Joni Weiss 8-22-09

Jeremy: So, if you want to introduce yourself, tell us a little about your processes; you said that you decided to come out, or that process relatively recently, so if you want to talk a little about that. Joni: Sure can we stop and start over? I forgot something. I forgot that I was gonna put this on. David: That s a really cute top. Joni: Thank you! Alright. I m ready. Do you want me to just continue? Alright My name is Joni Weiss and I Do you want me to talk about where I started my transition? Or Jeremy: Wherever you think is the beginning. Joni: Okay. Hi, my name is Joni Weiss and I was born and raised in Salt Lake, so I was born here, grew up in the city and went to Judge Memorial High School and I graduated a few years ago, actually, in 1974. And then, right after high school I started to pursue my spiritual path that I still follow today. Along the way, I married my wife, Karen, and we shortly- shortly after we got married we moved away, first to Phoenix, then we moved to Denver. We lived in Denver about 17 years, and then we came back here in 05, in 2005. During that time, all those years I was dealing with gender issues, which I was, I knew very little about what was going on and there was very little information when I was younger about it. It was only and even though I worked in the computer industry almost all my life, it was only in the mid-2000s, like 03 or 04, that I was aware that there are resources, that I could find resources online about gender issues, about transgender issues, about transsexualism and transgenderism. I m sorry that I m jumping around When I was very young, my first recollection of my gender issues was when I was in kindergarten and my parents had divorced when I was two, and my mom raised us. I have an older brother; I have a younger sister, who, we have the same mother and father, my mother remarried and I have a younger brother that I grew up with also, who s six years younger than I am. So my other brother s two years older and my younger sister is a year younger than I am. We re very close in age; we ve always been, well, we were very close and we kinda drew apart, and now we re getting closer again. When I was in kindergarten, my mother sent us to live with her father in the bay area for a year. I went to kindergarten out there. The first day of kindergarten, I was expecting to go play with the boys and boys walked up to me and wanted to be friends with me, and I just thought and my experience was that I didn t like them,

you know, they were just they smelled funny and I - and that s what I remember: that they were gross, and I just wanted to play with the girls. So, I , as much as I could, I played with my sister and her friends and was totally bored with everything that my older brother was doing. I mean I loved him and everything, you know he was my older brother and I looked up to him. But as far as, you know, he was into baseball, learning how to play baseball and things like that. It kinda just wasn t anything that I was interested in. And then, I remember in grade school that I just really didn t - I hated sports, I hated the competitiveness of sports and the contact part, where people, where boys always wanted to hurt somebody else and I just really didn t I hated that, so I avoided playing with other kids, because of that. So, I spent a lot of time alone. There was some girls that I wanted to make friends with, but, in the neighborhood that I was growing up in it seemed like either it was my perception or it was reality that boys only played with boys and the girls only played with girls. So, I ended up being alone a lot and then I had one male friend, who was also a loner as well, that was my friend in grade school. When my gender issues surfaced again it was in Junior High School. When I was in the 7th grade, I remember well, first in the 6th grade was when I first started realizing that I really liked girls, you know. And there were a couple girls that I was really attracted to, but I was always really shy to approach them. I remember in particular, one girl in the 6th grade who was wearing fish-net stockings and I just LOVED fish-net stockings and she was so pretty. Then, in the 7th grade, I was attracted to girls, but I also was feeling like I wanted to be going through what they were going through; I wanted to be wearing the clothes that they were wearing; I wanted to be pretty, you know. I realized that, you know, here I was a BOY that didn t make any sense, I tried, I knew that I was supposed to be a boy, so I did my best just to follow all the rules and be a boy. But, when I was at home, I would alone I would sneak into the laundry basket and take some of my sister s clothes, sometimes some of my mother s clothes, and I would put them on and I would wear their clothes. And there were times that I stayed home from school or snuck away from school, came home when nobody else was home and I would spend time at home, and I felt really good, you know. That pattern kinda continued, off and on, all my life. Let s see In High School, I really wasn t really excited about life anymore and I was really kind of didn t feel like I fit in anywhere and I got involved with, I started smoking pot and dropping acid and things like that. So, I spent almost my entire high school period taking mostly pot and sometimes acid and usually that was with friends. I really felt like I was different from everyone else, I felt like a freak, I felt like there was nothing I didn t feel like I could I wasn t a very good student at all. I just didn t really have any motivation in life at all.

