In the early 1960s, while growing up in a rough housing project on Chicago’s South Side, Alexis Martinez (L) had to hide that she was transgender.
Her name back then was Arthur.
At StoryCorps, she told her daughter, Lesley Etherly Martinez, how in the last few years, she has been able to live as a woman full time.
Click here for the transcript.
You know, so, I went as macho as I could be, you know, to mask what I really was underneath. And by that time I had become a member of a gang. People just didn't mess with me, you know, because they knew they had a fight on their hands.
When I look back at it, it was almost schizophrenic, because I would be wearing combat boots and blue jeans and a leather jacket. But underneath, I would have like stockings and a bra. And so, I remember it as a very dark period. I mean I really didn't believe that anybody could love somebody like me.
Lesley Etherly Martinez (LEM): I remember as a little girl that you would say these things like, "Well, I know that I'm not loved." I just remember growing up like, "Daddy, I love you." You know, it was just such an important thing for me to express to you how much you mattered. And, it was a big to-do, I discovered some female clothes—it was sort of, you know, my uncovering the secret.
AM: You asked me, "Why?" And I think if I had tried to cover it up, a lot of trust would have been lost between us.
LEM: It was like freedom because now I could talk to you freely about being a girl, you know, and you're the one who taught me how to put on makeup.
AM: You know, I was really torn between being a female role model and a dad. And so, I said to myself, OK, well be the best parent. Whatever it takes, however I do it, you have to look out for your baby. But one of the most difficult things for me was I was always afraid that I wouldn't be allowed to be in my granddaughters' lives. And you blew that completely out of the water--you and your husband.
One of the fruits of that is, you know, my relationship with my granddaughters. They fight with each other sometimes over whether I'm he or she, you know.
LEM: [Laughs] But they're free to talk about it.
AM: Yep, they're free to talk about it. But that, to me, is a miracle.
LEM: You don't have to apologize. You don't have to tiptoe. You know, we're not going to cut you off. And that is something that I've always wanted you to, you know, just know—that you're loved.
AM: You know, I live this every day now. I walk down the streets as a woman, and I really am at peace with who I am. I mean I wish I had a softer voice, maybe.
AM: But now I walk in love, and I try to live that way every day.