Story Update: Wanda Martinez-Johncox on Accepting Herself, Forgiving Family, and Marrying J.Lo.

by Wanda Martinez-Johncox

Nathan: Welcome to this week’s Story Update. Today, we’re going to be speaking with Wanda. Before we do, let’s take a look at her story.

Wanda: 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.

Nathan: Okay. Wanda, thank you so much for joining us. How are you?

Wanda: Good. How are you doing Nathan?

Nathan: I’ve been doing well. It’s been, I think over five years since… since we’ve done that story. It was great to watch it again. I have a lot of questions and thoughts. And the first one, first question I have is have you spoken to your family, like your parents or anyone else about that experience since it all happened? Since, you know, being admitted to the mental hospital and, you know, the conversations you all had about you liking girls?

Wanda: Actually, that’s a great question. I did have this conversation two months ago with my mother. And it didn’t went very well, but for me, it was something that I needed to do for myself, to continue living my life and letting the past go and then having the kind of nightmares and some of these stuff that I’ve been dealing with.

Nathan: Wow. So that was just a couple months ago that you had that conversation and did that end well for you personally? Like did it help in letting go?

Wanda: It was a little bit angry because my mother didn’t want to hear about it. She’s very supportive. but I think she’s in denial of the process that me coming to the United States, it was her fault. So that process, she’s in denial. He’s very supportive now also myself with the understanding coming out, It’s just the process of me coming to the United States, being a mental hospital and stuff like that. She’s in denial that was her fault.

So it was a little bit, pretty, hard conversation. A lot of things that I never said before to my mother, never…I never… thins that we never spoke about before. It was like over 20 years, so we didn’t speak for a couple of days. We’re speaking already. but it was something that I’m glad that she knows my feelings and my thoughts. And even though she doesn’t agree with this, that’s my chest after 20-something years. But yes, for me, it was… it was perfect.

Nathan: Good. I’m glad that that worked out well for you and just getting all that off your, you know, I’m sure it feels like you have a lot of weight off your shoulders just by even having that conversation with her. So in your story, you talked about, you know, you… you had a crush on Miss Universe, Miss Puerto Rico, and then Jennifer Lopez. Are you still… do you still follow J.Lo and is she still your favorite?

Wanda: J.Lo, I’m hoping that we will get married when me and my wife get divorced. I hope that will never happen. But in my dreams, she is still my number one. I do follow her, Facebook and all this stuff that she’s doing right now, even though he’s in a great relationship, but I’m hoping in my little dream that she become a lesbian or something, so…

Nathan: Have you tried writing it on a piece of paper and folding it and putting it under your pillow?

Wanda: I actually I have…  I’ve had her in my office before, a picture of her, so… but no, I haven’t written… accurately, I did reach out to her the day…  the month before a wedding and I invited her actually to our wedding. But I know that her birthday is the day before and I wanted to do it to see what happened. So yes, it was… it was… it is pretty cool.

Nathan: Maybe, maybe your wife sabotaged that. She’s  like, “No. No, J.Lo at our wedding. You’re going to leave me for J.Lo.”

Wanda: I think that she… she says that with J.Lo, she’s pretty comfortable because it’s been my first cursh, so he’s pretty comfortable. But, she couldn’t believe that I did send her an invitation for our wedding. So yes, It was pretty cool.

Nathan: And y’all have… y’all have two kids. Is that right?

Wanda: Yeah.

Nathan: So how has… how was the family life been going during the pandemic and the shutdown and how were y’all holding up?

Wanda: Yeah, actually, for us, it’s been pretty good. We are very careful, and we’ve been helping some of the people in the community, people, especially older, who need help because they cannot get out and stuff like there. So we’re pretty good, just because mentally we tried to be prepared since they started. And thankfully, because of Zoom, I’ll be able to stay in contact with my sister from France and my sister in Puerto Rico and family and stuff like that. So we’ve been pretty good and healthy. We’ve been changing some stuff around the house, like work out in the house and doing some different… yeah, a lot of vacations have been cancelled, but we’ve been…we are healthy, so we’ve been doing pretty good.

Nathan: Good. I’m glad to hear that. Good.

So in your story, you know, you went through all those experiences of, you know, being put in the mental hospital and even though there was nothing wrong with you. What would you, if someone’s watching us who might feel that there is something wrong with them, what words would you have… would you share with them?

Wanda: Actually, for the longest time, I thought there was something wrong with me. That’s correct. And you know, when you believe in yourself, because a lot of people will not be there for you, especially family, if you stick with that person to believe in yourself – or even yourself… I mean, for myself was of course that I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with us. I believe that we are here in the planet for a reason. For me to help other people and help the other LGBT in the community who been through the same process or something similar that I went through.

I believe that everybody’s here for a reason and there’s nothing wrong with this human species that we are here. I believe that we can reach out to a community and that’s why the Gay Alliance… that’s one of the reasons that I went there to get to know a little bit who I… who I am, who I was.  And just reach out to the community, reach out to somebody that can believe in you. One person can change… can really… your self esteem… you know, help you out.

But I really believe that things happen for a reason. And I read a quote yesterday when I went to a museum from [unintelligible] and he says to believe who you are and don’t change anything. Something similar like that, but don’t change anything about you, just believe who you are to be authentic. And I think that’s really powerful. It was really great to see there because in that moment I was with my daughter and I wanted to see something like that to believe in herself, be authentic, don’t do it to be somebody who she’s not. And I think, sometimes when people believe that there’s something wrong with them, It’s because of self… you know, their self-esteem, low self-esteem because of their parents or whatever the people being… talking to them about negativity.

I think when you be around more positive people, that’s happened to me, being involved in the community, helping people, it changed my life. So just speak with the positive, help people around you, because that will help… helping yourself too. So I think that’s the best therapy for myself.

Nathan: So basically know hat there’s nothing wrong with you, and to surround yourself with people who are supportive and positive and create that support system. Absolutely. That’s great advice.

Wanda, anything else you want to share with anyone about your life or what’s going on or any exciting news?

Wanda: Pretty exciting. I know 2020 is being pretty negative with a lot of people, but for myself, 2020 was the day that I realized that I need to reach out to my mother and, you know, have that tough conversation once again after 23 years. So I think there was…  it was a great thing to do it for 2020, but staying healthy, mentally healthy. So that was for me a plus. Our life has been blessed and great. We have a financial business and we still helping people and so that’s a relief.

So I’m very blessed and very… very happy for the stuff that we have. Like I said, having that conversation with my mom, it was in my back, you know, like a little heavy backpacks that it was every night, not letting me sleep. But finally, I’m now happy I’ll be able to see her in the holidays. And that for me is a great thing because I don’t have that chip in my shoulder any longer. So I’d be able to let things go more easily.

Nathan: Yes. I’m so glad for you. Like, yeah, as you said, a 2020 has been rough, so I’m glad that you found a way to find something personally rewarding for yourself. So I’m just… I’m sure that’s a great feeling.

So, well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and to let us catch up with you. It sounds like things are going really, really well for you, and I wish you and the family all the best and you know, the upcoming holidays so… if anyone has any questions for Wanda, just leave them in the comments and Wanda, maybe you can check back periodically to respond to some of their questions and, we’ll see all next week for next week’s Story Update. Thanks for watching.

Wanda: Thank you.

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