I was also questioning my spirituality at that time, and at that time I was raised Catholic and I loved the ceremony and the whole I loved Mass, I loved the whole, the prayers, the sermons, and I loved the whole format of church in the Catholic church. The thing I had a hard time with, though, was that we, as people, went to church on Sunday and did whatever the hell we wanted to do the rest of the week and came back to church on Sunday. I felt like there was a lot of hypocrisy and I also, because I was fairly close with our pastor, our priest, was a close friend of our family, and I loved him very much, I LOVE him very much. He s passed on Father Merrill, Jerry Merrill, he s very wellknown in the Salt Lake community. I just saw him as kind of, you know, he was kind of he didn t know any more about Jesus and God than I did. And here he was supposed to be a representative to teach us about Him, and I felt like that was I just left church because I felt like there must be a closer, a way, a closer connection with God. So, that s when I when I finished high school I wanted to learn how to meditate. I felt that would help me with my focus and my studies and be a better student, make me a better person and somehow I knew that would help me in some way. I was hanging around with a girl that was one of my best friends, one of my two best friends, who were both girls that were throughout high school, Shelly. I told Shelly I wanted to learn how to meditate and she said, Well, my uncle follows a guru. I was immediately interested and I went and met him, so we sat in my car and he told me about going to see his spiritual master, his spiritual teacher, SantKharpal Sing in Anaheim, at the Disneyland hotel on his world tour, when he was on tour in 72. This was in 74, and his teacher had just teacher had passed away, so I had no opportunity to and learn from him. But everything he was telling me was, I felt, to be instinctively true. You know, that there were these great being and that knew things could impart knowledge and teach us things and that they lived what they taught, you know. The fact that he didn t take anything, he didn t that s not how he made his living: you know, he wasn t taking money or gifts or anything from anybody made it even more wow to me. So I just started learning and eventually his successor came into my life. I started having dreams of his successor before I ever saw a picture of him. And that s my spiritual teacher, SantDarshan Singh [holds up a picture]. And I started having I had a dream of him that I ended up sitting on the sidewalk in front of the old Salt Palace in strange and incredibly vivid dream. He was there, it was definitely him, and there was coming from him and light coming from his beard, and his eyes were sparkling, and he was telling me things without words. I awoke up from that dream that I ended up seeing a picture of him. So, there are all these little miracle things, to me, that happened, that drew me to this spiritual path and it really helped me a lot and I became fairly, very much engrossed. I became vegetarian and I started meditating, and following his teachings, which included, you know, becoming a better person as a stepping-stone of spirituality. He

