The museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

Helena

63, Chicago, IL, 2013

Jess T. Dugan
American, born 1986
Helena, 63, Chicago, IL, 2013
Pigment print
Promised gift L2019.195
I feel very isolated. I don’t feel whole. There’s still that hole in my middle, the stomach is not filled, I’m not fed completely. And I wonder whether or not I will ever have that feeling of being embraced. When I pretended to be a gay male I could pretend to be a part of the gay community, and it looked good on paper and on the surface. Sometimes it worked. But as trans it doesn’t work. You have to find a collection of trans friends that you can depend on.

My roommate warned me. She said, “Let me get this straight. You want to be a middle-aged, black woman. Oh yeah? Really?” And I said, “Yeah. Look out world, here I come.” You have to have a sense of humor and choose your battles very carefully, because they do have emotional ramifications that produce stress. I try to cut down on stress. It’s not productive. One of the reasons I switched over to the Afrocentric clothing and the hair and all of that is I don’t like where the mainstream puts women, visually. And it’s all visual. It’s like we don’t have any insides. So I thought, “Well, okay. I’m already isolated.” The advantage to being isolated, it gives you permission to really be who you are, because you think nobody really cares. And I’m tired of trying to prove something. So I’m just gonna be.

Every day I try to do one thing for someone else that I don’t necessarily know. That helps me not feel isolated. They say you’re not really giving until you can feel it. So if you’ve got five dollars and you give four of them away you feel it. I heard some kids saying, “Ma, can we have some fruit? We haven’t had fruit in a long time. We haven’t had fruit since you got that check from the IRS.” I thought, “My God, it’s June.” When did she get that check? And they really wanted this fruit. I could see the pain on her face, a mother having to say no. And there were four of them. So, I went up to the register, because they know me in Joe’s on 95th Street. And I said, “When they come up, all this fruit that I brought to you is for them. And I’m gonna pay for it. And you better not tell them. Just put it in their cart. And if they say anything, say, ‘Somebody wanted the kids to have the fruit.’ That’s it.” One nice thing a day.