When Darrie first asked me to speak today, at first I thought I might not be the best person for it. After giving it some thought I remembered Martin Luther King Jr. had said “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” I am going to tell you my story today and how those words led me here.
My name is Alyson. I am a trans woman and that is something I have known about all my life. At times when I was a kid I would try on some of my mothers clothes or spritz myself with some of her perfume. There was an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati (season 3 episode 5 titled “Hotel Oceanview”) that had a transgender character in it. That was when I realized who I was and what I ultimately wanted to do when I grew up, I was going to transition.
I grew up with my stepfather who had said once that if he found out any of us, my siblings and I, were LGBTQ, though the word he used was far more hateful, he would kill us and the world would be better off. When my mother finally left him and we reconnected with my father, his side of the family was and still is very conservative. My grandmother thought LGBTQ people should be arrested and executed on the spot. I also faced at various times threats of violence from people who didn’t like me for who I was. I lived and still do in fear of possibly ending up like Brandon Teena or Matthew Sheppard.
In the 90s I started to look into transitioning but found it difficult. At that time I would have had to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist for a year and wear the clothing of the gender I identified as for a year before they would even consider starting on HRT (hormone replacement therapy). I had planned to transition before I told my family, and the price of everything would have become more than a person in their early 20s could afford.
So I did nothing and that would lead me down a road of dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts for years that just got worse till I was in my mid 20s and couldn’t take it anymore and had my first suicide attempt.
One of the physiatrists I saw at that time asked in our first session if I felt as if I was a girl. I had said no at the time because I was afraid he would have gone and told my father about it as they talked frequently. The fact that I didn’t say ‘yes’ at the time is one of the biggest regrets if not the biggest regret of my life.
The fact that I didn’t say ‘yes’ at the time is one of the biggest regrets if not the biggest regret of my life.
So I trudged on in life till I was 46 and had been seeing stories on the news about a celebrity that was older than I was and that they had transitioned late in life so I started wearing women’s clothing and doing makeup subtly which helped me feel more like myself. I also found there were places that would start you on HRT without having to see a psychiatrist first. So I started HRT and was finally feeling like I was me and who I should have been, and my body wasn’t feeling so alien to me anymore.
In 2021 after feeling comfortable with myself for a few years I was ready to start coming out to my family. First, I was going to talk to my mother and tell her as she was the one person in my family I was sure it wouldn’t have mattered to. At that time the pandemic had been going on for about a year and would deprive me of the chance of telling my mother as she passed on January 26th of that year from covid induced renal failure.
When she passed I was talking to my father who at that time was living in Hawaii and he had said that he wanted to come visit in August that year, but he passed from cancer on July 7th and I didn’t get the chance to tell him either.
Between those two events to make the year even worse I had lost my job that I had for twelve years, then in September disaster struck again and I lost my apartment and everything I had. I was on the streets and couch surfing with friends. As winter in Pennsylvania can get cold some friends let me come stay with them for the winter in Sacramento.
While I was in Sacramento my friends there knew I was transgender as did friends and coworkers where I lived in Pennsylvania, so I decided that it was time to come out to everyone. When I did, my family stopped talking to me and basically cut me out of their lives. I would try to get in touch with them but they would not answer, or try to get back to me at a later time. With that I had lost the last bit of a support system I had and was truly alone.
Depression and another suicide attempt followed. While I was in the hospital in Sacramento when it became time to release me they wanted to release me at first to a religious shelter in San Jose but with some questioning from me they found out that they would not respect me being transgender. A few days later they came back to me with a new plan. They gave me printouts for Housing Matters with a name and phone number hand written on it, bus tickets to get to Santa Cruz and info on the nearest T-Mobile store to get an ACP/Lifeline phone.
When I got to Santa Cruz it was early for when I was supposed to be at Housing Matters so I decided to head to the T-Mobile store to get a phone but when I got there I was told that store didn’t do the ACP phones. I then went to Housing Matters and found out that I would have to go on a waiting list and they didn’t have a space for me. That’s when I realized that the hospital in Sacramento just looked up shelters and printed out the result that was far enough away so they wouldn’t have to see me again.
All of that started to make me feel suicidal again but I didn’t act on it instead I told them at Housing Matters what I was thinking and they called the police who called a social worker. From there I went to Telecare then stayed at an Encompass facility that was part of their integrated behavioral health program. After I timed out at that program I was staying at the Salvation Army shelter in Watsonville but still coming back to Santa Cruz for medical appointments. That’s where I ran into someone I knew who told me about the Homeless Garden Project.
I talked to my Health Coordinator about it and she got in touch with Evan Jones who then reached out to me and I’ve been working here since. Working here has been giving me a sense of normalcy like my life is getting back on track. Working at the Homeless Garden Project I am planting seeds and transforming my life. My transition is moving along, and I am working towards finding a stable housing situation and a permanent job ideally as a receptionist or a secretary at a place that accepts me for who I am, like they do at the Homeless Garden Project.
I work in the shop this time of year using my creative force and letting that give me the strength to get my goals done. I also remember that Dr. King had stated “Violence immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love” so I have decided to live with love and my life has been more peaceful and I can be someone who my mother would have been proud of. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a national holiday that celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America through greater equality for all people, regardless of race.
—Alyson Greene, HGP Trainee, shared this talk at HGP’s MLK Jr Day of Service 2024 at the farm. You can hear her talk at: https://youtu.be/1A6xY1ythio