Coronavirus Courtesy

by Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

“You know,” my friend said, “we really don’t need to be worried about the coronavirus. Old people are really the only ones dying, and —” She paused. “Oh, well, I guess people with no immune systems too, or cancer, or something I read that online.” 

I knew, rationally, that my friend meant these as words of comfort. As an immunocompromised person, however, it felt like a nail in my coffin. Not only did it feel as if she was telling me I’d be the first to go, but it also felt as if I was supposed to celebrate this fact. 

It’s a very scary time right now. Colleges are closing and friends are abruptly returning to their home states. Concerts and plays are getting cancelled. People are buying enough cleaning supplies and toilet paper to fill a bunker. Friends refuse to hug or shake hands. Day-to-day life changes rapidly as more warnings are put in place. Even something simple as grocery shopping feels like an epic journey. It’s all the more stressful when you’re a target demographic for this pandemic. 

I’m immunocompromised. Though I deal with various physical limitations (such as chronic pain and a limp), this is what affects my lifestyle the most. I catch every cold, flu, and stomach bug that goes around. Strep throat, ear infections, chills, dizziness — these are familiar to me. I’m allergic to everything I touch, from grass and plants to dust to pet hair. I’m constantly covered in painful, itchy hives. I have a cough more often than I don’t. My nose is always stuffed up or running. I’ve had bad fevers three times this year, and it is only March. 

This makes life difficult. What makes it even more difficult is person after person repeating the narrative that only the eldery and the immunocompromised are at serious risk for death by coronavirus. It’s insulting. I hear, “Don’t worry! You might die, but everyone else will be fine! Your life is of less value to me, because I have a strong immune system!” 

As much as I try to be thick-skinned, this hurts. Your immunocompromised friends’ lives are of equal value to those who do not deal with this. Please be kind, and practice sensitivity. Silly as it may sound, put yourself in the shoes of those who are scared in the face of this threat. It’s not only a threat to our schooling and jobs, it is a threat to our lives.

The Zoo

by Julien-Pierre Campbell


“Theodore, stop! Bad dog.
Stop! Oh, my goodness — ahh! Babe, can you just grab the cat? No, the other cat. No, the other cat!”

 

I was ready to tear my hair out. See, I had just moved in with my fiance, and we were experiencing some growing pains, particularly in the pet department. The house was a zoo. I took a step, yowling cat in my arms, and tripped over the pit bull. He was whining, the cat was hissing at him, and from the living room, another cat was caterwauling for dinner. 

 

“Oh my goodness!” I released the cat I was holding. She hissed and spat, then turned tail for the closet. The dog continued to whine. Finally, somehow, we fed all the pets dinner. The hysteria settled down. I locked eyes with the person I was spending the rest of my life with. A thought crossed my mind: You’re also spending the rest of your life with all these animals!

 

I live in a two-bedroom apartment. It’s a really lovely place. My roommates, a married couple, are the sweetest ladies in the world. Our location is great! And of course I live with the love of my life! Always a positive. The only problem: in our small square footage, there are five cats and two dogs. Four of those cats are bonded pairs who hate the others. The fifth is lovingly referred to as “the bastard” for his propensity for biting. Two of the cats hate dogs. One of them — mine — had never met a dog before and doesn’t know what to think of them. Most of the pets cannot co-exist in the same room. All this to say: it’s been an adjustment period.

 

Part of being 20 is, I think, figuring out how to exist in the world with other people. What I hadn’t anticipated was learning to exist with their pets. Dinnertime at my house is never dull. Homework may feature a 55-pound pit bull sitting on your lap. Taking a shower generally includes a blind chihuahua licking your toes. There is much breaking-up of catfights and rescuing the dog when the cats gang up on him.

 

For all the chaos, though, it’s wonderful. This is what it means to be young. A little mess, a little negotiating, and some craziness are all part of life. Our pets are so, so loved. Many of them have come from abusive homes or were strays. Now they live in a house with four parents who adore them and totally spoil them. 

 

I have never lived with this many animals, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. Of course it’s hard and chaotic, but it’s fun. We pride ourselves on how well taken care of our little monsters are! And if they’re happy, I’m happy. 

Hi, I’m the Antifa Protester You’re Afraid Of

me! by Julien-Pierre Campbell

I was on the proverbial front lines. Black bandanna pulled over my nose and mouth, sunglasses and beanie hiding my identity, I ran. The knife fixed to my belt (clear plastic with a heart-shaped buckle) bounced against my leg as I dashed across the parking lot. 

“J, you with us?” my friend Danni (an alias, of course) huffed. They looked back at me, eyes flashing behind their dark glasses. 

“Yeah,” I panted. “I’m here. I’m with ya.” 

