A former Arkansas Times co-worker wrote me today, prompted by news of the bathroom bill aiming to make birth gender the determination of what public restroom a person may use.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT: From Justin Sarlo
Hope all is well with you and the Arkansas Times
. I do miss you folks. I just thought I would add my 2 cents to your blog about the “bathroom bill” - and feel free to use it, if you wish. It’s my story. I cannot speak for all trans folks, but I can speak for myself, in hopes that folks attempt to understand. Many young kids are scared to death and they need to be reassured as often as humanly possible.
I was 8 when I told my parents that I was a boy. My parents told me that the doctor thought I was a boy, but he was wrong. I have no idea what that meant, and I failed to ask then. Now, of course, it is too late, as they are both gone. Over the years, I tried really hard to conform. I cannot even begin to explain to folks the feeling of having your body betray you. We know so many things now, scientifically, that we didn’t know then. But then, I felt as if my skin was continually on fire and I wanted to rip it off. I hated every inch of my body and the more it matured, the more I hated it. When I was 18, I discovered that if I could drink enough, I could dull the pain until the eventual hangover came. When I was 22, even alcohol couldn’t dull the pain enough and I stepped in front of a dump truck. The driver swerved and missed. Finally, I convinced myself that if I would just find a man, marry, and have kids, eventually the pain would stop and I could be like everyone else. I did marry - a man who was not a bad man, just a man in pain, like me. A different pain, but agony all the same. We had two sons - two amazing sons. Eventually, I sobered up, he didn’t. And after 12 years of a miserable marriage, we finally divorced. He moved onto marry a wonderful woman and found sobriety, as well. I lived my life as a lesbian, but didn’t really date, instead focusing on raising our sons to the best of my ability. I don’t know if it had anything to do with their upbringing, or if they are just amazing young men all on their own. But, they are both college professors - one math and one history. One is happily married with their first child and the other is dating a wonderful woman.
At any rate, I continued to live my life as a single mom and a lesbian - figuring that was doing them enough damage. I was afraid that if I came out as who I truly was, I would cause my children irreparable harm. But as the years went by, every day I would cringe when I looked in the mirror. Every night just before I would drift off to sleep, I would dream of someday becoming who I was. I became really good at staying sober (32 years now), smiling through pain, and living a lie. Seven years ago this Memorial Day, my children, who were grown by then, came to me out of the blue and said, “Mom, if you want to transition, we fully support you.” I had never told anyone, but they were my children. My own flesh and blood. They knew. The only two people who ever really mattered to me had just told me that they fully supported me. I flew out of that closet, yet again, and started on the long, difficult path of becoming me. Yes, the physical part is difficult, but more importantly, the emotional part is a trial. I knew how to be a boy. I knew how to pretend as best I could, how to be a woman. I had to learn how to be a man. I don’t know if I will ever fully get there, but I’m not sure any man does, so I’m okay with that. But, I can tell you this - I am finally happy, I am finally free, and I am loving every single day of my life.
Shortly before I was laid off from the Times, I met the mom of a recently deceased young transgender woman, while doing one of our benefits. We have a group of folks who do benefits for various groups - AIDS Care, Lucie’s Place, the Christmas Caravan, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, etc. Anyway, we became friends, and even when I moved back to the northeast for a job, we still corresponded via FB from time to time. When I finally had the chance for a job back home, I messaged her and asked her if she wanted to go out to dinner when I got back. Dinner lasted until 4am - I have never hit it off with someone like that before. Someone that I didn’t have to explain anything to - she had seen it all, with her daughter. We talked all night, we laughed all night, and she even cried, while telling me all about her daughter. We are getting married this July. And this time, I get to wear the tux. :)
What is important to understand, is that I didn’t wake up one day and decide to become a man. One day, thanks to my children, I was able to tell the world that I was a man and had known that for my entire life. Only my body betrayed me. At this point, I could live my life, as just an ordinary guy who happens to be getting married this July. But, if I did that, I could not look into the many faces of the kids on my FB page who desperately need someone to look up to, someone who is happy, someone who does not judge. Those filled with ignorance and hatred can no longer hurt me. I’m old and tough. But they can wreak devastation on the young. And I am determined to do my very best to be a shield for them. I was lucky. The truck missed. I found sobriety. Not everyone is lucky.
And one last thing - no one would welcome me in the ladies room, now, that’s for sure. LOL Thanks for “listening,” Max. If you need to use this, or even want to, please feel free. Have a great day!
Justin Keith Sarlo