Interview conducted and transcribed by Clarielle Marsh (’16) on October 24, 2015 in ZSR Library
Transcript of Interview:
Clarielle Marsh: Alrighty. Could you please say your name, the gender pronouns you use for yourself and how you would describe you gender and sexual orientation?
Toni Newman: My name is Toni D. Newman. Toni with an “I”. She, her, hers. I am a male-to-female transgender. So I’m an African-American transgender woman, and I graduated from Wake Forest in 1985 with a BA degree in Sociology.
CM: Cool. When’s your birthday?
TN: 12/( )/62.
CM: You said “30”?
CM: 3. Sorry.
CM: Where are you from originally?
TN: Jacksonville, NC. Which is also the home of the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base. They’re one and the same.
CM: Where do you live now?
TN: San Francisco, California. But I still live in Los Angeles with my husband. I work in San Fran, Monday through Friday, and I go five hours home, Friday through Monday, in Los Angeles. So, I live in Los Angeles, but work in San Francisco. Maybe I should have said that.
CM: And what years were you –?
TN: ’81 through ‘85
CM: So, tell me what you do now.
TN: I’m the development manager for the MyTree AIDS Foundation. MyTree is the only AIDS-specific residential care facility in California, serving the poor with advanced AIDS. We have a fifteen bed hospital-hospice, serving minorities–men and women. Who are with advanced AIDS. And fifty percent of them leave, and fifty percent of them die there. We provide twenty-four hour care, three meals a day, with medical care to hopefully help them get better, but we do have a rate of those that die. But they die that no one should have to die alone, or suffer by themselves. That’s our– kind of– our motto.
CM: How would you describe your sexual orientation?
TN: Like men. So, transgender who likes men.
TN: I’ve been married for–been with my partner for thirteen years, and married for four.
CM: Do you have any religious affiliations?
TN: I’m spiritual. I was a Christian. Christianity, 20 years ago, dispelled me and told me I had no value. I still believed in God. I still believe very strongly in God, so I am a spiritual being. I pray. I feel he’s heard my prayers. And, so I call it more spiritual than Christianity.
TN: Because I was a Christian, and Christianity told me if you do that, then you’re a bad person. So, I had to let it go because I’m not a bad person for being myself. So I–you know–I began to pray. One thing Christianity did teach me: that prayer works. And I’m grateful to my mother who’s a conservative Christian. She gave me the foundation, so when I really needed and had nobody, I began to pray. And I–I know he heard me. When I had nowhere to go, an opportunity would happen the next day, so. Something, somewhere was looking out for me. So, I believe I’m more of a spiritual being than a Christian. Because Christianity has labels, and spiritual just has no labels. God is love. God is good. Everything is made by him. So, I’m more spiritual than a Christian.
CM: Thank you. Thank you. We just came from the Wake Forest LGBTQ History panel. Are there any, like, anecdotes or memories that that sparked for you? Like, is there any story that ( )–?
TN: When I was here in ’81, Maya Angelou had just got on campus as the Reynolds professor. She had gotten here in 1980 as a Reynolds professor, and I went to that welcome thing. I never actually took her class, but I did speak to her on a couple occasions. I was excited. I didn’t know her work then, but I was excited about her, and didn’t know that her poem “I Rise” would turn into my first book, I Rise: The Transformation of Toni Newman. I named that first book after her poem “I Rise.” You make look down on me. You may look at me as if I’m dirt, but just like dust in the atmosphere, I rise. ‘Cause when I first came out, a lot of people looked down on me. But, my problem was I was black. And there was 134 black people, including athletes, on campus in 1982. That’s including the football, basketball, all athletic teams, plus academics. So, it was only like 3% black, 2% black. And I found we were getting more–I was getting more stuff for being black. Nooses were on the campus sometimes. That KKK. As you heard, Jesse Helms was in the Senate. He was anti-black, anti-jew, anti-gay, anti-transgender, so he covered most–except the Jewish part–Everything that I represented, the head person in my state was against. So that was the atmosphere. It was a very, very conservative state. Wake Forest was new to me; first time from home. And–you know–I was very afraid. But there were two things going on. I knew that I was something different–not gay. Even though a lot of people assumed I was gay, but I wasn’t really gay. I didn’t even know how to express that into “Oh by the way, I’m transgender.” So, the black thing was first, the gay thing was second, and then I was dealing with the transgender issue in the background. So, I stayed low on the gay front, I was non-existent on the transgender front, and I just fought the battle of I’m black: the black thing. And with the Black Student Allience–went to some of the meetings–Deborah Roscoe [Spelling?], I believe was in charge over there–class of ’86. So, I didn’t have a gay issue, I had a black issue, for me. It wasn’t about the LGBT–there was no LGBT group. There was nothing gay-affiliated on this campus, and we–the Black Student Alliance was so small, we were trying to build that up. That was basically with hardly any members, because most blacks were just trying to do their work. They wouldn’t even come out. The meetings had 10 people in it.
