Long before there were any “assignments” about gender and decades before there was a “sexual spectrum” to chart preferences, I was already here and living my life – Just ME. Life taught me that I needed to find good, like-minded friends just to be able to live my life, and I did. We took care of each other growing up, and then we lived together as adults who understood the need we would face every day to truly take care of each other. I still remember hearing the phrase “Lady of the 80’s” as transsexuals became noticed in the world. We just considered ourselves “Queens.” I am Hispanic and was raised Catholic, although not a strict one. For many years, I was mad as hell at God, because so many of my like-minded friends were dying. I didn’t understand this and wondered why God would do this to us? Since most religions consider gay and living transgender a sin, I thought God was somehow punishing us. My dear, sister-friend would ask me: “if this is such a wrongful sin, then why did God make you this way?” Yet, I am still: Just ME. Give me any other name, and I am still: Just ME.
At the dawn of the New Millennium, I was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. I awoke in a hospital bed devastated by the news that I had AIDS, even after all the years of playing it “safe” sexually – almost every time. The doctors and nurses from Southwest CARE Center came to my bedside in the hospital, and they assured me that my life was going to get better and eased my fears. I had pneumocystis pneumonia, and I thought I would die – that was all I knew about AIDS; people take a lot of pills and die. Just a few years ago, I suffered a brain hemorrhage from a genetic brain disorder which required a very long recovery-time in which I had to relearn all of my body functions – like starting over. I envisioned that I had died on the operating table and then floated into heaven where I saw my departed father and other family members. Then I heard the loud-speaker broadcast: “It’s not time for her, bring her back.” I floated back into my body and woke up…and then learned that I had been in the hospital for four days with my Mom by my side. It was then that I learned that I could still make some good choices: I started eating healthy foods, I quit smoking, I got lots of rest, I began exercising, I cut out alcohol-drugs-partying, I began to think about and choose healing pathways. Death had come so close to me, I could feel it.
I wouldn’t consider myself transgender because I am happy just living the way I am – Just ME. I look like a woman, and that is how I want to look. Fortunately, my appearance is convincing enough that I never needed to have any kind of surgery – someday, far in the future, I may have the guts. Christina was one of my best, like-minded friends and a sister to me as we faced life together and made it fun, sharing in many girlfriend adventures. Then she died suddenly in a car accident. Along the road of life, my Mom and so many other like-minded sister-friends were dying at a fast pace. I was so thankful for my like-minded, girlfriends who became my new extended family, and then I found out that one of my roommates, Karen, had slept with my man. That was the end for her, as the girls have a code of decency among themselves. Death seemed to come in different forms – all of them were sad losses.
At first, Southwest CARE Clinic was a scary place for me. Time moves so fast sometimes, but after nineteen years at Southwest CARE, the people who make up the healthcare teams at Southwest CARE have been so good to me. Two of the doctors went the second mile in caring for me and saved my life – twice. I have been treated by nurses who have gone on to do great things in the nursing field in Santa Fe’s medical community. I thank God every day for the caseworkers who brought new possibilities and hopeful relief into my life. Some of these health workers don’t even know that I am not a female, and I am OK with that. Sometimes, when I see someone gawking at me, I am OK with that too. I try to smile back at them occasionally – even when I know I am wrong to do so. These words are actually my thoughts – straight and gay – just like the thoughts I think everyone else has too. Just ME.
I understand that I am HIV+ and have AIDS, but I think I am still in the closet about so many things. I don’t feel it’s anybody’s business but mine. Just like I don’t think it’s anybody’s business to know my gender, and that works for me. Just ME. I am still amazed to see just how convincing I am as a woman. Just ME. It sounds weird, but for some reason, I am: Just ME – a beautiful girl with a dick. And nobody needs to know, unless I tell them. For some reason, some men still like and desire someone like me…even love me as their spouse.
I do believe in Spirits and the Holy Spirit. Angels are definitely among us, and I have seen many, in many different forms. I have so many stories about how I could have been killed so many times, but somehow, I am still here. Just ME. One of my old like-minded sisters told me recently that there are no “like-minded, old sister-friends” to see – everyone is gone now. I understand that I was brought back to a full life for a reason – thanks to the healthcare workers at Southwest CARE. I began my journey in a hospital with 12 T cells and “detectable viral loads.” After following the treatment protocols from Southwest CARE, I now have 600+ T cells and an “undetectable viral load.” I live a healthy lifestyle and have stopped worrying so much about death, as I have a team of professionals from Southwest CARE helping me to choose life.
AND I am still here. In ten short years, I will be a senior citizen – Just ME. Thank you, Southwest CARE Center in Santa Fe. We are here together. Just YOU and Just ME.