We met Jennifer on the parking lot where we have been staying overnight for quite a while now. She had just moved to San Francisco that very day. Her house had been burned down by a crazy ex in Oregon a few weeks before, and she had lost all her possessions.
She lives in her Jeep, and after a week or so of meeting managed to score a free camper shell from Craigslist. We get to the parking lot late, and she sleeps early, so we tend to miss each other. She wrote John a week ago that she had gone to San Luis Obispo because her cousin had gotten in a traffic accident there. We haven't seen her or her car since.
When it was discovered at birth that Jennifer was both male and female, her mom gave her up for adoption. This is why, in her story, she refers to the State of California, instead of her family, authorizing her gender-assignment surgeries as a young child in order to become physically a male. But she never felt male.
She has just finished the year of psychological training that is required before sex-reassignment surgery and was referred to a new therapist in San Francisco in order to continue the process.
I didn't know how to capture her story in a blog post. Finally I decided to use her own words. I started recording our conversation mid-way as she was talking about her upbringing, which was spend bouncing around different foster families. Trying to be a girl. This is an out-take.
Jennifer: And they'd give me GI JOE, with the Jeep and stuff, and what do I do with them? I go clothes shopping. These are things I'm doing at five, six years old.
Lara: Did they tell you it was weird?
Jennifer: Yeah, they kept trying to get me manly things and I kept taking their manly things and turning them into girly things. I wanted dolls and they would not let me have them. No way...
I've always known. I can remember as far back as eight, I was told it was even as far back as five or six years old I think, you know. And then after all this, I call it brainwashing, but you know, them trying to convince me what I am - you're a guy yada yada yada. I decide, you know what, maybe I'm confused, so I'm going to try to go into the most manly thing possible, you know to get out of this little thing I'm in.
And I join Spec Ops* and the navy, and two purple hearts conduct under fire, no matter what I knew what it was. You know, I wanted to do the transgender process before I even joined the military but no - I'm gonna give it one last ditch-effort - I put that on hold. I did four tours, or almost 4 tours, and as I was getting really close to my last of my four tours I go, you know what, I've done everything I could possibly do. This is not me, I can't be living like this. So I started the paperwork to start the gender-transformation, but I did it effective three weeks after I was scheduled for my last day in the military. When I was in the military, I was a soldier, that's all that mattered. Once I was out of the military that's another story.
Well, I got in a coma** , and because of my security and things of that nature - if you have any paperwork - of course they read everything, no matter what it is. And they read that I was trying to do the gender transformation, even though it was scheduled afterwards, they realized I always had been transgender. Well, back in 1991 transgender translated to gay. And we both know what happens - back in 1991 when they found out you were gay in the military - you were done. So they gave me an ''other than honorable discharge'' and they called it "conduct unbecoming an officer". And this is all while I was in a coma.
**After being shot out of the air in Iraq
Lara: They called it what?
Jennifer: Conduct unbecoming an officer. So I was given a general discharge, instead of an honorable. I was stripped of my veteran status, you know, all the things I worked on for all those years. Basically just thrown in the trash. I will get them all back, I'm not worried about that, it's just semantics - but that's why I got out of the military.
I mean, I would have gotten out with a medical honorable, that why I didn't get out like that.
For years, a good four or five years, I always tell people, I know what I am. There's never been a doubt in my mind, not once. But knowing what you are and wanting to, you know, walk right with our Father are two different things. I know what I am, the Lord knows what I am but I'm going to live this life as a guy, because that's how things happened, and I would rather live as a guy knowing I'm a girl, than risk doing something that could affect my relationship with our Father. So for a good few years I tried everything, and physically speaking, it was ridiculous. I had three heart attacks, and I was perfectly healthy, it had nothing to do with my health. My stress-level was just astronomical.
And as soon as I started this gender transformation; my stress-levels weren't even a tenth of what they were when I was trying to live as a guy. My stress-levels were down, my heart was great, everything, physically speaking was a 180 degree turnaround. My temperament was so much better. leave out
You know, one guy said: 'Physically speaking, you were born more female than male'. And I had doctors' written statements saying that if the State of California did not do anything physically, surgery or whatever wise, I would have literally been a female with male hormones. And they are the ones that did what they did.
Alright I thought - he says 'you're not going against God by trying to become a woman - you were a woman - the State made you a man, made you all man'. after praying about it, praying about it, praying about it, you know, I decided, that I could live like I want and at least if nothing else, God knows that I did everything humanly possible to live as much of the life as I believed I was supposed to. That was what was most important to me.
Before the operation, or process, I had to live as a male, for a full year, documented, and did that, and then I switched over to live, eat, breathe, sleep, everything like a female, and as i do that during the year they're taking stress-tests, blood pressure tests, heart tests. and yk, as a man, my stress levels were so bad that i was on medication, my heart was irregular heartbeat, my bloodpressure was ridiculous, and when i finally made the change to jennifer, everything changed. i stopped taking the medication, i no longer needed it. and the only thing i changed was physically what I am.
