When it hurts to come back home to Montana
Sometimes, it's hard to come back to the land you love
Pic: Crazy Mountains by Tex Jawort
Exactly one year ago I was living in Las Vegas on a writing fellowship and volunteered to to talk to some creative writing workshop students.
These dozen-ish kids were aged from middle school to high school. They were bright, and exceptionally talented kids as I quickly discovered as I spoke to them, asked quesrions, and then observed their creative process. If you purposefully take a creative writing class on a Saturday as a young student you are definitely driven. And, of course, being young artists amongs fellow creatives, they were comfortable enough to be their quirky selves.
Here's the thing, I owe them this essay from that day a year ago. Like, I have them this lecture on the November 26th of 2022, and it is now November 26th in 2023 and I told the organizers I'd do it, so here we are.
So, what took so long? I remember I started and stopped so many times, and things kept going dark, you know?
It seems easy enough to just write about what I did with the students, how after we discussed the writing prompt, I walked around and made sure to chat with each and every student to make them feel listened to—unless they looked too much in the zone; then I got back to them.
“You look tired, Little Big Man. You want to come to my tipi and rest on soft furs?” -Me, prolly—especially as I literally was tired.
Anyway, I loved the writing prompt they had; which was if you went to a utopian planet, and they had everything you loved there which included a bunch of fellow creatives, art, food or...you know... Utopia, would you go back to Earth? What would be possible dilemmas or storylines? Would you miss your family? Things of that nature.
Some kids were more focused and excited about creating the setting of Utopia foremost—it's literally creating a heaven, you know?
What does it look like? What is it powered on? Natural energy sources? (I made a side joke it could be powered by coal mined by other children just like the ye days of old. For Minecraft is a popular video game nowadays, and ergo, the children yearn for the mines.)
For me, I told the students, living in Las Vegas for the past month felt like Utopia and I didn't want to go back to my home planet, so to speak, of Montana.
I said being transgender was rare where I was from, and there I felt normal—like I wasn't such an outsider. I didn't get too deep, otherwise I would have also noted in Montana I was tired of constantly being wary and suspicious of even well-meaning people wanting to possibly hurt me.
In Las Vegas, and especially in the goth club I lived by where I’d “found” my queer-friendly social tribe I never had at home, I finally had time to relax and work on my novel and really push my writing into deeper levels. I'd even performed my Liza Minelli "Mien Herr" dance from Cabaret the previous week. It was a small crowd, but I performed in Vegas, damn it, and had maybe not a foot but at least toe in the door.
For the past year in Montana, I'd been involved in a libel lawsuit against a transphobic Pastor that'd gotten so bad with threats a Judge was forced wrote a memo in reference to our case stating:
I urge each of you to review the news reports and bear security issues closely in mind during times when you and your clients have business in the courthouse. It is critical that you take a personal interest in your own safety and the safety of your clients, your colleagues, court personnel and judges.
We eventually won the case after we filed for sanctions for all the many metaphorical threats thrown at us, and they filed for bankruptcy the day before the hearing.
I had glorious hair that day. Victory!
So I got a bit of settlement money literally days before I went to Las Vegas, and that's what I was living on and it felt a bit of a dream to just be able to put all that behind me and write.
But as my time there drew to a close, I was reminded how moronic our laws were going to get, and I honestly didn’t want to go back.
This was spurned partly by the Colorado Springs' Club Q shooting the previous weekend and, when two days after, Montana decided it was a great timing to introduce a bill banning not only drag queens from doing in art in public, but trans people as they'd be considered being "in drag."
For all the beauty there which made Montana a Utopia by way of scenery, I was at a real "Fuck Montana," attitude.
Stay classy, Montana politics. (But note the heroes doing the “lie-in.”🏳️⚧️🏳️🌈❤️)
Sometimes, there seemed nothing left for me in Montana other than being co-dependent to the land, and I just wanted to forever rest within it.
But in Las Vegas, I felt alive again. Still, what was the obvious universal answer of why you'd leave Utopia in the writing prompt?
Is this, Utopia?
Family, of course. You'd miss your family.
And here's where it gets complex, because I've been abandoned by much of my family since I came out trans. I was told my dad was *crushed*. And although people who are anti-LGBTQ try to use this against me all the time, my daughter's mom has kept me from seeing her ever since I came out trans.
