Jamie Shupe became the first person in the U.S. to be legally designated as non-binary on June 10, 2016 in Portland, Oregon.
On June 10, 2016 in Portland, Oregon, Jamie Shupe became the first person ever in the United States to have their sex legally designated as non-binary. On November 1, 2016, Jamie Shupe became the first person in the history of Washington, D.C. to be issued an official document with a sex other than male or female when their birth certificate was issued as “unknown” as a result of their non-binary sex change court order. Shupe has since returned to his original birth sex of male. Jamie Shupe retired from the U.S. Army as a decorated Sergeant First Class (E-7) after 18 years of honorable military service.
“However, even after I learned about Autogynephilia and understood my behavior. To avoid looking like a pervert, I instead chose to hide under the veil of being a female. To do it, I used the familiar and now unquestionable transgender narrative: gender identity.”
The autobiography of Jamie Shupe (Part Five)
Note: This living document is part of a multipart series. The text may be updated to reflect better recollections of past events.
Length: Approximately 9,700 Words
I drove the Mercury Bobcat back to Maryland, ending up at my Mom’s. Within a short time, I got a job at a junkyard removing car parts for customers until I could get something better. A couple of months later I got another job at a General Motors dealership doing mechanic work. However, even at the new car dealer, I wasn’t making enough money to get out of my Mother’s house and survive in that area because of the high cost of living. I was making like $8 per hour.
Sandy and I weren’t “officially” still together at that point from what I recall. One day while I was out in Waldorf, a girl started hitting on me. She was older than me and extremely short. She was probably only 4 foot eight. Like everyone else that kept coming and going in my life, she was looking for love. At her place, she told me I had a choice between oral sex or her riding me on top. I took the second option. She later took me to a Bob Seger concert at the Capital Centre. I felt worse during the show than Sandy did during the AC/DC concert in Louisville. Seger was Sandy’s favorite artist. All I could think about was her during the show. I stopped dating her right after that.
Sandy and I were still talking on the phone several times per week. On one call, she’d gotten distraught that a rusty piece of an exhaust pipe had fallen into my eye while working on a school bus at work. I had to go to the emergency room to get it out. Realizing how much I missed her, we started making plans to get back together. She was still working a low paying retail job and living with her mom. Sandy offered to get a cheap apartment in Radcliff if I would come and live with her. To accept her invitation I had to buy and install a new camshaft and cylinder head for the engine in the Bobcat to make the trip back.
Life in the small town of Radcliff turned out just as I’d feared it would. The only mechanic job I got offered was at a gas station for minimum wage. The guy running it said I’d have to work 60–70 hours per week. It was apparent. He was looking to exploit someone who didn’t have any other choice.
After a couple of months of being unemployed, I left again. My Grandmother in Florida said I could come and stay with her in New Port Ritchie while looking for a job there. Accepting her offer, I went and stayed with her. That didn’t lead anywhere either. I had hoped to find work and bring Sandy there afterward.
At one point I even went further into Florida looking around. Greyhound a deal where you could ride a bus anywhere for 30-days at one flat rate. It was a dumb move. I got stranded at a rinky-dink bus station near Naples that closed for the night. I didn’t have money for a hotel. I’d been sleeping on the bus. I spent the night, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, shivering against a palm tree outside the bus station. When it got daylight, I walked around looking for something to eat. A man slowed his vehicle. Driving alongside me he rolled down the passenger window and whistled at me like I was a chick. I think he thought I was a male prostitute.
I didn’t want to blow it with Sandy again, so I started thinking about going back in the Army. After speaking with a recruiter. He informed me that it wouldn’t be any problem whatsoever to get me back in the military. I decided to reenlist and give it a go as a career after hearing that.
The recruiter said all I had to do to come back in was retake the ASVAB. Heading back to Kentucky, I retook the test there, scoring a 121. Four points less than before, but still in officer territory. Going back to the same job as before, I didn’t have to undergo any training. I also got to keep my previous rank of specialist (E-4). The Army instructed for me to report to Fort Hood, Texas on May 20, 1987.