was the one who taught me I was a spiritual being having a human experience, and that we re spiritual beings first. He gave me or helped me find that connection within myself to my higher self. During that period of time, my gender issues didn t come up at all, for a period of a few years. Then they came back and I prayed that they would go away, I prayed that, you know, there are all these little miracles that were happening in my life, but why not that? You know, why not take that away? And it was like, I thought that it was shameful and sinful and that if I continued in this way, you know back then I knew it as cross-dressing that I would be going to hell! That s what I thought. I don t think that anybody told me that, but I just felt that. They came back after a few years in my late twenties. I had dated a little bit during that period and I had met my wife in 83 and we got married the next year. We had a fairly short courtship before I asked her to marry me. I proposed to her on Christmas Eve, actually. So, we got married and after we got married we tried to have, we started trying to have children, because, you know, that s kind of what we knew we were supposed to do. Karen wanted to be a mom and I was not sure I wanted I wanted to be a dad. We ended up finding out, we found out that we were having trouble having children and we couldn t. So, we went through some things to try to have children: urologists and Karen s OB-GYN and trying to figure out what it was. We ended up leaving Utah because of the pressure to have children was just so great, you know, so, when are you gonna have children? When are you gonna have children? And it just drove us nuts, so we left and moved to Phoenix. Then my job I got an offer with my job to move to Denver, and we moved there. And it was during that actual move from Phoenix to Denver that my spiritual teacher passed away and it was a very huge loss for me. He meant so much to me and he was like, he was more than a father to me. I had gone to India like five times to see him and every time I went to go see him I was able to talk with him privately at least twice, once when I got there and once when I left and he treated me like I was one of his own family, and his wife treated me like one of her own children and that was my family. So, that was really hard for me. My gender issues were coming back about that same time, too. My memory of, you know, when they, when that stuff came up and went away, is not I m still working on recalling all those memories. I think it was several years after we moved to Denver that my mom was getting sicker and she had emphysema. My mom was another really important person in my life. This is my mom [presents photo]. My mom was an incredible role model for me, especially in this part of my life, because she was, first of all, feminist. She was a single mom and she was a working mom, and she, when Martin Luther King was marching on Washington, the people in our church and my mom and other people in the Mexican-American community that was part of what I grew up in. I especially remember Archie Archuletta and others that were role models and my mom was a very important role model she taught

me to stand up for other people who were maybe not as privileged as I was, or didn t have as good a life as I have had. We marched on the capitol when Doctor Martin Luther King marched on Washington, and I remember being on T.V., I remember the T.V. cameras, I remember marching down 1st South and I don t remember the route, but we marched from the old Guadalupe center, La Marina café, which was the Mexican community center at one time. We marched from there, which is now under the south end of the Delta Center, up to the capitol, and that made a real big impression on me. And it was also along with that, well, later than that, the war protests, the protests against the Vietnam war, I felt that, I could see where activism was a critical part of the American process, was the critical part of the process of making our country a better place to live, and making sure that it s a place that s for all of us. Anyway, my mom was my hero, because she introduced me to that. My mother was also the director of the Guadalupe schools for twenty-five years. She wasn t paid very much at all, she made less than half of what I made working for the phone company. But she was so totally devoted to her work and worked long hours. It was her life consisted of Guadalupe schools and her kids and she was also an alcoholic. The alcohol consumed part of her life, which was very hard for her and very hard for us. That s why she s my hero. Let s see back in, I think it was well, back in the late 90s, my mother was getting sicker and her emphysema was she smoked all of her life and in the late 90s she was on oxygen all the time and it was just getting to me it was very clear that her end was coming up fairly soon. About that time, Karen and I, our marital problems were starting to get worse. I was closing up more and more from her and I was, I had never come out to her. But I just got more and more involved with work and started getting involved with volunteering in the local music community in Colorado, in Denver. I got more involved in my spiritual path. I was group leader for the Denver area for a while and all that stuff took me away from her. And it was really hard for her. We were having problems with her dad, which caused problems between us, and our problems just started to pile up pretty quickly over the next few years. And then my mom passed in January of 2000. I came out well, she had her 65th birthday in December of 99 and I came out for that and I really had a strong premonition that was her last birthday. A really good friend of hers, who s well-known in the queer community, Tom Guinney, catered a birthday party for her, for her apartment. I think that may have been the first time I met Tom Guinney. I don t really know him but Then, in mid-January she passed away. I came out for a week. I knew she was dying and my brother called me and I came out and spent a week with her, with her and her best friend, Jane Moyle. Jane and I took care of my mom for the last week. To me, it was a very spiritual experience, because I was dealing with my mom s death was not a real sad one, it wasn t a real I mean, we grieved, I still grieve it s still

