It Gets Better

Our country is facing an epidemic.  Homophobia, bullying, harassment, and violence against gays is increasing in epic proportions.  In September alone we have had six gay young men and teens commit suicide because of apparent bullying for being gay.  This is a list of the ones that we know of from September and accompanying news links that I borrowed from DailyKOS.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please get help and consider contacting The Trevor Project.  You do have people that love you.  There are people you can go to for a hug or to let you know that you matter.  I can tell you from experience it does get better.  Following in the example set by Dan Savage I wanted to tell my story.  I’m not much into making a video, so I thought I would write.

Last year, as preparations were being made for my 20 class reunion, a friend asked why I hadn’t made the 10th year reunion.  This was my response:

“I wanted to go to the 10 year reunion.  I was very excited.  I had accommodations arranged and was looking forward to the upcoming road trip.  It was so strange that the Sunday before the reunion I was sitting in church with my family and thought to myself that my life was perfect and couldn’t get any better.  I had a big house with a pool, a great job as a software engineer, money was okay, and the kids were both doing great in school.  Unfortunately (and fortunately), that very week , a slew of things happened that changed my life forever: my daily commute car caught on fire and I found out my wife had been cheating on me with someone she had met online.  The Wednesday before the reunion, the engine block cracked in my project car, and I had to walk home from where the car was sitting.  I arrived to a house with a note on the door, “We’re gone and you’ll never see us again.”  My Jack Russell was gone, my kids and their clothes were gone, and my wife and her belongings were gone.”

“I knew that her threat was real.”

“I’ve always known that I was transgender, I just felt the appropriate response was to conform – especially for my family’s sake.  My honesty required me to tell my bride-to-be about my feelings when were dating.  She accepted my shortcomings, but my part of the bargain was to be a husband and father.  I thought I did very well.  Just prior to her surprise departure, she had hinted that if we ever got divorced that she would use my gender identity issues against me and she would take everything.  In the judicial climate of that day, I knew she would have her way.  Again, what a crappy week.”

“I was at the lowest I had ever been.  I dissolved 240 sleeping pills into a glass of KoolAde and drank it.  You would think it would be a fairly painless and gentle way to leave this world.  As I remember, I barely made it to the bedroom before I collapsed.  At some point I awoke laying in my own vomit while having a seizure and horrible hallucinations.  The pain was more than I could describe.  I’m guessing that when your internal organs shut down, your body doesn’t like it very much.”

“In that moment, I begged God to let me live.  I didn’t want to die.  I tried to make it to a phone in my bedroom, but I could not stand.  Each attempt brought on another seizure, all of which ended with an additional concussion from my head hitting a piece of furniture.  There was no rationality in my head at that point.  Something lead me to try the phone in the kitchen downstairs.  I crawled to the stairs but ended up falling down them.  When I did reach the kitchen, I couldn’t stand to reach the phone.  I thought I would crawl out my front door onto the lawn for help, but I couldn’t reach the door knob.  Laying, in the foyer, I gave up.”

“I had a great relationship with my immediate co-workers and at Philips Electronics.  My boss, Chet, was concerned that I hadn’t shown up for work since I left at lunch on Wednesday.  Friday afternoon, I’m told, he broke down my front door and found me lifeless.  I was taken to the local hospital in Morristown via ambulance and then flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.  I awoke four days later on a dialysis machine and my right leg flayed open on both sides.  The sleeping pills took their toll on my kidneys and liver, the fall down the stairs caused a large hematoma in my leg and I apparently laid in such a was that no circulation could get to the leg.  Necrosis had set in.  I’m luck I still have it.”

“As if it weren’t enough, one of my first visitors (outside of my parents and siblings) was a sheriff’s deputy.  I thought I was in for it because of an attempted suicide.  No.  He just wanted to let me know that while I had been in the hospital, my home had been burglarized and everything I had of any value was gone.”

“After completing dialysis, the surgeries on my leg, and learning to walk again, I left to hospital with my only possessions: the vomit-stained t-shirt and jeans I was wearing when I was brought in.  They didn’t even fit.  While in the hospital I lost 65 lbs. (it wasn’t all bad I guess, but the food was horrible).  I started my life completely over from scratch.  I just threw that t-shirt away last weekend.”

