Julie Nestor - My Friend. Some random thoughts and memories.
Death leaves a heartache no one can heal,
love leaves a memory no one can steal.
-- Inscription on a headstone in Ireland
I just received the news that a dear friend has passed away. It's just so sad. I'd like to take a few minutes to honor her, and to remember her.
First, I suppose some history is in order. I moved to Austin, TX in November of 2000. I had accepted a job offer at Dell Computer so I was relocating there for work. However, one of important factors that I considered before deciding to make the move was a goal that many of us share: to start over. To begin a new life as Donna. I had only recently finished all my surgeries and was finally clear of all those hurdles that had always seemed to be in my way. I was a little sad moving to a place where I didn't know a single soul, but in an odd way that was one of the goals. It seemed like the perfect time to set a new course.
That new course lasted for over a year. I began my career at Dell Computer and submersed myself in it. As a result, my career flourished. There were very few reminders in my day-to-day world of my unique background. I generally felt as though I fit in and in many ways I felt somehow unburdened. But at the same time, it became increasingly apparent that something was missing. Any sense of balance I hoped to find there was hopelessly out of whack, as there really was very little social opportunity for me.
What was missing? That something, it turns out, was closure. I needed to circle back to reconnect with my past. Rather than accepting my past it almost seemed like I was running from it. So, I took some very deliberate steps to integrate my two lives into one.
One of the by-products of this effort was my book. Another was the gradual realization that I needed to come out to some dear friends. Ironically, I was working so much that I really didn't have many friends outside of Dell. My best friends were also my peers at work And it was with much trepidation that I finally came out to a good friend there (I'll call her Molly in order to protect her privacy). She accepted it well, and that first good experience set me on a path to tell others.
One day Molly came to me to say that she had mentioned me to a friend, and that her friend knew another one of "us". In the year or so that I had lived there I hadn't met a single other trans person there. I had moved there, started my job, started dating again, but I hadn't met anyone from our community. Truth be told, there really wasn't all that much of a community to meet. Remember - this was Central Texas.
I contacted this other trans-woman. She told me that her name Julie. We initially communicated via email, and eventually met in person. She was about the same age that I was - maybe a little bit older. She had a pair of grown-up twin daughters - one of whom semi-accepted her and the other who didn't. She had been married for a long time to a woman she loved, but the relationship fell apart with the trans thing was exposed. We seemed to have quite a bit in common - more than both simply being trans. As a result, our friendship blossomed.
Julie was a born-and-bred Texan. She was Texan through-and-through, and you knew it within the first minute of meeting her. She had the attitude that Texan's have - the Texas-is-great-and-screw-the-rest-of-the-world outlook that frustrates so many, but that is so uniquely Texan. The only thing bigger than her Texas-sized heart was her smile - it was absolutely hypnotic. I've never seen anyone who could smile like that and light up her entire face. It was simply magic.
Over the weeks and months we became good friends. She had transitioned alone and seemed to be a bit wary at first, but we got past those initial concerns. She only knew of one other trans person there, who apparently was too busy being "stealth" to want to establish a friendship, and I think it was a relief to find someone that she could connect with. We had some good times together.
One evening we went to a Ladies Night that was sponsored by a local radio station. Neither of us had ever been to anything like that, and it was actually a ton-o-fun. We spent a couple of hours watching the dance floor, playing pool, and just enjoying all the unique energy of the event. There was a woman-on-woman kissing contest, and the X-rated give-away toys were a hoot. It was way cool. At some point during the night Julie needed to go to the bathroom and ended up bumping into the morning DJ in the hallway. She listened to this guy every day and introduced herself politely. That, she figured, was that. How wrong she was.
Apparently on the morning show the next day they were talking about the event and Dale (the DJ) mentioned that he suspected that there have been people there masquerading as women. He said he saw someone in the hallway that he thought was a man. Needless to say, this was the source of much humor. As you might imagine, as tough as she tried to appear Julie couldn't hide the fact that this really hurt.
I was furious. I wrote to Dale to explain to him about who and what we are. I explained that he had no idea about how difficult it was for Julie to come out to her daughters, or to her ex-wife, or to transition at work. I explained the difficulty it is to be transgender in this culture - particularly in Texas. She had earned her right to be there that night as just another one of the girls, and the last thing she needed was some ignorant DJ making fun of her on the air.
