“What Was It Like? Stories by LGBTQ Elders” is a new program by I’m From Driftwood, in partnership with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults. Learn more about the program here.
Gloria Allen’s 7 Video Stories and transcripts can be seen below.
Growing Up On A Farm In Kentucky: “I Didn’t Know Anything About Being Different.”
I was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
We lived on a farm and we all lived together. It was a big family. Grandmother, grandfather, my father, my aunts, my uncles and cousins. We all stayed in this huge house. We didn’t have to lock no doors or slept on the porch during the summertimes. My grandmother would be sitting on the porch with me.
My dad knew I was – I wasn’t strange but I was just different from the rest of my brothers. I didn’t have no features like them. My features were with my mother, you know, I got all of her genes in me. I was plump but stacked, they said back then. My father, he was ashamed – I believe he was because my father just couldn’t cope with it. He didn’t know how to touch me or embrace me because, you know, he felt that I was just too prissy and too cute. I loved my dad and I knew he loved me but he was a little on that side of he didn’t know which way to fall with me. He wanted this strong, masculine boy and I wasn’t that at all.
I remember as a kid, as a teenager, my dad would – he worked at the steel mill and the boys, he would get them summer jobs there. I wanted a summer job at the steel mill, too. I asked my mother, I said, “Why won’t my father let me work at the steel mill?” My mother, she made it easy.
She told me, she said, “Well, your dad don’t want you there because you’re too effeminate and he would be afraid of the guys that you would be working with would come on to you and he wouldn’t be able to take that.” He’d probably end up hurting somebody because I’m sure they would talk to me or say something that my dad would be upset about.
My mother explained it to me, she said “Don’t be angry with him. He’s just protecting you.” And I took it with a grain of salt. Yeah, he’s protecting me because I knew I wasn’t a manly type and a steel mill would have been the worst place for me. I understood eventually, I did, because I thought my father was so ashamed of me but he wasn’t – he was protective of me. So I finally realized that, you know, but he was a good man.
Kentucky was short-lived for me but it was the best time of my life, being there, raised up on a farm and raised up in a household of amazing women, amazing people in general. Transgender – that term I’d never heard of. I’d never heard of that term and my family didn’t speak about that unless they knew about it but they just didn’t say nothing about it. But the term “sissy” was used a lot, I remember that.
Kentucky was a good time to come up. I was so glad I was raised, born there. It was a good time for me but just like I said, I didn’t know anything about being different. They knew it but I didn’t know anything about it, so I enjoyed that part of life.
Late 1950’s: “If It Wasn’t For These Women, I Wouldn’t Be Here Today.”
It was the late fifties when we got to Chicago. These amazing women, the three women – my mother, my grandmother, and my great aunt. These women were – they were smart, beautiful and they were strong women and they protected me and I could feel the love that they would project to me.
I had so many girlfriends that were girl-friends, not girls that I wanted to sleep with or go with. But these were special girlfriends in grammar school and high school and I would put on makeup and do my eyes. Back then, eye brown pencil was the thing, so I would do my eyes up and before I’d get back to home, I had to take all that stuff off. I forgot one day and when I came in, my mother looked at me.
She said, “You got eye makeup on.”
I said, “No, I don’t have no eye-”
She said, “I know eye makeup when I see it.”
I said, “Okay then.”
And she said, “Baby, you can’t do that now. You know, wait till you get a little older.” My mother, she would explain things to me. She said, “Boys, even men, are gonna wanna put their hands on you,” and she said, “but if they do, please come to me and we can straighten it out.”
My mother said, she told me, she said “Let me tell you something, baby. You’re different.” She said, “You got so many feminine ways in you,” she said, “and I have to protect you.”
They were all protective of me because my great aunt – it tickled me. I was telling her about her grandchildren and I remember one particular day in Chicago, in Hyde Park, and it had to be around – I think in the sixties, ‘62 or ‘63. I remember coming down the street in a dress and I was just cutting up coming down the street, just shaking and swinging hair. I saw them coming toward me, so I ducked behind a car. I felt so ashamed because I didn’t want them to see me acting like that.
So I told my great aunt, I said, “I saw Michael coming down the street with his girlfriend and I ducked behind a car.”
She said, “Baby, why would you duck behind a car?”
I said, “Because I didn’t want them to know what I was and who I was.”
And she told me, “Oh, we already know about you and what you do and everything.” She said, “You don’t have to duck behind nobody’s car.” She said, “Because they love you no matter what.” I was so relieved, I sat there and I cried in her house. And she said, “Oh baby, we’re not ashamed of you.”