CM: Thank you. You mentioned that your blackness was, like, kind of your centered sort of focus as far as your experience here. Do you feel that there were support systems for you? I know you mentioned–
TN: Looking back, I think there wasn–there was–there was Dr. Yurig [Spelling?] in the Biology department. He ran–I don’t know, the multi-cul–but I just–I never engaged in any of those things. I stayed in a–I came to fulfil a purpose. I did my studies, I got my degree, and I’m very sorry that I didn’t reach out. And maybe there would’ve been some help, but I never reached out for it. I never went looking. I never even asked, “Do you think–?” I never did that, I just upheld my blackness, crushed my LGBT side, and just made it through. And the first two years I was very unhappy, very unhappy. I almost quit and went to Chapel Hill where they did have a gay group, down there. And, my mother said “You should stay.” At that point, she still had power. I listened to her. And, junior and senior year got better, but I graduated. So, where I heard Tre mention, “Oh, it’s a wonderful campus,” we were all just trying to graduate. Most of the black–just said “look, I’ve got to get my degree,” and we came here to get a degree, and we got it. We didn’t have much unity there, even among blacks, there was so much division. Even among the black people, we were all spread out over campus. Some lived on. So, I wish I would have been more engaging. There probably was something for me, but I just–being a shy person in the beginning–just went in and just did my thing and kept to myself. I didn’t make that many friends here. And when I left, I never looked back and communicated with anyone back here, and never came back.
CM: Thank you. So, you mentioned that you wrote a memoir, and the work that you’re doing as a Wake Forest Grad. Can you go into more detail about what you did after you left Wake Forest, and how you feel your experiences on campus as an LGBTQ-identified–and other aspects of your identity affected your life after college?
TN: The degree is very good. When I left here, I went into the North Carolina community college system, became a minority recruiter for Coastal Carolina Community College under Dean John Gaye [Spelling?], and then I transferred to Wake Technical College, and worked for Dr. Larry Robinson [Spelling?] as an Assistant Dean of Evening Programs, one of his seven assistant deans. And life was good. I’d started a master’s program, working on a master’s in higher education. And, I thought I wanted to get an E.D.D. which is a doctorate’s in education. But, it was during that time that I could no longer–I’d crushed the LGBT side, the T, so far down it rose up and began to speak to me, to say, “You can’t keep doing this. It’s time to step out.” I tried to reiterate that at Wake Technical College with the dean who’s a wonderful guy, and didn’t realize they’re not going to allow me. It’s going to be a battle for me to be my real self. Because they said, “We didn’t hire you as that, we hired you over here. So, you need to be what you were hired to be. We didn’t hire a black transwoman. We hired a black, educated, Wake Forest male. And you are now violating your agreement because you’re not going over here. That’s not what we hired.” So, we worked it out and I left and moved to New York. But the degree has always been very valuable. The learning with Dr. Catherine Harris in the Sociology department–and I’m an undergraduate soc[iology] major. I didn’t end up going to graduate school and getting an MBA, but I liked the sociology of interaction with people. And that’s why I studied it. Because I wanted to know: Why was I doing some of the stuff in the night that I wasn’t doing in the day. Why was I two people? Why was I–something driving me to be something. And that’s why I took sociology: the interaction with people. And Dr. Harris, Catherine Harris,–wonderful professor. I was pre-med, but of course, with all my problems, I just couldn’t keep up with all the chemistry. So, I went to Sociology. [Laughter] ‘Cause Dr. Yurig [Spelling?] gave me a “D” my first–second–semester. He was a biology professor, and he was black. And I went to him and I said, “Brother!” And he said, “Don’t fucking try that brother shit on me.” [Laughter] And I was trying to use our blackness to get it up to a “C.” He gave me a “D.” And that was a turning point that I wasn’t pre-med material. I had to do some soul searching, so I learned about myself in sociology with Dr. Harris and the Sociology department, and then went on to work. But the degree at Wake Forest was very valuable. I wasn’t LGBTQIA-identified. Quite a few people on campus said it; spoke it, rumored it. Toni’s a homosexual. In fact, I was not a homosexual. I was transgender. But there were no transgenders on campus. There were some other known Caucasian gays that I met here. We went out to some club– Odyssey?