Joey Nemeth: Husband & Transman (Part 2)
If you haven’t read Part 1 of Joey Nemeth’s story, you can catch up here. This week on Mentor Monday’s, I have the honor of continuing to tell Joey’s story. I love Joey’s story because he strives for incredibly simple joys. Sometimes you find people who are looking to own the whole universe. I believe in dreaming big, sure. But at your core, simple things are truly best. Like Joey, who really seems to find so much delight in the love of his life, a day at the dog park, and some candles on sale. See how dark times can change into the light. Remember when we last left Joey, he was just beginning to explore a new identity as a man.
Joey: I tried a whole bunch of different names in high school, but at that point in time it was Sebastian. And people were saying ‘he’ in reference to me, and the first couple times were so like… “I like that.” Not like a nickname or that sounds cool, but like that sounds more right than my original name or my original pronoun ever felt.
All at once I had a group of people that cared about me, and helped me understand more than anything about what this means.
Mel ended up winning Prom King, and that was THE MOMENT for me- he made it possible for people like me. He was like the transgender dream- that sounds awful, but his parents agreed to let him get on testosterone very early; he had had top surgery; he won Prom King; he was going to the college of his dreams- he was the man you wanted to be.
So Mel & Robin graduated, and moved on. And I had some bad experiences with some girls in GSA. I was a bad person trying to figure out who I was. I would go and date one girl, and then just drop them because I was so scared. There was one situation with this older girl and her sister, and I dated them both and dropped them both. I guess to most people it would be like, “Oh you were cool” No it wasn’t cool. It wasn’t cool to do that to anybody. I was an asshole. I went on from person to person to person to person.
Then, I was trying to end my life again. I knew I had to make sure that it went through. No notes, no way anyone could find out, but I did want to find someone and tell them something really nice. That was my one final last deed or whatever.
So, in a seemingly strange twist, Joey’s future wife- Julia- found her way into his Tumblr feed. She had short hair, a style he wasn’t allowed to have in his home due to his father’s rules. So he sent her a simple message: “I like your hair.”
Joey: With in 2–3 minutes she responded. We ended up talking back and forth about random little small-talk things and I had forgotten the whole reason I got on there. We had this Skype call, and we ended up talking on that Skype call for 14 hours. It sounds really cliche or unhealthy to say I stuck around for a girl, but in that moment- yeah, I stuck around for Julia.
Then it got back to my sister that #1, I had a girlfriend, and #2 that I was going around saying I was a boy. So I get home one day, and my dad is standing there. My sister is standing there. And she goes, “Why the fuck are people saying that you are a boy? And that you’re going by a different name?” My dad was like “Do you need to go to a mental hospital?” He was threatening to install restraints in my room. I kept saying, “I’m a boy. I’m Sebastian.” And he kept saying, “No, you’re fucking not.
“How can you not see what I see?”
Joey: It was a back and forth like I’ve never experienced before. Like me saying “This is who I am.” And someone just blatantly telling me no. Like you could say “I have green eyes!” And someone says, “No you have brown.” And you’re looking in the mirror, you’ve got fucking green eyes! It was so confusing. Like, how can you not see what I see?
To see your whole identity as a mental illness… on top of what I already had… to be like, “Oh I like coffee and tea” and be like “That’s a mental illness” Like… “Huh?”
So, once again, in that moment… I felt that [coming out to my family] was stolen from me… that was my moment, that was supposed to be for me….
You know, my uncle is gay, and my grandma always knew. And he told her when he was probably 32, and he told her, “You always knew, why didn’t you tell me?” And she said, “It wasn’t my moment to tell you.” My grandma was one of the first positive people that I told. Her questions, I realized, were not out of spite- she wanted to know.
People always ask me, “I feel so weird about asking questions” or “What if I say the wrong name?” Like there’s a difference between how you say it and your intentions. If you’re asking me for shock value, I’m not here to educate you. If you mess up on a pronoun sometimes, I understand- I’m not freaking out.
Julia and Joey had been continuing their relationship online for several months without ever meeting in person. Because they didn’t live in the same city and were dependent on their conservative parents, seeing each other face to face wasn’t an easy task. Plans to have a dinner with all parents quickly fell through once Julia’s parents found out that Joey was trans. So Joey started thinking outside the box.
“All those little negative things that my dad had said just went away.”
Joey: So I went to my theatre department, and I said, “Hey. I know you have a production coming up. I don’t know what’s going on. But can you please just let me do something so I have some reason to be here?” And they were like, “Well. We have an opening for the ticket person. You wouldn’t see any of the play, but you can do tickets.”
So I devised a plan, and I [told Julia] “You can tell your mom and dad that you’re gonna go see a play.” She was full on in theatre. So [the night of the play] Julia walks in, and all those little negative things that my dad had said just went away. It was just like… my girlfriend’s here to see me. That doesn’t happen to a kid who never went to sleepovers. The kid who doesn’t know how to make friendship bracelets. But it happened. And it’s real.
Then she kisses me.
“This is the man that you were meant to be.”
Joey: So Julia had left, and I’m waiting for my dad to come pick me up, and I call my friend, and I say, “I am in love with this girl. What do I do?” And she says, “Well, me and Brendan got engaged.” And I’m like, “What? She’s not gonna say yes to that!” And she’s like, “She might!”
