Feeling “different” is a rite of passage of sorts. Most everyone has felt they didn’t fit in at some point in their lives, especially growing up. But imagine growing up feeling you were born with the wrong body. The taunting and harassment doesn’t end after high school. Billie Jean is someone who has dealt with the ridicule that comes with being a transgender person for much of her life. Besides being besieged with hateful words and stares, she’s had bottles thrown at her and was even shot at once.
Years of torment can take a serious toll on self-confidence, and often is the root cause of poor decision-making. Like most, Billie Jean just wanted to be accepted and was sort of coasting through life, but when her need to be loved led her into a relationship with a drug dealer, her life became chaotic. At 30 years old, Billie Jean tried marijuana for the first time after urging from her boyfriend. “I didn’t know he did that to control me,” states Billie Jean. “He hooked me on marijuana then introduced me to other drugs and kept supplying me.”
That relationship proved destructive on many levels for Billie Jean. “I was vulnerable and needed someone to love me,” says Billie Jean candidly. “But I ended up with two black eyes. I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Even after breaking away from her abusive boyfriend, Billie Jean couldn’t break the drug habit he had left her with. One of the times she got high, she was stopped by the police and landed in jail. Upon her release six months later, she was determined to change, but had no place to go and ended up homeless… until discovering the Weingart Center, an agency that provides homeless services.
Billie Jean came to the Weingart Center with few possessions and hardly any clothes. “I finally was in a place that gave me everything I needed.” More than just shelter and clothing, Billie Jean enjoyed the “open door” policy of the case management staff and took advantage of many of the Weingart Center’s homeless services including Job Club, which prepares individuals for employment. She found a job at a box factory but once again, Billie Jean was harassed, this time by co-workers. She just wanted to have a job like everyone else and not be known as the transgender person or a “guy in a dress.”
Through the guidance and support of her case manger, Billie Jean quit that job. “I started feeling like a normal person and I saw that I can be respected for who I am,” says Billie Jean. “If I hadn’t come to the Weingart Center, I don’t think I would have made it in any other program.”
After a year in the Weingart Center’s EMERGE program, Billie Jean’s case manager wanted to make sure she was ready to be on her own. “I knew it was time for me to give my spot to someone else,” remembers Billie Jean. In fact, with savings in her bank account, strength in her sobriety, her own apartment and working full time at a job where she is treated with respect, Billie Jean couldn’t wait to start the next chapter of her life. Most importantly, thanks to the Weingart Center’s comprehensive homeless services, today Billie Jean is full of confidence. She is even sought after as a guest speaker to encourage other transgender individuals to embrace who they are and love themselves.