything I could on the subject. This was just before the Internet was widely available, so my reading choices were limited to super boring graduate psychology papers and the occasional mention in literature (Orlando, et al.).

I told my younger sister, my only sibling, about twelve years ago. I had played around and talked to people online before that, but my sis was the first “real life” person I told. Her reaction has never wavered from awesome and supportive and she has always been my rock. Nothing really changed after I told my sister. I still lived a sort of double life and only presented as female after work and in night clubs on the weekends. I wasn’t ready to go further than that, so I spent the next eight years trying to cultivate a “normal” life. I worked, went back to school, graduated with an engineering degree, got engaged, and slowly progressed from merely wistful to a deep, desperate depression. My body’s annoyingly good at showing me the way to go in life and I have major visceral reactions whenever I get lost.

Anyway, after my fiancee and I broke up, I decided it was finally time to change things. I started electrolysis and went to see a psychologist and my physician to get clearance to start hormone replacement therapy (HRT). I sent a novella-sized coming out email to my friends and family about five months later in October 2008. At the time, reactions were mixed. My mother was so not happy and father didn’t reply. Most of my friends were supportive. My cat remains indifferent.

I spent the next five months thinking of a way to come out at work and not drive myself insane with worry. I wrote about it some here and here. I had a meeting with my boss and our human resources representative about a month before I went back to work. The place I work is kind of small, so we decided it would be a good idea to get everyone together to talk about my transition while I was on vaca. My boss read this letter to everyone and then they all took turns whacking a pinata, having coffee and doughnuts, or doing whatever it is you do after having a So your coworker’s a transsexual? meeting. I went back to work the next week and it was a non-issue. I work with a bunch of smarties and they have either been super-supportive or quiet, which are both fine with me.Since then, I’ve reestablished good relationships with my mother and father (they’re divorced), gotten closer to some friends and lost others.

How does being transgendered affect your daily life?Being transgendered is my daily life; it’s not something I can take off or change out of. There are constant physical reminders…I’m 5’9″ and taller than most women, I’ve had about 100 hours of electrolysis and I still go for an hour every Saturday, I take pills every day, and on and on. As I move further away from my first day back to work, I think about gender less and less (and I hope to get to a place where I don’t think of it at all), but I think it will always be there.

I don’t generally have a problem with being accepted as a woman in public, but I’m always evaluating people’s reactions and how they treat me. I am self conscious and still too aware of the 152,396 things that are wrong with my body…but so are a lot of women. It’s easy to forget that when you’re up in your own head all the time like I am, but it’s important not to. We all have our own body issues and crappy days, but they shouldn’t define us and how we move through life or treat other people.

Does being transgendered affect your dating life?
How doesn’t it affecting my dating life? I think dating is an awful experience for just about everyone, but it’s extra fun when you have to disclose your surgical status right away lest you get assaulted or murdered. I wrote about how hard it is to find someone here. I identify as a straight woman (gender identity doesn’t have a thing to do with sexuality) and have been dating for the last eight months or so. I met a nice guy and we dated for the last four months, but just recently broke up. So, if y’all know any really understanding guys…

I guess the thing that’s most troubling about trans dating (and dating in general, I suppose) is that you have to really consider why that person is interested in you. Is it because they like you as a person? Are they into tall women? Are they obsessed with a particular part of your anatomy? Objectification is hardly a new concept to women, but it still stinks to be treated that way. I’ve tried to be painfully upfront with guys about my plans for surgery and I try to screen out the ones that aren’t really into me as a person, but that drains the pool considerably. Still, I’m an insufferable optimist and hopeful that it’ll all work out someday. I’ll meet that one special guy that loves me for who I am (he’s a pilot) and we’ll get married and raise three children (Bonnie, Jack, and Shelby), two dogs and four cats on a small, boutique cheese farm in Vermont or Norway or whatever. 🙂