“True to her word, I wasn’t allowed to see or speak with my children for five years.  For this concession, my family was allowed to keep in contact with and visit the kids.  I was fortunate enough to have them leave their Mom, who had moved to Oklahoma, to come live with me and Jaime when they entered high school.  Oh, it was a transition for all of us, but I’m glad I got to finish what I started.”

“It is a testimony to my current antipathy for organized religion, that only one person from Manley Baptist Church of Morristown, TN where I had been a member for some time came to visit me in the hospital.  It was only to tell me that it was a good thing I survived, otherwise I would be burning in hell.  Such is the source of my cynicism.”

I must seem like an outgoing member of the transgender community.  I may seem invulnerable to personal attack.  It may seem I have no fear of the hate mongers and homophobes that are so prevelant in this region of the country.  Several weeks of physical therapy, coma, dialysis, and other personal losses hardened me against a world that can be very cruel.  Needless to say, I vowed to myself that I would always be true to me and never afraid.  I faced death of my own design and lived.  Nothing could ever be more scary than dying.  This is what gives me my apparent strength and resolve.

Should I face personal loss (job, reputation, money) because I am outspoken then it was well worth the price.  How much is one life worth if you could pay anything to save it?

Am I glad I lived? Hells yeah!

I got to see my kids transition from children to adults.  I got the chance to be proud of them.  I have the chance to make them proud of me.  As others may search for a life time, I found my soul mate – how lucky is that?  Money could be better and times are often tough, but I love my home, I have a great relationship with the parents and family I always mistakenly knew would reject me,  I have love, I have happiness, I have great friends and joy.  Had I known all the good that life would have brought to me, I wouldn’t have tried to leave.

What would have helped me?

  • a shoulder to cry on
  • a hug
  • someone to tell me it would get better
  • a role model

What do I mean about role model?  Until recent years, there were no “out” transgender people.  There still seems to be few “out” transgender people.  If I had known that I was not alone and if I had known that I could have a good life and be transgender it would have helped.  This is why I have to be “out”.  I have to make sure that people know who and what I am because somewhere in this community is a person just like me that cannot take hiding who they are any longer.  They are afraid of more loss.  They are afraid of pain and they don’t believe that being honest about yourself will ever have a payoff and that they are destined to suffer.  I want that person to hear about me and my life.  I want them to know they can call me.  I want them to know they’ll be okay.  I want them to know that it gets better.

6th Gay Suicide This Month

Here’s a list of victims from September and accompanying news links that I borrowed from DailyKOS. I don’t have time to write anything meaningful right now (update…I have.  Here).

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please get help and consider contacting The Trevor Project.  You do have people that love you.  There are people you can go to for a hug or to let you know that you matter.  I can tell you from experience it does get better.  Maybe I’ll have the time or inclination to post my story soon (update…I have.  Here).

It was Love at First Sight

“The glance has been so much abused in love romances that it has finally fallen into disrepute. One hardly dares to nowadays, that two beings fell in love because they looked at each other. That is the way people do fall in love, nevertheless, and the only way. The rest is nothing, but the rest comes afterwards. Nothing is more real than these great shocks which two souls convey to each other by the exchange of that spark.” – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables, referring to the love between Cosette and Marius.

And it’s true. Eleven years ago today, I gathered up all the nerve that I could muster and drove from Morristown, TN to Knoxville, TN to attend a support group for transgender people.

I arrived a bit early and was smothered with attention by the regular attendees: “What is your name?”, “What do you do for a living?”, “Are you sure you’re trans?”

Eventually, the group settled down to start their meeting. I was so nervous and questioned myself being there. However, I had come this far and needed to give it all I could.

The moderator spoke briefly about SRS, Sex Reassignment Surgery, and informed us we had a guest speaker that recently come in from Wisconsin to speak to us about SRS. This “expert” had not yet arrived and was running late. Finally, she arrived. As she sashayed into the room and took her seat. I was immediately blown away. I was smitten by this angel. It was Jaime.

It’s hard to believe eleven years has passed.