Lying in bed one afternoon after making love in the runup to departing, I decided to ask Sandy to marry me. However, before I could get the question out, she asked me first. Laughing, we both agreed to get married.
Our marriage ceremony was cheap and simple. We went to the courthouse in Radcliff, Kentucky. A justice of the peace married us. Sandy’s Mother came along. Afterward, we had a one night honeymoon at a little German bed and breakfast somewhere out in the countryside. The B&B was a place some of Sandy’s friends had recommended.
Having the enlistment contract in hand immediately turned our fortunes around. By then Bobcat was on its last leg, so was Sandy’s car. Her ancient Plymouth Duster was more than ten-years-old. A Ford dealer in Louisville agreed to take the Bobcat as a trade-in and got us financed. We drove away in a new Ford Ranger pickup. It was bright red. The two of us now being married and having the military orders got Sandy out of the apartment lease too.
Putting the few possessions we owned in the bed of the Ranger, we left for Fort Hood. Taking turns driving, we drove straight through. The trip took about 24 hours. We slept at rest stops. Fearing getting robbed while we slept because of the stuff in the back, we took turns sleeping. Whoever had guard duty had the pistol we owned together.
Arriving in Killeen, Texas in the middle of the night, we knew nothing about the area. We didn’t have much money either, so we got a hotel room in the cheapest place we could find, a seedy hotel on 10th Street in the downtown area.
When I checked into the inprocessing center on base the next morning, people asked me where we were staying? They were incredulous when I told them. “You didn’t get robbed?” They wondered, alarmed after I told them. Their reaction about the hotel confirmed what I’d suspected. All the women we’d seen running around all night were prostitutes. Having suspected the place was pretty dodgy, we’d slept again with the stainless steel .38 special revolver that we’d purchased in Radcliff to protect Sandy for whenever I’d get deployed.
The reception center staff at Fort Hood gave me a list of apartments. We found a furnished one later that day at an apartment complex called Creekwood. We moved in immediately.
It took about five days to inprocess. The staff sergeant assigned to supervise a group of people in my situation of reentering the military was a moron. He kept bitching at us to show up in battle dress uniforms (BDU’s) instead of civilian clothes but we couldn’t because he hadn’t taken us to clothing sales yet to get our uniforms issued. Over and over, he kept forgetting that. He finally figured it out though after I got his ass chewed. He’d told me I better not show up again without being in camouflage. So I arrived the following day in an Italian military uniform. It was camouflage. I’d gotten it from bartering during the Nijmegen March on my first enlistment and still had it. When the first sergeant of the reception center saw me, he went off. But not on me. He lit into the idiot staff sergeant. By the next day, I had all of my gear.
I got assigned to a maintenance company in one of the forward support battalions of the 2nd Armored Division. An outfit with significant historical lineage from the world wars, the division was known as “Hell On Wheels.” While that was my unit, I worked somewhere different, which was a maintenance support team attached to the 2/41 Infantry Battalion. I was still in excellent shape, and I already knew how to fix vehicles. I didn’t have any problem integrating myself into the new unit. I only had to get used to repairing the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but that was a piece of cake.
I got a four-day pass for getting a down Bradley back into operation. It had been on the deadline list for months. Nobody had been able to figure out how to fix the fuel tank. The Bradley was a mess. The massive gun turret was off. Pieces were everywhere around it on the floor. I was a hero after figuring out how to fix it.
Wanting to get a dog after arriving, so we bought a basset hound. We named it Bucksnort. The name of a town in Tennesse we’d passed through. The carpet in the apartment needed replacing when we moved in. Some parts had holes in it from someone’s previous pet. And during one deployment, while I was gone the toilet backed up, flooding the apartment, because of a plumbing malfunction in the apartment building. At move out though, the landlord billed us to replace the carpet. Naive about renting and unable to prove it had been like that at move-in, he took our substantial security deposit. Landlords often victimized soldiers like that I’d learn.