And I said, “Okay.” That made me feel so secure about my life and I thank my great aunt for that. And my grandmother, she was perfect, too. My grandmother was a seamstress, so she sewed clothes and she would sew clothes for male strippers, their g-strings and everything. I’d be there in a house with her while she’s doing it and I’m saying to myself, “Oh my god, what is my grandmother doing?” She’s holding their, you know, private parts and stitching up stuff on it.
And I would say, “Grandma, why are you doing it?”
She’d say, “I make my money, honey. You just have to accept it.” And I said, “Ooh, my grandmother is just a freak.” That’s what I thought. I’m saying, “Ooh.”
She had one friend named Sonny, and Sonny was sort of, he was really sweet. You know, I’d see Sonny and I’d just crack up and laugh. I would ask my grandmother, I said, “Do I act like him?”
She said, “No, baby, you don’t act like him. Because he’s confused. You don’t know if he wants to be a man or woman, but you know what you are and I love that because you are comfortable with yourself.”
If it wasn’t for these women, I wouldn’t be here today because they showed me the way. They really navigated my life into when I got grown to do what I wanted to do. I’m so grateful and thankful for them today because I know they are up in heaven, still looking down and worrying about me. So I’m happy about that.
Sexual Assault in the Early 1960’s: “Why Did I Have To Be Treated Like That?”
I went to high school here. Englewood High School, I remember going to Englewood. In 1962, I remember four guys in high school – I was a freshman. These four guys were like juniors and seniors.
One weekend in 1962 on a Sunday, I was going to the movies with my cousin and with one of my younger brothers. We were headed home because it was still light outside. I saw the four guys coming toward my cousin and me and my brother. They surrounded us and I said – my cousin was a girl named Charlotte. And Charlotte, I thought they were going to, you know, bother her. But they told Charlotte and my brother Michael to go. And they ran. They were on their way home and I was there with the four guys. I knew something was gonna happen but I couldn’t put my hands on it but I was afraid.
I remember them, on Michigan Avenue, taking me under in a gangway and then to the alley. And they raped me.
A lady came out on the porch and she saw what was going on. I don’t know if she – what she did, she went back in. And then I remember my dad coming through the gangway and looking for me and he saw what was going on. They ran but one was still on me. They had the barbed wire fence, I remember that. He was running toward that and my dad had grabbed him and was going on crush his neck on the barbed wire fence and I told my dad don’t do that because I didn’t want my dad going to jail.
The police came and they arrested them. We had to go to court, back and forth to court. My mother, she was hurt. And my dad, he was disgusted – but not with me. He was disgusted with what the guys had done to me. The court system charge them because everything was brought out. The guys lied and said that I invited them to me and the judge saw that – and the judge was a female – and the judge said no way. Because their public defender or something said, well, I could have fought them off. And here they are, like 6’1” or, you know, big, strong, young men.
And the judge said, “No way. We’re gonna throw the book at ‘em.” Because this is a small kid that was being violated by these guys. They were put away for, I think, two years.
I dropped out of school. I told my mother I couldn’t go back to that school because everybody knew what went on and what happened. I dropped out for a whole year. I didn’t want to go back. My mother didn’t make me go back.
It took me a while because I became confused about myself and who I was and why these things happened to me. My mother had to endure all this. My father saw what they had done to me and I was ashamed to look him in his face. I got to the point I didn’t want a man putting his hands on me. I felt nasty. You know, I felt disgusted with myself because here I am. I knew I was different but why did I have to be treated like that? But it happened. I went through a lot after that.
Today, I would tell the trans people, the young ones, to be aware of the people they are surrounded by because they don’t like us. We will never be liked. But be careful and don’t be out there by yourselves. Have friends that you stay around and be connected to. Be friendly with people that you know because they will look out for you. I know that for a fact because everybody was watching me then to make sure that wouldn’t happen to me again.
After Friend’s Murder, “I Became Aware And Scared For Myself.”
In 1962, I remember, I had dropped out of high school but I went back to finish it up. So I graduated in 1965. I decided, you know, having my own apartment would be good for me. And I did – I moved over in Hyde Park. Hyde Park was the mecca for gay people and trans people.
It was around October in 1965 and I remember seeing these guys with high heels on. And I’m looking and I’m just shocked and I didn’t know what was going on, but I was – it was comical to me, you know, to see men – and they were men – coming down the street with silver pumps on. They were loud and boisterous. I mean, I said, “Ooh. I’m in the right spot. This is where I belong.”
It was a bar called the Parkside Lounge. This was a threshold for gay folks, transgender women and we all hung out at this bar. I became good friends with Edgar, Miss Edgar, Miss Benet, Miss Herman, Marchaine. And it was one guy in particular that I fell for – his name was Maurice. The group of people consisted of everything – transgender, down-low brothers, and lesbians and we all hang out together. They were all supportive of me. They made sure that I would go to school and have a good job and they did. They were my protectors.
