Kim Winchester – Mental Health

“There’s a lot of pain . . . in the community.”

I always felt that was normal, [being] abused. I didn’t have any real concept of that at the time. When I was born, I had to wear a body cast until the time I was about four. So I had a real hard time walking and I was probably a slow learner. I was the shortest person in the school when I was in sixth grade.

[My family] moved from Algona to Seattle in the summer of 1962, at which time I went to Rainier Beach [Junior-Senior High School]. I had a very hard time in school. I was constantly afraid of people. I had very, very low self-esteem.

I was taken out [of Rainer Beach on] the day of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and put into an institution called Ryther Child Center. I stayed there until I was 21, never to return home. My family used me coming home for weekends as [control]. “If you’re not good, you can’t come home.”

[I went to Ryther] because my family felt that I was emotionally disturbed. We’re talking about being a product of the early ‘60s and the ‘50s when transgenderism . . . I didn’t know that’s what they called it. You know, [people would say] “Be a man!” Or, “You’re sick. You were born a boy.”

When I was at Ryther Child Center, I tried to express how I felt about myself and I was constantly ridiculed. So, I didn’t have a sense of belonging anywhere.

[My counselor at Ryther] was Chiz Norton. That name is engraved in my heart as a very, very special lady. She’s long gone and out of the field. I remember like yesterday: after she’d left, they gave me a male counselor and that worked out zilch. He tried to teach me all these manly things. [Laughs.] God, can you see a queen playing golf in high heels? [Laughs.] I don’t think so! [But Chiz Norton’s approach was] like, “Okay, this is how you see yourself. So what stops you from being all that you want to be?” But see, at that time I was so lost, I didn’t hear that: “What stops you from being all that you want to be?” It’s pretty traumatic.

I had my first job when I was 14 years old. I worked for the neighborhood youth corps and I stayed with them for five years. Boy, the people that I worked with gave me all these manly chores—painting and scrubbing. You know, I didn’t care, because it’s what I had to do to survive. [People were trying to get me to “be a man”] constantly. Constantly in the early ‘60s.

But I met some good people. There had to be a balance in my life, or I wouldn’t be here. I know that.

I skipped a lot of school [while I was at Ryther]. My mother didn’t understand it, because I didn’t feel safe telling her about it. She didn’t know until later on. Just maybe when I was about 50, I told her that I was raped when I was in the institution. They had me in an all-male dorm. I was raped. On top of that, my perpetrators were all calling me “queer” and “fag” and just made it ugly. It was more than one person[, more than one time]. To this day, I still don’t have it in me to bond in a one-on-one relationship. It’s not that I didn’t try. It’s just that I lack faith and trust. It didn’t work.

I left Ryther [when] I was 21. I couldn’t live there no more. That last year [there] was really rough. It was a year that I was waking up, and I was out there in search of myself. Ironically enough, one could find me in the library because books, books, books, you know. I encountered some dirty old men [there], and they took advantage of my youth. When I was still in Ryther, I was going to school, and I was skipping school and going to the library.

[I went to Los Angeles.] Probably the most peaceful time I had in my life. I was away from all the criticism.

***

[When] I got introduced to drugs, and I lost all interest [in job training]. I lost all sight of anything—any kind of future, you know. The drug takes you and that’s all she wrote. I lost all sight. After that nothing mattered for a long, long time. I remember my first use there. It was all over a man that I was with. I wanted to be a part of him. We ended up kind of drug partners and not partners.

My aunt and uncle kept saying, “Come visit us. Come visit us.” Well, I was too ashamed, because I was putting a needle in my arm. I always had this thing, “Would you do it in front of your mother?” No. As much as I hated her, I respected her and I loved her. And I can’t say I ever hated her. I was just angry at her for not being able to protect me.

Today I can understand that. But at that time I carried all that. I was a time bomb waiting to happen for a long time.

Then, when I got arrested for prostitution in Los Angeles, I went over to Las Vegas. And I got arrested for the same thing! [Laughs.] Then I went to San Francisco, and I got arrested for the same thing! I just wasn’t able to see the pattern, you know.

Some of the dates I got . . . I thought that they knew, because I knew. You know, [I thought] they knew that I was a guy. This one particular guy went, “You’re a man!” I said, “So are you! So what’s the problem? Shut up.” [Laughs.] Oh God. Thank God I had a gun to get him out of the house. But by that time in my life I really didn’t care. I just didn’t care. [This was in] San Francisco in ’78.

