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Julie Nemecek was born John Nemecek on March 28, 1951, in Chicago, while her father was a Baptist seminary student. The oldest of four children, John sensed early on that he was female, and often prayed he would wake up as a girl. 

After graduating high school in 1969, ‘John’ studied philosophy at Roberts Wesleyan College in New York and Bethel College in Minnesota. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became an ordained Baptist minister, pastoring at three churches in Chicago and Michigan. In 1972, John married Joanne. The couple soon had three sons. And for three decades, Pastor Nemecek kept his profoundly uncomfortable feelings a secret. 

After 20 years in the ministry, John moved into higher education, primarily at Spring Arbor University, a Christian university in southern Michigan, where John served as an associate professor and as assistant dean for the school of adult studies. 

In November 2003, John was doing research on the Internet, and found a name to describe what he had been feeling with his whole life: transgender. He came out to Joanne. After much conversation and many tears, Joanne decided that she loved “the person, and not the package”, and that she would stay with her spouse no matter what. Two years later, John came out to Spring Arbor as Julie. The university fired Julie, deeming her conduct "not in keeping with Biblical principles". Julie filed a federal discrimination complaint, and eventually settled with her former employer. 

Today, Julie is a proud grandmother, Presbyterian church elder, and public speaker. She has served as executive director of Michigan Equality, and on the national boards of Soulforce (whose tagline is ‘Sabotage Christian Supremacy’), and PFLAG. Joanne meantime went back to school and became a psychotherapist with a focus on transgender issues. Julie and Joanne often travel together to speaking engagements, where they talk about the surprises and enduring love of their 46-year marriage.

Julie and Joanne Nemecek’s home sits on a quiet cul-de-sac in Spring Arbor, Michigan, flanked by a deep grove of old-growth trees. Julie and Joanne have been through turbulent times together, but their home today, filled with books, family photos, and Joanne’s quilts, seems peaceful. 
Mason Funk: Right, right. How are we doing Scott?
Scott Drucker: You guys are rolling.
Mason Funk: Okay. First of all do me a favor and tell me your name, and spell your first and last name.
Julie Nemecek: Julie Nemecek. J-U-L-I-E and the last name is N-E-M-E-C-E-K.
Julie Nemecek: [00:00:30] They actually came out the second day. We gave them a copy of it because it was ... It pretty much said that they didn't have a guaranteed win like they thought they would if it became a lawsuit, and that's, you know, that's what the EEOC tries to do is reach a mediate and settle on. If they can't, then they give you permission to sue, and that they'll be an advocate for you.
Mason Funk: I see.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah, in this lawsuit, but that would've taken years and more money than we had.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] EEOC is equal opportunity ...
Julie Nemecek: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Mason Funk: Right. What is that? Is that kind of like a federal ...
Julie Nemecek: That's a federal branch of the government. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Got you.
Julie Nemecek: Part of the civil rights I think.
Mason Funk: I see, so its intent is to try to help people reach ...
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. If someone is discriminated at work, you know, it's for work situations. It comes in and tries to help mediate a resolution of whatever the problem might've been.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Huh, and you probably knew about them just because that was your work with them.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. I taught about them in classes that I taught and the process.
Mason Funk: Right.
Julie Nemecek: When it came time to file a suit I just went online and looked at some suits. I made some complaints and crafted mine after the same format of others.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] This was in about 2007, 2008?
Julie Nemecek: It was. We filed it in 2006 on October 31st, Halloween, in response to a letter I got from the University which said I had perhaps invalidated the intent of the contract, that was kind of their language, for doing three things. One was wearing earrings on campus, and what I had worn, still presenting as John which is my former name,
Julie Nemecek: [00:02:00] were the kind of studs that you'd see in a football player in a Sunday football.
Julie Nemecek: I had just had my ears pierced and so you really shouldn't taken them out until it heals.
Julie Nemecek: The second thing was that I had golfed with some friends from Spring Arbor University in a fundraiser for the local high school, and that had nothing to do with being trans, you know, it was just something we were doing, and the third was for wearing a Spring
Julie Nemecek: [00:02:30] Arbor University t-shirt to the local grocery store. Essentially I attached a letter, a respondent, saying that we had filed a complaint and said that if you don't want me to wear any Spring Arbor University apparel, I'll be glad to sell it to you at cost and replace it with other stuff. You know, I never heard from them on that, but it became very apparent that they were seeking to find a way to dismiss me,
Julie Nemecek: [00:03:00] and so that prompted us to file the lawsuit, or the EEOC complaint technically.
Mason Funk: Right, right. How are we doing Scott?
Scott Drucker: You guys are rolling.
Mason Funk: Okay. First of all do me a favor and tell me your name, and spell your first and last name.
Julie Nemecek: Julie Nemecek. J-U-L-I-E and the last name is N-E-M-E-C-E-K.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] Okay. One quick question I have for Scott. The mic, it looks like it's a tiny bit off center.
Julie Nemecek: I can move.
Scott Drucker: You want it straight center?
Mason Funk: Well I don't know, because that's the direction Julie's talking, does it feel like it's kind of in line where it should be?
Scott Drucker: The shotgun one?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Scott Drucker: Yeah. It sounds pretty directional. I see what you mean from this angle. Let me do ... I'll just change it real quick.
Mason Funk: Okay, and also I think with Goro, that's my DP in LA, I think we were having like maybe, not that it makes a big different anyway, we were having it a little bit closer to the person's head.
Scott Drucker: Then tilt it down?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Scott Drucker: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I don't know if that makes a difference at all.
Scott Drucker: [00:04:00] I think this might be a little bit better.
Mason Funk: You do? Okay well let's go with your preference.
Scott Drucker: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Julie Nemecek: Between the two mics.
Mason Funk: Which one works. Sure.
Scott Drucker: I don't think you would know which one is which.
Mason Funk: Right.
Scott Drucker: After the fact.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Okay so we're still rolling?
Scott Drucker: Uh-huh.
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] Okay. Tell me maybe a little bit about where you were born, and what kind of family.
Julie Nemecek: Okay.
Mason Funk: Kind of who you were as a young person.
Julie Nemecek: I was born in Chicago while my dad was a seminary student at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary which was at that time down in the Garfield Park area of Chicago, and grew up as a preacher's kid. My dad was a pastor for 20 years and so for most of my life he was pastoring churches.
Julie Nemecek: [00:05:00] My childhood memories are that my playmates were all girls when I was growing up and I felt most comfortable with that and had an early sense of being a girl, you know, not a boy, but a combination of physical and verbal bullying and abuse made it clear to me that I needed to live as a boy to make it through high school.
Julie Nemecek: [00:05:30] I had some athletic ability that helped me, I could run, I ran cross country and track and I made all city basketball in Chicago which was not bad for a relatively short white guy. In that whole process I had to submerge the thoughts that I had and the feelings I had that identified myself as a girl, because back then no one knew. No one talked about transgender, and so I thought I was all alone in the world with that and tried to cope with it the best I could.
Julie Nemecek: [00:06:00] Like many gay, lesbian, transgender people, I thought getting married would make it all go away. It didn't, and it doesn't, and it was a secret I kept from Joanne for many of the years of our marriage. In fact, it wasn't until 1990 ... 2003 that I told her.
Julie Nemecek: [00:06:30] She had come back from a trip, and there were flowers all around the house, and I was welcoming her back, but while she was gone I'd gone on the internet and described all the things that I felt and was dealing with and found that there was a name for it, which was kind of good news, bad news. The good news is that there are other people like me. The bad news is that it was a pretty serious thing, and so I shared it with her, and the next six weeks there were a lot of tears, a lot of prayers, we're both people of faith.
Julie Nemecek: [00:07:00] A lot of hugs. At night I would read to her from books that talked about transgender and what transgender was. She would ask questions or make observations, and at the end of those six weeks Joanne said, "Well two things. If it's a sin, it's God's job to convict, not mine, and I love the person and not the package." That allowed us to go forward. Joanne was a registered nurse at the time, and she suggested that I see a therapist, and I did.
Julie Nemecek: [00:07:30] The therapist said I was pretty much okay except for this one little thing about being transgender, and after a couple of visits she put me in touch with an endocrinologist, and it was late that fall that I began taking hormone replacement therapy, and it was just a matter of a few days that there was a huge calming effect in my life,
Julie Nemecek: [00:08:00] and that my primary care physician said, "It's as if your body were craving those things, and it's a way of confirming the diagnosis."
Julie Nemecek: That was a neat experience, because in the process of having to submerge everything, I had pretty much shut down emotionally, and making that transition to begin to live as who I am was a freeing experience that allowed me to kind of come out and be more who I am.
Mason Funk: [00:08:30] So back when you were saying that you already had those feelings for sometime, I have heard a fair number of narratives what it feels like and sometimes its hard, its hard to strive.
Julie Nemecek: [00:09:00] Yeah. It is. The clich_ about being a woman in a man's body doesn't really catch it all because the feelings are incredibly intense in the sense that I prayed a lot that I'd wake up the next morning as a girl, and that didn't happen, and to not let anybody know, which is the position I was in because of the time I lived more than anything else was hard. I had to shut down. I became super busy.
Julie Nemecek: [00:09:30] I was president of student council, president of the band, I was in the orchestra, the stage band, in sports all the time, so that I didn't have to think about it. The busyness kept me from spending much time reflecting on it.
Mason Funk: You say you prayed that you would wake up as a girl.
Julie Nemecek: I did. A lot.
Mason Funk: Did you have any ... Also, for context, like give me an idea of what years these were.
Julie Nemecek: [00:10:00] I graduated from high school in 1969, so it was pretty much in the 60s that I was in suppression mode and had to hide what I felt and what I knew about myself from anybody else.
Mason Funk: Had you heard, I mean obviously one of the famous stories in the 1950s is Christine Jorgensen. Had you heard any stories whatsoever?
Julie Nemecek: [00:10:30] I hadn't heard about her until I heard about Renee Richards.
Mason Funk: Okay, so refer to her as Christine Jorgensen so they don't have to know my question. I hadn't heard about ... I hadn't heard of Christine Jorgensen and then carry on from there.
Julie Nemecek: I hadn't heard of Christine Jorgensen but then I did hear about Renee Richards, and that made me think more about it, but I still wasn't sure that that was who I was. The broad spectrum of transgender can mean anything from an
Julie Nemecek: [00:11:00] occasional cross-dresser to a frequent cross-dresser to somebody who's intersex, or somebody who's a transsexual, somebody who had surgery, somebody who doesn't, so it's a huge spectrum, and I wasn't exactly sure at that point in my life where I was in that spectrum.
Mason Funk: Of course there was nobody there to ...
Julie Nemecek: Nobody. Yeah. As a preacher's kid I knew it was a subject I shouldn't even raise even though I had never heard my father
Julie Nemecek: [00:11:30] preach against it or anything else. One of the most moving moments in my life is when I came out to my father. I showed him a picture of me as Julie, and I said, "Do you know who this is?" He said, "No." I said, "Well that's me. I'm transgender." The first words out of his mouth were these, "I don't see any problem with being Christian and transgender," and that's exactly what I needed to hear from my dad, and I'll never forget that moment.
Mason Funk: [00:12:00] It's kind of amazing that he was that quickly able to ... It was something that was probably very, very foreign to him. Do you know how he was able to kind of so quickly reconcile these seemingly ...
Julie Nemecek: He had a PhD in psychology, which I think helped. He had probably read some, heard some, understood more than I understood perhaps before I began to immerse myself in everything
Julie Nemecek: [00:12:30] I could read about what transgender was all about. Yeah. I think he had knowledge that was probably working knowledge better than the average American at the time.
Mason Funk: That's really better than the average preacher.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Probably much better than the average preacher. My mom was very affirming too. It took her a while to get the pronouns right, but eventually she got to the point where she introduced me as her daughter, and didn't hesitate to do that.