Are you interested in having gender reassigment surgery? (you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to – I’m not even really sure if this is an appropriate question!)Yes, I do plan on having reassignment surgery at some point. No, it’s not an appropriate question, but I understand why people want to ask it all the time. I say it’s not appropriate, because I was (and I think a lot of people were) raised to believe that health-related topics were private matters and not eligible for open discussion. Honestly, it isn’t anyone’s business, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from asking. If they do, it makes me think about their motivation for asking that question. Sorry, I don’t mean to get all snippy, but I have strong opinions about this 🙂

When I’ll have surgery is another matter. I think a lot of people have some idea about the current, poor state of our health care system, but there is almost no insurance coverage for trans people. My HRT is mostly subsidized through work insurance, but I have to pay out of pocket for electrolysis and reassignment surgery. So, my monthly transition costs are an extra $250 and surgery is around $20,000. Things are changing, however slowly; the AMA now recommends affordable health care for trans people and a recent tax court ruling made the costs for surgery tax deductible.

I don’t have the money for surgery now, but things might get easier in the next three to five years.I’m also not what you would call an “out and proud” trans person. I sometimes write about life as a transsexual person on my mostly anonymous blog and choose to share that information with the special people in my life, but that’s as far as I want to go. People have made great strides in accepting transgendered people, but Angie Zapata’s murder trial was still in progress less than a year ago. It’s still too soon and the stakes are still too high. Also, again, it’s not really anyone else’s business. I choose to tell who I want, when I want, and I ask my friends and family to not share my information.

What are the most common misconceptions that you’ve encountered?
I guess it depends on the sort of transgendered person you identify as. I haven’t had many in-depth discussions with friends and family on what’s it like to be transsexual. I don’t bring it up much because I don’t want people to think that it’s the only thing that defines me as a person…it doesn’t. These days, I’m way more concerned with blogging, dating, crafting, art, my cat, trying to have fun, paying my bills, getting to work on time, etc. So, I don’t have a lot of experience with this, but I have had discussions with a couple of friends about sharing my status with people they knew. I’ve asked them not to do it but one of them had an issue with it. She asked me what I was afraid of in not coming out to everyone.

I think people just apply the lesbian and gay coming out model to us…like, once we tell them, we should be out and proud and not ashamed of who were are. I like myself and I’m not ashamed of who I am, but I’d rather not get murdered or treated differently because of that one detail.I think the more common misconception is that we’re all freaks, perverts, just gay, just lesbians, sick, mentally ill, just in it for sex, hormonally imbalanced, attention seeking, drag queens/kings, someone to be pitied, or just pretending to be something we’re not. For the record, I am none of those…ok, maybe occasionally hormonally imbalanced.

What advice would you give to other people struggling to come out of the transgendered closet?Advice? Eeep! I have a hard enough time taking care of myself/Miss Kitty and I’m certainly no role model, but here goes…

Do some homework:
These days, there are plenty of winning online resources for trans peeps…Andrea James’ tsroadmap.com is an excellent resource for the MtFs, Hudson’s FTM Resource seems like an excellent FtM guide, and Dr. Lynn Conway’s site is an amazing catalog of sane, successful, beautiful trans women. I’ve never read it, but I sent my Mom a copy of True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism-For Families, Friends, Coworkers, and Helping Professionals by Mildred L. Brown & Chloe Ann Rounsley, and she really seemed to like it. Youtube has tons of trans people representin’…TrannystarGalactica is a good group of vloggers, but there are loads more. Read other blogs. Check out your local GLBT resource center, they may offer a support group. In other words, try to figure out who you are and where you want to go next.

Talk it out:
It’s hard to figure this out all by yourself and you’ll feel much, much better after you share this with someone. Talk to your friends or family if you feel comfortable. If not, speak to a therapist or another trans person. Take this time to lean on the people in your life that want to help you and love you for who you are.