We had a small number of females in our unit, but being that I’d gotten assigned to the infantry battalion, it was nothing but males on our contact team. There were between 15–20 of them depending upon who was leaving the military at the end of their tour, getting kicked out, or arriving in as a replacement. Like I had, much of the Army quits and goes home at the end of their four-year enlistment. A lot of them do four years just for college money and then bail.
The maintenance team environment was pretty vicious. We were all crammed into a tiny shack with our toolboxes and a few other repair items such as engine and transmission slings. The small building had no heat or AC despite the brutal Texas summers and cold winters. We worked outside. The Bradley’s were lined up in neat rows. We repaired them in place. I likened the experience to existing in a pack of hyenas. Whoever was the weakest, the rest of the pack ate that person. If you showed any fault or sign of weakness, the group would pile on and bully you mercilessly. Staying sharp, being a good mechanic, and because I was in good shape, the crew never really found anything on me to mess with me over.
With 40,000 active duty troops at that time, Fort Hood was one of the largest military bases in the world. Unlike Fort Knox, there was room on base to exercise armor brigades. Because of that, we frequently went on field exercises. We’d also deploy and go elsewhere to place like California. Visiting the National Training Center (NTC) for a month meant preparation exercise stays in the field at Hood beforehand.
We arrived in late May. By September I got deployed to Germany for two months for the REFORGER87 exercise. It seemed like I was gone all the time. Sandy was a good sport about it though. She knew what she’d signed up for when I reenlisted and she agreed to marry me.
Some of the stuff was dangerous too. People always jump to conclusions that anytime someone is hurt or killed in the military that happened in combat. The truth is that lots of people get injured or killed during peacetime training operations too. Lots of folks commit suicide also because of the stress from the job.
Around seven national guard soldiers died during a live-fire exercise while I was at Hood. They got mowed down by the 25mm cannon of a Bradley. Their families went off because the ones that were still fit to view in a coffin had dirty fingernails. In another incident, two of the infantry battalion soldiers from 2/41 died in a vehicle wreck. I did the high profile estimated cost of damage (ECOD) on the Bradley they flipped and rolled at a high rate of speed during a test drive. They were both ejected from the tank in the crash. The vehicle crushed one and the driver’s hatch latch caught the other soldier in the chest, ripping him apart. After their deaths, we repaired and repainted the Bradley. We also removed the bumper numbers, making it into a “ghost vehicle” so whoever got it next wouldn’t fear to be in the track vehicle because of what had happened in it previously. Armor vehicle crews were weird like that.
Not long after arriving at Hood, I saw my first gay discharges. Our shop foreman had gotten into a fight with his roommate in the middle of the night. The roommate told the command that he woke up to find the sergeant standing at the side of his bed with his penis out. He claimed he punched the NCO after he sexually propositioned him. Without any proof of who was telling the truth, the command sided with the soldier accusing the sergeant of being gay. The division sergeant major then ordered him discharged within 48 hours. Our platoon sergeant escorted him out of the military. Twenty-five other gay male soldiers got caught up in a bathroom sting at a base softball field. They all got booted too.
The sergeant had been our shop foreman. I took another step up the ladder after he departed.
Deciding that I was going to make a career out of the military, I started advancing pretty quickly. After being told I’d be appearing before a promotion board for sergeant, I bought study guide at the base exchange. Within a short time, I’d memorized the entire book word for word. When I appeared before the board, I was able to answer every question without hesitation, earning a perfect score of 200. A 200 was rarely given out. Similarly, when we had military occupation specialty testing (MOS) on base for our career fields, I answered every single question on the test correctly. I was one of just a few people on the entire base to accomplish that.
I was around lots of pornography in the military. In Germany, the base exchange had rented hardcore adult movies. Until the later years of my career when the military brass started cracking down on porn because of sexual harassment concerns as more and more women entered the military, just about every base I served at sold adult magazines in their bookstores and convenience stores. Porn was as crucial for the troops as tobacco was during deployments. Permanent party (people permanently assigned to a base) barracks had the stuff in nearly every barracks room. At night in GP Medium tents at Fort Hood and when we got deployed, men would lay around, reading Penthouse, Hustler, and every other magazine title you could imagine. Playboy was too tame for most of them. Porno mags or paperbacks were trading items that you could barter. Up until that point in my life, I’d only had a casual interest in pornography. At Fort Hood, I developed a much more significant investment and interest in it. Admittedly, an unhealthy one.