Mason Funk: [00:13:00] That's amazing. During the years when you were married to Joanne, and you were still hoping basically that this problem was just going to never become so strong that you had to do anything about it. Was that your attitude, or do you remember? How were you coping?
Julie Nemecek: I was coping ... I would travel a lot, and I would cope with some cross-dressing
Julie Nemecek: [00:13:30] when I was travelling, and kind of the splurge and purge kind of thing. You know, splurge and purge that transgender people talk about where you buy a lot of things and get rid of them quickly, because it was, still, at that time in my life something that I didn't understand, didn't know anything about, but found a sense of comfort, a sense of release, a sense of being me, being able to dress as a woman.
Mason Funk: [00:14:00] Would you ever dress as a woman and then interact with other people?
Julie Nemecek: Not until much later.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. My questions, just try to sort of like incorporate them into what you're saying.
Julie Nemecek: Okay. Yes.
Mason Funk: In that case you could say when I would cross-dress ...
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Cross-dressing was pretty much in the privacy of the hotel room I was in. Until much later after I'd come out to Joanne and we found a group of people who identified as cross-dressers.
Julie Nemecek: [00:14:30] Went there and found some support, but eventually knew that my being transgender was much more than about cross-dressing, and my therapist had said that it probably was and you'll know where you are in that spectrum when you get there. Eventually the internal pressure to transition became quite strong, and the inability to keep living a lie was very difficult for me.
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] What did that do for you? Talk about that experience as you describe it, living a lie. How did that feel?
Julie Nemecek: Living a lie wears on you. You're always afraid that you'll trip up and say something that might give away who you really are, and at that point in my life I had to do that,
Julie Nemecek: [00:15:30] because I felt, as a pastor, that I couldn't come out to a congregation with what some might consider sin and some simply wouldn't understand because it was still at a time when very few people were talking about transgender or even thinking about it. Even when I came out to Joanne there wasn't a lot. Susan Stanton, the Florida City manager came out shortly after I did,
Julie Nemecek: [00:16:00] and her story was in the paper, and there was a sports columnist in California whocame out shortly after that, so there was like three stories in a row that came out that began to talk about transgender in 2007, and that was a big deal.
Mason Funk: Tell us, fill us in on what you were doing professionally during those years.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. I pastored churches in, my first church I pastored was an intercity church in Chicago.
Julie Nemecek: [00:16:30] Then I pastored a suburban church outside of Chicago. The first one was for three years, the second one for eight years, and then I pastored a church in Grand Rapids Michigan. While I was pasturing that church, I began to do some adjunct teaching for Spring Arbor University. They had a center there in Grand Rapids, and so I would teach there and sometimes teach in Kalamazoo for them, and I've always enjoyed teaching.
Julie Nemecek: [00:17:00] My preaching and pastoring ministries were often a teaching kind of ministry, and I found that I was pretty good at college teaching, and I got good reviews from students and supervisors alike, and enjoyed it a lot, and kept teaching there and serving as a pastor for a number of years until I was offered a position full time with Spring Arbor University in 1996.
Julie Nemecek: I had applied for the position because a half dozen different people said,
Julie Nemecek: [00{17:30] "That position's perfect for you John." That was my name at the time, and so I applied. It was the director of curriculum for the school of adult studies, which is the largest school in the university. They had centers in 15 places around Michigan, and my work was to keep the curriculum and four different programs up to date, accurate, and expanding as needed to events and life.
Julie Nemecek: [00:18:00] They moved that position up to the assistant dean for the school, and for a few months I was acting dean when the dean was out for surgery, and I moved up the academic ranks to associate professor. I was doing a lot of preaching and teaching at the same time before I took the full time position, and that was pretty much occupied with academic work, administrative work, and teaching, and enjoyed that a lot.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] During the years when you were pastoring at these three Baptist churches, I guess as an individual, you were a preacher's kid, and some preacher's kids as we know go like the opposite direction.
Julie Nemecek: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: What did your faith ... Somehow you had crossed over I would gather into having a faith that felt very much yours.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. I think it was never a crisis for my faith, because I had a sense, a deep sense, of my faith being authentic and being me,
Julie Nemecek: [00:19:00] and my understanding of who I was, even though I had to hide it, being me, and so I was able to integrate those two things together in a way that allowed me to keep a faith through this whole process. When I came out, in the process of coming out it really deepened my faith in ways that surprised me very, very much. It was just a profound sense of God's presence that sounds weird to other people,
Julie Nemecek: [00:19:30] and is difficult to explain, but that I was on the right path, I was doing the right thing, and coming out was a way of being authentic, and that's really what God wanted. The first time I was able to worship as Julie was a very moving experience for me. I was crying softly through much of the service because being able to be authentic and worship was just an overwhelming experience for me.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] In terms of just I guess I would ask, if you're ... Just at a level of simple faith as individual almost separate from your journey from John to Julie, how did you conceive of ... I should preface this by saying because I've had a faith journey as well ...
Julie Nemecek: Right.
Mason Funk: I'm really excited about hearing about people's faith journeys,
Mason Funk [00:20:30] and just asking at this moment, what was your faith, like what was your faith? What was the essence of your belief system about God, about yourself, about the world as a preacher?
Julie Nemecek: As I grew in my faith, I grew more and more vocal about grace being who God was. The giving of grace and being redeemed by grace, saved by grace, whatever language people want to use, that it was an act of God
Julie Nemecek: [00:21:00] that brought us in a relationship to God that was a relationship of love. The emphasis on love, the emphasis on grace, those things became foundational and formative for my faith expression and very much in my teaching and preaching ministries. The very nature of who God is I saw as being those aspects of love and grace, and not the judgment and condemnation of the Old Testament,
Julie Nemecek: [00:21:30] and so that allowed me to have a faith that could move forward.
Mason Funk: As an individual have you ever struggled with on one hand, you know, a lot of people kind of come to Christianity kind of through this prism of like guilt, and they have just a hard time, they struggle, I'm speaking from personal experience, with just is God our friend or is God our judge? Even with Jesus in the picture, I found that much later in life I was like wow I still think of God kind of a son of a bitch.
Mason Funk: [00:22:00] Did you ever struggle with feelings about God as kind of a punitive figure or was that really never a thing you wrestled with?
Julie Nemecek: I don't think I ever doubted completely the love and grace of God. There were time where I struggled and said, "God is this really what you want me to do? Is this good, is this bad, is this the path of life you want me to walk?" Those kind of questions I think are normal for
Julie Nemecek: [00:22:30] most everybody in terms of saying, "What does God want me to do?" I think that's a big question.
Julie Nemecek: When I did things, I tried to do them as much as I could for the glory of God, but I really never felt a sense of condemnation, and I think part of that is growing up in a very loving home. I give my parents a lot of credit for creating a healthy environment in the midst of the stress of pastoral ministry
Julie Nemecek: [00:23:00] because that isn't easy. I had grown up saying the last thing I'll ever be is a preacher. Having seen it from the inside. That's one thing I learned about God. I'll never say the last thing I'll do is, because God has a sense of humor I think and will bring you around to doing something that you never thought you would do.
Julie Nemecek: I enjoyed my years of pastoral ministry. I enjoyed my years teaching and administrating for the university.
Julie Nemecek: [00:23:30] I helped them develop new programs at the undergraduate level. Helped them develop, led the development for four master's programs out of their five, and enjoyed my work and was good at it.
Mason Funk: You spoke about authenticity, and that's definitely something that I think we can believe that God favors.
Julie Nemecek: I believe so. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Julie Nemecek: Authenticity is I think a reminder that God sees us as who we really are.
Julie Nemecek: [00:24:00] When Samuel anointed Saul and all of that, people were talking about his height and his appearance, but Samuel was mindful to say that God looks at the heart and not the outward appearance, and so that sense of who really are God knows. Then the Psalms it talks about God knowing me in my womb before I became, and even before that, from the beginning of time
Julie Nemecek: [00:24:30] for those in the reformed tradition especially, but that sense of God knows who I am so maybe I should get to know who I am too and live as who I am.
Mason Funk: Did you ... What became your conception of, you must've asked why, can you tell us about that?
Julie Nemecek: [00:25:00] Yeah. Asking why ...
Mason Funk: Maybe spell out what the why was. What was the why?
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Asking why am I like this? Why am I different than so many other people? Why is it such a unique thing and a hard and difficult thing to be identified as transgender even if you're not out yet. The answer that, studying the scripture, talking to others, reading all I could get my hands on,
Julie Nemecek: [00:25:30] I came to the conclusion that it's just part of the rich diversity of God's creation. We're all a little different, and some of us are different in ways that are more evident and obvious than others, but that God's creation really, really is diverse, and we need to honor that diversity or deny who God is, because God made us that way.
Julie Nemecek: I think the more I read about gay and lesbian people as well,
Julie Nemecek: [00:26:00] being able to understand that, yeah, that's just how they are, how God made them. It wasn't some perversion, it wasn't some going off the wall kind of thing or some choice of a lifestyle. It was who God had made them, and coming out was a way of honoring who God made.
Mason Funk: How did you feel about the fact that in order to become who you felt God had created you to be, that you had to go through this complicated stressful,
Mason Funk: [00:26:30] contentious process? Like how did you and how do you feel about that?
Julie Nemecek: It was a difficult process. There was ...
Mason Funk: What was the difficult process?
Julie Nemecek: After telling Joanne in 2003 we pretty much kept it quiet for a while, and then eventually told our kids, and my parents, and eventually Joanne's parents. That was difficult.
Julie Nemecek: [00:27:00] Just coming out to people and trying to help them understand something that for people that aren't transgender is pretty much incomprehensible. It doesn't seem to make sense. We tried to answer our kids' questions, answer any questions that the parents had about it, and shared information from my therapist or other resources so that they could get a handle on it, and what we found that more and more it was difficult.
Julie Nemecek: [00:27:30] I came out to the university in 2005 in November. First to my boss, and then to her boss, and then to her boss's boss, the president of the university. At first it was good. This was in 2005, but then a contract was developed specifically for me that had some things in it that I knew were illegal, like I couldn't talk about being transgender to anyone
Julie Nemecek: [00:28:00] that was employed by Spring Arbor University, which at the time included my brother, a sister-in-law, and one of my own kids, and some other things that were just patently illegal. I said, "Maybe you want to take a look at these things and make sure you want this kind of contract language," and they looked at it and came back with exactly the same words.
Julie Nemecek: I talked to my attorney, and she asked just one question,
Julie Nemecek: [00:28:30] "If you do this will you be doing it under duress?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Okay. If you think you can do it, and you know you're doing it under duress, go ahead," and so I did sign that contract, but in the summer of 2007, after I'd been in this contract for more than, almost a year now,
Julie Nemecek: [00:29:00] I was sitting in a rocking chair in this room with a pistol on my lap, and an email that began with the words, by the time you read this I'll be dead.
Julie Nemecek: That's how intense the pressure is on transgender people to transition. Often there's kind of the clich_ transition or die, but for many transgender people the sense of need to be authentically who you are becomes so overwhelming that really nothing in life matters besides that,
Julie Nemecek: [00:29:30] and that was a turning point. What kept me from pulling the trigger was my love for Joanne, my spouse, and my kids, and I honestly think it was for people who were praying for me because we had shared with some people that this is what we're dealing with and appreciate your prayers.
Julie Nemecek: [00:30:00] That's kind of what made me put the gun down, and a third thing was to say, "No. That's not right. Let's fight this the best we can."
Julie Nemecek: It wasn't in a combative mood, but a mood that said, "I need to persevere through this so that hate doesn't win again." That was part of the motivation at that time, and so all of those things were kind of boiling up within me at the time,
Julie Nemecek: [00:30:30] and I had contacted an attorney who had worked with transgender clients before, and was herself transgender, and I was keeping her informed of what was happening with me and the university, but they, to their credit, kept me employed for 18 months after I came out to them. The last few months they paid me for doing nothing,
Julie Nemecek: [00:31:00] and because we had reached a mediated settlement that included the end of my contract, living out the end of my contract, and they were open about that.