I did not know how happy I could be until I fell in love with Jaime. Through each passing day we grow closer and closer. She fills every hole in my soul. She anticipates my every want and need. She is the most giving, caring and compassionate person that I know.

I love you Jaime Combs!

Carol Ann and Laura Stutte Fund Update

This post is a mirror of the one found at Knoxville Pridefest.

This is a supplement to the original post.  I really didn’t have room for the donation updates on the original post, so I’m going to post it here.  We also have received updates on items needed.  A list of items needed, drop of locations, and donation options can be found at the Maryville PFLAG website.

As of 09/18/2010 9:49 AM EST

  • Total Amount Donated: $10169
  • Total Number of Donations: 298 and growing

Thank you to the people that have donated from these areas and more:

  • Arizona (4)
  • Arkansas
  • California (29)
  • Colorado (2)
  • Connecticut
  • Florida (9)
  • Georgia (3)
  • Illinois (5)
  • Iowa (3)
  • Kansas (2)
  • Kentucky (2)
  • Louisiana
  • Maine (2)
  • Maryland (3)
  • Massachusetts (9)
  • Michigan (4)
  • Minnesota (3)
  • Missouri (2)
  • Montana (2)
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey (5)
  • New Mexico
  • New York (16)
  • North Carolina (7)
  • Ohio (2)
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon (1)
  • Pennsylvania (11)
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee (26)
  • Texas (5)
  • Virginia (12)
  • Washington (15)
  • Wisconsin (2)
  • Washington, DC (5)
  • Australia (1)
  • Canada (8)
  • Germany
  • United Kingdom (4)

Every little bit will help.  Please pass the word along.

Lesbian Couple Burned Out of Home. You Can Help!

From David Massey, long time supporter of Knoxville PFLAG and organizer of Spectrum Cafe:

The two-story home of a lesbian couple in Vonore, TN, was completely destroyed by fire this past Saturday evening, and there is little doubt that it was arson. The word “Queers” was painted in large letters on the side of the garage. WATE covered the story.

Efforts are underway to support the couple, Carol Ann and Laura Stutte, and their adult daughter.

First, the newly formed Maryville chapter of PFLAG (Parents Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) will be gathering needed clothing and household items.

Second, the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church is collecting financial donations. Please make your check payable to TVUUC and write “Vonore Family Fund” in the memo line. Send the check to Vonore Family Fund, c/o TVUUC, 2931 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919. This fund starts off with a $250 donation from the Knoxville Area chapter of PFLAG. Please include your email address so we can let you know how much money was raised.

Third, we want to be sure that the arson investigation is not swept under the rug, and there is reason to believe that it could be. If you know a Tennessee state representative or senator, please call that legislator and urge him or her to contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and express interest in the arson investigation at 2715 Highway 360, Vonore, TN 37885.

Fourth, join the campaign to write a letter to your local newspaper… or post messages on media websites … expressing your outrage at such hate crimes in the state.

Knoxville Pridefest and the East Tennessee Equality Council are ready to help as well. We are already setup to receive electronic donations. All net proceeds will be given to Carol Ann and Laura Stutte to help them rebuild their lives after this horrible crime. A $25 donation is suggested, but feel free to give more or less based on your own circumstances. We have to be their for each other when it counts. This is one of those times.

I have no feed back mechanism to display how much is being collected, so I will make manual updates every few hours to keep everyone up to date on the donation status.

Dragon*Con 2010

Dragon*Con 2010

We’ll I haven’t posted anything meaningful in a long while. Why break tradition? I’m not going to start now.

I do have to say that Jaime and I had a blast. We went with our friends Chad Jones and Charles Jenkins. Charles is an aspiring writer and spent most of his time at the writer’s tracks. Chad is a fanboy that spent most of his time in panels for Stargate, True Blood and other shows. He also wandered around and took lots of pictures – as did we.

I wasn’t feeling too well and Jaime was just coming down with a cold herself. When we weren’t out meandering the halls of the five host hotels, we were in our room sleeping because we were so exhausted. However, at night we managed to get up, don a costume and join the non-stop party that is Dragon*Con.