To his credit, Dale apologized the next day. He had no idea. In fact, he invited Julie and I to be on his show and we accepted that challenge a couple of weeks later. Julie was very concerned about the potential repercussions - she was a stealth maniac at the time - so she made them turn their studio-cam towards the wall. Here we were being broadcast all across central Texas but she was worried about that teeny little camera. I'll never forget it. In fact, I have a recording of it.
Me, the KLBJ-FM Morning Show crew, and Julie - 2003
Annah and Julie
Julie and a Friend at Happy Hour
In any event, it went well and somehow that entire experience changed Julie. She started to get more and more involved with the radio station - they have an online community and she became a central person in it. She made a ton of friends and it was so neat to watch her blossom socially AS Julie with people who knew of her unique past. We used to meet with a group of her friends to play pool every week - it was free on Tuesdays. She'd go out with them on the weekends. They talked online. We went to concerts together. And, in the subsequent months she was back on the show several times. And, from that point on she never avoided that studio-cam.
One year for her birthday we got tickets to go see the comedian Larry The Cable Guy perform in Austin. I had never heard of him before, but of course Julie knew every single word to every one of his jokes. Even though she knew all the punch lines she'd still laugh until she had tears rolling down her face. That's just the way she was. And I think one of her happiest highlights was attending her first KLBJ Prom. She always lamented her lost childhood - the childhood she never had. When the radio station indicated that they'd be having a prom complete with tuxes, gowns, and the whole deal she was in her glory. It was as though she was making up for all those things she could never experience the first time around. It was wonderful.
As with many from Austin, Julie (Jules to her friends) was a rabid Texas Longhorns fan. She lived and died with her Texans, and had a bumper sticker on her large truck (what else??) to prove it. I think the fact that they won the football National Championship last January was a high point for her. She was sooo happy.
Over the course of our friendship both her parents died within a year. I remember how she'd call me from Ft. Worth where all the relatives had gathered to tell me that many of them were obviously uncomfortable around her - and it hurt. Frankly, I don't know how anyone could be uncomfortable around Jules - she had a very inviting way about her.
Relationships with her "nieces" blossomed as she came out to them. She started dating. I remember how frustrated she'd get at the fact she could easily meet people online with that beautiful smile of hers. And, she'd hook them with her sense of humor and her intelligence. But as soon as she dropped the T-bomb, they disappeared. That used to frustrate her so much. And, my heart broke for her. It's something so many of us face, but I doubt the pain ever gets any easier to deal with.
When I finally moved away from Austin 18 months ago one of my last memories was of Julie helping me load the moving truck and of waving good-bye as I turned the corner that last time. She was always there when you needed her. She was one of those friends you could always count on.
Over these past several months we haven't talked all that much. We'd talk by phone every few weeks. We hadn't seen each other in almost a year - since the IFGE Conference in Austin last April.
Then, a little over a month ago it happened. She emailed me to report that she had been having pain in her side so she had gone to the doctor to check it out. They did some tests and found a growth on one of her kidneys and they were planning to go in and remove the entire thing ASAP. They said it was about the size of a grapefruit and they didn't know if it was cancer - they couldn't tell until they went in to see. We did some research about the survival rates for people with kidney cancer - not surprisingly, it all depends on how far along you catch it.
When I was visiting Austin 3 weeks ago to attend the HRC Dinner there a small group of us got together for dinner. Annah was there, as was my mom. Julie had recently met the love of her life and brought her along two. The two of them seemed so cute and comfortable together - it was really special. We talked about Julie's impending surgery and she seemed to have it all together. In fact she was so calm that after we got home my mom questioned whether it had all really sunk in yet. Probably not. Either way, she seemed to be handling it well.
Apparently Julie had gone into full renal failure on Thursday. They rushed her to the Emergency Room and tried to stabilize her. In the process they did some CAT scans and found that the cancer had spread, and her prognosis was grave. She was given two options - if she allowed them to treat her they could probably extend her life by a few weeks. If not, she would die within a couple of days. She chose the latter.
Julie died last night. April 9, 2006.
Each of us must face death at some point. Jules faced hers the same way she lived her life. She gave it her all and when it's done - it's done. I hope whatever comes after life treats her the way she deserves to be treated, and that she's happy. She has touched many of us here who will miss her, and I suppose that's the most important thing any of us can leave behind. Jules was my friend. I will never forget her.