A Touch of Joyce
This is a column I never thought I would write. When Liberty Press offered for me to continue with Trans-Formative beyond the original series, I had many thoughts and ideas. Not among them was the notion of devoting a column to someone like Joyce Jenkins. Her battle with cancer and her devotion to those she loved have been an incredible inspiration to me. But it was Joyce’s passion for helping transgender homeless that causes me to put these words onto paper.
Joyce Jenkins was born in the Bronx, New York, New York. She married, had a son & daughter. Somewhere after the end of her marriage, she came into an understanding of her love for women. In 2007, Joyce and another very dear friend of mine, Annette Billings, met on-line and began to get to know each other, soon realizing that they were very much in love.
At the 2007 MCC of Topeka PRIDE Picnic, I was sitting next to Annette while she & Joyce talked on the phone. When Annette asked if I wanted to talk with Joyce, I politely agreed. In the next few minutes, I realized that I was speaking with one of the most true women I have ever known. The love in her voice quickly explained the sparkle in Annette’s eyes. Joyce told me then, that she and Annette would marry someday.
Just less than a year later, Joyce made a trip to Topeka so they could meet in person. Over dinner at Annie’s Place, the three of us talked about the normal things; work, the church, our journeys. Joyce worked for the city of New York, where she answered phone calls from people looking for solutions to anything from a missed trash pick up to unethical taxi drivers to domestic violence to helping the homeless find shelter. As I spoke of trying to reach out to transgender needs, her eyes both lit up and saddened. She talked about how the system works in New York. How when a transgender person becomes homeless, they are required to choose, male or female, and sheltered with that biological group.
Imagine being a young female to male transexual and being forced to choose between living as himself with biological men (community showers, etc.) OR trying to live as a woman. If he has been transitioning, he probably has facial hair and a deeper voice. Imagine being a male to female transexual with some breast development who may now find herself in the male shelter.
Imagine. There are many transgender homeless, sometimes fired from jobs or evicted from homes because society continues to deny basic human rights to the LGBT community. Joyce could imagine. She could feel their pain.
In a simultaneous expression of sadness and hope, Joyce shared her dream of someday establishing true solutions for transgender persons in Topeka who become homeless. Each time we spoke from that moment on, she wanted to know about how the outreach was going and renewed her vow to someday make it better. When she heard that Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka had chosen as one of their Missional Objectives to provide specific outreach to the disenfranchised and isolated, including the transgender population, it reaffirmed that she had found her church, her home, her passion, her dream.
Shortly before Thanksgiving of 2008, Joyce was finally able to make the move to Topeka. That night, she and Annette went to the hospital because she was experiencing acute back pain. Joyce was diagnosed with cancer, with tumors throughout her liver and far beyond.
I visited with her and Annette at Stormont Vail Health Center on Thanksgiving day. Joyce could hardly contain herself as she poured over her hopes & plans for when she was better.
Her doctor began chemo, in the full expectation that at best, it might prolong her life. Joyce proclaimed that she was going to recover. She had far too many things left to do. In fact, Joyce did stabilize to the point that she could go home.
Joyce couldn’t wait to go to church and begin helping to bring better lives to those struggling with being transgender. Before the MCC of Topeka service on December 21st, Joyce talked with many within her new church family about her dreams and plans. Just after the service, while everyone was still seated, Annette had arranged for a special announcement. She turned to Joyce, took a knee and asked for Joyce’s hand in marriage. The question had already been asked, and answered. But this was a reaffirmation, that the cancer had done nothing to alter Annette’s love. It was a true moment of a true statement of the real truth about what love is. Joyce managed an undeniable “Yes!”.
On Christmas day, Joyce and Annette celebrated in their home together. Their first Christmas. The chemo was demonstrating its horrible side effects, as it often does. Yet Joyce found the strength to share herself and visit with friends and new found family. She sent me a “Merry Christmas” text message saying that she would call me later that day. The next day she sent me another text to apologize for having been tired and not able to make that call. As a transexual woman, I often look at other women as examples of the woman I would like to become. As I read that text message, I knew that Joyce was perhaps the most wonderful example I have been blessed to meet.
In the afternoon of the 28th day of December, 2008 at Metropolitan Community Church, surrounded by family & friends, these two beautiful souls were joined in marriage before God.
Bigotry and hate, as represented by the not unusual Sunday presence of sign carrying occupiers along the corner across the street from the church, had no bearing here. In this house, God’s truth is spoken.
Right after the wedding ceremony & celebration, Joyce was re-admitted to the hospital. Lab results had found that the progression of the cancer was not even slowing down and chemo was discontinued. Arrangements were made for Joyce to return home a few days later and she entered hospice care. Her nurses, two of the several hospice nurses in the MCC of Topeka congregation.
Somehow, now in a wheel chair, Joyce found the strength to attend church again on January 4th, two days before her birthday. Little did she know that during the service, the MCC children were busy decorating the parlor for a birthday celebration. Everyone knew what was going on but Joyce. Another prearranged announcement at the end of service and the party was on.
Later that afternoon, Joyce refused to do anything less than be there, with Annette, to support me as I made a presentation on my book about being transgender at the Topeka Shawnee County Public Library.
This article isn’t about transgender. It’s not about gay or lesbian or bisexual. It is about humanity, about truth, about dignity, about compassion. About love. Love for everyone. And it’s about not getting caught up in everything that’s wrong, but turning yourself toward what can be done to make things better.
I can’t help but remember how amazed I was when two weeks before my father passed away from cancer, he stood by my shoulder and watched me work on the computer. Knowing that he had only days or weeks to live, he was still learning. Now I think about Joyce. Knowing that she only had days or weeks to live. She was still giving, supporting and loving. I am amazed a million times over.
With Annette never leaving her side, surrounded by a house full of family and friends, Joyce Jenkins gave up her fight at 2:50 pm on Wednesday, 1/14/2009. A true champion for those of us for whom the transgender journey is not easy. A true champion of compassion and human dignity. Mine, but one of the many lives she changed forever in far too little time.
Though she never spoke of it to me directly, Joyce had come to terms with the certainty of her future. She said, “I wish that I had been able to help create that outreach, where anyone who is transgender, who needs help, can come to us and they can get that help right now.” And she snapped her fingers. I thought the same thought then as I am thinking now. She has. She does. And she will.
© 01/14/2009, Stephanie Mott
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