At Fort Hood, I was also around men more than ever before. Often in tight confines for long periods. The situation was uncomfortable. I tried various things to fit in with the people I was working with during off-duty time. Lots of the guys were into guns and went to a pistol range, so I traded in the .38 and bought a Colt Dela Elite. Then I sold that and bought a Colt Python stainless steel .357. I did things like that, but I still felt a lot different from my peers. I’m more comfortable in the company of women, but there wasn’t any.
Having been raised on rigid sex-stereotypes, that men were masculine and women were feminine, I never understood why Sandy was such a tomboy. I wrestled with it. Sometimes we even fought about it. If there was a flaw in our otherwise happy marriage, it was that. There were times, I thought about divorcing her because of it. However, when we were on the verge of those breakups, I would try to think about what had attracted me to her in the first place.
Except for that nagging problem of wanting to maintain a semi-masculine appearance, I thought Sandy was perfect. Once we’d begun living together in Radcliff, she started wearing my jeans and t-shirts. However, even without cosmetics or sexy clothes, I still found her attractive. In the back of my mind though, I kept hoping she’d change.
When Sandy didn’t, I started nudging her. It’s painful to look back at how horrible I was about it too. I did some cruel things. Many of my platoon members had highly feminine appearing and behaving wives who dressed in skimpy stuff. I wanted that also. However, the more I pushed, the more Sandy pushed back too. I finally bought her a plane ticket and sent her back to visit her mother at one point. Not wanting her to end up divorced, her mom told her marriage was permanent and sent her right back to Fort Hood. I had some affairs during that time.
With me still being a lower enlisted soldier then, we barely had any money. There were times when we survived by pawning the .357. Other times, we pawned her wedding band to get by. If things were terrible financially and we needed to make a significant purchase such as a downpayment on a car, we pawned both. Our lifestyle wasn’t uncommon, a lot of the other troops lived paycheck to paycheck also. Many relied on payday lenders to get by. Lots of them got in trouble for not being able to pay up. The lenders would call their commanders or first sergeants.
However, despite not having any extra money, I went to a department store one day and bought Sandy a frilly black and purple lingerie outfit. The set had a bra, panties, garter belt, and black stockings.
Sandy didn’t like it, I could tell. Desiring to make me at least temporarily happy, she reluctantly wore the lingerie outfit a couple of times during sex. After that, the delicate items sat in the back of her top dresser drawer. Seeing that, I stopped asking her to wear the stuff. I also kept sleeping with other women. Getting sex was easy. I could go to a western dance club off base in Harker Heights dressed as a cowboy, and women would hit on me.
Home computers started taking off around the time I started getting enough rank to afford one. I bought my first computer in 1988 for a small fortune, a Commodore 64C. The military endlessly harped on us that if you wanted to get promoted, you had to keep seeking higher education. I figured I should get some computer skills to stay ahead of my peers. I knew noncommissioned officer evaluation reports were done using them, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong by making the purchase.
The next logical step after getting the computer was to go online. Becoming a techie, I took the plunge on that too, buying a 300 baud modem and hooking it to our home phone line.
Playing around one morning on an online service, I had cybersex for the first time, with someone who claimed to be a woman. In reality, they probably weren’t a female, but being so naive back then I didn’t know that at the time. Regardless of what sex they were, the experience was an incredible turn on.
As modem speeds and computers got faster, I upgraded to newer technology. Before long, I was getting up earlier and earlier, setting up queues of porn pictures to download while I was at Physical Fitness Training (PT). At night, I began spending my evenings immersed in porn, flipping endlessly from photo to photo while Sandy was at work at her convenience store job. Before long I’d amassed an extensive collection of adult images.
It’s a difficult thing to admit about myself because of what it says about me during that period, but the more I looked at porn, the more I began to think of myself as the woman that I wanted Sandy to become.