Mason Funk: Just to go back briefly to the question of grappling with the why, during this time, especially when you were sitting there with a pistol in your lap, what emotions were you experiencing? Especially with relation to God who in your belief had created you?
Julie Nemecek: [00:31:30] Yeah. It was kind of this overwhelming sense of I'm not sure I can do this. I'm not sure I can go through this. I know who I am. I know who I authentically am. I know what others want me to be. In my heart I know I can't do that and need to make this transition that may alienate a lot of people. It may keep a lot of people out of my life that are important to me,
Julie Nemecek: [00:32:00] and it was just that combination of emotions that says, "Can I do this? Can I really keep living this way if I don't do it? How do I reconcile all these things?" I think that was a pivotal moment that said, "Yes. I'm going to live through this. I'm going to transition at some point. Probably in the near future, but continue to work with a rather restrictive contract. Keep trying to do the job that I enjoy doing."
Mason Funk: [00:32:30] Let's backtrack a little bit to the decision you made to tell Joanne. How did that arise?
Julie Nemecek: Well in her absence I had done some crossdressing at home, and ...
Mason Funk: Could I have you say in my wife's, or in Joanne's absence.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. In Joanne's absence I had done some crossdressing at home, and she found out, or noticed something out of place in her closet,
Julie Nemecek: [00:33:00] and asked a question about that, and I just said this is the moment I'll come out, and I told her what I had learned while she was away, because it was, you know, the internet by that time gave a lot of information about what transgender was. I went to the WebMD sites, that kind of site, and put in what I had been dealing with all my life and received the confirmation that this was a real diagnosis. A serious condition but there are other people like it,
Julie Nemecek: [00:33:30] and that was the good news, bad news kind of thing.
Julie Nemecek: I told her and it was a shock, and it was a crisis of faith moment for both of us because we knew so many people would think of it as sin, and Joanne wasn't sure at first if it was or wasn't. The prayers, the tears, the hugs, for about that six week period were intense.
Julie Nemecek: [00:34:00] I didn't know if it would be a deal breaker, but it wasn't, and we've been married for 44 years now, and in many ways are more in love than we've ever been. Life's changed in terms of how we relate to each other a little bit, but it's been good. We got through it, I think, by the grace of God.
Mason Funk: Then how about, so you had three sons.
Julie Nemecek: Three sons.
Mason Funk: [00:34:30] Tell us about your sons just briefly. Separately from the story. Before we get into the story of telling them, maybe just describe who your three sons are.
Julie Nemecek: Well the oldest is ...
Mason Funk: If you could start we have three sons.
Julie Nemecek: We have three sons. Our oldest son Sean is a Baptist minister, so that's third generation Baptist minister. Our middle son, he was a double major in college in math and art, which is a very strange combination, but it worked for him,
Julie Nemecek: [00:35:00] and I keep kidding him about saying you were born breached and have been strange ever since, but he's a neat kid and married a wife that was just perfect for his personality. Our youngest is very, very sharp, and yeah. His major was in a combination of political science and computer science, and he's a little bit of a geek and proud of it, but yeah.
Julie Nemecek: [00:35:30] We really had three good kids.
Julie Nemecek: Raising boys is a challenge, but I can't be more proud of who all three of them are than I am. Telling them was not easy. The oldest, the initial response was very, very positive saying, "We love you no matter what."
Mason Funk: Let me interrupt. Did you tell them individually or ...
Julie Nemecek: We did. We told them ...
Mason Funk: Tell me about the thought process when you talked to them individually.
Julie Nemecek: [00:36:00] We decided to tell them individually. In part because we wanted to give them the privacy of asking whatever they wanted to ask, and so we came out first to the oldest, and the response was pretty positive saying we love you no matter what. Initially. About a week later it was pretty harsh in terms of what else have you lied to me about kind of language, and so that made it difficult.
Julie Nemecek: [00:36:30] His wife comes from a very conservative religious background, and so I think that added to some of the tension, and the fact that they had an only child that they thought I might have a bad influence on because of being transgender. I think all of those things put a stress on the relationship.
Julie Nemecek: The relationship has been maintained, although sometimes it's stressful. Other times it's just very,
Julie Nemecek: [00:37:00] very joyous and comfortable. That one is one that we're still working on. Our middle son and his ...
Mason Funk: Can I interrupt for a second?
Julie Nemecek: Yes. Anytime.
Mason Funk: I always want more details.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. That's fine.
Mason Funk: With this oldest son, which one is the oldest one? On the right?
Julie Nemecek: Sean. Yeah.
Mason Funk: Upper right?
Julie Nemecek: Well the one with one son.
Mason Funk: Okay. What causes the relationship at times to be more stressful or more joyful?
Mason Funk: [00:37:30] Like what causes variations in general. Can you explain it?
Julie Nemecek: I think the stress was related to a belief on their part, my oldest son's part and his wife, that it was wrong. That it was something that was not God honoring. It was something that was not right. It was something in my head that I needed to make go away.
Julie Nemecek: [00:38:00] My grandson, he crawled up on my lap and held my head in his hands, and looked eye to eye to me and said, "Don't listen to your brain." He wanted me to be grandpa not something else. That was difficult to hear that, but it let me know what they were telling him, and so those were the stresses that made that relationship a little bit strained, but still, as I said, still being maintained.
Mason Funk: [00:38:30] What did you say to your grandson when he held your head and said, "Don't listen to your brain?"
Julie Nemecek: I told him I can't not listen to my brain. I said, "It's who I am." He didn't say anything else.
Mason Funk: Okay. Now onto your ... Well I guess one question I have, when you have say a daughter-in-law who comes from perhaps an even more conservative, and needless to say,
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] everyone in situations like this is worrying like your son is thinking what am I going to tell my wife? What am I going to tell my wife's parents? It sounds really challenging.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. I think it was challenging. She was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her thirtieth birthday, and so she had to have a double mastectomy, and her ovaries out, so she couldn't have anymore kids, and I think in part that wanted her to protect in her mind her only child
Julie Nemecek: [00:39:30] as much as she possibly could, and I think that made it difficult for her to deal with me being transgender.
Mason Funk: She wanted ... Tell me more about, I mean it's pretty obvious, but the idea that she wanted to protect her child.
Julie Nemecek: Well I think coming from a very conservative background she had a sense of anything outside of a very narrow scope is something that people shouldn't do,
Julie Nemecek: [00:40:00] or couldn't do, or couldn't be, and so being transgender in her mind was something that was not God honoring, that was something that potentially was sin.
Mason Funk: Okay. Great. Now how about your middle son. Which one is he? The middle, literally, the middle photograph?
Julie Nemecek: He's the one in the upper right.
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell me about sort of like in a story like so X weeks or X months after I told our first son,
Mason Funk: [00:40:30] I imagine you probably wanted to tell the others pretty quickly.
Julie Nemecek: We did. I think it was in the next week that we told our middle son and his wife, and there response was pretty much okay. I probably could've told them I was an alien from Mars and they would've said, "Okay. Let's eat." They are just two very, very accepting and affirming people,
Julie Nemecek: [00:41:00] so much of a contrast to my older son and his wife, that it was pretty cool. They didn't have many question and just kind of took it at face value and went forward from there. That one was in many ways probably the easiest tell.
Julie Nemecek: Our youngest son, very, very cerebral. We told them in the morning on a Saturday at brunch, and I could see that the light was in the room where they had their computers. I went in there and he had being look up all kind of information
Julie Nemecek: [00:41:30] on the internet about transgender, and for an hour and half to almost two hours he shot questions, after question, after question at me. At the end of that time he said, "Okay I get it," and he and his wife have both been very, very accepting since that time.
Julie Nemecek: In fact, during the time that I was having some difficulty with my employer, he had a blog titled myfathershe.com
Julie Nemecek: [00:42:00] and kept people abreast of what was happening and had kind of a informational kind of contest where he asked people to submit suggestions on what the grandkids should call me, and there were a lot of combination of papa and nana that I didn't like napa, I didn't think that fit, but they went with GrandJ, and I was very happy with that. Those grandkids call me Grandjay and our middle son's grandson calls me Grandjay.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] Tell me how did GrandJ come up? Who thought of that?
Julie Nemecek: That was just friends of his.
Mason Funk: If you could say GrandJ ...
Julie Nemecek: GrandJ came up out of his internet question about what to call and it was suggestion that somebody had made, and others said, "Yeah that works, that works," so it was kind of an online voting with his people that followed his blog that came up with GrandJ, because grandma was already taken.
Mason Funk: [00:43:00] Right. How did you learn of the different suggestions, and did you have a role in ...
Julie Nemecek: He told me about his blog, and so I followed some of that, and we get posts, and he told me about the question he had asked about the name, and I was fine with the question, and he eventually told me what he come up with based on the feedback he had got online.
Mason Funk: When you heard it right away, what was the experience?
Julie Nemecek: GrandJ I said was fine with me. It was gender neutral,
Julie Nemecek: [00:43:30] which was okay with me, but it was not something that was male, which I didn't want. The grandkids have been good about using it.
Mason Funk: Among the grandkids, have you noticed any interesting variations in terms of them as people and how they've kind of internalized your journey as part of their lives?
Julie Nemecek: [00:44:00] Yeah. The oldest is 15.
Mason Funk: Say my oldest grandchild ...
Julie Nemecek: My oldest grandchild is 15, and I think he still wrestles with it in part because his parents wrestle with it. The rest of the grandkids just very honestly see me as who I am, and in many ways kids get it. Many of the schools in the country now that are dealing with the bathroom issue quote, unquote, with transgender, it's not the kids in the school that have a problem with it, it's the parents.
Julie Nemecek: [00:44:30] It comes from willful ignorance. It comes from fear, but in reality, the kids, what's the big deal. Okay. Let's play. I have a good relationship with the rest of my grandkids, and enjoy them, and they find enjoyment with us, and I'm grateful for that. Grandkids are fun.
Mason Funk: Yeah, yeah. How are we doing for time here?
Scott Drucker: [00:45:00] In about 17 minutes basically.
Mason Funk: Okie dokie. This is just on this particular power drive. Oops. This just conked out. Let's take a little stretch. We just have to replace ...
Julie Nemecek: Having questions about God.
Mason Funk: Well I figure I can't get rid of him right now. We'll see where I end up.
Scott Drucker: We're good.
Mason Funk: [00:45:30] Okay. Let's see. Maybe you've touched on the story of the specifics of the lawsuit, and in some ways I feel like that's important. In other ways I feel like that's not the most important thing about you, but I would to hear that story just kind of as a stand alone story. Like you had this employment.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah.
Mason Funk: This position.
Julie Nemecek: I filed an EEOC complaint against my employer, Spring Arbor University.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] Do me a favor. Just start off by saying, so maybe we could start by saying in 2000 whatever.
Julie Nemecek: Okay.
Mason Funk: I had been working for Spring Arbor University in Spring Arbor, Michigan for X number of years.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. In 2006 I had been working at Spring Arbor University for almost 16 years in Spring Arbor, Michigan, and been doing a lot of work for them. At that time, I was involved in writing their 250 page
Julie Nemecek: [00:46:30] self-review for accreditation purposes, so they had a lot of confidence in me and my work as the assistant dean and the associate professor, and I had been honored by students as faculty of the year. I had spoken at a commencement, so I was well received at the university, but this new contract that was made specifically for me had become very, very difficult, and they were looking for ways to
Julie Nemecek: [00:47:00] fire me it appeared, and so I filed an EEOC complaint, Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint, that I wrote and I had my attorney look at, and she said, "You don't need me." I said, "Yes I do. Stick around," and she filled out the legalese language that is still a mystery to me, but we filed the complaint on October 31st, and I knew enough people at the university that I found out that
Julie Nemecek: [00:47:30] they were pretty shaken up by the complaint that had been filed.
