Friday, May 20, 2016

From In the Closet to Activist

"It was a person, kind of like my husband," Allison Votaw begins, raw but composed, "but it wasn't my husband," she continues,"He was gone," her eyes glistening with tears, "he was right there in front of me in female form but he was gone," the tears gently, carelessly, streak down her cheeks.  I quickly snatch a small puddle of water from the corner of my eye seconds before it escapes.  I made it look as if a small, unseen mosquito had buzzed past my eyelash, and I was simply, and in a masculine way, telling him to literally buzz off.  Allison was talking about her husband Jeremy.

The Votaw's were married in 2000

For 13 years in their marriage he had lived life as a man and as a husband, but on a frigid evening in their home outside of Denver Colorado, Jeremy decided to let his wife see, what he had been hiding from her, and everyone else for the last 30 years.  He showed her Corinne, and, as any good Mormon wife would be, she was crushed.

Jeremy, who is transgender, had decided that he would live his life as a woman for a year, he even had his name and sex legally changed.  The decision destroyed the marriage, he moved out, leaving behind Allison and their three children to undertake an unfathomable journey.  After time as Corinne, and a year of discrimination, Jeremy found his equilibrium, and came home, remarried his sweetheart, and began living life as gender fluid: masculine sometimes, feminine others.  

The Votaw's story is one of the most touching, powerful and raw news story I had ever been part of.  I was fascinated, of course by the titillating aspects.  How could someone just up and become a woman.  How could his wife have him back and trust him.  Would she pace the floor and swallow Xanex when his cellphone went unanswered while on business trips?  Would she fret that he was out at some bar, dressed as his alter ego, in a halter and high heels?  Allison became the heart of the 5 minute story we aired about the Votaw's on Wednesday.  Her honesty was brutal.  Watching her talk about how she felt like she was "not woman enough" because Jeremy was so feminine hurt to be a part of.  It was painful to sit across from a virtual stranger and have her talk about doubting her very essence, while tears mingled with her mascara and dribbled down her cheeks.

What struck me during our 5 hours with the Votaw's and their family is just how accepting, ironically, Allison was with her new, completely unexpected life, and how Jeremy was the one who seemed more reluctant to talk about his powerful, strange, jumbled, bumpy transition.  "Why are you so reluctant to talk about this?" I finally pressed, after Jeremy spoke in only platitudes, and statistics for the previous 40 minutes of our interview.  He admitted, "my family will see this, my church will see this,"  I think he also understood that the transgender lifestyle is that last frontier in the LGBTQ civil rights movement.  He is one of the first to speak out, and I think he felt great pressure, to "do right" by his community.  
Jeremy Votaw lived for a year as a woman 

As I stood behind Jeremy and Allison scrolling through pictures of Corinne, the two were trying to decide which pictures they would be willing to share with us for our story.  Allison was funny and relaxed, "oh, give them that one, it shows cleavage" she cackled.  

In Jeremy's closet he fingers his silk ties, the ones he wears to church, then he reluctantly shows us a pair of women's flats that he pulls on during "girls" night.  I make a bold observation, but I felt, given my time in their home, that I had an obligation to say it, "you know what?" I turn to both Allison and Jeremy, "Allison, you are actually more comfortable with this than he is."  Jeremy stood, quietly for several seconds before responding, "you're right, you're absolutely right."

As early as age 4 Jeremy knew he liked feminine things
For 30 years, he stuffed away this feminine side.  He'd been told he was evil, an aberration, and a perversion, and now even though he was "out" and living honestly for the first time, he wasn't completely "out." While Allison, with some exceptions, has accepted her husband, both masculine and feminine, Jeremy still seems to struggle with "playing the roles," as he said during our interview.  I felt like he opened yet another door, and was empowered.  

Why wouldn't he be reluctant "to tell it all?" The Facebook comments I've read following the airing of the story have been beautiful and accepting in many cases, and appalling in others.  The things people say, crouched in the dark, hunched, shirtless over a flickering laptop, makes me want to take a shower with turpentine.   

He reached out to me the night the story posted on line, and was eager for me to make sure the link to his website was working, so trans teenagers could get in touch with him if need be, for support.  I felt then, that maybe my words struck a cord.

I spoke with him today via text, he says dozens of people have reached out to him, they are telling him they they are thankful for his honestly, his bravery, and for letting other transgender people know, they are not alone.  He told me during the interview he was a husband, a father, male and female.  After this story, he may very well add, confident activist to that list as well.