Joey Nemeth: Husband & Transman (Part 1)
As Mentor Monday’s continues, I am blessed over and over again to see how strong and courageous and passionate people can be. When I sit down with Joey, I mention my friend Kyle, the very first interview I did, and how while similar, it will be very different from our discussion. I want to give Joey room to share his story. Joey was born a girl, and sitting out on the Starbucks patio where he once worked for me, Joey begins to share with me how he not only found his identity, but maintained his grasp of it as others fought to tear it away.
Dylan: It takes so much courage to live your life like you do. I think there are a lot of people who are afraid. And even if they are not neccessarily wanting to transition, we all have transitions in our lives that we are afraid to make. I think that you have the potential to by sharing your story to really help those people gain the courage to make that leap into being more comfortable with who they are, so I really [laughs] my mom has been bothering me about this ever since I told her I was going to reach out to you to see if you wanted to do this… I told her today, “Yeah, I’m finally gonna go talk to Joey.” And she was like, “Ohhhhh I’m so excited!” [laughs]
Joey: Well, you can tell her I said hello. [laughs] And you’re welcome. [laughs] No, I’m very glad I get to do this. It’s not often that people ask me how it is, or what’s going on or tells me that it’s a courageous thing. It’s just a normal thing I guess. And I really appreciate you saying that.
I always kind of had an understanding, whether I understood it fully or not, when I was in that age group- like fourth or fifth grade- that whole “Do you like boys? Do you like girls?” I was like definitely, no boys. But I didn’t know how to express that. As cliche as it sounds, I never wanted the prince, I wanted the princess. I wanted to be her friend, but I wanted to be more than that, but I didn’t understand why. When I first saw different gay characters on TV- Ellen was a big one for me- I felt like, you can be gay and on TV and people listen to you. And that was a big thing. This person is out, and this person feels what I’m feeling. And so for a long time, I didn’t even understand that gender was even a thing. I didn’t understand anything beyond, “I like girls.”
So I went into my 5th grade classroom and there was this girl Samantha*, and I knew that I liked her. She was like the popular girl. I grew up in Ohio, and it was a very small town, and we lived in the same neighborhoods. I didn’t really talk to anybody, but I was talking to this one person and I said something along the lines of “Girls are cool. I want to ask this girl to the dance.” And the person was like, “So, you’re a lesbian?” And I was like, “Well, yeah.” It was one person. The next day every one was talking about it. It was the weirdest experience because I was completely invisible for a really really long time, and then this exploded. Even if I wanted to backtrack at that point, and not want anyone to know, it was already there.
“Even if I wanted to backtrack at that point, and not want anyone to know, it was already there.”
So Samantha came to talk to me about it. She said, “Why didn’t you say anything to me about it? I like girls too.” So this is like big High School Musical moment where THE cool girl is talking to me, so we started hanging out and talking which was weird. So then one day, she’s like, “Why don’t you come with me into the bathroom and I’ll show you what a kiss is?” So I had my first kiss experience, and immediately I felt wrong- not about the fact that it was a kiss with a girl; it was wrong because it felt like the wrong time. It felt like a using thing.
I tell one sort of acquaintance thinking it would be kept a secret, and of course- it’s 5th grade, no one can keep a secret. I walk out one day and notice this huge group of kids. And they’re all like, “You need to stop saying this about Samantha.” Kids that I looked up to and wanted to be; and they all hate me. Samantha denied it in front of everyone. I was already outcast, and then I was outcasted again.
Finally, I went to the principal, and he said we needed to have a sit down with Samantha and Samantha’s mom. So I go into the principal’s office, and the original feeling I got from him was that these people were bullying me and that regardless of the reason behind it: the point is I was getting bullied. So I went in, and the entire thing changes. Samantha’s mom is like, “You need to stop saying this about my daughter. This is wrong. You’re causing her stress.” Everyone believed her. As soon as her mom was in the room, it shifted.
A couple months go by, kids kind of start to lose interest or whatever. And my mom passes away. I was kind of like her caretaker for a really long time. She was an alcoholic. It was weird because most kids would go home from school and their moms were there and present, but she was always drunk. Sometimes she wouldn’t eat. I’m 10,11, 12- the only thing I know how to make is microwave soup, and “Here you go!”
When she passed away, for me, it was like losing a kid. I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t have anything going on for me. Not that I saw her as my kid- she was my mom, but she was the person that I cared for. She had the ability of a 3 year old.
“I didn’t realize until later how important it is to have that coming out moment to yourself.”
So I go to live with my dad. He was for a long time the “cool dad”. You went and you played video games with him. He had a motorcycle. He played guitar. So we moved all together with him; we moved into this one little one bedroom apartment- [literally] a single’s apartment complex. All the things that I idolized about him were only weekend dad qualities. He would just leave us in the apartment for three days, didn’t know anything about what I was going through, and so I just tried to find things to do…
So I found this artist named Danny Shay, and they were outwardly gay, and it was that Ellen moment again. Once my sisters saw that I was interested in this artist, they confronted me about it, and not in a nice way. “What’s going on? This is embarrassing! This is wrong!”
I didn’t realize until later how important it is to have that coming out moment to yourself. To get to choose how to say it and when to say it. That was the first time it was stolen from me.
They said all these awful things that you just don’t say to somebody. Like, “Anything that you watch in videos is not really how it goes. That’s all theatrical. That’s all fake. No one’s going to care about you in that way.” You think about that and all of those things that inspire you, and it’s gone. I guess it’s not real. This is what it is for people like me.
My dad found out. Was furious.
Every school I went to, I wasn’t afraid to say, “This is who I am.” And that same soul-crushing feeling of any chance of a new life you had is gone. But somehow, I refused to pretend to be what they wanted me to be.
Any chance that I had at normalcy was already gone with me being out. And then I didn’t have any idea of how to interact with people socially. And on top of that I was self-harming. I was just the weird kid.
Then I had a major suicide attempt in 2015. So I was the gay kid. The kid without a mom. And the kid who was trying to kill themselves. I didn’t really have anything going for me.
“I had never had any positive “let’s talk about your sexuality”
Then, Freshman year of high school, I met two trans guys in GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), Mel & Robin. Being from a small town, the only idea of trans I had was a really distasteful comedy of a “man in a dress”. I had never had any positive “let’s talk about your sexuality” it was always “let me berate you about your sexuality”.
Sexuality and Gender are two different things. Sexuality is who you go to bed with. Gender is who you go to bed as yourself. I had that first “Who am I?” I had never focused on me. I was always focused on getting through the school day, my mom, this, that…who are you?
So pretty much my closest friends at the time took me to Walmart and got me Ace bandages. [So my friend helps me bind my chest] and she says, “Do you wanna look?” So, I go and look, and it’s like this weird… the closest thing I can explain it to is like deja vu. Not that I’ve been here before, but that something makes sense. I want to keep going in this direction. What else is there?
Some people try to say that transgender is one way, and you have to know it your whole life. But I think Mel & Robin explained it in the best way I could have ever gotten an explanation. Male is on the inside.
Check out Part 2 of Joey’s story where he tells us about his discovery of his identity, his soul mate, and his new life.
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