I have decided to start from the beginning…how I got from where I started, to where I am today…a sort of longer intro, so that those not familiar with me and my story can understand the events that have shaped who I am, what I believe, and why I fight for the things I do.
I have to take you back in time, twenty nine years. The year is 1990. I was nineteen years old. I am not yet “out.” I had graduated high school less than a year before. I was living in New Jersey. Everyone else believed me to be a young man they all called “Tex.” (I had recently moved from Texas.)
Back then I would walk around town at night, dressed as a girl. It was the only way that part of me could find any expression at all. My father was disabled and always home…so home was not a safe place for me to be me. So I would take a duffel bag of girl’s clothes out of the house with me…and I would drive my car to find a secluded backroads place…where I could change clothes. Then I would drive back to town, park my car somewhere…and walk the streets of town, as the girl I knew myself to be. I fought so hard against this, but I was not able to deny what I knew about my own self…even back then.
That summer, I visited my cousin, Carol, in Chicago. As I recall, my two second cousins, Becca and Emily…were then four and five years old. Carol and I were watching movies with the girls…and we watched “The Little Mermaid.” It was the first time I had seen it. And the scene came where Ariel sang “Part Of Your World.” And I cried. I was a blubbering mess by the time Jodi Benson was done singing that one.
I was not sure the girls understood what had just happened, but my cousin Carol, ten years older than I…could not help but notice I was a mess. And she asked me why I was crying. I told her I could not explain it…but that perhaps one day, she would understand.
Fast forward four years. My second and final suicide attempt. I was twenty-three years old.
I had been engaged to a woman for the last two years. Kim turned out to be exactly the angel I had needed. I did not know it then. Life had become, for me, a highway with no exit ramps – and it was taking me to a place I did not want to go. If death was my only exit ramp off this highway of my life…I was willing to take it.
I slit my right wrist. Deeply. The only reason I survived this attempt was because I had slashed so deep I was unable to hold the razor in my right hand in order to do the left wrist. Afterwards, Kim gave me back my ring. And she said to me: “Angela,” (and she did call me Angela…she knew about this part of me,) “we both know why you did this. We both know what you really need…and it isn’t me. I am giving you your ring back BECAUSE I love you.”
Kim gave me the greatest gift she could have that day. She, quite literally, was the first person who ever truly loved ME. She saw I needed the exit ramp and she provided it. But that was not the end of it…she stood by me as a friend…for the next two years, as I took my first brave steps into the world to which I had always belonged. My first date, as a woman…with a man…Kim set up for me. She was a true angel. I have no idea why she was given to me. I did not deserve the compassion, love and mercy she showed me that day…and in the days that followed. She deserved the sort of love I was not able to give her.
She only stopped standing by my side after two years because I moved out of state, to Kentucky. Kim and I still stayed in contact. She married a man who had been my best friend, when I was presenting as a male. She had finally found the love she deserved…the love I had never been able to give her.
When I came out, at the age of twenty three…the first thing my cousin asked me about…was the time I had cried while watching The Little Mermaid…and if those tears back then…had to do with this. I think she already knew the answer when she asked that question. This is a woman who at one time was my babysitter…and today is the accountant for my business. Thus it is she has seen me and known me my whole life. She has seen me through my transition. She has seen me change into the person I always was on the inside. She saw the positive effects on my life…especially after the final surgery in 2002. I was thirty-one then. This is nearly seventeen years ago now.
Fourteen years ago, I was in deep depression. I had been forced to move back home to Pennsylvania. I had never wanted to go back. Certainly, I had never wanted to leave Texas, which I considered my home (I graduated high school there.) So, now I was a complete and total loser at life at the age of thirty-four, having to move home to Mommy with my tail between my legs. I had lost my independence…my self-worth, and my self-esteem.
I began the slow process of healing. It was most of eight years before I was back to where I had been…and in a place of relative peace – and the strong, confident woman I needed to be. In these years, I had all but retired from activism, I literally had no energy for it. It was all I could do to just get through each day.
In 2014, we moved to North Carolina. I moved here with the intent of just FINALLY living out my life as the strong confident woman I had finally become…in a place where nobody knew my past. At last, I was to be Part Of That World.
It lasted about a year and a half. On March 23, 2016, then-Governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory declared war on me. On the entire transgender community. And I knew I could not stand silent. Everything I had hoped to build here evaporated…just like that.
I gained a lot of unwanted fame and attention. My neighbors…none of whom had KNOWN I was trans (a couple had suspected, I think) – now ALL knew about it. And I found support – in what you might think was the unlikeliest place to find it – Lizard Lick, North Carolina. Far from being stoned and chased out of town with pitchforks, as I expected – I was told, “You go girl…give them hell for us!”
I saw the kind of support I had never seen in twenty-plus years of activism as an out trans woman. The Air Horn Orchestra began weekly “performances” on Wednesdays, in front of the Executive Mansion, on Blount Street…and I was a regular. Most of the Orchestra were cis-het supporters, not transgender people like myself.
