Greyson was my first trans friend.
I met him in February of 2010, at my high school slam team’s first preliminary bout at Louder Than a Bomb, the world’s biggest youth slam poetry festival, held in Chicago each winter.
My piece that year—with which I had won a spot on Northside College Preparatory High School’s slam team the previous November—was an earnest, impassioned, all-encompassing rally for gay rights called “Skittles”. And although, after a difficult process of reconciliation, I had first come out as gay to my then-best friend Roldan on December 17th, 2008, and gradually to more than thirty more over the following months, I had saved my official, public coming out for the debut of my poem.
And despite the fact that everyone I knew in the audience already knew of my sexuality that cold morning in February, on an upper floor lecture room without windows in one of the Columbia College Chicago buildings downtown, where at least a hundred people now sat waiting for me to start, many—my parents notably included—had not yet heard “Skittles”. But my years of theatre had well prepared me for the moment: although I was terrified to the bone, and although members of a competing slam team snickered from the front rows when they surmised the subject material of my poem, I powered through outwardly undaunted to the end. It wasn't until I returned to my seat that I could not stop from shaking.
“Look at your dad,” my close friend and slam companion Nina whispered, leaning over to me. I glanced back to see him crying. I hadn't seen him do that in a while, but I still knew they were tears of pride. I turned back forward to await the score, embarrassed at the prospect of him seeing me see him.
In slam, five judges rate the poem on a scale of 10, and the opposing outliers are eliminated. My “Skittles” debut earned me an almost unprecedented five 10s. My slam team hugged me as I laughed, still shaking, in disbelief.
But it was not the score, nor my father’s reaction, nor even publicly performing a poem so paramount to me and my still-new identity that filled my soul the most that day.
It was Greyson.
Sitting two rows ahead of me, then a petite lesbian with a cute pixie haircut and cool square-rim hipster glasses back when they were just getting popular, a poet from another team—who had already done a brilliant poem about watching his friend struggle with anorexia—passed a little slip of paper my way. My slam coach handed it to me.
“Hey, I’m gay too!” it said, or something similar (I’m sure it’s still buried somewhere in my bedroom hordes of paper I never bring myself to throw away). “I loved your poem :)” His name was not Greyson then, as he waved back toward my smiling face, nor would I have said “his,” but it would be a dishonor to his memory to remember him as anything else.
I say “remember” because last month Greyson died.
While clicking around aimlessly on Facebook this morning, I came across his profile, and realized it had been a while since I had talked to him. I scrolled through his page to find several RIP notes. I couldn’t believe it.
We had not really spoken in several years, Greyson and I, but following that bout we talked a lot. He told me when he realized he was trans, and the difficulties it produced with his parents; he told me when he started to take testosterone and he told me when he stopped; he told me that it was hard; he told me that it was hard.
When I saw the RIP notes I searched Google frantically, trying to find an obituary, a news article, something. But between the girl’s name he was given at birth and Greyson, which he chose, and between his father’s surname and the one he adopted for himself, there were so many names under which he could have been immortalized in publications. I didn’t find anything from any of the name permutations.
The sad thing, though, is that I knew I was only searching to disprove what I already knew to be the unfortunate probability. Let it be a car crash, I prayed to God; let it have been cancer, anything. But I contacted a friend of mine, h. melt, another trans poet who knew Greyson, and they assumed the same thing that I was trying so hard to undo. They heard a rumor that it was a heroin overdose, but we agreed that hard drugs like that couldn’t have been Greyson. Suicide, yes, but not that.
I looked up the most recent Facebook conversation between Greyson and me, strangely under the profile of his girl-given name. He must have deleted his other one. I was surprised to see that we had actually talked less than a year ago, on December 30, 2012. It was just a short chat: he asked me how I was, where I was in school; I asked the same in response. We were studying the same things. Greyson had messaged me that day; he wanted to see me soon. I agreed. We exchanged numbers and promised it would happen. But of course, it never did. These things rarely do.
Looking back now, what struck me most about the conversation was how fine he seemed. He even said he considered himself “grateful” to have parents that were slowly coming to terms with his transition. But now I can’t help but thinking maybe his request to hang out was more a cry for help that in a language only shaded by emoticons I did not recognize.
Why did we ever stop talking? I wonder. Then I think about my then-best friend Roldan, the first person to whom I ever came out, and how we last saw each other almost two years ago, and maybe haven't even talked since. And I think about Nina, who is still a close friend but an infrequent one, for although we go to college just a hour and a half of navigating the CTA apart from each other, we are both always so busy we only ever see each other over vacations.
But that doesn't excuse it, I retort to myself.
You knew he was in bad shape and you drifted away.
You knew he was in bad shape and you drifted away.
I wonder if I might have done anything.
I wonder if I could have helped.
I wonder what name they used at the funeral.
I wonder if he knows out there that someone cried for him today.
And I start to think: about his parents, about mine. I think about how I've been telling people how amazing my parents are to be so supportive of me through all of this, but not for the values they taught us to carry or the sacrifices they so often make. I think about my recent realization that when the criteria for Amazing are basic love and acceptance—what should be the given amongst people who love us—we need to change our criteria. I think about how now, I become happy when someone treats me like a normal human being, when they use the right pronouns and they don't visibly react to the way that I look. I think about how simple human dignity has to be reserved for aspirations and I hate that. I hate that Lesser Than is expected.
And then I think about Greyson, who was greater than most, with an infectious smile and a tender nature, who was intelligent, who was kind, who got genuinely excited about things, who wrote poems and wrote them well, who knew who he was even if that made him unpopular, who is gone.
And I think, THIS SHIT STOPS NOW. I am sick of living in a culture where everything is always fine. Let's fucking take care of each other. Let's maintain friendships even if they inconvenience our schedules sometimes. Let's consider ourselves highly enough to say, I merit basic human dignity, and I will only think more highly of those who exceed that treatment. Let's give each other reasons to live.
Greyson, if you can read this, I am deeply sorry that I did not stick around like I should have. I greatly value the time you gave me, and for that, I cannot thank you enough.
I hope this post is a start.
You are a true gentleman.