It’s 4:01pm on Tuesday, August 04, 2015. It’s beautiful outside and I’ve just come in from a short walk with Dodger and Daisy. It’s been a long day for me which started pretty normally. 5am alarm, shower, coffee and out the door with Dodger and Daisy at 5:42am for our morning walk and homeless outreach.
We arrived back home a little after 7am. I began to clean my apartment with the intent of working on two projects I have scheduled for next year. However shortly after 9am I get a call from a person whom I provide HIV peer support for. This person is transgendered and just moved into permanent housing about two months ago, but things have not been going that well.
First, services for transgendered individuals are greatly lacking. Add something like homelessness and HIV to the mix and they are pretty much non-existent, disrespectful and degrading.
Then, there are the hardships of finding a job that will allow you to pay rent, bills and maybe a little extra to buy basic things like toiletries. If you know anything about DPSS (welfare), then you know that isn’t much help and is also very hard for someone who is transgendered.
This person is considering going back into sex work in order to survive, but knows this could place their housing in jeopardy, not to mention their life. We talked on the phone for a bit, but after a while I knew a simple conversation on the phone was not going to work. Since I know they have a small point-and-shoot camera, I offered to come hang out with them for a bit and thought that maybe escaping for a bit into photography could help. So without mentioning it, I offered to go meet them. Plus I had gifts for their new apartment.
I know this person loves to drink coffee, so I stopped at Trader Joe’s to snag some beans, half-and-half along with some sugar. I already purchased a coffee maker, grinder and a few mugs, so I just placed these items in the Bloomingdale’s bag. This person loves Bloomingdale’s, but always says “A bitch can’t afford shit out that ho, so I go in and ask for the bags so I can just pretend like I’m special enough to shop there.”
When I arrived they were still in their PJ’s, but lit up like a Christmas tree when I handed them the Bloomingdale’s bag with the gifts inside. “Oh Kengi. Oh my lord.” screaming as they pulled the items from the bag. “Bitch you know you gonna have to show my silly ass how to use all this fancy shit.” We both laughed and they said “I promise I will never sell or pawn this shit right here.”
Over coffee we sat and talked about many of the problems they were having. One of them was not feeling comfortable with their doctor and clinic. I felt this was the thing we needed to tackle first. So I began to ask questions, so I could better understand how I might be able to help. After a while I made some suggestions to change doctors and clinics, but also warned this meant starting all over in a new place. I also wanted to make sure they had their medication for the month.
We then talked about food and clothing resources. Someone gave me a gift card to Old Navy as a gift, but this person needed it more than I so I gave it to them, I was also able to supply a $50 Food4Less card which someone mailed for my food outreach. Once we addressed the basic needs, they began to relax and we could focus on other issues.
We made some appointments and came up with a game plan for the next four months, with clear goals that were both smart and obtainable. I then asked if they maybe wanted to go out and shoot with me for a bit. “Oh hell yeah. Just let me get pretty ok.”
As we walked to the train we talked about their dreams and what they hoped and wanted for their life. Once on the train our conversation continued and the stories they shared with me were so powerful. A few times I nearly burst into tears, because I know what it feels like to have people turn their backs on you and I certainly know what it feels like to eat from a garbage can, but selling my body is not something I could ever bring myself to do. These stories touched my soul, because as they spoke all I could see was this beautiful, kind and gentle person, doing whatever it takes to survive.
As we exited the train we sat on the platform for a bit while they cried. I placed one arm around them and other on their leg and allowed them to just let it go. After a while the tears stopped and the laughter began.
We shot all over Downtown Los Angeles, laughing and giggling the entire time. It was so cool to watch them escape into the art of photography. Looking at how they saw things and what caught their attention. Then on the ride back all we did was talk about how much better they felt and how they had no clue as to how comforting photography could be. Before we arrived at their stop I started to get ready to get off the train, but they touched my arm and said “Boo, you’ve done enough. Thank you. Go home and rest.” We hugged and kissed and said goodbye. “Call me if you need anything” I said
About 3:30pm I got a call from them and before I could say anything other than hello they said “I’m going to be alright Kengi. After today I know I will be alright. I won’t be Caitlyn, but this bitch right here will be alright.”
“That’s good to know boo boo” I said smiling.
“Honey today is just what I needed. This little camera is like a freaking therapist. My pictures are amazing. Can we do this again soon?”
“Sure we can. Anytime you want.” I replied
There are times when all of us just need someone to show up for us and allow us to just break down. There are times when all of us just need someone to hold us and allow us to be who we are, where we are and how we are. There are times when all of us, just need to be loved.
When I walked through the door of my apartment Dodger and Daisy charged me as they always do, but this time I set my backpack down and sat on the floor near the front door to just hold them. They both licked my face and jumped all over me.
I laid on the carpet with them and took a nap. They stayed so close and every now and then one of them would lick my face, almost as if they knew I had a long day.
I’ve always believed that art and photography can be very healing and calming. Whenever I’m able to do my HIV peer support sessions or even my homeless outreach sessions and incorporate art or photography it always works well. I think HIV support should be far more than a circle session in some room and today was more proof.