Continuing our series of interviews with transgender voices, I had the great pleasure of talking with Jenifer Pool. Jenifer has many “firsts” to claim: she was the first transgender person ever appointed to city of Houston commission, and appointed to the police advisory commission. She is was also the first transgender president of the LGBT political caucus and was elected for three terms. She was also the first trans co-host of Queer Voices on KPFT fm 90.1. Jenifer is currently running for city council in Houston, Texas. As is consistent with TSM blog, Jenifer is committed to social justice and is a true do-gooder. Jenifer has a brother and two sisters. She identifies as lesbian. She was kind enough to do this interview and, like me, hopes she is able to help transgender youth. I would like to thank Jenifer for her kindness, candor, and generosity of heart. Here is Jenifer’s story.
What age were you aware of feeling different?
At around 5 or 6 I realized I was a bit different. I remember clearly a message by my dad “little boys don’t do that.” If I did not act a certain way I was punished. If I did not conform to his idea of gender I was punished. At age 9 I started to wear women’s clothes and I felt good. Then I thought, I must be gay because I like to wear women’s clothes. So I hid my feelings from the world and began fantasizing about the woman I am today.
What age did you decide to take action?
I began dressing in women’s clothes at the age of 12. When I was 12 my mother found some of my sister’s clothes that she had thrown out. I had come home from school and she followed me into my room and there were the clothes on the bed and she said: “Do you know what your father would do if he ever found out about this? You have to promise me you will never do this again,” and so being 12 I promised, but what I thought was, I just won’t get caught again. Until I was 16 I tried to be the all American male. I hid who I was as deep as I could. I thought that I must be gay and so I thought if I just don’t have sex with boys I will be okay. When I heard about Christine Jorgensen, I thought wow, okay, here is someone I can relate to. My secret was well hidden. My father was convinced that I was a “normal” male, but my mom was always watching. At 16, I started secretly wearing my sister’s clothes again. I dated women and had sex at 18 with a woman right before I went off to college. I was on an athletic scholarship. I could only be my true self during my private times. I got married to a woman and we had a child, but it did not work out and we went our own way. At age 22 I would dress as a woman and drive to Houston or New Orleans so I could be who I was. This is when I started to get involved with the trans community. I was dating a woman from Beaumont and I remember seeing a bar in New Orleans with a sign that said “Where all our girls are boys.” At this bar I met a woman named Candy who started asking all these questions and started talking about her life. I remember it so clearly. I remember leaving there knowing exactly who I was and I knew I was not a freak! I went back and saw Candy again and she said: “I knew you would be back, I know who you are.” We became fast friends.
After my dad passed away and I was able to make provisions for my mom, I knew I had to get away from Beaumont and came to Houston and got a job—that was October 1980. I was still splitting my time living as a man during the day and a woman at night. Like many trans people I started drinking too much and I joined AA in 1988 and part of that program is taking a complete inventory of your life. I had a really good sponsor who was very supportive and I knew I had to stop caring what other people thought about me– stop caring about their judgement. I found a therapist and it was the first time that I could talk about who I real was. It was not until 1988 that I got sober. I finally was able to look at myself and look at what not being true to myself had done to my life. So in 1990 I went to support groups in Houston and transitioned. I went to Tri-S, therapy, and GCTC, a support group for transgender people, and TATS, (a group where all transsexuals that were on the road to surgery). For me, it was so important that I become the woman I saw in the mirror. I belonged to all three organizations and felt comfortable with all of these people because I finally became comfortable with me. Before getting sober there was always a lingering anger—the moment I committed to being honest with myself and being the woman I knew I was, the anger went away. Now I understand the anger came from being something I was not. I was forced into being a societal construct that I did not fit into.
What do we need to do to be more supportive?
Participate in the campaign with time and treasure. It’s important that the transgender community understand that my candidacy is about acceptance in society. When a transgender person can run as a real candidate for city council in the 4th largest US city and win. Then there can be a dialog of equality about our community. To be open as to who we are, so others can identify as being part of a larger community.
How can you help Houston?
I have over 30 years experience working with the City of Houston. First representing citizens as clients to the City; then as the first openly Transgender person appointed to a Houston city commission. I understand the workings of the City and how the efficiency and effectiveness can be improved
Jenifer is very quick to thank many people for her success, but emphatically thanked Houston’s former mayor, Bill White and Houston’s current openly lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.