There were a lot of things that was going on in Hyde Park. A lot of gay people and trans women were being murdered at a high rate. One particular day, we all decided we’d go and have our Blue Monday Party. Blue Monday was considered when nobody went to work, everybody would end up in Maurice’s house and drinks and they would just party to no end. They sat up and they told me that Marchaine, she had been murdered over the weekend. She was stabbed about 47 times and placed in the bed.
That was scary because I believe the person that did that to her was a man that we both met at the same time. The three of us went back to her place. It was late and I didn’t want to stay at her house, so I left – went home by myself, left the guy there in her house. Evidently, he had murdered her later on or early that morning.
The police came to my apartment and questioned me because I was the last person to see her alive and they wanted to know what happened. I gave them a description of the guy. They, I guess, listened to me, wrote stuff down, but they never captured the man that did it.
We just couldn’t believe that that happened to Miss Marchaine because she was always alert and smart. But it did. And we all, you know, had a grieving about her and we just couldn’t believe that this went on.
When Miss Marchaine was murdered, I became aware and scared for myself and for the trans community and the gay community. Living in Hyde Park and the events that were going on – the murdering and being beat up and everything – I learned a lot by living in Hyde Park – how to survive and, you know, respect yourself and don’t, you know, put yourself out there for everybody.
Leaving An Abusive Relationship In The Late 1970’s: “I Got Smart. And I Got Tired.”
In the late seventies, I’d say ‘76 or ‘77, I had been single since 1967 up until that time. One of my trans girlfriends told me, “I have a friend that wants to meet you.” And she said, “Meet him, but don’t fall in love with him.”
This man was gorgeous. He was 6’-something. He was younger than me – four years younger. He and I started going out, dating. It got serious and then he asked me to move in with him and I did. It was wonderful being with him. He worked. He took care of me – I wasn’t looking to be taken care of, but he did.
The first five years were perfect. We bought a house together and we moved into the house – the house was like in a storybook fairy tale. It had a white picket fence and a dog and the house was cute. One particular day, I was cleaning up in the house – I always kept it clean. We had a crawl space under the house. Something told me to go down under the crawl space because I would keep my cleaning solutions up under there.
I went down and I saw all these syringes down there and I’m looking, what are these doing here? When he came home, I showed him and I asked him what is going on. He became evil with me.
He told me, “You’re nosy. That wasn’t none of your business.” I told him I want to know. Something’s going on. He was using drugs, shooting up, which I thought was just deplorable, you know, doing something like that. And then with that AIDS thing going on, I don’t know who he was shooting up with and they might have it and I’m having unprotected sex with this man that I love.
He was beating me. Constantly beating me. I remember one policeman came to the house and he told me, he said, “You should leave. You better get out of this relationship because he’s going to end up killing you or you’re going to kill him.” I thought about it and I left.
I went and stayed with some friends for a little bit. Then he was coming over to the friends’ house, which I thought was my friends, and he was sleeping with them. I moved away from my different friends’ house and went into my mother’s house. He came to my mother’s house. I was still in love with him and I wanted to be with him.
I went back home. Didn’t get any better – it got worse. He was constantly putting me in the hospital physically for beating me. So I left him again and I went to my mother’s house. And my mother let me come there and he would come around. The house – we lost the house.
I told my mother, I said, “Well, he don’t have a place to say.”
My mother said, “Well, okay. He can come to our house but no fighting in our house.”
I said, “Okay.” She let him move in and he stayed for about a year because he would pick fights with me and my mother wasn’t standing for that in her house. He left and I just couldn’t function without him, I thought. I decided I would go with him again and try it out again. Didn’t work out and I left, but I left for good.
During that time, I was suicidal. I wanted to die. I wanted to commit suicide. I drank paint thinner – whoo! Pumped my stomach. I said I ain’t never going through this again. He would come to the hospital and see me but the love that I had for him was starting to dwindle down to nothing.
I left. He didn’t know where I was. I never did try to go back to him. Today, I don’t know where he is and, basically, I don’t care where he is. This is the man I wanted to spend my life with. When he got on the drugs, all of that dissipated. It was downhill. If I’d have stayed with him, I would have been going straight to hell with him. But I got smart. And I got tired.
If someone’s in a relationship like I was, I would tell them it’s tell-tale signs there. Be leery and be concerned about what this person is doing because you never know a person, as they say, until you move in with them. And sometimes you don’t even know then because a lot of secrets are being kept. He had a lot of issues and secrets.