Prior to The Con this year, Jaime and I had decided to go in costume. As Barbara Eden was one of the featured guests for The Con, it came to our minds that we would make a great Jeannie duo. I, as Jeannie, because I was blonde, and Jaime as Evil Jeannie, because she was brunette. For my very first attempt at sewing, and Jaime’s first attempt at other-than-curtains, the result was fairly good.

In addition, we were also part of a Guinness Book World Record Attempt: The Most Star Trek Characters in Costume. Guinness was on hand to tally the results and pending verification, our group set a world record of 571 persons in costume in one room.

Are we chewing eating something?

I can’t believe I never posted this on my website – facebook sure, but it really belongs here.

I never knew the medical term for the spinal ailment that Mr. Cole, Bryant High School’s most eligible bachelor teacher, suffered from. The man had been to every point of interest in the world, lived with his mother, wore a 5000 carat diamond ring, and could explain, in detail, how the ancient Egyptians invented everything from airplanes to television to air conditioning.

One hard and fast rule in Mr. Cole’s class: no food or candy!

I was a rebel (but I’ll bet you didn’t really know that). As Mr. Cole viewed the class, I sat on his right on the front row. He eyeballed me as he paced back and forth in front of the class flailing his arms in gesture-speak, the likes of which would make William Shatner jealous.

Each time Mr. Cole would divert his attention to other side of the class, I would pop in a Spree candy from a roll I bought from the student center at lunch. Today, there was something wrong. Somehow, I swallowed it whole. It stuck right in my windpipe. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t cough.

Desperate, I started thrusting my abdomen into my desk for an odd, self-performed Heimlich Maneuver. Mr. Cole turned an looked at me. Is something wrong Mr. Aldridge?

I shook my head as if to say “no”. Satisfied, he turned and continued his lecture.

I immediately turned to Ben Albritton behind me and made the universal, “My God Man!  I am choking! For God’s sakes do something or I’ll die right here in front of you damn it!” sign.

Fearful of reprisal himself, Ben started punching me in the back with those little one-inch punches that would have made Bruce Lee proud.  Ben was able time the cadence of each punch to coincide with Mr. Cole turning his head away from us.  It worked!  Just as Mr. Cole turned his attention to me again, a Spree flew out of my mouth and onto the desk in a big puddle of purple-Spree-colored saliva.

His response, “Hmmmm….”

I just looked at it as if it weren’t mine.  Kind of like when you fart in class, everyone knows it was you, but you still try and pretend you have no idea what anyone is talking about as you wave your hands back and forth commenting about the horrid smell (not that I would have ever done that).

Tea Party Poll

Today’s New York Times has an article about a New York Times/CBS news poll of people that self-identify with the Tea Party movement.

The end of the article was humorous to me:

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

“That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. “I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” She added, “I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

The Shortest Campaign Ever

I did it! (sort of)

While I am probably the first ever openly transsexual person to qualify to be on the ballot as a candidate for the Tennessee House of Representatives, sadly, my campaign may be over before it begins.

Truthfully, running for state House of Representatives has always been one of my aspirations (next to astronaut).  It has seemed an unlikely possibility in my life.  Even before I was an out transsexual, I had several things in my life that I thought would have precluded me from achieving this goal.

Growing up, I had always considered myself awkward and shy.  I never liked to speak in front of small or large groups.  Moreover, I had difficulty with one-on-one conversations.

After being accepted to Boston University and MIT, even though my desire was to be an aerospace engineer, I decided to attend the University of Arkansas at Little Rock because I was in love (*gag*).  Because high school was so easy for me, I had never learned to study.  Suddenly, simply listening in class was not enough.  I performed miserably.  At the end of the first semester, I enlisted in Air Force.

Surprise!  We got pregnant just before I left for basic.  Even so, I excelled in training and learned to study.  Because of my scores I was given my first pick of vocations and was trained as a Space Systems Equipment Maintenance Specialist.  I worked for Space Command.  Having lifelong gender issues, I consulted a base psychiatrist – I thought I could be cured.  Instead, I was honorably discharged.

Back in civilian life, I worked very hard at every vocation.  I made great strides and accomplishments to go as far as I could go, as fast as I could go.  Unfortunately, because I was always such a self-starter, I developed quite an ego and separated myself from my peers.  As a result, I had been fired from nearly every job I’ve ever had.