Make a plan: If you decide that you identify as transsexual and think permanent transition from one gender to the other is in your future, think about how you’re going to get there. Do you need to make a budget and earn more money? Are you going to change you name? What’s the procedure? How do you change your driver license and records? Do you want to start HRT? When are you going to tell your friends and family? When are you going to tell the people at work? I spent a lot of time planning the details of my transition and I think it helped a lot.

Make it happen: You need to actually go out there and do it at some point. It’s going to be mega scary and nerve-wracking at first, but I believe in you and I know you can do it! 🙂 Take it slow ( you can work on hair removal and saving money anytime), follow your plan, and don’t forget to take care of yourself. Try to find a safe, welcoming place where you can be yourself when you need to relax or when it all gets to be too much. Do something with all that stress; go dancing, ride your bike, or learn how to play air guitar! Take advantage of your homegrown support system and cultivate relationships with the people you love. Keep a journal, blog, or vlog so Future You can cringe about how weird you looked or dumb you sounded back in the day. 🙂 Just kidding…this is an important time in your life and you’ll want to remember it. I guess the most important thing is to just get to it and move on with your life.

Does anybody have any (tactful! respectful!) questions for Anna?

True Story: I’m Dating a (Significantly) Older Man

What's it like to be dating an older man - 20 years your senior? According to this woman - it's awesome! // yesandyes.org

This is the story of my friend Marie (29) who’s dating Mike (49).

How did you guys meet?
We knew each other for a year before we started dating. We met playing pick-up soccer. Now, I must mention that his son played in those games as well (he was 12 years old at the time).

I instantly categorized Mike as “older-guy-with-kid” and therefore, undesirable. Not to say that I didn’t consider him good-looking, I just didn’t consider him. Period. You know, due to the child thing.

Was there an instant attraction?
Initially, I just have to go back to that first reaction. I saw him with his son and although I very much consider him attractive now, it just wasn’t in my realm of comprehension at that time.

Did you ever hear that story about when Columbus landed in the West Indies and the natives were not physically able to see the boats because nothing like that had ever entered their reality before? Well, sort of like that.

Have you dated men who were significantly older than you before?
No, but I suppose I have been attracted to older men in the past. I was the girl with the crush on Harrison Ford while my friends all went crazy over whoever was in the latest teeny-boppers mag (at the time, most likely Joey Lawrence).

I also liked men in positions of authority, teachers and sports coaches (if they were in their 20s or 30s). Not ALL of them mind you, but there was definitely an appeal.

Have your age differences created any problems?
Well, not yet but we are approaching a time when our future will take more of a leading role in the decisions we make. For example, he will be retiring long before me. Although it’s still a long way off, our savings and where we will be settled at that point are things we need to plan out.

Also, I still have a good 10 years of potential child-bearing in me, but we have yet to seriously think about going down that road. And I don’t want it to be too late for him in terms of really enjoying that child growing up – if we do decide to take that path.

Has anyone hassled you about your age differences?
No one has ever given us a hard time. But do take note that we also live in a small place where I would say “unique” relationships are a little more frequent than average.

Neither of our families really cast a second glance (well, in front of us anyway… who knows what they had to say amongst themselves when we left!). I think it makes a difference now that I’m nearly 30. If I was in my early 20s, I think my mother would have been worried. I’ve done a lot with my life in the last eight years and I think she knows I can make a good decision.

What are the benefits to dating someone who’s more settled into their life?
Ah, I do like this question as there are so many benefits! Although, these may be due to the person I am dating rather than a function of his age. But anyway, for starters –

1) Chivalry!
I’m not saying everyone who spent their teenage years in the 60’s will pull the chair out for a lady (in fact, I would have assumed the opposite). After nearly three years, I still get the door held open for me almost every time and the words “hello gorgeous!” uttered every day!

2) We don’t have double the drama.
I admit I am still a bit consumed by my own selfish concern of where I am on my life’s journey. Thankfully, when I have a panic attack or a hissy-fit, I have someone to show me the bigger picture and level me out. I know I won’t have to counsel him for similar reasons later down the road.