I would tell a transgender girl don’t, really don’t date a down-low brother because they don’t know what they want, they don’t know who they want, and it’s heartbreaking because they will break your heart.
Founding A Charm School In The 2010’s: “Social Graces Carry You A Long Way.”
Since I’ve gotten older, my life has changed a lot. At the age of 67, I was still in the community and going to the Center on Halsted for the senior luncheons. I’ll never forget that.
While I was there, we’re sitting down, the seniors, we’re having lunch, these young trans girls come in scantily dressed. They were gyrating and cutting up in broad daylight in the Center. People are coming in with their children. I didn’t like what they were doing so I got up and I went over to them and I said something about it.
I told them, “Be respectable of yourself because if you don’t respect yourself, nobody else will.” And I told them, “Just be polite. Watch what you say come out of your mouth. Tone it down a bit. You don’t have to be perfect because you’re not. I’m not perfect. But I know how to conduct myself in public.” You could see the look on people’s face. Who in the hell does she think she is? I got that impression, too.
Some of them said, “Oh. Okay.” They were nice about it. Then I went back to the table and I got a bell – ding! I said, “They need charm. You need to help them.” I went to one of the people that worked there at the Center. I told them what I saw and what they need to do.
So she said, “Okay, that’s a good idea.”
I said, “Yeah. I need to teach a charm school here,” I said, “because they need some class about themselves.” When they did get back with me, I was tickled pink. I said now I can help out as much as I can.
So charm school started and it took off. I had thirty people – boys, young men and women. My classes were – I did it twice a week during that time when it first started. I would teach them hygiene first because a lot of them didn’t have it. If you don’t have soap and water, people don’t want to be around people that’s having offensive order. I’m that way. I would teach them what to do and I would tell them, “If you can’t afford it, I’ll provide for you.” And I did. They appreciated it.
Then dress for success. It’s a time and a place to put your hoochie mama clothes on, but you have to know when and where. They were quick to learn, which I was happy about. Then I would talk to them about your personality. If you’ve got a bad day or something didn’t go right your way, don’t take it out on the world. Just calm yourself down and reconsider what you would do in return.
So every time I would have class with them, I would gave them some good information on how to conduct themselves, how to dress, and how to keep their appearance up. It was crowded and it was a whole lot of different attitudes, but I learned how to navigate through them and win them over, which I did.
I taught charm school for five years and it was the best five years of my life because I’m there to help somebody. Some have gone on to college and finished. Then some of them have just got good jobs and they changed their ways. And they thank me today for it and I keep in touch with them. So I love that – to get the feedback from them and how they’re being motivated by what I tried to give to them.
You know, if you carry yourself in a good manner, people will love you. People think that if you’re gay or transgender, they get this perception that we’re all low-lifed. That’s not true. That’s not true. That could be in the heterosexual world – you could be low-lifed, too. But social graces carry you a long way.
“Life Is Beautiful. And For Me, It Has Been Quite A Whirlwind.”
Today, my life has really changed for me. Although I’m 72 years old, it’s never too late. I feel good about it today because I’m more mature and, for 72 years old, I think I look quite well, you know?
I met a guy and this guy was after me for about three years. I didn’t want to be bothered with him because, I said, “Oh he’s old!” And I’m thinking, oh, I don’t want to be bothered with no old man.
So one day he called me up and he caught me at the right time and invited me over to his house. So I said, okay, I’m going to go. I went over to his house and that was the beginning of a love affair.
This man, he works, thank god. He’s tall, dark and handsome. And he’s 60 years old. He’s got me. He’s got me. I’m happy with him because he’s mature, he’s not a young guy. Because that’s basically what I’ve been dating and living with is younger guys. This man, he means a lot to me. He comes over to my house. I love that. He invites me over to his house. I love that.
He lights up my life in this day and age that I am. I’ll tell anybody – don’t think that younger men can do this, an older man can set your world on fire, too. I wake up, I thank God for another day. I go to bed at night, I thank God for letting me get through the day.
I’m going to be honest. A lot of people say, “You’re old.” No, I’m not old. Because, basically, and I’m telling the truth, I have a good sex life. In fact, my sex life is better than what it’s ever been. I got a man that makes me feel that way. So life is good to me. It’s really good to me. I’m happy to be alive. If I was to die today or tomorrow, I’m happy. I’m going under with a smile.
Life is beautiful. And for me, it has been quite a whirlwind. I’ve been through the hurricane but I landed, finally, back on earth. I’ve done the things I wanted to do. I’ve seen a lot of things. I’ve traveled. And I’m happy about it. I don’t let age define me.
And the younger people – don’t give up and don’t let yourself get into that mode that you’re supposed to accept this or that. You don’t have to do that. You make your rules and regulation and you go through with it.