–I don’t know what that was. We went to some club. And I ran into a couple professors up in there. Some grad students. Some med school student, who I thought was extremely hot, he was in there and I had seen him on the Quad. So, it was interesting. So, I had some good moments. I had some good moments here. It wasn’t all bad, but the education I got at wake forest–the discipline. It taught me: your projects must go from A-to-Z. Don’t be–as Dr. Harris would say–Let’s not be half-assed about it. If we’re going to do it, do it all the way through. And I do that today. I tell my staff, “Let’s just go all the way. If we’re going to do this, let’s go from A-to-Z.” And that’s something I learned thirty years ago. So, that stuck with me. So, I say Wake Forest is a great education institution. It wasn’t so gay-identified when I was here; there was no movement. And that didn’t start until 2000, fifteen years after my departure so–. But the education was good. And it’s helped me in my job now, as well–the degree. To move up into nonprofit management, it’s been very, very favorable that I have a degree from Wake Forest.
CM: You kind of mentioned the sort of social scene at Wake Forest. Did you date while you were here?
TN: I went out–. I did, I did. I dated an athlete. A well-known athlete. I shall not call his name; he is married. And we have kept in touch. When I turn into transgender Toni with the long braids and other surgeries I had–I was more in my sexual, provocative state at that manner. I was trying be boom-boom-bam-bam. He called me like, “I love the braids. You got your tits.” So he gave me a little compliment. We laughed. He says he’s married with children. I asked him, “Have you engaged–?” And he said, “No.” I said, “Stop, I know you’re lying. I know you have.” He’s a down-low brother. And that’s–but he was nice. He was nice to me. Even though we never spoke it; nobody ever knew it, he was very nice to me. We would go maybe fifteen miles out, have dinner, and you know, so forth and so on. But when we came on campus, if I saw him walking the Quad, he saw me, there was no communication. We didn’t talk. It was only I’ll see you at seven o’clock. Be by the car. And we’d meet, go off campus, do what we do, and when we came back to Wake Forest: “Who are you again? Oh, hi! How are you?” Oh yeah. So, I had good times. There were good times. There were moments I got to be myself. Well, I wasn’t really myself. I was still in that gay male stage, because I was then too afraid to say, “Hey, by the way, I’m transgender.” There was just–transgender in 1980, it just– there was no Orange Is the New Black, no Chaz Bono’s, no CNN Janet Mock. It was none of that. I did have some good moments here, and I did have one or two friends–Caucasian. They never said–we never said we were gay. We went to Odyssey. I don’t know if that was–. We danced with each other–non-sexual. But, I had some moments where I allowed myself to be myself. But, most times, Toni was too afraid to be anything but a student. I was too afraid to express myself, thinking: what would people say if they saw me in my wig? What would that look like? What would the two white, gay guys that drove me to the Odyssey who thought some of the drag queen performance was a little mental–? So, I saw, even at that point, where “LGB” were thinking that the “T” were a little screwed up, a little mentally disordered. And at that time it was still classified under the Psychological Association as a mental disorder. They called it that. So, when you saw someone in drag and they were walking in the daytime, you say, “That’s good for the club, but you don’t do that in the daytime.” They have a mental disorder. And it was still labeled as that until years later when the Psychological Association took it off the books as a social disorder.