Beginning to fantasize about myself as a female, one day I got up the nerve to slip on the lingerie set while Sandy was away at work. We were still pretty close in size, so the items I’d bought her fit me too I discovered.
At the time, Sandy and I lived in a small, nearly 30-year-old house not far from the front gates of the sprawling Texas Army base. We’d purchased the modest two-bedroom rambler for $21,000. For the two of us back in 1988, the mortgage was a considerable sum to risk taking on.
Dressed in the sex gear that I so desperately wanted Sandy to wear, I put a towel on the bathroom floor. Then I masturbated using a sex toy that I’d bought for her as well.
I hadn’t yet reached orgasm when I heard the kitchen door open and then close again within a brief period of fewer than 30 seconds. I’d given my little brother, who was then also stationed at Hood a key to the house. I was sure that he’d shown up, let himself in, seen stocking clad legs visible in the bathroom doorway and then left in a hurry. Neither of us said anything to each other. I never dressed in female clothing again for quite a while after that. I still have no clue even to this day if he knew it was me or thought it was Sandy.
The incident with my brother scared me so badly that I didn’t touch the lingerie outfit anymore after that. What I did do though was continue my descent further and further into pornography. I started having phone sex too.
Discovering the online service Prodigy, I posted a couple of messages on their Lifestyle bulletin board, asking for women who’d like to have phone sex to contact me. Quite a few did. I began to spend most of my evenings while Sandy was gone at work talking with them. We’d both masturbate while talking dirty to each other on the phone. If I wasn’t doing that, I was using image viewing software to flash through my massive collection of porn pictures that I had stored first on floppy disks. As my naughty collection of XXX images grew into boxes of discs, I transferred the photos to CDROMs.
When what I had became no longer satisfying enough, I went to the adult bookstore in downtown Killeen and bought commercial porn CDROMs too. I was hooked on the combination of pornography and technology. I wasn’t alone. I had other friends that were also.
Around that time, the Army sent me to Korea on a one-year hardship tour. Because Korea was still considered a war zone with only a temporary peace agreement stalling any continued fighting, Sandy couldn’t come along on that tour. That sucked, but the trip turned out to be a good thing because we were on the verge of getting divorced. I was singing the lyrics of Don Henley’s 1989 hit song “The Last Worthless Evening” to myself in my head as Sandy drove me to the airport the morning I departed from Austin.
We’d bought a couple of Chinese Sharp Pei’s before I’d left. Wrinkle dogs as many people called them back then, they were a favorite dog breed in the 80s for those willing to spend the money to get one. I wasn’t worried about Sandy being alone in the house with those two things around. Used as fighting dogs in China, there’s little difference in them and Pitt Bulls. She slept with them while I was gone. Sandy would tell me during phone calls that the bigger of the two would stand over her in the bed if it heard something, guarding her.
I had a pretty wild time in Korea. By then we were starting to do okay financially. The house payment was like $302. We both worked. We’d bought a new Camaro, but that wasn’t expensive either. If I remember right, I think I got some extra money for being gone too. The numbers worked out where I got $600 a month while in Korea. Sandy got the rest. The $600 allowance was a lot considering I lived in the barracks there, and the Army fed me in the chow hall at no expense to me.
For most soldiers getting sent to Korea for a year is the equivalent of going to a convention in Vegas at a whorehouse. What happens there stays there, and most don’t talk about what they did while over there. We had six things we could do. You could go to the gym. You could go to the library. You could go out the gate and drink and fuck prostitutes, or both. Alternatively, you could go to the NCO Club and drink or gamble or both. You also had the option of taking college classes or CLEP tests at the education center. That was life in Korea for a year. If you had money to spend there was no limit to how much trouble you could get into with Asian women.
Soon after I arrived in my unit the command assigned me the job of being the Equal Opportunity NCO, an additional duty where it was my job to take complaints about discrimination. That was the first time I ever stood on stage in a theater full of people and gave a presentation.
While there, I took several CLEP exams without studying, passing them and earning 15 or so college credits.