During one term of unemployment, I got in trouble for writing hot checks.  After seven years of probation, restitution, and court costs, I finally redeemed myself.  Nevertheless, I will forever have a felony record, even though my voting rights have been restored.

Through dropping out of college a second time as an young adult, a bitter divorce, losing my children, filing bankruptcy twice, and losing everything but the clothes on my back  I never thought I would ever amount to anything.

Fast forward to the present, I’m in a good place.  I’m in love.  I have a nice home.  I have my own business.  No, I don’t make as much money as I would like.  I have no retirement plan.  Because I never finished school, I don’t know as much as I should.  I make due with what I have.

Since coming out eleven years ago, I’ve rediscovered myself.  I no longer have difficulty talking to people.  Through my overcoming my personal struggles I’ve recognized the painful struggles in others.  I have a voice and I’m not afraid to use it.  People listen to me.

Truthfully, went I entered the race it was a perfect storm.  The incumbent was stepping down and no other Democrat had filed to run.  With Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Gay Marriage, Employment Non Discrimination Act, and many, many transgender issues in the forefront, I believed this was the perfect time to run.

Not only did I know that I could make a difference in this district, I knew that the entire nation would get the opportunity to see a transsexual person as what we see ourselves as: normal.  I wanted people to look at their television and ask themselves what the big deal was?  Is this the kind of person that follows little girls into women’s bathroom to molest them?  Is this the “man in a dress” that we hear so much about?  I wanted people to know they have been lied to.

In my county and the neighboring county in which I do much of my work, much of it is rural and mountainous.  I’ve been in mansions and I’ve been in hovels.  I’ve walked across flooring that cost more than my house, and I walked through a front door made of a quilt.  I’ve met a family whose 12 year old had a new BMW and I met a family that uses the bathroom behind a tree.  I’ve marveled that the public schools inspire students to mere mediocrity, at the lack of basic reading comprehension and math skills, and at students that go to school simply because their free lunch will be the only meal they have each day.

I can’t help but remember these words, “Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto Me!”

  • I believe that gifted students should be encouraged to excel at their own pace, that average students should be inspired to greatness, and that below average student should be inspired to magnificence.
  • I believe that when the economy is poor, tolerance starts to disappear.  People need to demonize others to distract themselves from their own misery.
  • I believe that courting industry to our region will alleviate our employment issues.
  • I believe there can be a balance to increasing industry in our district and maintaining our beautiful Smoky Mountains.
  • I believe ignorance perpetuates poverty, poverty leads to crime and unwanted pregnancy.
  • I believe that everyone that wants to work should be able to and earn a living wage, and that one parent should be able to earn enough to own a decent home, put good food on the table, and afford modest recreation.
  • I believe when there aren’t enough jobs to go around, people may turn to crime to make ends meet; people that can’t work may lose their homes decreasing the value of everyone else’s home.
  • I believe that when a person want’s to work but cannot find work, their self-worth decreases.  When a person has nothing to do, they feel useless.  It is hard to climb back from despair.
  • I believe that everyone should have the ability to be healthy and have access to affordable health care.  By affordable, I mean if the worst possible health catastrophe were to befall a person, the treatment should cost no more than they would earn in one week.

Of course, there are other more practical items that affect the state and my district.  I wish all these dangerous rural roads were required to have shoulders!

Truly, I had the best chance of raising more campaign funds than all of my opponents put together.  I would have expected donations to flow in from all over the country.  I really believe that had I seen this through to the end, I would win.

While I would gladly sacrifice my livelihood on the alter of public opinion, I did not adequately consider that I would be requiring a sacrifice of those I work with or those close to me.  Much to my chagrin, this possible sacrifice was more than those closest to me were willing chance at this time.  I cannot blame them.

The most unfortunate discovery was that the political climate and aggressive hatred of transsexuals will probably not change for a long, long time.  When it does change, it will only be because someone like me sticks their neck out and takes the first punches.

So as quickly as it began, my campaign for Tennessee State House of Representatives District 8, it may end.

Of course, if there is a mysterious benefactor out there that could cover my salary for a year, I would make all the difference in the world.  The people of my district will have never had a representative more effective than me.

So with that, adieu! (for now)