Special thanks to the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley for being our partner for this story.
My name is Wanda Martinez-Johncox, born and raised in Puerto Rico.
When I was little, in 1993, 13 years old, I was watching Miss Universe and we had this TV that was black and white. Our TV was very small, because we were kind of poor, and then at about 9:30 when you had the last 10 finalists, Puerto Rico was still there so it was really exciting that Puerto Rico was there because there was never another Miss Universe from Puerto Rico. She was very beautiful and now my sister, I told my sister to hold the antenna so I could watch the last 10 minutes and see who won. And Miss Universe from Puerto Rico, she won that year. And I wrote a letter to her saying that I wanted to celebrate and take her to the movie theater and just hold her hand so when I wrote it down on a yellow paper, I folded it in four, and I put it under my pillow.
On Saturday, my mother, it was cleaning days on Saturdays and my mother did laundry. So I was outside playing and my mother called me, “Wanda Enid Martinez Serrano!” So I knew I was in trouble. So I came to the room before she called twice and I saw the paper on the floor. She said she didn’t want to see something like this again, to be thinking about girls that way. I said okay, but she told my grandmother.
So my grandmother took me the next day to the church and she told me why it was such a sin to think about that, about girls. So I confessed and we went home and she said not to tell anybody. And then about five months later, I saw Jennifer Lopez on TV and I was like, “Oh my God, she’s beautiful, who is she?”
And that’s when my grandmother somehow heard me. After that happened, my grandmother said after the high school, that she made plans to send me to the United States. So I graduated from high school and I was 18, it was 1997 actually, and my grandmother thought it would be better if I came here to get some treatment, some mental treatment so I can get fixed, because of me liking women. And she said that I was going to Hell and people like that usually get HIV. I had never heard the word “HIV” at all, I didn’t know what she was talking about. I came here to Newark, New York, very close to Rochester to be with my uncle.
I remember after that I was in a mental hospital for seven days. The doctor wasn’t sure why I was there, and I didn’t either because I didn’t know that I was doing anything wrong. So after I get out for the mental health hospital, I tried to commit suicide twice. I tried to commit suicide because I didn’t know how to fix myself. And probably I would be gone, my family will be better without me because I would not be a shame anymore.
After the second time of the suicide attempt, it was a realization to me that God said to me, “You know, it is not your time to go. I’m the only person who tells you when to go.”
So it wasn’t my time. That’s when I realized that God had my back.
So somebody from work told me that I need to take the class from the Gay Alliance. The Gay Alliance is the LGBT Resource Center from Rochester, New York. And when I got out from work, I saw on my windshield a paper folded with money, because I didn’t have the money to go to the class, that said, “You should go to this class.”
And I went that night. It was a connection. It was like, oh my God, this is who I am. And I don’t want to leave because I just want to keep talking about how do people feel and this is the same way that I feel and it’s not something sick, this is something normal.
So now I live in Canandaigua, New York, in the Finger Lakes. I’m married, we did our wedding in a church, of course, because I would not want it any other way. And I have two kids that I love very much. And I work for the federal government. And I’m happy, happy. I cannot explain how happy I am of my life.
And I want to make sure that people know, and kids know, that if I did it, that they can do it, too. They can have a great family, have some kids, and still be welcomed in the community.