I was supposed to have gotten assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division on the demilitarized zone (DMZ), but when I arrived, the Army diverted me to the repair depot down south instead. Located outside of Taegu, Camp Carroll was a country club job in comparison. Going to war with the North Koreans was the last thing on anyone’s mind that far away from the heavily guarded border up north.
If you exited the gates on any military base in Korea, the troops called the area just outside “the ville.” Within 100 feet or our base gates were bars filled with hookers and anything you wanted to drink. Jungle juice was the hot and cheap drink of the day back then. The brothels would mix up a big batch of it for the soldiers. I didn’t drink it, but lots of the troops did. They’d return to base staggering drunk just before curfew.
Just outside the gates of Camp Carroll, you could get all sort of services cheap. Some tailors would make you custom suits or other clothing dirt cheap. There was even an artist that you could give a photograph too, and he’d paint a portrait from it. Before leaving, Sandy had posed naked for some photos I took along for the tour. Giving the Korean artist a photo of Sandy standing nude and the page of a Playboy magazine, he created a 48×30-inch portrait of Sandy. When he got finished, Sandy had gotten painted into the same room the girl in Playboy was posing in for the magazine. I hung the portrait in my barracks room and later shipped it home.
Prostitution in Korea was a whole different affair than in Germany. You could do either “short-time” or “long-time.” Longtime meant you paid the girl $40 and rented her from 2 a.m. when the bars closed until whenever she kicked you out the next day. You weren’t supposed to be out past curfew, but everyone did it despite those rules. Being right outside the gate, we’d be able to hear the alarm sirens if we went on alert. You just put your clothes on and run back through the gates.
The only thing scary about sleeping at the homes of the prostitutes overnight was the worry of dying because of ondolfumes.
I spent a lot of my money upgrading my computer to an Amiga 500 and buying other electronics during the tour, but with $600 I could blow each month, I typically rented a girl for the night each weekend. I lived like a king compared to many of the other married guys who were supporting not only wives but children also.
Life in Korea was the epitome of patriarchal socialization. Men ran things. Women were a commodity that could be bought, sold or rented. Females existed for use by men. It’s pretty horrible when you take a step back and look at the situation with some proper lighting and perspective. Despite knowing that I still wanted to become female years later, but I thought the downside of being a woman wouldn’t apply to me.
I started gambling in Korea also. The NCO club, which was open to all enlisted personnel on the base had a room full of slot machines in the back. They were nickel and quarter machines. The nickel ones weren’t bad on payback percentages. You could spend an entire weekend evening playing nickel slots for $20. By the time you’d finished, your hands would be black from fishing fistfuls of coins out of plastic cups and feeding them into the machines. If you hit three stars, you won $25 and spent nothing except for what you drank. I mostly only dranks cokes or coffee. It was a rare weekend when I had alcohol. Around all those drunken men, there was always a risk of getting into a fight. I didn’t want alcohol to be a blame factor if it happened.
The NCO Club also had bingo once a week on Thursday evenings. I would spend $20-$30 dollars playing, but some of the games had high jackpots and not much competition for the prizes because only around 50 people played. The players were a combination of service members and Korean wives, mostly NCOs and older soldiers.
I hit two bingo jackpots during that year. One for $500 and another for $1,199 right before my midtour leave back to the states.
Sandy and I talked on the phone several times per month, but I didn’t say anything to her about winning the money at bingo. However, when I got home for leave. Without telling her where we were going the next day, I took her shopping for a new set of wedding rings.
Shopping for wedding rings in a pawn shop might make some people cringe, but if you’re a low-income household, it can be a good idea. That is unless you believe the rings are cursed similarly to a ghost tank. In reality, though, you have no way of knowing whether the jewelry ended up there because of a divorce, death, or just hard times.
Part of mine and Sandy’s education about dealing with military town pawn shops was when you pawn jewelry, they typically only give you the mineral value. A $3,000 set of wedding rings might net you just $500 at a pawn job based on the grade of the diamonds and weight and type of the gold. The pawn shops would then turn around and resell the rings for a partial amount of their retail value. That’s how the game got played.