Being with someone solid in his career, with a little more life experience and rationality has certainly brought me down to earth more than once.

3) Guidance.
I think having the courage to admit that the life-path you are on is not working and starting again is very inspiring. Being with a man who can talk about how he felt in a given situation and what he did to turn it around is not only impressive but consoling and helpful, even if my situation is not entirely the same. It’s much better counseling than the blanks stares I received in past relationships and I don’t feel quite so alone with my problems.

4) Sharing.
Be it chores, time or the other dish that I wanted to taste at the restaurant we are at, I love to share. I think this is a skill many men develop with age. Or perhaps it’s comes with having a child. Anyway, we have absolutely no issues with sharing the workload or compromising on any issue.

5) Gratitude.
My boyfriend, or partner, (whatever title you like) has made some big relationship mistakes because he didn’t take care of the ones he was with. He wasn’t really “present” enough to realize that the person he was with was not the right person.

He learned the hard way and now that he has someone that fits perfectly, he shows me every day! That hasn’t waned a bit in the time we have been together and I have good faith it never will. In return, I show him the same respect and I find it really grows our love every day.

What are the challenges?
Nothing really, other than some of the long-term things that are a challenge to any relationship. Saving for the future, whether or not to procreate… all these pink elephants transpire the age gap! What luck!

I think the real challenge is finding a place that accepts the two of you together. Right now we have that but who knows what a move would bring? I don’t doubt we could be happy elsewhere, but I do foresee an awkward stage of “friend-making” in a place that doesn’t know us!

Any advice to ladies crushing on someone a bit older than them?
If you feel that it could work and you think the sentiments are returned – go for it! And don’t let society’s pressures of “right and wrong” get to you too much.

Hopefully, you are comfortable enough in your own sense of moral and ethical values to be able to judge if the relationship is appropriate or not (for example, I would imagine age can mess with a workplace romance or it could be difficult to date the father of a kid you teach).

However, as long as you are not taking on the role of a mistress or getting yourself involved in some other sticky situation, remember, you only live once and the best opportunities are not necessarily the most obvious ones.

Have you dated someone significantly younger or older than you?

P.S. How to get over a break up + love your ex enough to leave them alone

True Story: I’m an Identical Twin

Yes, that’s what they really look like. And they’re so nice/smart/funny you can’t even hate them for looking like Bond girls! I lived with Carrie (the twin in the foreground of the picture – I think) my junior year of college. Despite seeing her every day, I’d regularly confuse Carrie with her sister Diana when I saw her around campus. Eventually, I just took to addressing them both by their last name. Clever one, me.
Do twins run in your family?I guess my great uncles on my mom’s side were twins, but no, not necessarily. However, for whatever biological reason, apparently women age 35+ are more likely to have twins (my mom was 35 when she had us).How frequently do people confuse your for your sister?
That depends. Though we do have somewhat separate lives if, for instance, Diana shows up at the restaurant where I work (most people there know I have a twin) and people don’t know she’s coming, they say ‘Hey Carrie!’ and try to start a conversation until she informs them that she’s not me.

How similar are your personalities?
That’s a hard one because to us, of course, we are two completely different people. But we do notice how similar we are sometimes. If I listen to a voicemail that I left on her phone- it freaks me out how much I sound like her. From inside my head, I sound different, but apparently from the outside we are quite similar.

Sometimes when we’re having a conversation with someone, we’ll laugh or respond in the exact same tone at the exact same time. A lot of times the person we’re talking to doesn’t notice because it sounds like only one of us responded. To each of us, it just sounds like stereo inside our own head. We usually look over at each other and check to see if both of us had actually spoken or laughed.

