On the evening of Tuesday March 23rd, 2004, with one suitcase, $75 US dollars in my pocket and determination on my my mind, I boarded my flight and headed to the United States of America.
As the aircraft taxied down the runway and its speed picked up, a thousand images flashed before my eyes. I knew, that I would not be seeing Trinidad and Tobago for a very long time. I knew when I returned, not only would I be a different person but that Trinidad and Tobago would be a different place. I sensed a feeling of relief as the land grew smaller in the distant. I had no idea what awaited me in the US but I knew this was going to be an opportunity for me to start all over again. This was my opportunity to move on with my life and find my way… on my own.
The past eight years has been an uneven roller coaster.
It has been bitter sweet to say the least, but I have learned from it. However, in my quest for freedom and the ability to live my life as I want to and be happy; I have found a sense of peace. I have realized that I can be me despite the opposition. I have found peace with myself and my sexuality. I even learned to accept my short comings and I have realized that no matter where one goes, there are always going to be people who are going to have their say.
Nothing they could ever say would shake my resolve that I am a human being, a child of God and I am loved by that same God and no one could tell me any different. I am loved.
It took me a while to make contact with my family. For a time I kept my distance, even though I had a few relatives here in the US, I chose to be absent. Not because I was afraid of them but because I wanted to do things on my own. The first few years were difficult but it soon began to get better. Then one Easter weekend in 2006, it all came together.
That Saturday evening, he took me to a women’s store in the mall and with his credit card – he purchased everything. From an eyeliner to a full outfit; and there in my little apartment in Suffolk long island, Denise came alive. It was as though I was being born again. There was no trepidation, no fear, no shame. All I felt was a sense of confidence as I had never felt before. I felt complete. I remember standing there – watching my reflection in the mirror and knowing this is who I am. It wasn’t an alter ego nor was this a phase…this is me. Standing there in a pair of high heels, strutting in them, being able to feel my femininity take over was exhilirating….it was cathartic. This felt right.
At first, it was difficult to get people to adapt to calling me Denise. Some of my friends even began to shun me but they were quickly replaced by those who embraced me and saw me being for the first time in my new happy life. To say that it has been an easy road would be false and misleading.
I live in a a predominantly West Indian community in Queens and even though West Indians are in the US, unfortunately, they still live with the rampant homophobia and fear of the unknown. I have found it to be a fear that exists in both sexes. A lot of West Indian women are inherently afraid that their husbands might be turned on by transgendered girls and a lot of West Indian men are afraid to admit that they are not only interested in but they are turned on by gay and transgendered women. It is a given fact, that the very men who protest the most about homosexuals and transgendered women they are the ones that are most likely to participate in or rendezvous with a homosexual man or transgendered woman.
I have personally witnessed the phenomena of going into a bar and West Indian men – Jamaicans, Guyanese, Lucians, Bajans, Trinbagonians, etc. are riveted to us girls. They buy us drinks and the expect us to take them home. Some of them even want us to take it up another notch by going to a remote spot and doing other things apart from making out. I have been personally asked by quite a few men to be the aggressor in a hook up. They are fascinated by girls of the third gender who carry a little extra.
I have found it easier to work for Caucasians, Italians, or Jewish people who look beyond my sexual preference and my gender. I also had the good fortune of working in a Caribbean restaurant where the management embraced my gayness and I was proud of that fact. But they were Trinidadians who had adapted, a long time before, to a wider view of thinking and acceptance.
In my social life, I live quietly.
I am now at an age where I am no longer looking for an identity – I have one. I belong to me. I am happy with who and what I am. To say that lately my life has become mundane and monotonous would be misleading, I still have my exciting moments as Denise. It is even more exciting to be on a full train or bus and no one knows my little secret because I am that good! It is nice to walk into a women’s garment store and with the help of an associate I am able to put together an outfit that makes me feel incredibly sexy and fulfilled.
MY LIFE NOW….
Today I most concerned about the many young men and women of West Indian parentage who suffer daily by trying to hide their true identity. I am concerned about members of my own family in Trinidad who were not as fortunate or as brave as I am to come out to the world and say – this is me, this is who I am, I don’t need your approval but I would like your respect! Throughout the years I have learned that I was not the only victim of sexual abuse at the hands of my cousins, but that two more of my cousins suffered a similar fate as mine. But they have their own story to tell.
Today I am content. I have had some other challenges but that’s my secret. I am at a happy place. I am thankful that I can wake up everyday and feel a sense of belonging. I have been in a relationship for the greater part of five years. It’s unconventional but I know he loves me. He has proved his love to me without me ever having to ask. He has said he loved me and I truly believe him and I did not spiral out of control.
I have a cadre of friends who support me and it makes me happy to know that, even though I never had a family to love me, even though I had a daddy not a father, a mom and not a mother, that even though my siblings might be ashamed of me – I am proud of my family – my friends, who took me and embraced me and gave me a sense of belonging. Something I had been searching for all my life.
As I conclude this part of my story, I must add here that every bit of it is true. I did not use any artistic license, nor did I embellish. As a matter of fact I might have saved one part of the story for myself. So that I will not be stigmatized.
I appreciate all of you who have shared this story. Those of you who know me and called me to express your shock and or happiness that I was finally sharing my story. To those of you who, in whatever way, my experience has taught you, I say amen.
I sincerely wish to thank Jamie (Jay Blessed) for giving me a voice when I most needed one.
I pray that in the upcoming weeks, you will continue to be supportive and friendly as I continue to share with my perspectives of a Caribbean gay in metropolitan New York City!
Missed them? Catch up on all of Denise’s stories below: