Probably one of the most important events of my life occurred one night at the lesbian bar, when a woman, who was a customer of mine from my ‘straight’, full time bartending job, came in and recognized me. No problem. However, this woman outed me to just about every person in the building of my full time gig AND to all the people I worked with there. At first I was very angry and embarrassed, but I soon realized that this woman had actually done me a favor. Hey, I’m out now! No one is throwing rocks at me, or calling me names or any of that. Women who used to come in for lunch without much to say are now talking to me about all kinds of things; relationships, shoes, fashion; speaking to me now as more of a girlfriend. The guys at work would tease me a bit, there was no harm intended so I would just smile and laugh. So being outed was actually a bit of a blessing for me. I was finding some small level of acceptance.
The lesbian bar gig only lasted a few months as the place was sold. My full time gig ended New Years Eve following the drop in tourism after 9 11 and a lease dispute. Well, I could use a short break. I had changed my resume to ‘Mona’ but wasn’t having any luck getting a new gig. This trying to go 24/7 wasn’t going to be easy, but I was determined.
I continued of the ‘party scene’ in Manhattan and meeting new girls, but I soon started hearing some real horror stories about coming out and/or transitioning: loss of jobs, loss of spouse, lose of family, loss of home, etc.. It didn’t take me long to realize that something need to be done.
2004 and I guess I was just in the right place at the right time, but I get the job with NDRI working on The Transgender Project. (Actually, there is a very long story as to how I got this job, but needless to say, I was most fortunate and lucky to get it). Mona is put in charge of a multi million dollar transgender health and mental health research study funded by the NIH. My head still spins when I think about this. I found a job where I got hired BECAUSE I was transgender!
Arguably, I have probably met and talked to, one on one, more transwomen than anyone. There were 603 in the study alone, plus all the women I was meeting at various conferences and meetings. I have met with transwomen from quite literally ALL walks of life, many different cultural and social circles, and many different age levels. And it was a real privilege to have met these women. I learned of so many of the hardships that many of us go through, learned of our commonalities and our differences and our generational differences.
And I became acutely aware of homeless trans youth.
I remember it was a terribly bitter cold and wet day in February. The sun hadn’t been seen in over a week, and ice was everywhere. Cars weren’t starting, pipes were bursting. The cold spell was front page news. Three teenage transgirls who were in our study came to the door and asked if they could do their follow up interviews. Not one had a coat or jacket. Only one even had a sweater. The other two only had long sleeved tee shirts on. They were shivering. They came all the way across and downtown from the emergency homeless shelter (Sylvia’s Place) where they were staying in hopes of collecting the $30 stipend we paid our participants so they could get something to eat.
My associate Monica looks at me and says, “Mona, we got to get these kids some clothes”!
So, with the help of The Nowhere Bar in Manhattan, I began running food and clothing drives for the kids at Sylvia’s. John, the owner of Nowhere Bar, and I cooked Christmas dinner at Sylvia’s for a few years.
So, I am on the Board of Directors of Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, was invited to, and participated in, the re-writing of the NYPD Police Academy training manual with regards to transgender issues, was asked and participated in a joint CDC/NYC Board of Health HIV prevention panel, have given keynote speeches at The Liberty Conference and Fantasia Fair, and presented workshops at IFGE, Liberty, Empire, First Event and other transgender conferences. I am now published in four different professional journals, with a fifth paper under review. I am currently the Conference Chair for the 3rd annual Empire Conference in Albany. Plus a few other things I do.
In 2009 my wife passed and, to be honest, I went into a pretty serious depression. I am trained to recognize these symptoms and still I could not snap out of it. There were days that if it hadn’t been for my dogs needs, I never would have gotten out of bed, and anyone who knows me, KNOWS damn well that just isn’t me. I spent about a year drinking myself stupid. A very good, dear, and sweet friend asked me to move to Albany with her, especially as I spent so much time here anyway. OK. I like Albany, and more importantly, Albany likes Mona. Three months after I move in, my friend gets transferred to South Carolina! Such is life. Stuff happens.
OH! The one person I am not out to, Mom! She lives in FL, is 80 yo has no internet. She only has ‘mailstation’ which I can only write to her a few short paragraphs at a time, and I am sure you will agree that coming out to your mother really can’t be done in two paragraphs. Did she have to know? No, but I needed to tell her. In a major leap of faith, I print out some pics of ‘Mona’, some of the papers I have published with my name on them, a speech I gave, with my name on it, and put the whole batch in a big envelope with a note that said “I guess we’ll call this the full disclosure package”. I send it off in the mail, not sure if I would ever hear from her again or not.
So I wait.
Finally I get a brief e mail from her—-“Hello Mona”.
I just turned 60. I have tried to ‘give something back’ to our community and will continue to do so.
Now it’s time for all of you to give back, just a little maybe, but you really should do so.
You’ll be better for it.
We will all be better for it. We are family.