My mother says that starting from when we were in our cribs across the room, we’ve always had synchronized body language. That when we’re near each other we subconsciously move similarly, shift our weight at about the same time, cross/uncross our arms at the same time, look the same direction. We also started having “abbreviated conversations” at a very young age. Both parents claim that we had extensive conversations in our own language in the back seat of the car together, long before we could ever speak English or communicate with anyone else.Over the years, I’ve had to remind myself to insert major details into stories I’m telling to people other than Diana. Maybe it’s because we’ve shared so many experiences or because we’re constantly thinking along the same lines, but we can cover a lot of ground without saying much. I remember sitting in a restaurant with a bunch of people and I heard music we might recognize playing in the background. I caught her attention, looked up, looked back at her with a questioning look, and she nodded. That equated to “Do we know this music and is it from that one soundtrack?”…”Yes it is and we have it at home.”

Have you ever switched to confuse your teachers, parents, friends?
Not very often. We did switch classes twice in middle school. Once for Home Ec – not very exciting. But it was amusing to watch it spread around the classroom as some of the other students figured it out told each other. The other time was for English and I remember going to Diana’s class and the teacher saying “Goodbye Diana!” as I walked out the door at the end of the period. I walked out into the hall, did a u-turn, came back in the room and she said “Hi Carrie!”

This is slightly cruel, but I guess the only thing we still do is if we happen to be together and either of our parents calls one of our phones, the other twin will answer it and see how long it takes for that parent to figure it out. I think Dad noticed something about how we each answer the phone or our initial voice fluctuations, but we can still keep Mom going for a little while sometimes. 🙂

How do people react to you when you’re out together?
Blonde twins? At the cost of sounding completely vain: they stare. It’s like the normal rules of courtesy don’t apply and because we’re somehow intriguing- they can just stare!

However, when I see another set of twins I stare as well! It’s fascinating to see the similar movements and mannerisms of another set of people (and pick out the differences). Which I suppose is what everyone stares at Diana and I for as well. Also, when I see another set of twins I always feel compelled to go up and let them know that I, too, am a twin. And compare stories and experiences etc. When a twin or twin sees us, they usually come up and do the same.

Have you ever had any of those ‘she gets hurt and I feel it experiences’?
Maybe, though not strongly. A few months ago when Diana was going through a particularly stressful situation in her life, I would get these persistent headaches. I was drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, exercising, no PMS- nothing to explain it other than her stress. So I would call and tease her to stop stressing out so much!

Have you ever wished you weren’t a twin? Or wanted to alter your appearance so we didn’t look so similar?I do remember going through a phase in high school where I didn’t want us to look the same all the time. Of course it never helped when we’d each get dressed in our separate rooms not seeing each other, and come out into the hall between our rooms wearing the same thing anyway. What to do?

We’ve became masters at sharing and cooperating because we’ve had to. It was and always is nice to have my best friend built right into my life (painfully cliche, but so true). Our teachers attempted to “socialize” us by always placing us in separate home rooms (I suppose they wanted to be able to tell us apart as well). That might’ve helped, to a degree, but we never HAD to make friends because except for those few hours of school, we were always with the one person we shared the most preferences, abilities, and life experiences with anyway.

Are any of you a twin? Do you know any twins? Questions for Carrie?

True Story: I Was a Stripper

What's it really like to work as a stripper? You'd be surprised! // yesandyes.org

How did you become a stripper?
When I turned 18, my top priority was to “grow up” and become independent as soon as possible.
To me, true independence meant never having to ask my parents for money — though they were more than willing to provide it. I hated the fact that they paid for my car, my college tuition, my food … I had a joe-job slinging wheatgrass at a juice bar, and I got a scholarship to help with my tuition, but living in Los Angeles ain’t cheap.
My meager income wasn’t nearly enough to survive on, and it drove me nuts. I felt so infantilized and trapped. Just before my 19th birthday, I saw an ad for an “amateur night” contest at a local strip club.
I’d always been a pretty repressed young lady — perfect grades, respectable hobbies, never so much as a parking ticket — but something about the idea of exotic dancing captivated my imagination.