Julie Nemecek: They weren't expecting it. They were expecting that I'd be too ashamed to come out and be public about who I am, and that wasn't the case, and so it was filed and they did a couple things that only added to the complaint. They didn't pay me for some contracted work that I had done, so I added that to the complaint.
Julie Nemecek: [00:48:00] Then they tried to go through my brother to get to me instead of going through my attorney, so we added that to the complaint, and so they did some ill-advised things that really helped my cause. I wanted my job back, and my contract back, and I would've been happy with that, and that was one direction we could go as I stated in the complaint, or it could end up being a lawsuit and a lot of things would come out about the university
Julie Nemecek: [00:48:30] that they didn't want people to know. I really didn't want to harm the university, I just wanted my job back.
Julie Nemecek: We kept waiting to hear from them, and waiting, and waiting, and there was really no movement on mediation at all from them even though they had been contacted by the EEOC mediator. I happened to know someone who is pretty high up at the local newspaper and asked him, "If you had a story like ours, who would you have tell it?"
Julie Nemecek: [00:49:00] He gave the name of a reporter at the Jackson Citizen Patriot, and I called the reporter and said, "I can't tell you who I work with or who I work for but this is what I'm dealing with," because I was still honoring with the terms of my contract. I said, "If you want to know more, go talk to this friend of mine."He did, called back maybe four or five minutes later and said, "We need to talk." He came out here for a one and a half hour interview, and then later there was another one hour interview
Julie Nemecek: [00:49:30 plus back and forth e-mails and phone calls, and a one hour photo shoot with a photographer with both Joanne and I, and we waited. We didn't know when the story was going to come out, but it came out Super Bowl Sunday. Front page. Above the fold, and it was 2,500 words and two stories. Front page above the fold and front page in the Living Today section with picture, and so I was out.
Julie Nemecek: [00:50:00] From that moment forth actually never presented as anything but Julie, and so yeah, that was a big day. We were attending a Presbyterian church as Julie and Joanne for some time, four or five weeks before that, and kind of knew that that as going to be a make it or break it Sunday.
Julie Nemecek: [00:50:30] We went to church and were welcomed by person after person saying, "We're so glad you're here." A former colleague of mine at Spring Arbor University had put us onto the Presbyterian church by going to the pastor, describing the situation, and asking, "Would Julie and Joanne be welcome here", and the pastor said, "By all means." That was proofed out by the response of the congregation. We actually became members later that month, and shortly after that we were both ordained as elders in the Presbyterian church.
Julie Nemecek: [00:51:00] My ordination as an elder was pretty meaningful for me, because I didn't think that day would ever come. I was in tears, the pastor was in tears, and Joanne was in tears. It was a pretty meaningful event.
Julie Nemecek: The newspaper got the attention of the university and a lot of other people. Within six hours the AP picked up the story, the Associated Press, and it went coast to coast and around the world.
Julie Nemecek: [00:51:30] I heard from people on every continent but the Antarctic with questions about the story or questions thanking me for coming out, but the next day we did five media interviews. The day after that four, then two, three. In 2007 I did over a hundred media interviews, but the story got the university's attention, and all of a sudden because they were getting a lot of adverse press, they were hearing from alumni that said, "I'll never give another dollar for the way youre treating this person,"
Julie Nemecek: [00:52:00] and I'm sure they heard from people that said, "Stand firm on your resistance to this," but they wanted to put it behind them, and so we did eventually begin mediation and reached a mediated settlement over two days and thirteen hours that was mutually satisfactory. That's the language we agreed to use.
Julie Nemecek: Then I was paid the rest of my contract year,
Julie Nemecek: [00:52:30] because I was still under contract, but didn't have to do anything for that pay, and went forward from that. I can't describe the settlement, but it gave me some opportunities to do some volunteer work. I was the first executive director of a statewide LGBT organization. I was able to travel and speak at most of the universities in Michigan and many of the colleges as well. Even some high schools,
Julie Nemecek: [00:53:00] and helped people begin to understand transgender, and enjoyed doing that. That was something that I felt was valuable time because I think telling your story is so important.
Julie Nemecek: I often would say, "Hate in the abstract is easy. You put a face to it it becomes much harder," and so being able to put a face to what transgender is is something that I tried to do in my presentations
Julie Nemecek: [00:53:30] at the universities here and actually in other states too where I was able to present and talk about what it was to be transgender and answer some questions. I never refuse to answer a question, although I got some very strange ones. I tried to be as open and honest as I could to help people understand.
Julie Nemecek: Probably the most difficult thing in that process was people identifying me as a hero
Julie Nemecek: [00:54:00] . I didn't feel I was a hero. I was doing what I needed to do to live, but I had a friend that I sat down and talked with who was also doing a lot of public speaking and out talking about being transgender. She said, "Some people just need someone a little out in front of them, and if you can see that as being a hero, you'll be fine." I said, "That helps me a lot." Yeah. With that sense I could acknowledge
Julie Nemecek: [00:54:30] that I was helpful to them even though I still didn't like the hero title, that it was helpful for them to see someone out.
Julie Nemecek: We got calls from a lot of couples, and Ive worked with a lot of couples. Some marriages stay together, some didn't. I've talked with five different pastors from four different denomination who were transgender. Some wanting to come out and some knowing they could never come out or feeling they could never come out,
Julie Nemecek: [00:55:00] so the publicity helped put me in touch with people that I could help. I'm most grateful for the opportunity to talk one person out of suicide and actually get in touch with a family that helped reach a person who had already started the process and restore her, and she called me and thanked me for getting in touch with her family. Those kinds of things I'm grateful for. The publicity was worth it for those things if nothing else.
Mason Funk: [00:55:30] I assume that part of the settlement with the university was that you would not continue on there.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. we parted amicably. I'm still friends with a lot of people at the university, yeah with Spring Arbor University, that I ...
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. Start clean and just say the university and I.
Julie Nemecek: The university and I parted amicably. I still have a lot of friends at the university and keep in touch
Julie Nemecek: [00:56:00] with people from the university. Yeah. We went separate ways. They had nothing in their language about transgender until after me, and now they've added it to the list of things that they feel justified in discriminating against people for. They're one of the schools that have asked for permission to discriminate from the department of education and received that permission.
Mason Funk: [00:56:30] Really? Out of ignorance that surprised me. Can you tell me a bit more? This university has now gone out of its way ...
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. The university feels that their discrimination against LGBT people is faith based, even though the denomination calls transgender a disputable matter, something that is still not settled in their doctrine, and so they've made their faith statements
Julie Nemecek: [00:57:00] and their statements about discrimination, specific about their willingness and their ability to freely discriminate against LGBT people based on their faith. They are one of I think it's six maybe more faith based universities that sought permission to discriminate from the department of education, and they were granted that permission.
Mason Funk: I see. How did it feel to you
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] when the settlement that you reached with the university included you leaving the university, and kind of incorporate my question in.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. In reaching a settlement with the university I had mixed feelings. My desire would've been to continue doing what I did well and what I loved doing, but that wasn't going to work out with the university, and the settlement we reached we were both happy. One reporter said
Julie Nemecek: [00:58:00] I smiled more than they did, but we went away on our separate paths. It was freeing in one sense to have it behind me. Have it done with, because it was stressful to file a complaint against your employer that you really enjoyed working with and wanted to keep working, and some of the coverage was stressful because some reporters felt they needed to embellish the story and added things that simply weren't true.
Julie Nemecek: [0:58:30] One reporter said I showed up on campus in a wig and a dress, and that never happened. It's just ... Yeah. It was stressful, and it was good to have it done. It was kind of a sigh of relief to have it done, even though on our way back from Detroit that day, we stopped at Eastern Michigan University and spoke to a crowd of probably 250/300 students, in this large auditorium for a couple hours about the process,
Julie Nemecek: [00:59:00] and we were able to share with them that we had reached a mediated settlement, and we had a good time with that group answering their questions. In many ways I believe Joanne's story is as powerful if not more powerful than mine, because it talks about love that keeps going.
Julie Nemecek: When one person in a relationship transitions, in many ways the other person has to transition too,
Julie Nemecek: [00:59:30] and so the marriages that have survived that we know of have really involved that transition process for both people, and it's not an easy road. Not everyone can get there, but we're been grateful for the people we've been able to help and keep in touch with.
Mason Funk: I have one question that kind of goes back in time, which was when you would go off on your own and travel and crossdress on your own in hotel rooms, how would that feel afterwards? Kind of again set up my question.
Julie Nemecek: [01:00:00] Yeah. When I was travelling in my early ministry years, the cross-dressing that I could do in the privacy of my hotel room was something that was of relief. It was something that was freeing. It was something that helped me really feel like I was being me. At the end of the day
Julie Nemecek: [01:00:30] or two or maybe even a week, when I had to get rid of everything and go back home, it was hard, but I knew I needed to do it so I did it. I guess part of what happened over a period of years was that my understanding of who I am as a transgender person, even though I wasn't using that language, who I am as a person
Julie Nemecek: [01:01:00] was a pretty complex issue related to my sense of gender identity.
Julie Nemecek: I could present very masculine and macho, but I really wasn't that person, and how was I going to reconcile that and come to that sense of authenticity. It was a path I feared. Not knowing where it would lead, where it would go, what it would mean to the kids, what it would mean to Joanne, and so yeah.
Julie Nemecek: [01:01:30] Getting rid of those clothes that I had had for a short period of time, and going back into macho mode was hard.
Mason Funk: What would you do with the ... How would you acquire these items and what would you ...
Julie Nemecek: I would shop and just get a few things, and when I was done I would just get rid of them in a waste area.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] Wow. I just imagine that being a really poignant and difficult ...
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Very much so. Buying feels liberating and good. The getting rid of feels distasteful and in a sense, even though I felt no guilt, shameful. Why am I getting rid of this stuff? This is really me, but no. I can't be really me. Yeah. It was very much a conflicting experience.
Scott Drucker: [01:02:30] We only have 20 second left so let's cut.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Let's cut right there.
Joanne Nemecek: Good job after.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Great. Both of those suggestions. We are speeding?
Scott Drucker: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's start with that one.
Julie Nemecek: The university, Spring Arbor University, was convinced that in the mediation process that I would have no trouble finding a new job because of my skills.
Julie Nemecek: [01:03:00] I wasn't as convinced as they were, and neither was my attorney, and my attorney was pretty much right. Once you're out as transgender it becomes a big, big bit of baggage in terms of finding employment. I was qualified and overqualified for jobs that I applied for, and was told by one headhunter that sat in on an interview that I did was the best interview he had ever heard,
Julie Nemecek: [01:03:30] and still couldn't land a job in academia or anything else for that matter for a while.
Julie Nemecek: I took some part time work as the director of Michigan Equality at the time and has now changed and merged with a different organization, but I was the executive director of that for some time and enjoyed that. I was registered lobbyist with them for both, I did state and federal lobbying for transgender issues and LGBT issues,
Julie Nemecek: [01:04:00] and enjoyed that work. I did some private consulting that I worked with different business for that was helpful. Some I got paid for, some I didn't get paid for, but I did enjoy doing that, but finding full time work became hard, and so I took early retirement in 62, at the age of 62, to be able to have some income,
Julie Nemecek: [01:04:30] and take a little of the pressure off of Joanne because she eventually wanted to change careers and the income would be helpful during that time, and started drawing on some of my other retirement both through Spring Arbor University and my years as a pastor.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Finding full time work was difficult. I worked part time there and I worked teaching at two different community colleges. Almost at a full time rate at one community college
Julie Nemecek: [01:05:00] and then occasionally at another, and again, I enjoyed the teaching. The teaching was a lot of fun. I taught Diversity in the Workplace which was right down my alley, and then I taught some courses in business as well which are things that I had taught for Spring Arbor University, so it was good. Being in that environment was very accepting. I caused a little controversy with Lansing Community College. They have a university center right across the street from their community college
Julie Nemecek: [01:05:30] where four year schools set up space, and they got news of this wind of the story between me and the university and told Spring Arbor University that they couldn't be one of the schools in that university space because they would have to abide by Lancing Community College's inclusive diversity statement and not theirs, and so they decided to have their campus someplace else.