a huge loss for me, but I was happy for her and during that year, prior to her passing, she had started to learn how to meditate, which helped her and the stress associated with not being able to breathe. She started, you know, there were things that I taught her, you know, about meditation, that my sister taught her about dealing with issues through Byron Katie s work and I think by the time my mom passed, she was, she new she was gonna go, she was happy, she was ready to go. I don t know how happy she was, but she was ready to go and I felt a lot of love from, you know, spiritual love in the household during that week. Anyway, she had a beautiful passing. We had her funeral at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the place she thought she was not good enough to have a funeral, and we were able to have it there. Mayor Rocky Anderson gave the eulogy for my mom, and that s the first time I didn t know Rocky it was the first time I ever saw him. So, she passed my relationship with Karen got to be a little bit harder, in part because of us grieving cause of my mom s passing, and neither one of us had heard or talked to about anything. Also because, when my mom passed, the questions of a life not lived came up. Can we stop for a second? [Pause recording] So it was after my mom passed, the question came to me that I was not living my life the way I wanted it to be lived, the way I wanted to live. I was just kind of, I knew that I was just trying to be what other people wanted me to be and increasingly so, trying to be who my wife wanted me to be and what other people thought I should be. I wasn t living my life for me. I wasn t being who I wanted to be. I was giving up so much of my life to be what I thought other people wanted me to be. And the whole thing about my gender still had not gone away all those years later. I was in my 40s by that time and I was panic-stricken. Even though I had worked with computers all my life I really had not realized that I could find resources or do internet searches to find something about what I was doing, and I was deathly afraid at that point and all the way up to that point, I was deathly afraid that someone would find out about any part of my gender stuff. I was able to keep it a secret, so much so that nobody knew about anything, except for my spiritual teachers, who I had told. I told my teacher, SantDarshan Sing, about crossdressing before in one of my visits to see him and he said, don t worry about it. He just said, you know, don t worry about it. He didn t say it was something to overcome, he didn t say it was any he just said don t worry about it. But I hadn t told another soul, besides him. When I started to research things, it was all either at work or late at night after Karen had gone to bed. Over time, I became more obsessed with finding out, I found some resources I m trying to remember, if I can come up with a name there are some really important resources that I came across on the Web and I keep links to those today. I found my first stories on there from other people: I found stories of

cross-dressers, I found stories of transgender people or transsexuals or whatever names people called themselves. I started to realize that my story was not different from theirs. I mean, the details were different, but the stories about the early life and the cross-dressing. I ve found an interesting thing that seemed to be kind of a difference between cross-dressers and transsexuals: cross-dressers seemed to be more comfortable with their maleness and they would put on women s clothing or lingerie, then when they were done, they would just take it off and go put on their other clothes and be fine. Whereas, when I have to take the clothes off, it was always painful, that I had to go back to, it was coming back to reality. It was like you re on the playground at recess and the bell goes off and you have to go back in the school. It was kinda like that. Not really, but Anyway, I was finding stories and I found at the same time I was still trying to make it like it didn t exist, like it - I wanted it to go away so badly. I wanted to be normal, what I thought was normal. And it wouldn t. And the reason I wanted it to go away was, because if anyone had found out I was afraid that I would lose everything. The whole concept of coming up to that point of coming out to me, and my mind was like jumping off a cliff and I have really bad vertigo. So, to me, that s like death. So, I avoided that. I mean, there were times I really wanted to; I hated having this burden, this big secret. I hated not being who I am, I hated lying to my wife, I hated keeping such a big part of me from her and from my life. So, I continued studying and I found some books; one of the books that I found that changed my life, as far as realizing that I could transition, was called, She s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It was this book that actually made me I identified so well with her made me realize that I actually could live a fairly normal life after transitioning. It was then that I started to find out what, I started to research and find out what it would be like if I, if anybody transitioned at IBM, where I worked at the time, and I found out that IBM was like one of the top companies to be able to transition at. They had anti-harrassment policies, they had anti-discrimination policies, and they had really strong H.R. protections for transgender people and they had some success stories. And then I found out that they would pay for surgeries, too. Some surgeries. I realized that it wasn t going to be as bad for me as I had thought it would be, so that s when I actually started planning and kinda laying out my plans and contingencies and thinking what I d need. I d always thought that if I came out I would lose everything and I would have to move to San Francisco. Before I read that book and before I read others stories, I thought that I would have to prostitute myself to be able to live, which is the case for many people, many transgender people, unfortunately. But I didn t want to have to do that. Let s see in 06, 2006, we had moved back to Utah. I started making plans to come out. We had purchased a house in the neighborhood that we wanted to live in; it was like a dream-house for us. We were living in the 15th and 15th area of Salt Lake