The amateur night was a few weeks away, so I slowly built up to it. First I bought myself some 6-inch platform heels, then I practiced walking around my room, then I got myself a lacy lingerie set, then I picked out my setlist (“You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC / DC and “Vivrant Thing” by A Tribe Called Quest).

Finally, the night of my big debut arrived. Standing backstage, I was completely terrified — not because I was about to expose my body to a room full of strangers, but because I was convinced I would trip and fall!

But the moment I stepped onstage, I went into an altered state. Turns out, I was a total natural.

I won second place — competing against several dancers who were far from “amateurs,” I’ll have you know — and made $400 on the spot. The rush of adrenaline and exhilaration was indescribable. I knew, without a doubt, that my life was about to shift dramatically.

Tell us about the place where you worked.
I stripped for about three years, primarily at two clubs: The Jet Strip (Los Angeles) and Ecstasy Theater (Orange County).

The Jet Strip was essentially a cozy neighborhood dive bar, but with naked ladies. Most of the customer were “regulars” — or as they jokingly called themselves, “pathetic losers” (PLs for short). The dancers were exceptionally diverse — every ethnicity, body type and educational background was represented.

Unfortunately, the place was run by a mega-douchebag named Billy — a red-faced, testosterone junkie who managed the club like an oppressive dictator. I quit after about a year, largely due to Billy’s appalling behavior. Most of my regulars followed me to my next club, Ecstasy Theater.

Ecstasy was a female-owned club run by a former stripper. The clientele was mainly businessmen and college students — an interesting mix of big spenders and frat boys. Unlike Jet girls, Ecstasy girls were polished and “perfect” — in a very conventional, Maxim magazine sort of way.

I worked out 3-4 days a week with a personal trainer and had standing hair, nail and tanning appointments, just to keep myself in Ecstasy-worthy shape. The earning potential was insane — $700 to $1,000 dollars a night was pretty standard.

The downside was that I had to drive nearly four hours (round trip) to work at the club … driving back home at 4 am and getting into bed at 6 am totally tweaked my sleeping schedule, making it difficult to spend time with friends and family during the daylight hours.

What were your co-workers like?
There are certain stereotypes about strippers: they’re all drug addicts, they’re all skanky, they’re all single moms. I won’t lie — I met more than a few drug-addled slutty baby mommas.

But I also met PhD students, professional tattoo artists, fashion models, real estate agents, event planners and hair stylists. The happy, healthy dancers had three things in common: a day job, a savings plan and an exit strategy.

You’re a lesbian. Do you think that made it easier for you to strip for men?
You know, I really think it did. For one thing, getting to watch spectacular women twirl around a pole for hours on end was a pretty sweet workplace perk.

And unlike some of the straight and bisexual girls, I was able to maintain a black-and-white divide between my stripping persona and my real-life personality.

I didn’t socialize with male customers after work … I didn’t develop crushes on them … I didn’t dream about them “rescuing” me from my current lot in life.

And — perhaps more importantly — I didn’t despise or belittle them. I could relate to their longing, their loneliness and their desire for female companionship, because I shared those feelings, too.

What were your patrons like?
Hilarious. Beautiful. Generous. Flawed. I picked my customers pretty selectively, and they were all over the map in terms of income level, age and relationship status.

Most of them never knew my real name, but we forged deep connections that lasted weeks, months, years. I still keep in touch with one or two of them, believe it or not!

How did stripping effect your ideas about sexuality and commitment?
Stripping taught me that “chemistry” — for lack of a better word — can explode in very unlikely pairings.

I’m a gay lady, so I wasn’t exactly lusting after my male customers, but I nevertheless felt chemically drawn to certain guys: an obese school teacher, a weedy nerd with terrible fashion sense, an elderly gent with a creased face and feathery hair.