Julie Nemecek: [01:06:00] Yeah. That was a little bit of a squabble for a while. More in the Lancing press than anywhere else, but yeah, the teaching is something I enjoy and still do enjoy, and some ways still do to teaching. I preach from time to time, and still do some advocacy work from time to time.
Mason Funk: That story and that struggle just helps illuminate for me how much your life in many ways just turns upside down.
Julie Nemecek: [01:06:30] Yeah.
Mason Funk: And things that people take for granted like well I've done this much work for this many years, and so I will therefore get another job, that it's almost like everything that might taken for granted can no longer, and your whole identity I guess.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Your identity changes. I think age may have been a factor with some of the jobs that I was looking at and others I don't think it was. Yeah. It was difficult to deal with all of that.
Julie Nemecek: [01:07:00] I understood that being transgender was going to a hurdle too high from some people to get over in terms of looking at me as a candidate for whatever position I was applying for. Yeah. That hurt in some ways, was hard in some ways, but we worked through it okay.
Mason Funk: Did you know ... Legally are they allowed to essentially discriminate against you?
Julie Nemecek: [01:07:30] In Michigan you can be fired for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. Now the odd thing is that gay and lesbian people have very little case law that they can fight back with. Transgender people on the other hand have a lot of sixth circuit court decisions which includes Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky saying that when title 7 says sex it includes gender identity,
Julie Nemecek: [01:08:00] and so my attorney actually was one of the first to argue that case in Smith v Salem. It was a fireman in the city of Salem, Ohio, and there was another case Barnes versus Cincinnati which was a policeman. Two transgender people transitioning on the job and the courts, the sixth circuit court, coming down in favor of supporting transgender people, and that kind of legal language
Julie Nemecek: [01:08:30] has been true in other federal district courts, which is kind of cool I think in some ways.
Julie Nemecek: They are starting now to apply that language to gay and lesbian people too and say that ... Title 7 says sex it also means sexual orientation, includes sexual orientation, that you can't fire somebody for their sexual orientation. Some states have already put that in their non-discrimination statements and laws, but Michigan isn't there yet.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] Joanne suggest I ask about your siblings.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. I'm the oldest of four. I have two brothers and a sister. My next youngest brother is three years younger than me. He still works for Spring Arbor University. He was the head of the sociology department. Sociologist,
Julie Nemecek: [01:09:30] very much attached to the university. He's taught there for many, many years, more than I did, and he is very, very supportive, as is his spouse. They had no trouble switching pronouns and he had no trouble identifying me as his sister right from the beginning. I think his sociology background might have helped that.
Julie Nemecek: It's ironic to me that a lot of Christian universities that take a discrimination position
Julie Nemecek: [01:10:00] teach an inclusion in their sociology, and their nursing, and their psychology departments that they don't practice in their own institutions, so my brother saw the irony in that and was supportive.
Julie Nemecek: My next youngest works at ... Retired from the air force. He was in the air force for I think 28 years in air traffic control. Lives in England. I don't see him very much
Julie Nemecek: [01:10:30] but he is accepting and has no problem identifying me for who I am. I'm real close with one of my nieces, one of my English nieces. Actually they have dual citizenship.
Julie Nemecek: My sister is ten years younger than me. I came out to her by taking her out to lunch which immediately made her suspicious, but I showed her a picture of me, and her first words, "Oh my gosh, that could be me. I have a picture on my mantle at home that looks just like that."
Julie Nemecek: [01:11:00] She asked if she could have the picture. I said, "Sure." She took it and showed her colleagues at work, and they all thought I was her younger sister, and then she stopped showing it because she's ten years younger than me and she didn't want to show it anymore, but she has been very supportive as well.
Mason Funk: Was there anything about their reactions that different or other than what you might've expected based on who they were as people?
Julie Nemecek: [01:11:30] Yeah. Coming from a very loving, supporting home I think helped them be loving and supporting. They really embraced me well, and were able to quickly understand this is who I am, and recognize the freedom, the energy, the openness I had now that I didn't have before because I was able to be me.
Julie Nemecek: [01:12:00] I was grateful for that. I think that breeds a good situation.
Julie Nemecek: Having said that, one of the things that Joanne and I have learned is that it's almost impossible to predict the response of someone. You think the people that are going to be supportive end up not supportive. Being that you don't expect support from end up being supportive, so it's difficult. Probably one of the hardest transitions was
Julie Nemecek: [01:12:30] leaving the Baptist church that we had been a part of for a number of years. When they, the elders understood what I was going through, they made it very clear that we were no longer welcome there. I had often preached when the pastor was sick or out of town, and had taught Sunday school and been involved in other ways in that ministry, so yeah that hurt a little bit, but we moved forward and found a church that accepted us for who we are.
Mason Funk: [01:13:00] How did they make it clear that you weren't welcome there, and remember to incorporate my question in your answer.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah they made it clear ...
Mason Funk: Like the Baptist church.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. The Baptist church made it clear that we were no longer welcome there when they asked me to serve another term as elder. My term had been up. I'd been off a year, and I knew I needed to tell the pastor because it was in a period where I had began hormone therapy and other things. I called the pastor
Julie Nemecek: [01:13:30] and had he and his wife over for coffee, and the pastor and
Julie Nemecek: I engaged in dialogue back and forth by email mostly for eight months, and then we talked with the elders and talked about transition with the elders, shared the medical information, a letter from a ordained member of the Free Methodist Church who said I can do my job, I can do my job as a Christian and still be transgender.
Julie Nemecek: [01:14:00] Answered their questions, but it was I think in part so new to them that they couldn't deal with it and made it clear that if we attended there we wouldn't be able to do any of the things that we had done before and use the gifts that we both had, and so we began looking for another church.
Mason Funk: Again, I just want to ask in terms of understanding how did they make that clear?
Julie Nemecek: [01:14:30] Well they made it clear that if I was to follow the standards of care for my medically diagnosed condition that I would no longer be able to teach, no longer be able to preach, no longer be able to use the gifts that I had. In other words they said, "Well you can come, but you really can't be a full member." I didn't want to do that. I didn't think it was right.
Julie Nemecek: [01:15:00] I'd been there being half of this and half of that, and I wanted to be in a place where I was accepted fully for who I was. Be able to worship there and be able to use my gifts there.
Mason Funk: Did they say this to you in a letter? Did they say it in person?
Julie Nemecek: In person.
Mason Funk: Just tell me a brief anecdote about the story.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. We met with the elder board, and then they met for a couple meetings, and then the head of the elder board explained to me the decision they had come to.
Julie Nemecek: [01:15:30] Yeah. I think the head of the elder board in many ways was one of the ones that had the biggest hurdle with it. We had talked one time and I told him about how difficult it was for transgender people and how much higher the suicide rate was for transgender people. He said, "Well so you say." That was kind of off hand in a way that hurt too.
Julie Nemecek: [01:16:00] Yeah. We wanted to go some place where we could be open about who we are and worship freely, and realized that was no longer going to be the place.
Joanne Nemecek: Excuse. Got a letter after we came back in November.
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Yeah. It was a letter, and then the follow up conversation was with the head of the elders. Yeah. There was a letter waiting for us when we came back from vacation. Thank Jo. I forgot about that.
Mason Funk: Just tell me that. Maybe just start off like there was also, we also received a letter.
Julie Nemecek: [01:16:30] We also received a letter that came to us after we had come back from vacation. It was waiting in our mail. That was kind of a ... If you're going to follow this route you're no longer welcome to use your gifts, no longer welcome to be this, we don't want you as an elder. All these kinds of things, and that was kind of a harsh way to hear the news too, but yeah. We took it in stride. It hurt, but we went forward.
Mason Funk: [01:17:00] Okay. That question, technically, obviously the AC just went off.
Scott Drucker: Yeah. I was going to say we're going to try to get room tone with the AC on.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Scott Drucker: That would be my suggestion.
Mason Funk: Right.
Scott Drucker: That should be okay because at least you could lay it under this.
Mason Funk: Exactly. Okay.
Scott Drucker: We'll just wait. I'm sure it'll kick back on before we continue.
Julie Nemecek: I can cool it off even more.
Mason Funk: Can you just get it to pop on. Would that be the best solution?
Scott Drucker: Yeah. That would definitely be ... We'll stop for ...
Julie Nemecek: I hope I got enough cord here.
Mason Funk: Yeah if you're able to ...
Joanne Nemecek: You can just have the fan running all the time.
Mason Funk: Right.
Julie Nemecek: [01:17:30] Well the AC won't be running all the time. Yeah. That'll work.
Mason Funk: It should kick back on now?
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Any second.
Mason Funk: Okay. Good. I had another question milling around the back of my mind. I can't remember, but again, continue to feel free to please prompt any questions you think are important.
Julie Nemecek: She has a better recollection of things in the past than I do.
Mason Funk: [01:18:00] What was the hardest I guess question that Joanne asked you or the hardest almost like moment or impasse when it ... What was the hardest part of that transition?
Julie Nemecek: I'll tell you a story that describes a really serious moment that was kind of really heavy.
Julie Nemecek: [01:18:30] We were down to one car because our income was cut significantly, and so I was driving Joanne into work one January winter day in Michigan here, and I said to her on the way in when the story comes out we didn't know when it was going to come out. We had finished the interviews with the reporter. When the story comes out it makes perfect sense for me to transition
Julie Nemecek: then. Doesn't that make sense to you? She said, "No."
Julie Nemecek: [01:19:00] There was kind of an icy silence the rest of the way in, and I brought some flowers in there to her at work and had them delivered to her, and had a little note in there that said, "My bad." She doesn't like that phrase, but I wanted to explain that I felt sorry I had raised that.
Julie Nemecek: On the way home she wanted to talk about it, and I said, "No." When we got home I gave her a letter. We've communicated a few times in our marriage when something is really heavy,
Julie Nemecek: [01:19:30] putting things in writing so the other person can come up to speed with where you are in the issue before the conversation, and so she read it and then asked questions. Questions that made me know she would be a superb therapist. She changed careers to work with transgender people eventually, but at this point she just probed and hit recesses in my soul that nobody had ever touched before,
Julie Nemecek: [01:20:00] and I was in tears and sobs barely able to get words out answering some of her questions.
Julie Nemecek: She began to see perhaps I think for the first time how intensely deep being transgender is in a person's mind and soul and body.
Julie Nemecek: [01:21:30] We have separate work places. Mine was down in the basement, she has one up in her loft, and so she went up and did some work, and then came down and presented me a letter that said two things that were very, very significant for me. She said, "First never doubt my love I'll be with you always," and second, "Be who you need to be, I'll be with you."
Julie Nemecek: [01:21:00] Those two messages together made it possible for me to transition when the story came out in the paper and live that way forward as Julie.
Julie Nemecek: I changed my driver's license name later that month and I changed my name legally at the end of that month, which is an expensive process. About $250 in Michigan, but you get checks by the FBI to make sure you're not doing it to hide from
Julie Nemecek: [01:21:30] alimony or some fraudulent reasons, and you go before the judge and the judge says, "Are you doing this for fraudulent reasons," I said, "No." He says, "Well I have the FBI report there's no wants or warrants for you. John David Nemecek, from this day forth you shall be Julie Marie Nemecek," and he banged the gavel and that was it.
Julie Nemecek: Then I did something that's entirely out of character for me. I winked at the judge, and said, "I'm glad I voted for you," because I had.