Never satisfied to be in the background, I was known for my quick wit and sharp tongue…and for responding to outrage…in outrageous ways. It started with an interview with my local news (which ended up a few days later airing on ABC World News) where I showed my birth certificate to the reporter, and told her she was the only person who was ever going to see it without a warrant. Later, I found my way into newspapers in Asheville, 200 miles away, for a stunt in which I posed before a poster showing acceptable forms of ID for NC’s Voter ID Law..holding my driver’s license, and asking why that was good enough to VOTE…but not good enough for me to pee!
I already had plans to go to Columbus, Ohio later that summer. It was my intention to go to the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association as a Delegate from my congregation, with the express intent and purpose of passing an Action Of Immediate Witness against HB-2 and bills like it, passed or pending in America. I had twice before been a Delegate to this body, but from my previous congregation in Pennsylvania.
Two weeks before my trip, the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando happened. Forty-nine of my family were gunned down in a single night. I was a wreck for two days. This was an attack against the entire LGBT community, occurring as it did in what, for us, is a place of sanctuary. A place where we really can be ourselves without fear. The night after it happened, I led an impromptu vigil outside our club. Eighteen of us gave respect to our dead in a minute of silence. I still did not know the fate of a friend of mine from Orlando. He turned out to not have been there that horrible night.
I wrote a poem about that night…about the angel wings which were used to protect the funerals of the Pulse victims when Westboro Baptist Church showed up. It led to perhaps the most humbling and moving experience of my life, when, two weeks later, Westboro showed up in Columbus to protest us at the UUA. I hadn’t known they were coming…but the people from Orlando did know…and they brought with them the very same wings I had just wrote poetry about two weeks previous! It was the hardest poem I ever wrote…the words literally ripped from my soul. And here I stood, two weeks later…with the very wings I had written about…now on my back! In that moment, I was invincible. Those wings were armor! If ever I could revisit a moment from my past…that is the moment I would choose.
I returned to North Carolina, having successfully accomplished what I’d set out to do in Columbus. Victory seemed to be within our reach. It seemed that – at last – I might see equality and fair, decent treatment in this country…in my lifetime. It was all but certain Hillary Clinton would become the first woman President of the United States…and clearly, she would continue the progress the transgender community was making under Obama.
Enter Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence. Enter despair. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. I broke down about as badly as I ever have in my life. For two months, I was a complete wreck. Working on the Raleigh Women’s March enabled me to focus, and come back. Activism does that for me. I am not one who can sit on the sidelines while my future is decided by others.
During this dark two months, an offer to repeal HB-2 was made by outgoing Governor McCrory, but it was not a clean repeal, as it included a six-month “moratorium” on municipalities passing new civil rights legislation – and all previously-existing laws of this type were wiped out by HB-2. Looking back, we should have taken the deal. Because in March, Governor Roy Cooper brokered a “repeal” known as HB-142. We still suffer under that legislation, as the “moratorium” now extends till December of 2020. Had we taken the original deal from then-Governor McCrory, we would already be rid of the moratorium. An inconvenient truth I am known to regularly point out at NCDP meetings.
HB-2 also led directly to my own candidacy for the NC General Assembly. I knew from the day they passed HB-2 that I had had enough, and I was finally, after years of talking about it…was going to throw my hat into the ring and run for something…in this case, the State Legislature. I became the first openly-transgender person in the history of North Carolina to publicly declare a candidacy. I have a Campaign Committee and a Candidate ID Number, STA-S91366-C-001. This is a matter of public record with the State Board of Elections. Unfortunately, so was my street address. And the Legislature was required to redraw District lines after the Covington case. And thus my candidacy was derailed. The new lines were drawn along the very first street east of my residence, and the very first street north of my residence. I was removed from the District in which I intended to run.
In 2018, I again made history, becoming the first openly-transgender elected Precinct Chair in the history of Wake County. I was elected by the members of my Precinct to fill the unexpired term of my predecessor, and then elected to my own full two year term earlier this year. Now, if you understand where I live, this is the unlikeliest place for that to happen. But I had support here…support I never expected to find. I was then elected to the NCDP State Executive Committee – only the fourth ever elected in state history, again, filling an unexpired term of a predecessor.
I was not re-elected to the SEC for my own full two-year term at County Convention. I had not been informed of the cut off date to pre-register, and thus have my name on the printed ballot – and floor nominations for SEC almost never work at County Convention. Additionally, our County Delegation was reduced from 78 to 62 members…and, as one of the most-recently elected (plus not being on the pre-printed ballot) I ended up a casualty of this reduction in our Delegation.
And now…here I am, sixteen and a half years post-op…nearly twenty-five years post-transition…and I am still singing that song, “Part Of Your World.” And I still cry when I hear it. I sing and I cry…and I wonder if I EVER will be Part Of That World. I wonder if I will ever be able to hear that song…and cry tears of joy instead of tears of pain and anguish.
Tonight, I was elected to the SEC in the same way I was elected the first time. Filling a vacancy…an unexpired term, but, as there has not yet been an SEC meeting this cycle, this is for a full two year term. I ended up elected by acclimation. Nobody else put their name forth. Twenty people in the room all wanted to second my nomination, and so it was fairly clear I had the support of the majority of the County Executive Committee (CEC).
And that is prep for my first article which will be coming shorty, as this election was a part in what is occurring that will be the focus of that first article. If we are successful, it will have implications across the nation for the transgender community. Right now, all eyes in the community are on North Carolina, because, in our community, it is known what we are attempting.