CM: What were your observations about the ways people either performed or deviated from gender roles at Wake Forest?
TN: I found most people–. From my experience, males were males, females were female. I didn’t see any female-female love. I didn’t see any male-male love. I didn’t see any transwoman love. I didn’t see any transman love. I didn’t see any of that. That was nonexistent, to my knowledge, from the years ’81 to ’85. I did have a talk with Maya Angelou, and I told her, “I’m transgender.” And without breathing a word, she says, “Go do you. Rise.” And I said, “You want me to go tell people?” I said, “Hell no! I can’t do that.” She said, “You’re only going to be authentic, honey, when you can speak it. You can only live in shame for so long. You’re going to have to rise up one day.” Fifteen years later, I rise up. And another ten years from that, I write a book: I Rise. I’m finally free. So, it took me fifteen years to do what she told me to do in 1982! If I could’ve have had enough guts to do it then, I might would’ve saved myself a lot of heartache. But then I was afraid: if I come out, will my parents still give me that spending money? Probably not. I was on scholarship, but I needed their help. And I knew if I told my parents, outright gay, whether they–they had to know that part–. If I spoke it, they would probably disinherit me. And I just didn’t have enough guts to even say it, so I stayed hidden from the community. I didn’t see any community. I saw two guys who I saw on the Quad one night, and I saw them playing around with each other. I thought ‘Oh my God.’ They didn’t know I saw them. He touched his hand, so I knew they were gay. So, I immediately went to them and made friends. Because I said, “Are y’all gay?” And they’re like, “No.” I said, “Oh, honey, I just saw you touch his hand. So what is that?” Well, I saw him touch his–he put his hand over his penis in his pants. And I’m like, “You’re gay.” And they ( ) “You want to go with us to Odyssey?” And I’m like, “What is that, a gay club?” And I told them, “Well, I’m not gay, but I’ll ride with you.” So, I went out with them a couple of times, and they ended up dating. And I never told them I was gay. They told me over and over, “You’re gay” and, “You have to admit it. You have to tell somebody.” But I never did, and they never pushed me to so–.
CM: You were a sociology major?
TN: M-hm [Affirmative Response].
CM: So, you said that you kind of found a space to sort of–
CM:–learn about yourself in that department. Were there curricular opportunities to learn about LGBTQ topics while you were at Wake?
TN: Catherine Harris in the Sociology department spoke openly. She spoke–well, some people viewed gay and lesbian, bisexual, and–this behavior is deviant. It is not. It is just human sexuality. It’s just life. Just like some of you all are black, some are white. Some of you all are Baptist, and Jewish. It’s just who you are. It’s just a different form. And I felt identity there, and that’s why I majored there. She impressed me–Dr. Catherine Harris–who’s still a professor here; who I will get to see this afternoon. I went to her, not about gay stuff, but just, “Why do people do what they do?” And she would give me ( )–. And she said, “Well, you keep beating around the bush.” I never had enough guts to tell her. She said, “What are you really asking me?” And I did that with everybody here. I would always ask questions, but never ask the question. Just say “I’m a transwoman.” I never did that. I would say, “Well, what do you think about people who think they’re in the wrong gender?”, and wait for an answer. And even if they said it positive, I would say, “That’s interesting. Thank you.” I guess they would say, “Well that was an odd question to ask. I wonder why they asked that question.” I just didn’t have enough guts to say, “By the way, I’m feeling I’m a transwoman. What do you think I should do?” It just wasn’t there. I wish I could go back and be you guys, because I think it is so cool that you guys are talking about it–encouraged to be you. You want to be bi? Who cares? You want to be intersexually–I’m not man or woman? Ok! Welcome! That would’ve been cool in 1981, but that wasn’t the time. And I see now you all have progressed. Jesse Helms is gone. Hallelujah. It’s a better thing. I just wish I would have been more open about Toni Newman at 1981 to ’85 and experienced more of the campus. I didn’t, and that was just because I