Julie Nemecek: [01:22:00] Probably could've held me in contempt, but he smiled, and we left and went straight from there to the driver's license place to get my driver's license changed. The reporter that told our story had been in the court that day and reported on that and went to eat with us. It was kind of a very happy moment for me. I was grinning face to face. The next day I told the university that my name had been changed and please change it on my email,
Julie Nemecek: [01:22:30] and they put Julie Nemecek, AKA, also known as John Nemecek as my email address instead of just Julie Nemecek, which was you know kind of a jab, and so we added that to the complaint too.
Julie Nemecek: I was teaching at the time, and my name was changed in the classroom to Julie Nemecek, and so this was an online class, and all of a sudden I was no longer teaching that class. They gave it to somebody else.
Julie Nemecek: [01:23:00] That was right before the mediation.
Mason Funk: Do you remember what some of those really difficult questions that Joanne asked that were so piercing?
Julie Nemecek: Yeah. Part of it was she was trying to understand how deep the need to transition was. We had a friend who we had been in conversation with
Julie Nemecek: [01:23:30] who said it's like an 18 ton freight train behind you on the tracks. Some days that pressure to transition is so intense it's like you can feel the heat from the engine. Other days it's a distant train whistle. It had become very much the heat in the engine, and I tried to explain how intense that was for me. I had, earlier in the year, made some resolutions that said I will not take my life as one of the resolutions
Julie Nemecek: [01:24:00] that I gave to Joanne a copy of.
Julie Nemecek: I said at that moment I regret making that resolution because I can't go through this anymore, and she probed, and asked questions about that, and why I couldn't go through it anymore, and how it would change our lives, and is it really something that is that important and necessary.
Julie Nemecek: [01:24:30] I barely could put into words my replies, but I think the sobs that came from the deepest part of my being gave her the answers that I couldn't put into words.
Mason Funk: I think I have three questions more. These are kind of like questions I ask every interview.
Julie Nemecek: All right. Sure.
Mason Funk: [01:25:00] What advice, and it's so funny, Jim Toy said, "I don't give advice." My bad if you don't advice, but the question has been what advice would you give to a young say teenager or young adult who is confronting questions about his or her sexual identity, gender identity, just kind of creeping up on either coming out or embracing his or her true self?
Julie Nemecek: [01:25:30] I think the best advice I can give to someone who is starting to wrestle with issues of gender identity or sexual orientation is to talk with a professional. Go to someone who knows what transgender is all about. Go to someone who knows what sexual orientation is all about and share what you're dealing with and follow their advice. Tell your story. Live your life, and I think you'll find it's happier.
Julie Nemecek: [01:26:00] Pictures and movies of kids that are six or seven that overnight go from sullen, withdrawn, angry kids to joyous, outgoing, excited kids just by being able to be who they see themselves happens at all ages. Be you. Be out. Be proud about it. Tell your story. Don't let anyone take away that identity. That's part of how God made you, and part of the rich diversity of creation.
Mason Funk: [01:26:30] That reminds me of something I wanted to ask you that's not part of the final three.
Julie Nemecek: All right.
Mason Funk: You mentioned that people said that you were a different person. What were some of the observations people made about some, like I imagine, like a burden had been lifted.
Julie Nemecek: One of the words that was used to describe me most frequently before I transitioned was intimidating. I didn't feel like that I was intimidating, but other people felt that way. After I transitioned,
Julie Nemecek: [01:27:00] I don't think anybody ever said that about me, which is interesting, and I'm not sure entirely why, but I think part of it was I was able to live more honestly in terms of expressing my emotions and not having to hide them. Not the macho man of steel kind of thing, but be able to be honest about my emotions. I think that was a big part of the change.
Julie Nemecek: [01:27:30] Joanne likes to say that she finally got the partner, the spouse, that she had always hoped to have, and that was meaningful to me. She gave me a wedding ring, engagement ring, for one of our anniversaries, and that was very meaningful to me. We've walked the path together, and its been a good journey.
Mason Funk: [01:28:00] What is your hope for ... Let me see. What is your hope for the future?
Julie Nemecek: My hope for the future is that the progress that has been made in LGBT rights will grow. Marriage equality is only one of many things that needs to happen. The Employment Non-discrimination Act which has been before Congress for many, many years now needs to be passed. It includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and
Julie Nemecek: [01:28:30] if the federal government won't do it, the state governments need to do it. That's one thing I'm hoping for in the near future. Hopefully in my lifetime.
Julie Nemecek: The other is something that I'm seeing happen already. It's that churches, and in houses of faith, places of worship, will take a second look at some of those verses that they've used to exclude others and realize that that's not what the gospel is all about. That's not what the bible is all about,
Julie Nemecek: [01:29:00] and begin to embrace the rich diversity of god's creation and accept LGBT people for who they are. Sadly there are many walking wounded LGBT people who have been harmed. I can't think of any other word but have been harmed by the church and their faith has been thrown in disarray because of the church, and I'm deeply saddened by that, and hope that the churches in this country and literally around the world
Julie Nemecek: [01:29:30] can make amends for that and restore some people that need to be restored to the body of faith and help people know that their faith journey is as important as anybody else's, even if they are LGBT.
Mason Funk: Great, great. Is there anything else? Anything that I've overlooked or anything, Joanne, that ...
Joanne Nemecek: Not thinking of anything right now.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Julie Nemecek: I can't think of anything except that Joanne ...
Mason Funk: [01:30:00] Wait I forgot my last question. What am I saying? I have one more.
Julie Nemecek: I knew you did, but I ...
Mason Funk: What to you is the importance of projects like this one? Like OUTWORDS?
Julie Nemecek: I think OUTWORDS is so important and other projects like it, because hearts and minds are changed by stories. By people telling their own story. By people sharing their story and letting other people know what they've gone through.
Julie Nemecek: [01:30:30] People that don't know anything about being LGBT or people that are willfully ignorant about knowing about LGBT all of a sudden are faced with stories that they have to reconcile with their beliefs to say, "Well I believe this but this person's life says something else. What's happening here?" It puts a question that needs to be answered in.
Julie Nemecek: Whenever I speak to LGBT groups especially,
Julie Nemecek: [01:31:00] I always tell them tell your story. It's not easy, and you'll get some rejection, but telling your story is the most powerful way to change hearts and minds, and I think that's what's happened in the last five years, is that more and more gay and lesbian people are out telling their stories. More and more trans people have told their stories. Some of them have been very public on TV and witness by society and it's helped people investigate
Julie Nemecek: [01:30:30] and find out more and all of a sudden maybe begin to understand and accept LGBT people. I'm excited for the future. I think it'll be good.
Mason Funk: Great. Wonderful.
Julie Nemecek: Here's hoping Donald Trump doesn't get elected. Don't ... Cut that.
Mason Funk: All right. Let's cut it.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's do room tone.
Scott Drucker: Yeah. We're going to start off. Thank you. This is going to be room tone.
Scott Drucker: [01:32:30] Great. We've got room tone. It's for both interviews.
Mason Funk: Okay. Great. Do me a favor and start by telling your first and last names and spelling them.
Joanne Nemecek: My first name Joanne. J-O-A-N-N-E. Nemecek. N as in Nancy, E-M-E-C-E-K.
Mason Funk: [01:33:00] Okay. Where were you born?
Joanne Nemecek: I was born in Niagara Falls, New York. I am the oldest child of five to my parents. I was born on my dad's birthday, so I was always feeling like I was special to my dad. I grew up ...
Mason Funk: What kind of family ... Yeah.
Joanne Nemecek: I grew up in a rural town of Ransomville, New York.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:33:30] My dad was a CPA. My mom was an at home mom. She also taught piano lessons a little bit, but basically an at home mom. We all went to a very small school. Went to high school in another town, and then I went on to college. At an early age I decided I wanted to be a nurse,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:34:00] I was about 5. I was following in my grandmother's footsteps, and so I went on to school to be a nurse.
Mason Funk: Where did you meet John? How did you meet John?
Joanne Nemecek: I met John my first year.
Mason Funk: Sorry. Start again clean please.
Joanne Nemecek: I met John in my first year of college. Actually it was during our orientation. I kind of had my eyes on him, and
Joanne Nemecek: [:01:34:30] he was a sophomore and I was a freshman, and during that orientation time, or that time when they initiate you as a freshman, John had a special encounter with me, and after that I formally introduced myself. It was in October, and we kind of got together on a fluke. We met in the TV room and then a couple days later I sat down with John in the coffee house,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:35:00] and we talked, and another girl came along and said to John, "Well I can't marry you today," and John said, "Well I'm sorry then. It's just not going to work." I said, "Well I'm glad she said that because I never would be able to marry you then," and we kind of started out as a joke that we were going together, and in a short period of time it became serious.
Mason Funk: [01:35:30] Tell me from your own point of view what it was like, how ... It's such a long span to cover, we don't have a long time, but in the period of time when you and Julie, formerly known as John, were married in kind of a traditional heterosexual couple, and John was pastoring,
Mason Funk: [01:36:00] and you working as a nurse I assume, and raising three boys.
Joanne Nemecek: Yes.
Mason Funk: How did you think about your life?
Joanne Nemecek: I thought about my life as a traditional family. I took the role of the man being the head of the house and I was a submissive wife. I tried to be very supportive of my spouse. I raised the boys
Joanne Nemecek: [01:36:30] and did a lot of the care for the boys, and John was busy working as a pastor, and so I tried to support the pastorate in whatever way I could. I volunteered in clubs for kids, and led some committees, and got involved in the denomination as well.
Mason Funk: Were you raised in a Christian household?
Joanne Nemecek: [01:37:00] Yeah I was raised in a Christian home and had a pretty conservative view of scripture and took it quite literally for most of my adult life. Then when Julie came out to me, then my whole life got turned upside down and that included my journey of faith and rediscovering what scripture really says,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:37:30] and examining what is taken literally may be not today was not necessarily the case in the past, and so I had to kind of re-adjust my thinking.
Joanne Nemecek: One of the difficult times for me initially was when Julie told me about cross-dressing was that verse in Deuteronomy that talks about a man shouldn't wear a woman's clothing, and I felt that that was an abomination,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:38:00] that was something horrible. That verse came immediately to my mind, and so I thought all this was some kind of perversion. It was really difficult to manage, and it made me really nauseated.
Joanne Nemecek: Those first few days I was in a state of shock. I really don't know how I functioned. I went to work. I did what I needed to do,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:38:30] but I was just living life, and doing the bare minimum. It was ... One thing that attracted me to John was he was kind of like a liberated man. Back in the 70s we were going through that male, female adjustment, and John was somebody that could cook,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:39:00] and he talked about love, and talked about feelings, and that was something that was really attractive to me, but then when I found out John was Julie and these things were there, then I had this conflict within me like well is cooking just because he was a she, and that was upsetting. Did John buy clothes for me just as a vicarious experience or was that really an expression of love,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:39:30] and I had a lot of anger and a lot of questioning almost anything that happened.
Mason Funk: Really the whole, it's probably like one of those things where yeah you just start playing back countless scenes, and moments, and questions, and wondering if you I guess really knew how this person was.
Joanne Nemecek: Yeah. I really questioned if I knew the person that I married and what did I go for,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:40:00] and what was wrong with me that I would fall for somebody like that. I questioned all about our love, and I questioned my spouses salvation, and was he going to go to hell, and what about our children, what about our friends? Are we going to lose all our friends?
Joanne Nemecek: [01:40:30] I basically described it like being hit with a tsunami that everything had to be questioned, and gone over, and figured out, and it was very difficult.
Mason Funk: Wow. Wow. Yeah I can imagine. I think if I were in that situation, again, like you I would think your world is
Mason Funk: [01:41:00] so kind of contained and then this new reality it sounds like comes in, and everything you've counted on is now sort of up for grabs. Friends, and your kids.
