Samuel Peterson has battled addiction all of his life. When he was young, it was sugar. In his twenties, he turned to methadone and cocaine. As an adult, he moved to prescription painkillers and later heroin.
He eventually found sobriety, and in his 50s, Peterson enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He also wrote a play. But underneath these life achievements was the pull of addiction.
Peterson speaks with host Frank Stasio about his life and his new book "Trunky: Transgender Junky" (Transgress Press/2016) that explores his experience as a transgender man in a Butner, North Carolina rehab facility.
On an early addiction to sugar:
I feel like I came out of the womb an addict because my early memories are watching those luridly-colored Warner Brothers cartoons and chomping down box after box of Honeycomb Cereal, and like secreting them away in my bedroom. The behavior of the addict was always there.
On his first time taking opioids as a young woman:
I was a young woman. I was 12 years old. I had gotten my first period and I had been prescribed codeine for it. And I remember taking that codeine and it was the most pleasurable, euphoric, feeling. I mean I couldn’t even believe it. And it was an antidote of sorts; not just to the pain, but I think I carried a lot of pain around the experience of having a period.
On suppressing his gender identity as a child:
I had capitulated to the fact that I was a girl very early on. I mean I was born in 1960, the technology wasn’t there. The language wasn't there. So I think, you know, I experience this very early heartbreak of: “This is impossible.” I don’t think I could even articulate it as, “I wanted to be a boy” when I was a kid.
On being involved in LGBTQ activism in the 1980s:
I was in an LGBT community in the ‘80s and this was during the Reagan years...The AIDS crisis was happening. It was a particularly troubling time to be queer or to be gay. But, that having been said, there was also an enormous amount of community and rallying and support.
On the intersection of gender identity and addiction:
I think the gender stuff contributed to this sense of being isolated and a kind of darkness and hopelessness that the narrative of addiction loves. Addiction loves this kind of story of isolation and separation from others and it preys on the mind, and in that regard it made me want to use more.
On his new, sober life in the South:
If I had imagined I would be someone who did yoga, and drew people’s dogs and cats, I would run screaming down the street. But here it is and here I am. … I love it.