The “spark” wasn’t exactly sexual (at least not for me) but it was something. It was real. To this day, my strongest friendships with men fall into that gray zone between “I want to know you” and “I want to sleep with you.” Learning to feel comfortable in that zone, without having to put a label on it, was a big part of my coming-out process.

You have a cool, ‘grown-up’ job now. How did you get around that time on your resume?
I took a two-year leave of absence from college when I first started stripping because I was deeply unhappy and had no flippin’ idea what I wanted to study.

But during that time, I added a number of impressive jewels to my resume: I worked as an assistant producer at an independent film company, got a research grant to study alternative medicine and doctor-patient relationships, earned my helicopter pilots license, read voraciously and developed a writing “voice.”

Once I made the commitment to complete my undergraduate degree, I went full-throttle, taking extra courses during regular semesters and squeezing in even more credits during winter and summer school sessions. I wound up graduating with my BA at the exact same time as my high school friends — even though I’d taken a significant “detour!”

Would you ever go back to stripping?
If I did, it would require serious physical preparation! I’m still pretty attractive (at least in my own mind) but my 25-year old “retired-stripper” physique is considerably softer than my 19-year old body. It would be kinda hilarious to stage a grand comeback tour, though … hmmm … !!! 🙂

What advice would you give to ladies who are considering getting into stripping?
Ooh, list time! Here are my top three pieces of sage wisdom for would-be strippers:

(1) Have a specific savings plan and a clear timeframe, and write it down to reinforce it. Do you want to save $30,000 and take a yearlong sabbatical to write a novel? Pay off your credit card bills and graduate from college debt-free? Make a 10% down-payment on a house? Pay for your own damn wedding?

All of the above? Whatever it is, stay focused. To quote esteemed financial adviser / rapper Xzibit: “make that money, don’t let it make you.”

(2) Pay your taxes. All of them. Every year. Really. I can’t stress this enough. It can be very tempting to sock away rolls of cash and never declare it to the IRS, but that is a terrible idea.

Get an accountant you can trust, write off your legitimate business expenses (hello, manicures!) and pay the government what you owe. Getting audited is no fun, no matter what you do. Getting audited when you’re a stripper? Double-plus-no-fun.

(3) Be very cautious about who you confide in. Not everyone will understand your motivations, and some people (i.e. parents) will worry themselves sick.

Come up with a believable cover story (ideally one that’s grounded in truth) about where your money is coming from. Better yet, get a day job — even if it’s just part-time — to deflect raised eyebrows and probing interrogations. Or, pull a Diablo Cody and write a best-selling memoir. Either way, be prepared for the potential backlash.

Have any of your ever stripped? Do you know anybody who does? Any (respectful!) questions for our friend?

P.S. How to tell people things they don’t want to hear

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Class Discussion

photo by weaving major
I teach ESL to adults in St. Paul, MN. I love my job and my students pretty effing hard and on a pretty regular basis they bring me to tears of a) laughter b) tenderness c) both. But then we all know that I’m a weeper.

Past discussions I’ve had with students:

  • The first time a student’s husband “loved” her
  • How delicious snake and monkey are
  • If they will get a body like mine from drinking Pepsi
  • Why I have boobies but their Chinese teacher doesn’t
  • If ghosts live exclusively in the ocean
  • Why I have hair like a lion
Equally hilarious is trying to explain any sort of western holiday or celebration. I tried to teach my students about Independence Day with wee, England and America shaped puppets, and a ridiculous story about how England was the mother and America was the unruly child. This was obviously met with blank stares and “Teacher, no.”

So, when I read David Sedaris’s “Jesus Shaves” story I thought “David Sedaris! What are you doing in my classroom!? Get out of there, you!” It is, of course, hilarious and chronicles what happens when David begins taking french classes (in France) and his class tries to explain the concept of Easter to a Moraccan classmate.

Here just a bit of an excerpt.

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and . . . oh, shit.”
She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.”
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
“He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
“He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
“He nice, the Jesus.”
“He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.”
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.