The rest of our party was spread out — Danni’s boyfriend Ty, with his backpack full of medical supplies; our friend Asher, lithe and smiling, even with black paint around his eyes; and our other friend Joey, so tall he could hold his own. I was the youngest by far, and definitely not built for this. Nineteen, small, and physically disabled, I wasn’t exactly imposing. I was, after all, wearing a shirt with a cartoon cat on it. 

But I was an antifa protester. I was fighting for what I believed in, so it didn’t matter. 

We made it through the parking lot, skirting around the wall of riot police keeping us away from the Proud Boys. We had been separated from the larger half of our protest. We were fenced in by heavily armed men on one side, traffic to our backs. 

I was exhilarated. Running from cops will do that to you.

In the back of my mind, however, was some kind of heartbreak. People on the sidewalk were looking at us like we were the monsters, not those that I believe to be literal fascists. The police were menacing us with guns so large I didn’t know the names. They were arresting people and throwing them to the ground. I saw a woman zip-tied and held down for dancing. 

I suppose I wrote this to achieve relief. Hi, Portland: I’m the antifa protester you’re afraid of. I’m the villain “just as bad” as those who I call neo-Nazi Proud Boys. But I’m also a full-time college student, a lively barkeep, and a cabaret performer. I fight for the rights of the oppressed because it’s all I can do. Times are dark for those persecuted by both the Trump administration and our society at large. 

I educate where I can. Antifa is short for anti-fascist; nothing more, nothing less. I take to the streets as a form of catharsis, I suppose, and as a statement: this city will not tolerate fascism in its streets. Oppressed minorities shouldn’t live in fear. I use what privileges I do have to stand up for the voiceless. And if the bandanna over my mouth makes me a villain to polite society, then call me a villain. 

I’ll be antifa for life, and I’m proud to say so. 

Getting Mobile

By Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

 

Months back, I wrote an article talking about dysphoria and my experience as a feminine trans man. I began the piece describing a scene looking in the mirror. On the first day of the new fall term, I found myself echoing that experience. I stood in front of my mirror — still dusty — and inspected what I saw. I’d chosen my outfit carefully, put thought into the denim jacket and leather collar, the ankle-high boots and skinny jeans. There was something new, however, an element I was unused to. 

Gripped tightly in my right hand was a cane. 

I’ve struggled with chronic pain since I was thirteen years old. There is a constant, invisible war being waged in my body every day. I wake up in pain and I go to sleep in pain. I’ve been to countless doctors, tried everything from CBD to acupuncture to pain medication. They all work in their own small ways, but the pain does not go away. It only ebbs. 

Most days, I put on a smile and go about my business. I’m a very happy person by nature; compartmentalizing pain is a necessity to keep sane. When at work, I slip between tables with ease, bringing food to customers and checking on my regulars. I pour beers and sling them down the bar. I’m on my feet all day. At school, I’m an engaged student. I sit up straight and make it to all of my classes early. On weekends, when I take to the stage to perform in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I do push-ups, I run from a lovesick pursuer, I carry people. I literally play a muscleman created to look pretty and strong. 

All of this is done through the pain. 

What isn’t seen is the fact that after work, I’m generally so pained I limp. After school, my sciatic nerve is on fire, sending urgent signals up and down my legs. After the cabaret, I’m nearly bed-bound for a day. 

After a flare-up that forced me to take time off work and limited my mobility, I finally snapped. Being in pain 24/7 is abnormal. My teenage years have been heavily impacted by my constant pain, and I feel like I’ve missed a normal youth. I want to be more proactive about my health. I want to take steps to help myself. 

I’m now seeing a physical therapist once a week and an acupuncturist semi-frequently. I’ve taken the leap and use my cane at school. 

So now when I look in the mirror, I admire the cane in my right hand. It helps me. It allows me a little extra support, which I sorely need. I won’t be ashamed of it. In fact, I’ll celebrate it. 

My pain is a part of me, but it’s a part I’m challenging. This invisible illness does not define me. Using a mobility aid is nothing to be ashamed of, and I so I refuse to be shamed by it. Look out world, here I come — with my cane. 

Vulnerability – Let’s Give it a Go

me!  by Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

 

As I often do when I begin these articles, I sit at my laptop and just sort of stare. What to write about this month? I look back over my entries, smiling at some and grimacing at the clumsy writing in others. I’ll be the first to admit: I’m a little pretentious. My ramblings about mental health, my wordy diatribes on what to do post-college, my praise-singing of the cabaret I perform in — they all smack of the tortured academic who loves flowery language. 

I’d posit something a little different, however. Reading through my entries over the past 6 months, I see a radical vulnerability that I can’t help but appreciate. It’s hard to say good things about oneself, but I’m going to try. 

Student life is challenging and scary. Being vulnerable and open, especially on a platform that people read and can use to pass judgment, is also challenging and scary. 

I reckon I’ll keep at it. If I’m not honest about the angst of student life, then I’m not being honest with myself. It’s not all rosy meals in the dining hall with your friends and studying with aesthetically-pleasing color-coded binders. 