***

[In the 1970s] I asked [my friend Benderella, another transgender woman], “So what was it like being in Rainier [State School]?”[1] And she said, “Well, I liked the men. I liked the men. I used to go and give them all a head, and nobody would say anything.” [Laughs.]

She was undergoing hormone therapy. And she was developing very nice. She [got that when she] went to her doctor. Her doctor gave her the medicine and he monitored her very, very close. There again, the family did not approve. This was back when transgenders were considered to be a psychological disorder.

But they’re not! Never have been. Homosexuality . . . They say you choose your way of life. Bullshit. People are so lame. And then it’s [transgender] still classified as a disorder. But it’s wrongfully classified.

It’s almost like Benderella was a prisoner all her life. Benderella knew Benderella, but Benderella couldn’t be Benderella. And, if she chose to be Benderella, then she had to suffer the consequences of society. It’s like being a prisoner of war.

***

Benderella was very touchy. One minute happy, the next minute sad. There had to have been a mental disorder. I don’t know if that was caused or created. You know, where you have this uncertainty. It’s like, people say, “Well, you’re born with that.” Bullshit! Bipolar can be created as easily as being born with it. You shout these horrible things at people, like “You’re a faggot. Faggot! Queer, queer! Pansy!” No, no, no! “You were hatched alongside an egg! You’re not part of us!” You know, that can create problems.

And . . . Scary, but I thought that maybe at one in my life if I’d had a gun, I could’ve been a serial killer—and not thought twice about it. That’s scary. That’s very scary.

I’ve met some very angry people. I was angry for a long time too, but . . .

***

I miss Benderella. You know, I think that’s when I noticed a change in me. I started using more and more hard drugs after [she was murdered]. I noticed that. I didn’t want to remember. I didn’t want to be in a relationship. I didn’t want nobody touching me. I was just going to get on the streets. I was just going to get my money and you were going to leave me alone. “Don’t touch me! No, I can’t love you. I refuse to love you. Because if I love you, then that means you could hurt me. I’ve had too much already. I don’t want no more.”

***

I don’t know what happened. Just for a brief minute [in the late 1980s], I had an insight to go in [for drug treatment] in Tacoma. Oh, my God, it was a horrible experience. It was all black people; I was the only white person. I thought that they would have empathy, they had none. “You’re a faggot.” “You’re a boy.” [I was there for] three weeks. I walked out. I think that was the first real step I took towards my recovery. Putting up with other people’s shit and brutality: I don’t need that.

[Then] I went back to the treatment placer. Jackie was my counselor. Jackie Lasage. She’s my honey-bunny. She’s another lifesaver I’ll never forget. I just told her what was going on. We had a hard time placing me. Number one, I wanted to go to detox, to withdrawal, to get on the right track. They said, “Well, we’re going to have to put you in the men’s section.” I said, “Well, piss on you. I’m not coming.” I think that was probably my disease inheritance. I really did seek help. This state wasn’t really geared for transgenders back in the ‘80s.

So, I did get into a detox in Tacoma. They gave me seven days to withdraw. They knew what was happening. They were really empathetic—which doesn’t mean they have to agree—but they were empathetic and that was a big thing. They said, “You just bring you. No makeup, no nothing. We’ll provide you with what you need, so that you can be comfortable.” They were very good about that. They had me on some sort of medicine withdrawing from heroin—probably a real simple name. I’m brain-dead for what they used. Then they took me to Spokane.

This is where I came into Spokane. I took the bus. My sister and everybody came to say good-bye. My mom wouldn’t come. She was so disgusted. I came to Spokane on December 2, 1989, on crutches.

The last thing I remember about getting high was being pushed down a flight of stairs and robbed. I remember the police coming, “Can we help you?” And I says, “Get your God damn hands off me!” I was very angry, very hostile. I went to go see my doctor. They gave me a thing and . . . I tore all the tendons out. I walked with a limp for a long time. But I came here to Spokane on December 2, 1989. Scared to death, not knowing what was going to happen. I went into treatment at New Horizon’s Care Center: Isabel House.