and we had great neighbors. It was so wonderful. The street we lived on was wonderful and it was more to give up. Here we are, we lived in the neighborhood we always talked about living in. I wanna talk a little bit about the process of coming out and what it is like. It s similar to, I believe, I don t really know, but I believe it would be very similar to coming out as gay or lesbian or bisexual but different in some ways. So, for me, I like to tell the story about how I went with my vertigo, I went to Zion s National Park with a friend one time, who s a real avid hiker and had NO fear of heights. And he took me he knew my fear of heights and he took me up to Angel s Landing. Angel s Landing is like, I may be wrong, but I think it s a two-mile hike up, and then when you get to the top there s an outcropping of rock, and there s this little bridge that goes between the plateau and over onto this outcropping, the landing. I had no idea that there was this tiny bridge, this natural bridge, so we get up there and we re walking down to this thing and I see this narrow passageway going over to the landing. They had actually, somebody had painted footprints on the bridge, and there were chains on both sides in case one slipped, they could save themselves by catching onto those chains, I guess. And I looked down on one side I could see I could only look down briefly and I saw, I remember distinctly seeing a V.W. Beetle that was going on a road that goes all the way around, going around on the other side. I was really afraid, and my friend encouraged me and I m gonna cross! I made it. I went to the other side and I was really proud of myself for having done something that I was deathly afraid of. (And of course, I came back too, so I went across that bridge twice). The process of coming out and the way I read it described this way. I like to describe it this way: it s similar to that walk across Angel s Landing. Take everything you own, take every relationship you have, take your relationship with your loved ones your mother, your father, your siblings, your children, your pets, your partner or spouse and you take all those relationships, everyone of them, and you put them on a table take everything you own, take your home, if you have a home, your prized possessions, your iPod everything, you put it on the table. And you take your career or your aspirations for your career or your life and you put those on the table; and you put your history, everything that everyone knows about you, put that on the table. Everything about you is on that table, except for your body and the clothes on your back everything. Turn around and walk away, knowing that you can t walk back. It s the prospect of doing that, it s like dying, because you know you can t come back. Once you leave, it s gone. The process of coming out, to me, was overcoming the fear that I d lose all of that, and balancing that with, like, a desperate need to be who I am. You know, to be me and to live a life that s worth living. I need to take a break. David: That s fine. This might give you an opportunity to give you some context. I m gonna throw in some things, if that s ok?

Joni: Yes David: Think about, also, the environment that you were living in, for instance, here in Salt Lake: what were the resources that were available then? friends? organizations? Joni: Oh! Yeah. That s coming up. David: Oh, okay. Joni: Yeah, because I really didn t have any resources until I actually was preparing to come out. David: Okay. And if I start looking like I m nodding off, it s actually because of the Benadryl. Joni: [Laughs] I know, I m trying not to look at you, because you re [laughs]. David: I know that stuff kills me. Joni: Yeah. So, Claritin works better for you then? David: Yeah, Claritin keeps me awake. Joni: Um can I take a break and go use the Jeremy: Yeah! Please. Joni: Ok. . [Pause recording] [resume recording] Joni: The last thing I wrote down here was about feminism. I m gonna work something in about my concept of feminism, because I get challenged about being people don t think I m a feminist because I m transgender and because I m a feminine because I ve transitioned to being a feminine woman. A lot of people in the community don t believe that people like me can be a feminist. Jeremy: Mmm yeah, that would be really interesting to hear about. Joni: So, it s just that there s some misconceptions about us. That s one that comes up from time to time, for me. And it came up last night, actually, for me, at the birthday party. Jeremy: Yeah, it s such an interesting dynamic. Joni: Yeah! My friend Bea, who s transitioning, so a trans-man, said that I wasn t a feminist. And I said, Well, yes I am! [Joni &Jeremy chatter about remaining time in the interview and the recording equipment. David re-enters and discusses b-roll footage.]