While my mom has passed, so has my little brother a year younger that me. I miss them when I think of family members who would just not only "accept" and love who I was, but be proud of me, you know? Proud that I'd won a local avtivist award; proud I was runner-up for a national activist awards.
I wish I wasn't spoken of as if I were not only a black sheep, but a dirty secret.
Still, I'd feel bad abandoning my dad.
When I once won a 40 Under 40 Award, they asked who your hero was, and I said my dad.
He'd always been a legit righteous man who did his best to raise us, and worked hard af blue collar jobs like delivering sheetrock and shingles when I was little, and was always there not only for us, but for all the underprivileged kids at a church youth program similar to Boys Scouts.
My mom used to leave us for long stretches sometimes as an alcoholic. Sometimes, it was like a couple weeks, a month or two, and one time it must have been about eight months. And when you're a little kid, that time seems infinite.
Anyway, during the latter time and a few months in, we went to find her because we caught wind she was at a bar downtown. My dad basically dragged her out, and some Native guys were trynna step in. And he's a stout, buff dude—tough as nails. While I'd never seen dad actually be violent, right then he cocked his fist back and said to them, "Those are her kids over there!"
He nodded towards me and my brother parked in the ally looking out the back of the little S-10 truck window
Those guys didn't want none, and even told mom, "Hey! You better go see your kids!"
Long story short, mom finally did come to the truck window after more dragging and prodding. After an apology, she said, "I guess this is our final goodbye."
I was devastated. The ride home was a blur. All I could try and do is be a mom for my litlle brother crying. Be strong, I said to myself as I rubbed his back as he buried his little head and big tears into me.
I aged a lot that day.
My dad stopped and got us ice cream.
When we got home we were all processing it in our own ways—me shooting hoops for a few hours intil it got too dark. When I came home dad cooked trout again. I was always sick of trout because we went fly-fishing all the time, but I was so hungry it tasted delicious that night.
I heard an odd noise, and went to investigate. It was my dad in his bedroom. The odd noise had been the only time I ever heard him cry. And he was praying.
Just telling that story cuz he took care of us alone for months after before mom came back, so it is hard to leave someone behind like that, you know?
Anyway, when I talked to my dad in the days following Club Q, he sounded legit concerned for my safety. "Keep calling me, and let me know where you are on your way back!" he said.
I think Colorado Springs made him realize people 'like me,' when traveling alone, are not safe. And he already had a son murdered, and I don't want to be another child killed by violence for being LGBTQ.
And sometimes, I have to remember that I am vulnerable. It's odd to go from a handsome—by most previous accounts—bad ass male (albeit with a chill, pacifist stoner-vibe) to someone others feel a need to be protective of because I've had so many threats at me.
I saw an interview of this dude who was at Colorado Springs who'd been shot seven times. I don't even think he was LGBTQ? Doesn't matter. He'd moved to town, and wanted to check out a cool, hip place. And teh gays are fun to party with, ya know? So he went to Club Q.
After being shot, he was able to run and somehow made it to a 711, and collapsed. The store people cut his clothes off to get the bleeding to stop and saved his life. But he thought he was gonna die for sure when he came to, and had to call his dad because he was real close with him. He was his best friend, he said, and he tells him everything. The last thing he wanted to do was to talk to him before he died.
I felt that.
Anyway, I did eventually have to come back north, and the impetus was giving a history lecture about being Two Spirit to high school and middle school kids on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota—where it was like -30 degrees—and those kids were fascinated by it.
Art of me via Standing Rock. Also, #NoDAPL solidarity!
Between the youngsters in Vegas and the rez, the kids are all right, I thought. Whereas before I’d been a lost doomer, after that I had hope.
Hopium is much better than copium.
Coincidentally, this same speech was banned under that Montana drag law when I was supposed to give it at a public library to a room full of adults of all people. And that's where I find myself today with another target on my back while in the midst of another lawsuit combatting bigotry and ignorance.
I do want to go back to the Utopia that is Las Vegas and complete that novel I'd worked on there. I need to. It's so close.
In the meanwhile, I still gotta give 'em hell here as I once again head up the highway along the Yellowstone River as the Crazy Mountains come into view and pierce the sky.
❤️ you fam🏳️🌈🏳️⚧️, & stay safe.
~Adria L. Jawort is the Director of Indigenous Transilience