Chris Talbot-Heindl

Three Separate Piles

trigger warning: mention of anxiety, a white supremacist, and anti-trans rhetoric

I don't see it, but I've been told that I'm hard to shop for. Not because I'm picky or some sort of enigma, but because I live such a minimalist lifestyle, people can't imagine what in the world I would want.

That must be why I have a healthy collection of quirky imprinted mugs and screen printed tees. Everything cat-themed, with my they/them pronouns, displaying Indigenous pride, as well as a host of different roller derby team logos from the Denver area and teams that I've skated with.

Periodically, the amount of tees overwhelm the heavy duty shelving unit I use to store my clothes and begin spilling over no matter how nicely I fold them.

Then it's time to make three separate piles:
1. For the neighborhood garage sale - hardly any items go here since I'm far too introverted to know my neighbors and far too self-conscious to believe anyone will want my discarded clothing. I say this pile is going to the neighborhood garage sale, but truthfully, this pile contains items I will place in the closet, find after I've had time to miss them, and eventually end up back on the shelving unit.
2. For the donation drop box outside of Steve's Snappin' Dogs - some items end up here, dumped in the donation drop box, and forgotten.
3. For scraps - my tendency to love things until they are stained, threadbare, and falling apart means that most items end up on this pile. These become rags, or in our current predicament, turned into face masks.


Marsha, my therapist, has taken on the Sisyphean task of interrupting my negative self-talk and general outlook. I admire her dedication and often feel guilty that in two years, I haven't made much progress worth noting. I only have brief moments to share with her as examples of results of her tireless work.

I have habits that are hard to break for me; I have systems that have become automated in my brain, for how to deal with or view occasions.

My brain's filing system makes three separate piles:
1. All moments of harm enacted by a person adds up to...something - likely that said person secretly hates me and is currently only putting up with me for reasons. No bad moment is forgotten, but is stored somewhere in my brain. Every new incident brings the entire pile back to the forefront of my mind before it gets added.
2. All moments of joy induced by a person are enjoyed, treasured, and then forgotten. In order to remember the moment later, I need to really concentrate on it; a stark contrast to how easily moments of harm are automatically recalled.
3. All neutral moments evoked by a person pass by unnoticed entirely. Obviously I have them, and most moments would be in this category. But like utilitarian items, they create a background tapestry that is never really brought to mind.

Although inanimate, and through no fault of theirs, sometimes my brain's filing system also piles items that hark back to the people who have elicited feelings. These items get buried in the recesses of my living space - tucked in closets, under the futon, or at the bottom of a folded stack on the heavy duty shelving unit. It saves me from having to think about them, until it's time to make piles.


The first tee I pull from the stack sports the logo of my first roller derby team. The same team that exposed me to a white supremacist without my knowlege and then reacted horribly when I had the audacity to ask why.

I want to throw this shirt in the scrap pile - I definitely don't want to see someone in Denver sporting it. The sight of it still triggers me, so the garage sale and the donation box are definitely out. But maybe there needs to be a fourth pile for the donation box in that city. I'm sure the shirt would make one of the white skaters or someone who knows nothing about what happened very happy.

I decide that the fourth pile is the suitcase I'll use the next time I visit family in Wisconsin. I'll drop it off at the Goodwill drive-thru and be done with it.

The second tee I pull from the stack sports the logo from my last roller derby team. The same team that exposed me to a trans-exclusionary "radical feminist" and a host of anti-trans rhetoric, both unconscious and blatant.

Honestly, it wasn't the team's fault, and I had a lovely conversation with one of the trainers about it when I indicated it was a problem for me. When you are a voluntary host of a voluntary recreational league, what control do you have? When you are a cisgender leader, how much do you see of what your transgender skaters experience? What do you say to your volunteer referee when he makes anti-trans comments? I had hoped for something, but it's also not something I can expect. And I can't reconcile spending my family's money on league dues to experience it.


There are dozens of people on that team and only three who have harmed me at a level beyond the normal cisgender-ignorance-of-trans-affirmation zone.

On that team, I was asked my pronouns unprompted; I was properly gendered hundreds of times by people I truly love and who, I have no doubt, truly love me.

I place the tee shirt back on the shelving unit; I'm going to keep it. I make a mental note to tell Marsha about this brainstorm. I don't envy her task, so I always like to share my successes, no matter how minor - and considering I noticed the moments of joy and the neutral moments on my own, maybe it's not so minor.

Plus, I love when she tells me that she's proud of my progress.


Chris Talbot-Heindl (they/them) is a queer, trans nonbinary, mixed-race creator in Denver, Colorado. They are the co-creator and editor of The Bitchin' Kitsch and creator of The Story of Them graphic novel and Chrissplains Nonbinary Advocacy to Cisgender People educomic. When they aren't creating, they can be found at their day-job, protecting wildlife and wild lands in the southern Rocky Mountains, or quad skating in the park, at the rink, or in roller derby. Follow Chris on their website at, or on Twitter and Instagram @talbot_heindl.