Joanne Nemecek: I thought we were going to lose everybody, and I thought Julie would lose her job right away. I thought our family would turn their backs on us,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:41:30] and I thought we would be in the poor house. I thought it would just be terrible, but my faith at one point, before this, I thought I had everything figured out, and then I learned that God is so much bigger than this little box I had him in, and so it was a big change in my life. I've seen myself become more compassionate,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:42:00] more understanding of difference and accepting of it, supporting it, getting angry on my insides. I can't express it too well, but I get angry on my insides when there is people being put down. That goes for all the recent changes in legislation that are restricting transgenders access to a bathroom. That's ridiculous.
Mason Funk: [01:42:30] What had you heard or before John came and said, "I'm Julie," what had been your experience with people who were gender variant or variant in their sexual orientation? Had you had any friends or relatives like that person is lesbian, or that person is gay, or that person is transgender. Had that ever entered into your experience before, and what had you thought?
Joanne Nemecek: [01:43:00] I had not heard much about people being transgender. My freshman year in college we had a suite of rooms, and my next door neighbor was Carol, and she dropped out of college and a year or two later I heard that she was Carl and driving a bus, and I thought that it was just ridiculous. I heard about Renee Richards who was a tennis player
Joanne Nemecek: [01:43:30] and all the publicity about that, but basically after that I hadn't heard much of anything. I hadn't heard about the drag queens to anything. Just before Julie came out to me there was somebody on TV that talked about drag queens and actually had a show about it, and I came home and said, "Can you believe that's going on?" I was really shocked. Then to find out that this person I married was struggling with this.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:44:00] It was just a total shock. John came across as very macho male. When we lived in Chicago there were some murders, and before that happened John was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. Didn't want to have anything to do with guns or anything. Then when there's some people murdered in Chicago John wanted to get a gun
Joanne Nemecek: [01:44:30] and all that and got very macho. Wanted to show our boys how to be a man, and so took on that persona. Identifying as transgender was the furthest thing from my mind.
Mason Funk: Say more if you would about the faith, about your conception of God. Well what thing I actually wanted to follow up on was you even wondered
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] what kind of person you must be to in a sense fall for somebody like this. Say more about that. I don't think that's a reaction that most people would expect someone like you to have.
Joanne Nemecek: I questioned falling for John and not understanding that this person could possibly be transgender. How could I be so fooled? How could this be happening under my eyes and not really know about it?
Joanne Nemecek: [01:45:30] There were some little tiny hints in our marriage. Sometimes money just seemed shorter than it should've been, and probably those were times when Julie was going out, buying clothes, and then throwing them away on some trips.
Joanne Nemecek: Also, soon after we got married I was pretty good at reading body language, and when I tried to read some body language in John,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:46:00] I got this big wall put up to me. No you can't tell what people are thinking by the way they look, and so it was kind of like this person that was really tender but when we got married got more distant, and it was very hard. Then when I found out John was transgender, Julie was transgender,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:46:30] I thought why was I fooled by this? You know, it just made me wonder. I was not a person of very much confidence. I'm easily, was a pleaser. I'm a recovering pleaser now, but at that point I looked to other people to make myself feel good.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:47:00] When my spouse was this different person than I thought he was, then I didn't feel good about myself.
Mason Funk: I get that. I get that. I get that. After this initial couple of few days when you say you literally ...
Joanne Nemecek: Weeks.
Mason Funk: [01:47:30] Okay. Weeks. Tell me how that, I guess you could call it maybe the first phase. You were walking around like a zombie.
Joanne Nemecek: I was walking around like a zombie. We had our kids come for Thanksgiving dinner. It was probably towards the beginning of November that I found out about Julie. Our kids came, and I was trying to put our dinner together. We working in the kitchen, and I just couldn't do it. I went into the bathroom, and I was crying. I just felt like I can't do this.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:48:00] I'm putting on a sham in front of my kids, and Julie came in to talk to me, and it was during that conversation I felt like it's not my job to convict Julie of sin. That's God's job. I got to let go of that. That was one of my first steps.
Joanne Nemecek: As time went on, and I saw Julie cross-dress, that was really difficult for me
Joanne Nemecek: [01:48:30] to visually see, and I felt sick to my stomach, but then we got involved. It was probably a March following that November. We got involved with a cross-dressing group, and when I got to see other people living that way, and after a while I could just see them as people and not as cross-dressers, then I was able to say, "Okay. I can take this."
Joanne Nemecek: [01:49:00] It just helped me accept the person rather than the package. I felt like ... I had read a book on marriage and it talked about beings God's example of love to your spouse, so allowing God's love to flow through you to be loving to your spouse, and so I felt like it was my job to love Julie as she was and not to try to change her.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:49:30] That was part of the underlayment of what I was going through. It was the following Christmas that Julie said, "I think I'm going to have to transition." It was just before Christmas. I thought oh great. That's a wonderful Christmas gift. There was just another wash of conflict within me.
Joanne Nemecek: I did not want to be seen as a lesbian,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:50:00] and I was still struggling with understanding gay and lesbian people, and that they were made that way, and I didn't want others to see me in a lesbian relationship, and I didn't know if I could stay in the marriage that was. It was horrible. Julie thought she could wait until she was retired before she transitioned.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:50:30] Well that was okay, but then when she says, "Oh I think I'm going to have to transition," then I felt the train that Julie talked about pushing down on me and I was trying to push it back and hold it off as long as possible. I didn't want to go there.
Mason Funk: [01:51:00] Excuse me. The moment in the restroom that Thanksgiving when it sounds like something kind of clicked for you, prior to that had you kind of assumed maybe not only in your relationship with Julie but in your relationship with other people, that it was kind of part of what you were here was to judge other people's, and I'm not saying this in a pejorative way, but did you just kind of assume that it was up to you to make judgment about
Mason Funk: [01:51:30] how people were living and what was sin and what wasn't sin? Were you pretty confident in that?
Joanne Nemecek: Before all this came out in my Christian faith, I took the bible literally, and when somebody was not doing as it said they were sinning. Yes. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was a very judgmental person, and I have grown in that understanding
Joanne Nemecek: [01:52:00] and have let a lot of judgement go by. Partly because I had been so hurt by the Christian church and how they are treating transgender people, and when they're treating people when I'm married to one, it's really treating me the same way, and it's very hard.
Mason Funk: You know I have a ... I've struggled a lot with these faith and sexuality,
Mason Funk: [01:52:30] and I have a younger brother who's still a very conservative Christian and is married to a very conservative Christian, and have struggled a lot because they've been completely unaccepting of me and my spouse. Then at a certain point when I kept trying to understand why did they care so much, I realized that for some devout Christians, they actually believed that their own salvation might be at stake if they don't draw the line
Mason Funk: [01:53:00] and reject people that are sinning essentially. It was kind of a revelation for me. Like oh they're not just interested in judging me. They think it's that God might judge them if they don't judge me.
Joanne Nemecek: Oh.
Mason Funk: How have you ... I guess behind all that is the question is how you've moved from this place of thinking that, of being a judgmental person, like how do you make sense of thinking that God was one way to place of thinking of God as a different way? That's my basic question.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:53:30] I read a number of books, and one of the books I read was Evolution's Rainbow by Joan Rothgarden who is out of Stanford, who studies animals, and in that book it talked about animals that were gay, and it talked about animals that were transgender,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:54:00] and it talked about the human race, and how some cultures have four or five different genders not just one. When I looked at creation, animals created by God that are gay, and animals that are transgender, well it must not upset God to have animals that are because that's part of the creation.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:54:30] That really turned me on my thinking.
Joanne Nemecek: I let go of judgment partly through my training as a social worker. I got trained in dialectical behavior therapy, and it talks about being mindful, and letting go of judgment, and sticking to facts. Anything that's not a fact, who, what, where, when, you let go of.
Joanne Nemecek: [01:55:00] You acknowledge it that it's an opinion and you let go of it, and so I've been practicing that. I grew up in a very critical family. On Sundays they would barbecue the pastor at lunch. They would talk about all the things that he had done wrong during the week. That's the culture I grew up in. It was very judgmental. That's the way it was, and so to go against my family
Joanne Nemecek: [01:55:30] upbringing took a lot of work to take on a different mindset.
Mason Funk: Are you glad ... I mean you probably wouldn't have wished for this massive change to come into your life. You didn't know any better, but if somebody had said do you want this change or do you want life to go on the way it was, you probably would've said, "I'll take life the way it was. Thank you very much." Now looking back, are you glad
Mason Funk: [01:56:00] that John came out to you as Julie and introduced these massive changes into your life?
Joanne Nemecek: I have mixed feelings. For the most part it's probably 5% I wish it was the same. 95% I'm glad it changed. I noticed the light went out.
Scott Drucker: It did. Yes.
Mason Funk: Good call.
Scott Drucker: I'm just going to ...
Joanne Nemecek: [01:56:30] Marriage has improved. Our communication is a lot better than it was, and we are much more in tune to each other, and so that wall that was up when were first married came tumbling down, and so we really are supportive of each other now and have a very loving marriage. One of the 5% things that happened was my father, when we told my parents what was going on, I was telling them that Julie was possibly going to transition some day in the future,
Joanne Nemecek: [01:57:00] and I was asking them for prayer because I was scared, I was home alone with my parents when I told them. My dad said he was up all night thinking about this and then in the day time he told me, "I never want to see John again." He's continued to live that out, and so it basically has torn my side of the family apart.
Joanne Nemecek: I have some siblings
Joanne Nemecek: [01:57:30] that are accepting and some that are very standoffish. I used to think that I was the person that gathered our family together, but now because I'm staying in this marriage, my side of the family is sort of falling apart.
Mason Funk: Wow. That's a huge loss it sounds like.
Joanne Nemecek: I've kind of tiptoed back into my relationship with my dad, but my mom has Alzheimer's
Joanne Nemecek: [01:58:00] and I heard that she had stopped eating and they were only giving her liquid food, and so I sneaked Julie in to see my mom at the nursing home last year, and my dad found out that Julie was there and refused to see me, and so then it was about 7 or 8 months before I got to see him again. He's forgiven me, but it was just another thing. It's very hard.
Mason Funk: [01:58:30] Wow. Wow. I would imagine at time, I mean, we all know that being angry is okay, and being angry at God is even okay, and I would just imagine the times when you were faced with losing your family of origin over this change, has anger ever, does it ever come up in you?
Joanne Nemecek: [01:59:00] I don't think I get angry. I get sad, and I question why they can't understand. When it really hurts that I thought they loved my husband, and now they can so easily turn their back on us, it just hurts. I don't understand why God can help me understand but he can't help my family understand. It's more whys instead of anger.
Mason Funk: [01:59:30] What do you think the answer to that question is? Why God has been able to help you change and I guess evolve, and other people in this world, including your own family, seem sort of stuck and without that help that God provided for you?
Joanne Nemecek: I cannot understand God, and so
Joanne Nemecek: [02:00:00] his ways are far beyond mine. There may be reasons these people don't understand for his own reason. I don't know, but it does break my heart.
Mason Funk: How about the part where you, as Julie mentioned, he transitioned into Julie, you have now transitioned, your marriage has transitioned,
Mason Funk: [02:00:30] and you now are walking down the street, someone may say, "Oh there's a lesbian couple." How does that feel to you?
Joanne Nemecek: When I came to a place of acceptance when Julie shared with me that day about her deep, deep personhood, it was the first time that I was able to get past my pain of what I was going through to see her pain, and when I saw her pain,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:01:00] and what it would cost me, when I thought about what life would be life without Julie, or what life would be life if I stayed with her and lost everybody, I decided that I would rather stay with her and lose everybody. Then all of a sudden it didn't matter what people thought if I was lesbian or not.
Joanne Nemecek: As time went on I found out what a hard thing it is to stay
Joanne Nemecek: [02:01:30] in the marriage as far as my family goes, but other ways it doesn't matter that much anymore. I've come a long way as far as accepting gay and lesbian people, and celebrate them. I want to be a vessel of God's love to them. To help them know that they are accepted as they are.