So, I got two tickets to the Montrose Center Prom, and asked Julia to go with me. My older sister came into town. She finally understood that this [being transgender] was not going away. We were sitting there, and she was like, “Can I fix your tie for you?” And there’s this moment where she spins me around to look in the mirror, and she says, “This is the man that you were meant to be.” And that is better than any High School Musical moment.
Dylan: You’re making me cry.
Joey: I’m sorry. [laughing] You plan for so long what your funeral is going to be and what your headstone will say, and then [instead] you’re planning your proposal, your life- that is life- that is real… all these different, horrible things that happen to you, like people get to that point… and people may not always have their entire family, but you get to pick your family.
So, Julia comes down the elevator. And she’s in this really long, beautiful black lacy gown. Anything that I felt about “This is not the person or This is crazy” Just went away when I saw her come down in that dress. And I just got down on one knee, and I said “Do you want to marry me?” And she said “Yes.” It was a really good night.
Even though so much was going right in Joey’s life, he was still struggling with his mental illness and his home situation. A particularly scary incident would show him just how unsafe he was in his own home. It all started when his own sister, who was experimenting with various drugs, convinced him to also try a cocktail of uppers and downers to test the waters on what might help his depression.
“In that moment, I knew I was going to die.”
Joey: So, then I’m out of it. I call Julia. I’m slurring. I told her something’s wrong. Call the police. I ended up having the worst self-harming episode of my life. In that moment, I knew I was going to die. How do you deal with that? My little sister comes upstairs and is freaking out- obviously. And I will never forget this. She runs downstairs. She says to my dad, “He’s bleeding. Something’s wrong!” And my dad says, “What?” And takes a second, and then he basically asks is he really dying? And my sister is like “Yeah!” And he says, “Well, I’ll deal with it in a minute.” And I hear the door close.
And for fifteen minutes, my sister holds me while Julia watches [on video call]. Finally, my dad comes and starts shaking me “What the fuck are you doing? You’re all fucked up! When the police get here, you’re gonna tell them that you’re fine.” He’s like washing the blood off my arms. “If your sister calls, you’re gonna tell her you’re fine. Looks like she’s calling you.” So I answer the call, and I say, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” And she goes, “Is dad right there?” And I go, “Yes.” And she goes, “I get it. I’ll talk to you later.” And she hangs up.
Then the police pull up. I just tell them I have a history of mental health issues. They know it, they pull it up. I tell them my dad’s here- he’s watching me. They leave. So my sister brings me up to her room, and I’m locked in there, and I’m kept in there for three days. Julia calls the police again. This time as soon as they get there, I run out, and say, “I’m not safe here.”
At that point, I told Julia I had to get out of there. So then Julia went to her parents and she said, “Look. That guy that I was with? I’m still with him. We’re two years together and we’re engaged. He’s 17 and he has nowhere to go and this is what his dad is doing to him. Can you help?”
You know… I went through a lot… and then I started my official transition, and it was an amazing time, and then I dropped it because I was scared because I couldn’t understand, well “What if my dad saw me?” And it just killed me that I gave it up.
Joey struggled with a string of different jobs. Even after finding potential success as a CO, his history with mental illness prevented him from being entrusted with a gun. Money was tight. Some nights, change in the carseat cushions paid for meals.
Joey: I felt like I wasn’t good enough. I was just a fuck-up.
Julia was traveling to Germany. I just didn’t want to be by myself. We had this mutual friend. I thought he was really cool, so I was like, “You wanna come hang out? We can watch TV; you can stay the night- whatever.” So it’s really really late at night. We’re hanging out, watching TV, and I just knock out. The next thing I know I wake up to him assaulting me. In my own house. On the couch. That I fucking bought. With the only money that I had.
And so I get him off of me, and he’s like, “I’m sorry. I thought you were in an open relationship.” And I’m like, “Fuck no.” He leaves. My friend comes and picks me up. Julia was gone for a week.
I stayed home all the time. The couch was in my home all the time. It was dirty. It was broken. When you’re trans, it’s hard enough to feel confident about yourself sexually. And when someone hurts you in that way…
One night… [the couch] is like this big ass futon, and the dumpster is down two flights of stairs, but I brought that fucker down. I brought that fucker down those stairs and I put it in the dumpster and I said, “Fuck you.” And I did it by myself. And I threw away a lot of stuff.
Fast forward to now, we’ve moved out of that apartment. I’ve started working at Target. Some days I love it, some days I hate it.
Dylan: It’s retail.
Joey: It’s the longest job that I’ve had. Maybe 8 months doesn’t sound long to anybody, but to me- it’s long. Julia says that I spoil her, but I’m not- we’re partners, we’re 50/50. Like, I got to Marshall’s and buy candles, or I buy things for Lavender (their dog), we’re going to the park today. I’m going to the park today! And I’m doing an interview with you. And I fucking made it. And that’s what’s important to me. And my wife is in there. And she’ll know that I’m home. And I love that. I really, really love that. I have money in my account, and sheets, and a bed, and I don’t have a couch yet, but it’s gonna be my fucking couch.
Like the show Joey took Julia to see the previous weekend Dear Evan Hansen says in its finale, “All I see is sky for forever.”
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