Lara: How are you going to get all the benefits that you would have gotten as a soldier?
Jennifer: The VA benefits. I'm basically back-logged. There are probably about twelve thousand soldiers that are fighting, they got discharged, for whatever reason. It's just a matter of time.
Lara: Are there organizations that help you with this?
Jennifer: My lawyer, he only deals with veterans, they are fighting with me, its just a matter of waiting until the State takes care of it - they said within the next three to five years. The good news is that I would get full back-pay veterans benefits for over twenty years. So you can imagine. That's a lot of money.
John: Have you heard the poem yet?
Lara: No.. I heard the life story.
Jennifer: Would you like to hear it? It's titled 'Our Fathers Child'.
Looking up at the roadway, desert as far as I can see
On my way to do my countries winning
No matter what I must do
I must always remember, I will always be our father's child
Will you still be proud of me
Two years later, in Iraq,
My best friend and I side by side, on patrol
The only man, i spend, from kindergarten to Iraq with
Just downed by fifty caliber sniper round
All I want to do is to give up to this anger
All I want to do is give up to this pain
But no, no matter what i must do, i must never give up to this anger
And I must never give up to this pain
For I have always been our father's child
Will you still be proud of me
Two years later, my newborn baby in my wheelchair
Me, paralyzed from the neck down
Son, I cannot hold you
Son I cannot walk with you
And son I cannot move with you, but someday,
I will walk with you, I will hold you, and I will move with you
Will you still be proud of me
Five years later, shot and stabbed once
Paralyzed from the neck down
Best friend died to a sniper round
And my newborn baby died age five to a car accident
But no matter what happened, I never gave up to the anger
And I never surrendered to the pain
For our father he healed all of my wounds
But you, my precious precious child,
Through our father you healed my heart
Are you still proud of me
He said he had so hoped that someone would come out of the RV. Driven up to our parking lot for a short break from his uber/lyft shift, he saw our poster gracing the RV and needed to know if he could still register for the California primary. He and his friends love Bernie. In fact, the entire Eritrean community loves Bernie. Multiple times during our chat he proudly showed the Facebook feeds of some of his friends, filled with Bernie videos.
We ended up talking for two hours. Eritrea is a tiny country of 6 million that is part Muslim and part Christian. Two percent have an ancient animist religion. Both dominating religions try to influence the animists to join them. As in trying to persuade your grandparents to get a computer, these Christians and Muslims find that the animists need to 'modernize' their belief.
His name is Yemane. He just got his Computer Science degree and will start looking for a job in that field. He answered my questions about Eritrea, which I didn't know a thing about, with enthusiasm and a pinch of longing to the simpler way of life.
Yemane's Eritrea: It was colonized by Italy on a Blue Monday, and the Italian custom of taking a two hour lunch break to eat at home still thrives. Most hotels and mechanic shops today are still run by Italians. There is no violence and the police doesn't carry guns. There is no starvation in Eritrea, unlike in neighbouring Ethiopia. His city looks like SF, similar climate and hills. Despite its size, it has 9 different languages. Djibouti, which is its southern neighbour and even much smaller, has three languages. Yemane pointed out that the only African country that communicates in a single language is Somalia. For the rest, it's hundreds of tribes, ethnicities and languages sharing artificial European-made borders.
Eritrea's borders were made up by Italy, but when their colonization ended, Ethiopia claimed the land. It took three decades of fighting and the lives of sixty-thousand Eritreans to gain independence, after which Ethiopia simply went on to claim a smaller part of Eritrea, out of spite and to further destabilize the country. The UN stepped in and through arbitration told Ethiopia to stop occupying this land. This agreement had to be ratified and received 10 of 14 votes in favor, but was vetoed by one of the five permanent UN members: the US, under President Obama. Why would the US vote against returning this land to Eritrea? Because the U.S. has close ties to Ethiopia. The type of tie that is based on exploitation of natural resources and political favors: corruption that is business-as-usual in the African continent and world politics. A way of conducting politics that is familiar to many politicians, including Hillary Clinton. It shouldn't be surprising that one of the biggest donors to the Clinton Foundation is Saudi Arabia, a horrible regime that suppresses women and freedom of speech in every way possible. In return, Hillary approved arms deals for Saudi Arabia as Secretary of State. And she calls herself a fighter for women's rights?
From the New York Times: "Officials of the foundation, after years of it generally being treated as an apolitical entity, spent several months swatting back questions about large donations from Middle Eastern countries known for violence against women — at a time when Mrs. Clinton was making her advocacy on behalf of women a major part of her campaign."