Driving around that day, we visited many pawn shops. At each one, I had Sandy look at the available rings to see if any of the sets piqued her interest? A few hours later, she finally found a wedding set that appealed to her. However, she didn’t think we could afford it. The rings were $800. Sandy was stunned when I laid eight $100 bills on the counter, telling the shop owner she’d take them. We had the set resized and cleaned up. After that got done, Sandy began wearing them. She also started to get a lot of nice comments when people noticed all the diamonds surrounding the bands.
Having access to the internet has drastically improved people’s lives. If I had of had a smartphone back then I could have used it to look up the set of rings to get an idea of their value. Even if I had to do a reverse image search in Google, I could have most likely found the price they’d sold for initially. We didn’t do as well as on the purchase as we thought. We later found out the base exchange sold the set in their mail order catalog for $500 more than we paid.
Sandy was happy with the wedding ring set though. That was all that mattered. Twenty years later, I bought her a first-time owner set from online jeweler Blue Nile with a massive blue diamond and platinum bands that cost ten times more. Like before, she didn’t know they were coming.
Once my midtour leave was over I flew back to Korea for the remaining time. I was lucky to make it out of the country at the end of 1990 because of the first Gulf War. Duty station transfers got frozen, probably while I was in the air. It was that close.
Fort Hood had deployed to Kuwait while I was in Korea and when I returned the base was empty. “Jodie” was running wild during that time and many people came home from Kuwait to nothing. Figuring their husbands were going to die in the war, a significant number of wives engaged in some appalling behavior that resulted in divorce when their spouses returned. If the returning service members were lucky, they found empty government quarters. Some soldiers found civilian men living in their on-base housing units with their wives.
Upon my return to Fort Hood, the Army assigned me to a unit tasked to deactivate The 2nd Armored Division. It was a sucky job. The duty had a close comparison to my experience at Fort Knox. 95% of the unit was made up of people who were non-deployable. A lot of those were awaiting discharge for various reasons, either misconduct or health issues. It was another awful bunch of folks.
When I’ve authored articles about transgender military service and gender surgeries, I can speak from experience about soldiers being unable to deploy, and about how it affects the readiness of military units.
While In Korea I’d gone to the staff sergeant (E-6) promotion board, scoring 198 out of a possible 200. However, part of the baggage of getting promoted to Staff Sergeant meant I had to attend a Basic Noncommissioned Officers Course (BNCOC) back in Maryland at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The military would always blindside you with the dates of this stuff. It was frequently on short notice. The base personnel office would get told a slot was available by a higher personnel office up the food chain. Then someone would get shoved into the opening, often at the last minute. I got notified about BNCOC soon after I’d gotten Sandy pregnant.
It’s important to understand that despite the rhetoric, the military doesn’t care about families. At least they didn’t back then. The prevailing attitude was then if they wanted you to have a family, they’d issue one. Leaders also didn’t hesitate to tell you that the Army had not issued you a wife, remarking too that she was your problem.
One of the guys that had been my boss on the 2/41 team had been the Distinguished Honor Graduate when he went to BNCOC. I set my sights on it too because I knew it would trigger even bigger promotions down the road.
At BNCOC I performed like a rock star still in their youth. I aced the tests. I whizzed through fixing the equipment. The instructors thought we’d get stumped by things such as rebuilding the engine of the M88 Recovery Vehicle. I’d been doing it at the depot back at Fort Hood. My group finished our engine days ahead of schedule. I also worked hard to help some of the folks that were either struggling or had gotten in trouble. One black sergeant had gotten accused of cheating on an exam. I wrote the letter to the academy sergeant major that got him off the charges. If you didn’t pass this course, it was the end of your career. Some didn’t make it and got sent home early. One of them was a guy who’d been my squad leader back when I was a private in Germany. I tried to save some of them because they had families to support. You can go to 20 years and retire with the staff sergeant rank. As a sergeant, you had to be out at 15. Leaving after all those years of abuse to your body, you got nothing for it.