Mason Funk: Were there any people, and you mentioned that you and Julie joined a group,
Mason Funk: [02:02:00] were there any other spouses you met who became sources of information and comfort to you?
Joanne Nemecek: Yeah. There was spouses in that group it was ...
Mason Funk: Tell me kind of starting fresh by, you know, when Julie and I started ...
Joanne Nemecek: Okay. Way back early when we started our journey together, we found a cross-dressing group, and the group had crossdressers and their spouses there, so the spouses kind of came around each other,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:02:30] and supported each other, and said, "Yeah this is really crazy stuff," and kind of supported each other in the unusualness of what we were going through. Another thing that happened was we decided to go to a convention called Southern Comfort in Atlanta, and we went there probably 2005, 2006,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:03:00] and 2007, and when I got to be there there was also spouses and they had groups for spouses, and we were able to support each other, and they had some therapists that come and talk to us, so that was really good.
Joanne Nemecek: Another support I got was from Julie's therapist. She had me come in a couple times and we talked, and she gave me support, but I'm kind of unusual. I'm kind of a contemplative person, and so I did a lot of the work on myself with God.
Mason Funk: [02:03:30] How would you do that work? Paint me a picture of what these moments are, the contemplative moments when it's just you and God. What do you do? What do you and God do together?
Joanne Nemecek: Well Julie and I were ... When Julie was working for Spring Arbor University as John, we were going to be taking a group of students to Ireland for a 21 day cross cultural experience,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:04:00] and in our luggage was Julie's makeup, some feminine things, along with mine in this bag, and I decided to take it as a carry on rather than put it into the hull of the plane. I forgot that there was a corkscrew in there, and so that got pulled aside, and when we were going through that check through lane,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:04:30] I had my passport out, and then I got called over to have this bag checked, and I left my passport in Detroit, and didn't discover it till I got to Atlanta, and I couldn't go on to Ireland.
Joanne Nemecek: I was left in Atlanta by myself while the rest of the group went on to Ireland, and this was a perfect time for me to be with God by myself, and I prayed,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:05:00] I cried, I wrote everything down. I said, "To me Julie looks like Julia Child, and this is not appealing to me. I don't feel like I'm attracted to this person. What do you want from me? What do you want me to do?" I just laid out what I needed to have happen, and just wrote it down in a journaling form.
Joanne Nemecek: [02:05:30] Kind of in a letter to God. I do journal a lot, and so that's part of the way I heal myself, or do my walk of faith.
Mason Funk: Wow. Oh my gosh. That just sounds horrible. I mean just that moment when you, the passport, but it sounds like it opened ...
Joanne Nemecek: A window.
Mason Funk: Like a dark night of the soul almost.
Joanne Nemecek: It was. My passport caught up with me a couple days later, and I got to join the group,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:06:00] and everything was good, but that was that break I needed. I needed a time alone to process this.
Mason Funk: Wow. Wow.
Joanne Nemecek: I could talk to you a little bit about my journey as far as my profession.
Mason Funk: Sure. Yeah.
Joanne Nemecek: I was a registered nurse, and as we came through this process,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:06:30] and I came to a place of acceptance, I knew that there were not very many counselors out there that understood what was going on, and Julie's therapist came to the cross-dressing group, and I talked to her. I said, "I'm thinking about changing professions, and I would like to move on and get my master's degree." She told me about being a social worker. That's what she was. I prayed about it. Checked with some people.
Joanne Nemecek: [02:07:00] Really felt like this was God's way of moving me along, so I applied to Michigan State University, and I was turned down.
Joanne Nemecek: Then I thought well I can get my bachelor's in social work. My nursing, when I had got my nursing degree, I didn't do real well academically, so I went to Spring Arbor University, after all this happened, and got my bachelor's degree in 2010,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:07:30] and then directly went on to Michigan State University and got my master's degree on a part time basis. It took two years to get that. I worked as nurse and was also a social work student. Graduated in 2012. My ultimate goal is to work full time with transgender and their families, but right now I'm working in an agency that serves Medicaid mostly, and I have Medicaid clients that I'm serving, and I feel like it's such a blessing that I can be there
Joanne Nemecek: [02:08:00] and have a ministry to people that are most likely not to be served.
Mason Funk: That's wonderful.
Joanne Nemecek: I'm getting a lot of other kinds of experience that will give me understanding of how to deal with some mental problems that transgender people often have because they are denying themselves so much.
Mason Funk: Talk about that. What have you observed or learned about these particular issues faced by transgender people?
Joanne Nemecek: [02:08:30] Often there's social anxiety. It's hard to be ...
Mason Funk: Transgender people.
Joanne Nemecek: Transgender people often have some additional mental problems. It's because they're denying themselves. Sometimes they might be experiencing social anxiety. It's hard to be in crowds. It's hard to be out because they feel like they're just not being themselves, and they don't want others to see them that way.
Joanne Nemecek: [02:09:00] Depression is often the case, suicidality is very high. 40% of people attempt suicide. Also, sometimes borderline personality disorder comes into play, and that disorder often is people look to the outside to get their understanding of
Joanne Nemecek: [02:09:30] who they are because they have been denied so much of their own understanding that they look to others and so they're constantly changing who they are to please the other person, and so I've gained this understanding and I can take that with me as a therapist.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I mean you have an incredibly unique perspective to offer to people. Especially people who are going through something similar to what you went through it sounds like.
Joanne Nemecek: Additionally I am volunteering at University of Michigan leading a group for parents of transgender people, and a group for spouses or partners of transgender people.
Joanne Nemecek: [02:10:00] Two Tuesdays a month I leave my job, drive to Ann Arbor for an hour and a half to do this group.
Mason Funk: How does that experience make you feel?
Joanne Nemecek: It's so much where I want to be. I get to see this change from month to month when people come in the first time they're crying
Joanne Nemecek: [02:10:30] and struggling with their child being transgender, and then a couple months later they're celebrating and saying, "I want my child to do the best they can," and they're behind the and helping them make that change. Then the parents that have been there for a while are helping the ones that are just coming in and crying. It's pretty wonderful. I've helped some spouses go through this change like I've gone through,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:11:00] and some of the marriages have been saved as a result of working with me, so that's pretty rewarding.
Mason Funk: Is it more common to have ... When you have marriages and spousal relationships, for the husband to be the one who is transitioning or have you also had experiences of couples where the wife has decided to transition?
Joanne Nemecek: For the most part the ones that come to the partner group are male transitioning to female,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:11:30] but I did have a couple lesbians couples come in and one of them is transitioning to male.
Mason Funk: Right, right. Which of course also involves a huge reorientation of the relationship. How did you, looking back, the moment when you learned that Julie had sat with a pistol in her lap composing an email, basically a suicide note,
Mason Funk: [02:12:00] how did you learn of that? I suppose Julie maybe told you, but tell me that story and what you felt when you learned that.
Joanne Nemecek: Well initially when Julie told me that she was transgender, one of the first days when I learned she was really upset was I hid her gun, and it was a few weeks later she discovered
Joanne Nemecek: [02:12:30] that she didn't know where it was, and she got very angry with me, and I told her it was because I didn't trust her. Then some time went by. I felt like it was okay, and then later she told me that when she had made that resolution to not kill herself, that was 2006 I think it was, New Year's resolution
Joanne Nemecek: [02:13:00] that she wasn't going to kill herself, then I think I learned about that time that she had had a pistol in her lap maybe in August.
Joanne Nemecek: I thought this is going on right under my eyes, under my roof, and I don't even know it. It really shook me. Then when she gave me that letter later before
Joanne Nemecek: [02:13:30] that came out in the newspaper, I was just really shaken. Really, really shaken. I might not have the dates right, but the time, the emotions are there, and it's hard to put into words. It's hard to put into words that somebody's in so much distress and you're not even seeing it.
Mason Funk: [02:14:00] Do you feel like ... Yeah. It's also probably hard to understand the distress itself when it's nothing that we can experience directly. How do you feel like you were able to begin to grasp the reality and the intensity of the experience that Julie was having when it was nothing that you could imagine having yourself?
Joanne Nemecek: How did I grasp the reality of it. I started thinking about what it would be like
Joanne Nemecek: [02:14:30] to stand in front of the mirror and think this is wrong. I'm seeing the wrong person. This is not me. It must be really, really hard to stand in front of a mirror any time, but the real reality that really hit me was when I found out that Julie was seriously contemplating suicide. A lot people,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:15:00] when they heard about this, when she was in 50s that she was transitioning, well why did she wait all this time. You know, this is really selfish of her to want to transition and ruin her family like this. It was hard to answer those questions, but then when I really thought about this hurts so bad that life isn't worth living anymore,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:15:30] then I was able to say there's something really deep, deep here that has to be given to.
Mason Funk: That's great. That's great and very powerful stuff. Is there anything for you Julie or for you Joanne that I haven't asked you, or that you feel is important to ask before we do the final three questions for you?
Joanne Nemecek: I can't think of anything.
Julie Nemecek: [02:16:00] No. You've talked about the time. The letters. Yeah. I think that was a significant event. I can't think of anything else. Except for maybe how your faith has grown.
Joanne Nemecek: Well I've said that multiple times.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I think I got a good understanding of that. What would you, now that you know ...
Joanne Nemecek: Excuse me.
Mason Funk: [02:16:30] Your world has expanded so dramatically. What would you say to a young person who is just starting out, just beginning to think I just feel I'm gay, or lesbian, or transgender, or bisexual, what advice would you give to a young person kind of just starting his or her journey into otherness in a more full way?
Joanne Nemecek: For any young person that is looking at themselves and wondering why they're different,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:17:00] I would encourage them to look for safe havens to express their difference. Often in schools there are signs on the door that say there's a rainbow, and it would say it's a safe zone. Look for a teacher, look for a counselor that you can talk to to share these confusing
Joanne Nemecek: feelings with. Of course there's always online, and not everything online is best,
Joanne Nemecek: [02:17:30] but you could find some support there. For the very, very young, I would encourage them to say something to their parents, but if their parents don't accept them, then they're going to have to wait till their older and then keep looking for somebody that they can talk to.
Mason Funk: How about in terms of people, young people, who have felt wounded by the church
Mason Funk: [02:18:00] and essentially have been told that God is going to reject them for who they are. What do you say to those people?
Joanne Nemecek: If you feel like God has rejected you, then you are hearing a lie. God sent his son to pay the terrible price for all sin, and that includes anything have said against you.
Joanne Nemecek: [02:18:30] That includes anything that they say you are not good enough. You are good enough. God created you, and you are precious in his sight. I believe that with all my being, and I hope that my love for you can help you understand that this is a true message. God does love you.
Mason Funk: What is your hope for the future when you look at the world, including this very conflicted culture we live in?
Joanne Nemecek: [02:19:00] My hope for the future is people will continue learning about different and they will start to celebrate it, and enjoy the difference in how each person sees life in a little bit different way, and that can broaden your understanding and make life much richer.
Mason Funk: [02:19:30] Yeah. It's such an interesting thing. I mean I know that I celebrate difference, but it's so interesting to realize there are people out there who just don't like difference. They just don't like it. They're not born liking difference.
Joanne Nemecek: Yeah. There are certain personalities that have a hard time changing.
Mason Funk: Yeah. Last but not least, how about a little shout out for OUTWORDS.
Joanne Nemecek: [02:20:00] Yay OUTWORDS. I so appreciate what OUTWORDS is trying to do to capture stories of people that have been on the journey and what they have seen, the changes that have happened over the years. I think you are doing a wonderful work, and this will add a lot to the depth of knowledge that's out there.
Mason Funk: Well from your mouth to God's ears is all I got to say. I really hope that happens. Great. I guess we got room tone already, so I think we're done.
Joanne Nemecek: Good.
Mason Funk: We'll cut and then I would like to ...

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Scott Drucker
Date: July 17, 2017
Location: Home of Joanne and Julie Nemecek, Spring Arbor, MI