was afraid the first year I heard “nigger” and I saw a noose. And being a timid little shy person, I was like, “Ooh!” [Frightened noise] My mother said, “Pray. Don’t let them run you away. Be strong.” And that was a fight for a while, and then I just didn’t want to take up whether I’m gay or transgender fight because that’s another fight. And then I’m black, and then I’m gay, possibly transgender. I’m like, no I’m just going to deal with the black. And that’s all I dealt with. And at night I would dress up and go over to Winston-Salem State, where no one knew me, and do all kinds of little things that I shouldn’t have done, but–Go over to their clubs and walk through their Kappa Alpha Psi and their Alpha Phi Alpha, and swing my little wig. And you could hear them say, “Oh shit! [Laughter] Who are you?” And I’d go, “My name is Terry, honey.” And I’d have my heels on and my pink lipstick–padded bra–because of course no hormones then. So, I hadn’t even begun to really get into transitioning, but I did drag that junior and senior year four or five nights out the week. It was insanity. Every study break I got, I went over to the Winston-Salem State. For one: I like black men. And two: I knew the spots over there to go to to be appreciated. To, as Terry McMillan said, “To get my groove on.” So, I went over to Winston-Salem State. I, in fact, went over to Winston-Salem State in my junior and senior year more than I stayed at Wake Forest. I partied over there. I got drunk over there. Sometimes I would get a room on the weekends and just hang out over there.
CM: Was there a lot of, like, interactions between WSSU students and Wake Forest students back then?
TN: They hated us. They’d say, “Where do you go to school?” I’d say, “I go to AT&T. I’m an Aggie.” And I knew Aggies because my father went there. So, I knew some of the shit to say to make it look good. Because when I did say I went to Wake Forest–“You black? You go to Wake Forest? You’ve got money.” Oh no. No, I’m not rich. But you couldn’t tell them that because the college–they said, “Oh, well that’s expensive” then. It was still double what Chapel Hill was charging. And Chapel Hill is a public school, and I’m from North Carolina. So, yes, it was expensive. It’s triple what they were paying at Winston-Salem State. I knew their rate; my rate was three times that, not including my room and board. So, of course they thought: oh, you’re trying to play it down. You’re some rich–they would say–You’re some rich nigga, and you’re over here trying to perpetrate. And I’m like, “No, I’m from a working class family.” They’d say, “Well, you have a car?” I’d say, “Yeah, I have a little car outside.” “Oh, you’ve got money.” And I’m like, “Have you seen the car? It barely runs!” [Laughter] I said, “Y’all are prejudging me.” And after that, I never told anybody I went to Wake Forest after that. Anybody over there asked me–“AT&T. I go to North Carolina AT&T in Greensboro. I’m just down here hanging out with some friends.” And they would say, “Oh, you’re Aggie.” And then no problem. If I said Wake Forest, it was a big debate: You don’t have no black students. Let me tell you ( ). Blacks in Ameri–. I said, “Listen–.” I just didn’t want to engage, because Wake Forest was considered a private, Southern Baptist, white school with less than two hundred black students out of fifty-three hundred we had. Add all the medical school, law school, football players–we had hardly any blacks there. And Latinos were nonexistent. And the Asians had not began to come in the big numbers that there are now, so it was very low in minority status.
CM: Greek organizations–you mentioned that Alphas and the Kappas were at WSSU, but what was your experience with and stance on Greek life at Wake Forest and its relation to the LGBTQ comm–?
TN: Well, the guy I was messing with was an athlete, was an Omega Psi Phi. I graduated Wake and then went and pledged KAPsi in the Kinston [Spelling?} chapter two years after I graduated with Captain Franklin McNeil, who also turned out to be a gay, black man who had went to the Navy Academy, and he and I are friends today. I only did that because my family was saying, “You need to pledge.” And I didn’t pledge here because I didn’t want to be Omega Psi Phi, and my family’s Kappas. So, I did end up pledging Kappa in a graduate chapter, but I was non-affiliate here, and I was messing around with–having sex with an Omega Psi Phi who was a football player.
