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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 a couple of Sundays 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.

“s 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.

To those that know me, 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.

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As far as I know, I’m the only person that has ever been discharged from the United States Air Force for “Gender Identity Disorder” or “GID”. My DD214 says I have “mental disorders”. So I’m guessing that qualifies as nuts.

I was raised as Carl Justin Lyle Aldridge. People called me Justin until I was 29. There was a brief period, however, between the ages of 4 and 5 where I would only respond to the name “Howard”. My name is now Carla Jasmine Lewis. My nom de plume is “manicsquirrel”. If you refer to it as “Manic Squirrel” or “Manicsquirrel”, I get irritated just a little bit – one word, all lowercase please.

I’m a 39 year old pre-operative transsexual. I live in east Tennessee with my lovely partner, Jaime. Jaime is an accomplished hair stylist and salon owner. Jaime was formerly the South Atlantic Regional director for PFLAG.

I used to be really overworked, but now I am just burned out. I work for a small computer service company of which I am co-founder. I spend my days installing and maintaining small business networks, writing software, and recovering deleted data (*yawn*). On occasion, it gets really exciting. Why just the other day we found a dried up old dead frog inside a computer.

I want to make the world I live in a better place for everyone (everyone that cares for their fellow human in a kind and altruistic manner). To that end, I try to stay involved in politics enough to encourage change. I’m the current secretary for East Tennessee Equality Council and a former secretary of Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.