So, they says, “Where we going to put you?” I says, “I want to go in the women’s group.” And they said, “We’re going to try it.” They had me in a room with three other girls. The girls all complained, “Well, we don’t want to be in a room with that.” That! So, they put me in a room by myself, and eventually they got another girl there. She was okay with me. I was really shut out. I didn’t even unpack. I had no intention of staying. I was devastated. God! All I could hear was these voices. These voices, you know. “Mur, mur, mur.” It was hard for me to focus on any one thing for a long, long time. First counselor I had was a male. I’m sure he was quite empathetic, but I just refused to give him the time of day.

I got more counseling—one-on-one counseling—with the administrator. She’s from a different country, and she understood. I felt her empathy. So I was able to relate. My counselor—ironic enough—was from Japan . . . That was the beginning of change for me.

When I was in treatment, we used to go to dances to try to reintegrate back into society. Have a good time without drinking and drugging. The girls really got mad at me. They used to go around telling the guys, “That’s a man. That’s a man.” The attempts were not as futile back then, because they did suffer consequences for that in a group therapy setting—but not to the extent that I was satisfied. I wanted to beat them up! [Laughs.]

I was pretty angry. I felt threatened. That’s when they started saying, “You need to stop reacting and tell us what’s going on.”

I wasn’t even ready for what was to come out. I told them one of the reasons I got real angry was because I had seen a lot of girls killed—something like that. Number one: I didn’t think it was funny. So many of these other girls [in treatment] were street walkers. They understood, but they all thought it was funny. I said, “You know, it’s easy to laugh at somebody else’s expense. There’s more than one way to kill people. You just killed me.”

What they did: they held me accountable. They had me work through my anger—some of it. Oh, Jesus. I’m still in a rage. They gave me different tools to work with that.

You know, we used to have to get in this big circle in treatment and people go around and touch you and say, “Oh, I care about you.” Oh God. It was real scary for me! They says, “Well, why aren’t you doing it?” “Because, as far as I’m concerned, all you can eat shit and die and go to bed. Leave me alone! I don’t have no feelings for you. I’m not going to sit there and tell you that I do. I just want to be left alone. I’ve had enough.” And they said, “That’s not going to happen.”

Living in Spokane, it was very, very different. I met a doctor here in Spokane—my primary physician—I’m still with her. “Normally,” she said, “I don’t take the clients on after they’ve finished treatment, but I’m taking you.” First time she ever came in she says, “Well, can I give you a physical?” My remark to her was, “As long as you don’t maul me.” And we just sort of linked from that time on.

***

[Transgender identity is] no longer classified as a mental illness. That was taken out of the [DSM] book. I have a copy of the last—the fifth [edition]—and it’s no longer considered mental illness. Nor is homosexuality—as long as there’s no perversions with it. Perversions. People have different ideas about perversions . . .

***

All through the years, in the gay, lesbian, transgender society, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of alcoholics, a lot of needles. Heroin was the big thing, but now it’s switched over to meth. No matter where I turn, I run across a lot of people. It’s so sad to see them.

There are some gays, lesbians, transgenders that don’t do drugs. But a huge majority have—and still do—and don’t know how to stop. This is one of the reasons that I wanted to go be a substance abuse counselor.

[What’s the reason for] high substance abuse [in the LGBT community]? You have a very colorful background when it comes to walking into a gay/lesbian bar. If you was to do a collage . . . Oh, my God! I wasn’t prepared for it. Example: there’s some of the lesbians that have been in marital relationships that the husband is very abusive, deserted them, and they have children now. They’re so very fragile themselves. They don’t know how to be mom and dad. They sort of tend towards another woman, who’s going through the same thing. And sort of get into a relationship, you know, and . . .

There’s a lot of pain in the gay/lesbian/transgender community. One of them is not being accepted by your family. That seems to be a very high one. I ask them, I says, “Is your substance abuse part of the reason they’re not accepting you?” And they’ll say, “Well, I didn’t start drinking until they started rejecting me.” That’s a moment of clarity. I think I’d like to do a research on that someday.

[1]More information about the life and death of Benderella will be published as Laura S. Hodgman , “No Cinderella Story: Friends Remember Ben Scott “Benderella” Rae,” Oral History Review, forthcoming. The article, which relies on a wide variety of source material, sometimes departs from the story as it is told here, but it could not have been written at all without Kim Winchester’s collaboration and willingness to share her memories.

***

Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 22 February 2013 and August 28, 2013.