CM: What were your experiences with the traditionally white Greek organizations at Wake?
TN: I went to–some white fraternity invited me–one of the guys invited me to a pre-screening thing. There were just so white. I did see a couple of blacks in there, but I just didn’t feel the love. And I only did the Kappa thing in grad–because they were all black and I was getting pressure to do so. So, I pledged and that was the craziest thing I’ve ever done. Why would you even do that?
CM: I don’t know if you know about Greek organizations now on campus, but like sixty percent of women at Wake Forest are affiliated with some sorority, and like fifty-some percent of men. So it’s like a huge culture here.
TN: Are there black sororities now?
CM: There are. Two.
TN: And they are?
CM: It’s the AKAs and the Deltas.
TN: Alright! Alright!
CM: Yeah, but they’re very small.
CM: But did you notice–?
TN: Do the Deltas and the AKAs allow white women to pledge?
CM: Allow? Sure. I don’t think they’re allowed to deny them–.
TN: Are there any white women in the Deltas or AKAs?
CM: There was–I think she graduated last year–a white woman in the Deltas.
TN: Alright! Alright.
CM: And we also have a multicultural sorority.
TN: So, what fraternities do you have on campus now? You have the Alphas? Because I think, then, it was just Omegas and Alphas?
CM: We have Alphas–
TN: No Kappas, and no–
CM: — Kappas, and Ques. Those are the only three.
TN: Say that again.
CM: Alphas, Kappas, and Omegas.
TN: And who are we missing? Who are we missing? Alphas, Kappas, Omega–. We’re missing somebody. I think there were four.
CM: I don’t know the name–.
TN: Alphas, Kappas, Omegas–we’re missing–Sigmas!
CM: Sigmas! We don’t–( ).
TN: We’re missing the Sigmas. Yeah, the Sigmas.
CM: And we don’t have, as far as the sororities, the–I don’t remember–( ).
TN: I don’t know those that way. But yeah, you have Deltas and the AKAs which are the sisters to the Omegas–( ). Interesting.
CM: But was there a big Greek life culture?
TN: For whites, yes. I don’t know any blacks who pledged. Deborah Roscoe, Sharon McDonald–Mason Davis was a cheerleader, but he didn’t pledge. I don’t know any black people, besides some athletes who pledged. I don’t know any regular students who pledged. And then you had some black students who were pledging white, and that just wasn’t–. I liked them, but I just didn’t see living in a frat with them. You know, hang out all the time. Because some of the frat members were cool, but then you could see that some of them had that racist thing about it. So, I just wasn’t sure who were the good frat members and who were the bad. Because you had some in there who were welcoming, and then some of them wouldn’t speak and looking at you funny. When I was going to these pre–. So, I never got involved in that. I don’t know any blacks who did who were students besides some of the athletes. Like the guy who–( ). So, they were not that popular here. And most of the Omegas were going to Winston-Salem State, bonding with their Omegas because they had a bigger chapter. So you had the Wake Forest four or five, joining with the forty over there, because it was a bigger chapter. So, they went to hang out with their brothers. I did catch a few of them over there, but they didn’t recognize me because I had a wig on and they thought I was probably crazy. [Laughter].
CM: What were your experiences living in a residence hall? Did you live in a residence hall?
TN: I did for two years, and then I moved out and moved in with my lover, the Omega, and his continual girlfriend who came by constantly. So, for two years I lived off campus–about a mile–and for two years I lived on campus–Taylor. Was it T–? Poteat? Is that a male dorm?
CM: They’re all–.
TN: –mixed up now. Poteat and Taylor, I lived in Poteat my freshman year and Taylor my sophomore year. And then we moved off campus under the auspices–he needed a place off-campus, and he was going to try to be a pro athlete, and I was helping him with his schoolwork, and just this little sissy gay helping him out. He’s open-minded, he’s not gay. We did that so we wouldn’t have to drive off campus. So, we stayed together so we could be together. That lasted for two years, and then he–I guess he ended up marrying the girl who used to come by all the time. She and I hated each other because we were sleeping with the same man. [Laughter].