There’s a lot of crying at 3 a.m. over the latest confusion the honors college has thrown me. There’s a lot of spiraling about what I want to do post-college. There are money struggles and relationship struggles and mental health struggles. As much as I love life — and have chosen a patch of radical happiness — it’s pretty messy. 

I think the media often portrays college a tad differently than reality. I know I had unrealistic expectations coming into school. This isn’t to say I haven’t had fun or made dear friends. College has been a whirl-wind of papers and parties, friends and finances — but it’s also a mixed bag. If we can’t be realistic about the good and the bad of student life, where does that leave us? 

I don’t think vulnerability is a bad thing. I think it’s a scary thing, because it leaves you open to heartbreak and judgment, but it also opens avenues to much more love than I ever would have thought possible. It’s helped me learn to ask for help when I need it and to set clear boundaries that I didn’t previously have. It’s helped me reassess my priorities in school and my social life. 

Vulnerability, especially at college age, is transformative, and I’m all for it. 

Junior Year

me!   By Julien-Pierre Campbell

 

As junior year creeps up on me, I can’t help but feel nervous. There’s a question I can’t seem to dodge: “Julien, what do you want to do when you graduate?”

 

The answer is…everything.

 

I used to think I knew exactly what my life would look like. I’d graduate with my degree in political science at 20, shoot into law school and begin practicing law by 24. At the latest! It took a depression spiral that lasted three straight months to realize I hated my degree. The goal shifted: I’d be an English undergrad –for my sanity– and then go to law school! So maybe I would graduate at 21, but that didn’t negate my success.

 

Other careers tempted me. Wouldn’t it be nice to work in publishing, to join my father in the business that had brought him so much joy? Or perhaps I’d be a non-descript academic, reading scholarly articles and sipping brandy in front of a fire. Maybe I would run away to the countryside and work for a historical society. I could throw away the life I’d made for myself in Oregon and go be a Revolutionary War reenactor on the East Coast. Or I could give into my passion for taxidermy and find an apprenticeship. Or work in an old folks’ home. Or a mortuary.

 

The problem is, I can’t decide.

 

Nineteen feels deceptively young to call myself an adult. Though I live on my own, pay rent, take care of an animal that depends on me and have all the experiences of any young 20-something, I can’t shake the notion that I’m still very much a child. I feel intelligent, but not mature. This leaves me in a sort of a limbo.

 

I want to shout, “Why in the world am I deciding my future when I can’t even go to a bar?”

 

At the same time, I want to ask why I can’t do everything I want. Why not work in publishing, while writing in my free time, volunteering for a historical society, and retiring to the East Coast? Why not be a wandering poet who just so happens to have an eerie knowledge of law?

 

When I think about life after these next two years, my chest clenches — with fear, but also anticipation. I’m so excited to begin the rest of the life, even if I’m not exactly sure how.

Matching Tattoos

me!   By Julien-Pierre Campbell

A brisk Saturday, sunny but cool, and we stumble into the tattoo parlor. My usual artist, the stern Igor, sees me and grins. I’m with my newly-minted best friend Ali, and it’s time for a milestone in our friendship: matching tattoos. It was a rushed, giggling decision. I have no regrets.

 

XXX

“I’m getting a tattoo on Saturday,” I had told her.

 

“What? Me too!” Ali said. We grinned at one another across the table in the Queer Resource Center. “At least I’d like to. I don’t wanna be that person who gets Hozier lyrics tattooed on them, but…”

 

“What?!” I yelled. “I’m getting Hozier lyrics tattooed!” What were the odds?

 

“From what song?”

 

“‘Nina Cried Power.’ You know those lyrics, ‘The heaven of the human spirit ringing?’ Those are the ones I want.” I felt that certainty down to my bones. The first time I ever head it, I was moved to tears. I knew I needed it on my body, which is a map of my favorite quotes.

 

Ali’s eyes were saucers. “I want lyrics from that song too! ‘It’s not the waking, it’s the rising.’ What the hell?!”

 

Our individual lyrics mean so much to us for so many different reasons. Mine remind me that I am stronger than my depression. My human spirit rings out with all the force of heaven. It does not end.

 

“I know a tattoo guy,” I said, and with that, our plan was set.

XXX

Saturday arrives. Igor draws up our designs using my favorite font, and Ali and I discuss what led us to this moment. We talk about our childhoods, and the trauma we’ve endured. We talk of our paramours and friends. I chug a bottle of water followed by a liter of Coke. We’re buzzing with excitement.

 

Finally, Igor calls us back.

 

We go together, grinning, and I sit down across from my artist. Igor is a funny guy, accented and unsmiling, but he’s always got a chuckle for my terrible jokes.

 

“Are you ready?” he asks.

 

I nod. As the tattoo gun pierces my wrist, I smile through the pain.

 

The heaven of the human spirit is ringing.