This is why Eritreans love Bernie. They used to love Obama too, until his message of 'change' evaporated into inaction, and his vote made them remain an occupied country. But Bernie is untainted of corruption, cleptocracy or a lust for status at the cost of the people.
The world needs Bernie.
I actually met a friend of Yemane's while picking up Bernie posters from my printer friend. He was printing the menu of his Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant in North Beach there. He was skeptical of politics and said: "no president can change my life - I just need to work hard." Yemane said he was probably bitter, as he'd passionately supported Obama, who promised to bring change and peace. Yemane: "if you promise change but you don't want change, then do nothing. But for Eritrea, Obama has made the worst possible decision."
After he left John and I tried to repeat everything we just heard. We were overwhelmed. How can a parking lot and a Bernie poster lead to so many inspirational meetings? (I have yet to write about others we met; more unique moving tales.)
Because people know, and feel that Bernie is the real deal. No matter where you grew up, North America or Eritrea, you know that a large part of the system is rigged. Bernie has told us this, and he has shown throughout his entire career, that he is not one of them. He despises war and despises the habit of impoverishing the US and other countries for the sake of political and financial gain. More and more Americans believe in him, he has won eight primaries in a row, and that is why someone from Eritrea, and his entire community, knows exactly why to vote for him too.
Register to vote at http://voteforbernie.org, check/confirm your registration and address, and double-check that you're party-preference is correct so you're able to vote in your Democratic party. Accounts have been hacked and voter's preferences have changed from Democrat to Independent because of this (yes it's sick). So take a moment to check this.
Last Sunday we woke up in a shaking RV that nearly tumbled us out of bed. The blast lasted a few seconds, and at first I thought a maniac had run into us. Then the maniac turned into a skateboarder who'd lost control because I didn't want this to be a deliberate violent act. Could a Bernie poster really draw such aggression? Rushing outside, we didn't see a skateboarder or a maniac, but an elderly Asian couple standing next to a Honda Civic that lay crammed under the RV, with 3 of its 4 tires flat.
To say we were stunned is an understatement. How can a car crash into a 12,000 pound parked vehicle with such force that made it jump forward 4 or 5 feet? The couple didn't speak English, but the lady managed to say that her daughter was coming over. And that this was her daughter's car. Oops.
The man who sleeps on the corner of the lot during weekends came up to say that the car suddenly raced forward from the other parking lane, hit the parking bumps that separate the spots, and then crashed into us. How on Earth? Then another guy told us the same. What the fuck?
Turns out the lady had just gotten her learner's permit and was practicing, with her husband in the passenger seat. He obviously didn't have her thoroughly practice the importance of remembering the difference between the gas and the brake.
(10 minutes after John bought the RV back in December, it got hit in the side by a sleepy driver, which took 2 months to repair. A month to the day after getting it back, it got hit again. Haunted RV?)
Two days later, Nikon had foot surgery, and his 'cone of shame' prevents him from tearing the bandage off from his paw, while the shoes prevent him from losing the suture. Animals don't complain, they simply suffer in silence. But one glance at him and he's ready to play, and show you his girlfriend hedgehog. She fits right in his cone now. Nikon lets happiness conquer suffering anytime.
This quote applies to him and frankly all the subjects in this entry:
“I also believe you sort of attract what you want, what you’re looking for, and I think that one must always be in love. To be in love with a person is of course ideal, but you can be in love with a flower, a tree, an idea. Just waking up in the morning, you know. It’s an attitude, an attitude of romantic readiness,” she concluded firmly, quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald. “We have to have that.”
(Gloria Vanderbilt in The New York Times today)
Our weekday headquarters are in Golden Gate Park, where the DeYoung Museum is located. A small retrospective of photographer Bruce Davidson is on view until September. Shown are primarily works from the 60s and 70s. His work gravitates towards the unrepresented; the ones for whom nothing comes easy.
Bernie and Davidson are only a few years apart, and are part of the same generation that called for and brought about needed change. A quote from Davidson about this series:
'I wanted to experience, uncover and expose the underpinning of segregation and the climate of poverty across the country. I needed to see for myself what was being endured and what was no longer going to be tolerated.'
This photo series in particular harkens back to a time when the right to vote was not a right for all. As African-Americans took to the streets and faced violence and aggression as they insisted upon their right to participate in the political process, a future Senator from Vermont and Presidential hopeful named Bernie Sanders was fighting for equality alongside them. These photos serve as a reminder of the importance of participation in our democracy. People for decades fought for this right, first women with the Suffrage movement at the turn of the century, and then African-Americans with the Civil Rights movement of the 60s and 70s. Now is not the time to be complacent and fail to show up to vote, when people before us have lived and died for this right. My hope is that Bernie's optimism and vision for this country serve as a reminder of why this campaign matters.