CM: I have a question here that says, “Did you have sexually intimate relationships while you were at Wake Forest?” And you’ve talked about–.
TN: Quite a few. Quite a few. Not at Wake Forest. I had more sex with Winston-Salem State students. I went through them quite a bit. More lovers over there–I had one, two, three–I would say in the four years, maybe five lovers in four years that were Wake Forest, and tons at Winston-Salem State.
CM: Did you feel that your race or ethnicity affected your sexual encounters on campus and off campus? What role did your race play in your sexual encounters?
TN: I wasn’t attracted to white men. If I guess I was trying to mingle and have sex with white men, it would have been more like, “Oh, I don’t do dark.” I wasn’t attracted to white men, so I never even engaged in, like, asking the two white guys, “Can you hook me up with some of your friends?” Not. Odyssey was mainly a white club. I would go out and kiki; hang out, and then when I felt that Marvin Gaye, I drove that little pinto over to Winston-Salem State looking for tall and chocolate. That was my cup of–well that’s still my cup of tea. I’m with a tall, chocolate bald-head man–. Yeah, I guess I’ve been doing the same shit for thirty years. But yes, it was no black men over here I found that hot until I ran across the athlete, who I happen to be tutoring. And he asked me was I gay. “You can be with me if you want to, if you’re gay.” And I was like, “I’m not gay.” He’s like, “Right.” And that developed into a relationship only because we were studying together. But no, most of my relationships were with black men off the campus. I never looked on campus for sex, and I hear there was sex going on. I just talked to another guy. He was like, “Oh my god, you could have went over to so-and-so behind Taylor dorm and there was a hookup. Go down the path–.” What? When was this happening? When was this going–? Go to the library. What? The Library? I was in the library! When was it going on? Had no clue. But I wasn’t in to–he’s cauca–I wasn’t in to white men sexually. So, I wasn’t looking here because I considered most of the population was white. I was too afraid to announce to my blacks, “Hey, you want to hook up?” So, I just went to another campus.
CM: So, you’ve chosen to come to this conference. Why? What do you expect to happen?
TN: After twenty-eight years, and there’s an LGBTQ Center, and Angela Mazaris called me–. In 2012 she gave me–after the book was nominated for two Lambda Literary–they gave me the Outstanding Faces of Courage from the LGBT Center. And I said, “I can’t.” She said, “We’re having a little thing here.” And I said, “I don’t want to go.” So they mailed the plaque, and the plaque came and it was so pretty. I said, “That was shady, Toni. You could have gone and got your plaque. And she says, “Things have changed.” Two years later, she calls me again and says, “Lavern Cox is coming.” And Laverne says, “I’m going to Wake Forest, your alma mater.” I said, “They’re going to egg your tall, black thirteen-foot ass, honey.” I had such a negative thing that would happen. She said, “It was amazing. It was over eighteen hundred people. It was packed. They gave me a standing ovation.” I said, “Who? The white people? There’s not enough black people to make up two thousand people.” She said, “It was mainly white, and it was awesome.” And then, Angela called and said, “We want you to come as an alumni to have two black transgenders come.” And I said, “I’m going to do it.” Between the plaque, Laverne coming and being received so well, I though after twenty-eight years, it’s time to go back. And it has been truly amazing. When I first got on the campus, I felt something in my stomach. That twenty-one year old, North Carolinian, hick-ish child who was controlled by a domineering black, Christian woman–and I felt like that little child. Oh my God, I can’t talk. I can’t breathe. And then as time went on, what I felt twenty-eight years ago went away. But I did feel odd when we turned into the campus. I was like, “Oh shit, we’re back. I hope they ain’t got no nooses hanging up here, when the first week I got here–.” I said, “Who are y’all calling nigger?” And Deborah was like, “You’re calling us niggers?” And we were like, “What?” It was crazy. “You don’t belong here.” “What? I do belong here. I got grades as good as–.” It was a little different, but I’m very glad I came back. Wake Forest has changed. You have a chief diversity officer now. It’s changed. The LGBTQ Center–I know Angela wants to go up with windows. You’re in the basement now. But, hey, for four years–and a conference? And your president and your vice president come and speak yesterday? I shake Nathan Hatch’s hand and say, “Thomas Hearn, I went to see him, and said, ‘Black students need–.'” And I said, “We got no results.” And he said, “Things have changed. We’ve got more black students.” And you do. You’ve got more minority students. And you do. You have a gay director. And you do. You have courses–. It’s amazing; it’s amazing. I would come back.