David: And we are ready! Joni: Okay, so it was in March 2009 when I came out. And in the months before that, I had found in my internet research, I found some resources in Salt Lake. I realized that there were therapists here and I found out that there was the Utah Pride Center. And that s how I found out that at the Utah Pride center there was a support group there that I could go to that met once a month, so And that was coming up, like that next weekend. So, I went to my first support group meeting in January of 2007, and I met the person who led that is Doctor Higashi and I started seeing him as a therapist as well after that. That s when I started, through therapy and going to support group meetings. I found the Pride center to be the way I would describe it is it was a sanctuary, because I was afraid to be who I was outside of the Pride center. But once I was able to sneak in past the street, into the Pride center, I could be who I was. The first time I went, I was in my male persona, and then after that I started coming dressed. I came out in March and I d written a letter to my wife and we talked about it and over the period of a month, we decided that if we re going to remain friends, that we were going to have to separate, and that my transition was inevitable and that there was really no slowing it down at that point. We ended up getting divorced. We re friends today, still. I had my first public full day as Me, during the Saturday of Pride weekend in June of 07, and Sunday I rode on the back of a truck and waved to the crowd with a button that said Queen of Utah and ended up being interviewed by Channel 2. That was my second full day out. I started hormones the Tuesday after that. Later that year, I changed my name on my driver s license, changed my name legally, then I got my F on my driver s license. Then a year later, in last October, I had surgery in Trinidad, Colorado, from Doctor Marci Bowers, who I had met when she came to the Pride Center as part of Transgender awareness month in November of 07. She came to the Pride Center and did a little breakfast thing for the TEA organization, T-E-A. So I had my surgery and I had been recovering from that. The community at the Pride Center became very important to me. I met a lot of people who are my mentors and fairly soon, newer people were coming and I was mentoring people who were coming after I started coming. I was being mentored and was mentoring and it was just a wonderful community of people who were all there to offer support and trying to figure out how they could get through their transition to be who they are. It was also there that I met my gender-queer friends, who are NOT transitioning, but have found a sanctuary, a place to be able to come out and be they d have space to be able to discover who they are and to and their strength, their inner-strength to grow, to be able to have the strength to go out into the world and say, I m

gender-queer or I m transgender or I m a trans-man or a trans-woman. And I found that to be very helpful. I was asked by one of my transgender sisters to apply for a board position and I felt that I could see where and I hope that I m, I ll be able to make some kind of a contribution to helping move transgender programming and transgender awareness forward at the Pride Center and other, and throughout Salt Lake throughout Utah, really. Can we stop for a second? I m not really sure how to end. I know I m up to the last couple minutes, right? Jeremy: If you could think of something that you ve learned, that you ve uncovered, that you ve discovered in this whole process that you ve been describing right now that you d want to tell someone, who is maybe 16years-old or they re 40-years-old and they re at that place that you were, back when you first started this process: so, I m gonna take this and become who I really am. What would you say to them? Joni: Mm-kay. Yeah. I really feel that at this point in my transition that I ve realized that the fears that I ve had about the dismal life after transition that those were not that they didn t turn out to be true for me. I ve realized that life on the other side of coming out is a lot better for me and that I m able to be who I am. I ve also many of my friends who ve come out, despite problems that we ve encountered in relationships and encounters with other people that life is better much, much better being on the other side of coming out. And becoming who I am is, I really feel like I am living my life the way it should be and that I realize that it s not shameful, that it s not wrong, that it s not morally wrong. I m just being who I am and God made me who I am. There s no shame in that. That life can be good that life can be beautiful and that it s really incredibly, incredibly important to be authentic, to be who we are, to be who we really are. Thanks Jeremy: Thank you, Joni, that was really beautiful.

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