CM: How do you think the conference will affect LGBTQ+ alumni and students?
TN: They’ll come back. Once they see this, and they see your docu-series and all these interviews and–. I’ve had people like, “You’re at Wake Forest now? You don’t remember me but I went to Wake Forest with you. Congrats on transitioning.” And, “How did it feel to be back on campus?” I said, “It felt weird.” But, once we got to talking about transgender, and issues, and in 2000 they had the first gay student alliance, and the gay pastor; I’m like, this is not the Wake Forest we know. You’re getting love here, and there’s love to be had here. And I think it’s very cool. I hope if there’s any student like me, don’t be too shy and let a domineering parent–mother or father–hold them back because now you have a place to go. If I’d have had a center, I would have went to a center. A place saying, “This is LGBT.” I might wouldn’t have went in the beginning, but I would have went if I’d had an Angela in 1981, I would have did it. But we didn’t have a place like that. And the Black Student Alliance, we were too divided to even come together. Some wanted to protest; some wanted to throw stuff at the president’s house. And then they wanted to put toilet paper on the Quad. And black ( )–. And some, “Oh, I don’t do that.” We were just divided and after that group was fumbling, I just decided: Do you Toni. Just do you. And I just went into my own thing. So, I think it’s a beautiful thing. I think this and President Hatch–I think there’s change coming. I think you’re going to push him, and I think he’s being pushed. And I think this will push him further to give you more money, to make the second conference even better than this one. I think more people will come out. Because there’s a lot more LGBTQ than 148 people registered at this university. I know that. In the last, what? Thirty years? Since I’ve been here, it’s a lot more lesbians and gays, bisexuals. I think a lot of people are like, “I didn’t have that when I was there.” The 2000s and on, they saw it, but if you were here in 1995 and below–. Since 1961 I think the university started–. You were just fighting for your race. You weren’t really–. If you were black and gay, it’s like: I got to worry about the black. They’re putting up nooses. I don’t know what they’re going to do if they find out I’m black and gay. It was just one battle at a time. But I think this is great. I think you’re going to get more people to come out. I will definitely come back and bring some people with me.
TN: This time I will bring my husband, and his sister and her husband. We’d all come back, honey. But I said, “I can’t let you all come and this be some crazy–. I remember this campus being crazy. So, I’m going to go and if it doesn’t work out, I’m just going to–.” Because I was thinking–. On Wake Forest–. But you’re not affiliated with the Baptist church anymore. Things have changed.
CM: Was the university affiliated with the Baptist Church–?
TN: When I was here? Yes.
CM: Yeah, so what kind of effect, if any, did–?
TN: Well, you’re not supposed to have sex. You’re weren’t supposed to be drinking. Kegs were not allowed even though they were here. The Southern Baptists were being the Southern Baptists. Jesus is Jesus. And so, they were trying and we were supposed to be following certain rules, but there was no way they could make you follow them. Everybody was having sex. Everybody was drinking, but we weren’t supposed to be. We were supposed to be abstinent and non-drinking.
CM: We might have to wrap up soon, but are there any sort of final memories? Things you want to share?
TN: I think 2015–. I think the next one–. I think Wake Forest has changed. I didn’t even know any gay professors here, until I ran into them at Odyssey, and they were in the closet. Everyone during my closet was in, and now I see now that Wake is saying it’s ok to be out. And that’s called progress. That’s called progress.
CM: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.
TN: Thank you, love. Thank you very much.