Although my behavior on duty was admirable, what I did off duty wasn’t. There were plenty of women at the local bars who wouldn’t mind bagging a soldier halfway through his career. They didn’t care if you were married either. They’d work hard in bed to convince that they’d make a better wife. I had three affairs while there. Two were early 30-something women that I met at a dance bar. They’d take me back to their place on some weekend nights. The third was a 19-year-old girl that worked at the Waffle House just outside the gate. A blonde, my roommate would always hit on her when we’d stop in at night to study and drink coffee.
“I’ll bet you’re not wearing any panties.” My roommate told her one evening shortly before graduation. “I’m not.” She said back, making me take notice and sit up in my seat. “Wanna check and see when I get off shortly?” She asked him.
Regularly, I drove a group of about four of us from my class to Waffle House. That night, however, it was just him and me. My mother had given me an old Ford Fairmont station wagon to drive while attending the course. We waited for her outside in it as she closed up.
Once the waitress was off, she hopped in the station wagon with us. We didn’t know the area well, but she did. The teen directed me to a secluded wooded area where we parked in the dark. My roommate had already started making out with her during the trip. After parking, he got in the back seat with her. It was winter and extremely cold, so I figured they could have all the fun they wanted, but I wasn’t getting out of the car for their benefit. No sooner than they’d gotten into the back seat, however, she told me to join them. The three of us ended up having a 3some.
She liked me better than my roommate I would soon find out. I ended up taking her to a movie the night before graduation. We could have gotten kicked out or arrested for the stuff we did in the theater. We picked the worst possible film on purpose though so the place would be empty. It largely was. The next morning, I graduated as the Distinguished Honor Graduate and returned to Fort Hood later that same day.
My new rank of staff sergeant got pinned soon after returning. The black metal chevrons of the insignia didn’t even have time to get scratched before the first sergeant gave me a squad leader position. After he did, he then put several other staff sergeants in my squad. Despite them outranking me, he told all of them that I was in charge. They reported to me at all times, he said. These guys were dirtbags. They were all getting kicked out for things like DWIs or other unsatisfactory performance. The other staff sergeants bitched about it, but the 1SG told them point-blank to “shut the fuck up.” He said he didn’t want to hear their whining. At the shop where the equipment was getting repaired before being transferred to National Guard units, the command put me in charge there too.
My list of traumas grew during my time in the deactivation unit. In the barracks one morning, a black guy from Philadelphia threatened to beat the shit out of me if I ever ordered him to clean the hallway again. He was awaiting discharge for failing a urinalysis. The piss test revealed he’d been smoking crack. It was a pretty intense encounter. I had the commander give him an Article 15 for the threat. In the maintenance shop, things weren’t any better. There I had an encounter with another black soldier, that one threatened me with an ax.
I had a reputation for being a hardass, and I didn’t take any shit from any of them, white, black or whatever skin color they were. My ink pens were mightier than their swords. At the maintenance shop, the black soldiers began calling me “Master Shupe” if they saw me coming their way. They’d be fucking off and would scramble in various directions when I walked out of my office. Most of them were leaving soon. I just ignored it. Article 15 hearings happened at night, usually around 6–7 p.m. I’d reached the point where I wanted some time at home with Sandy. It wasn’t unusual to leave for work at 5:30 a.m. and get home at 8 or 9 at night.
The next additional duty I got assigned was Master Fitness Trainer. I was an odd fit for the job. Despite being in good shape, I walked around most of the day with a Marlboro in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. The command had gotten tasked to provide bodies for the challenging course. Attending it had some pretty steep requirements. First, you had to be in great shape. That requirement wasn’t too big of a hurdle for the brass to overcome, some of the crackheads awaiting discharge were in excellent physical condition too from spending their nights in the gym. The major roadblock for the company commander, a major, was that you also had to have an ASVAB score higher than 110. Only four of the enlisted soldiers in that entire unit met that requirement. Me being one of them, I was drafted to attend the month-long course on short notice because of my 121 ASVAB score.
Being a former Master Fitness Trainer is an essential part of my gender transition story. I say that because I spent a month learning the differences between the two sexes. Despite all of that training, when I transitioned, I managed to bury all that knowledge. Just blocked it out of my mind. Believing in the magic of gender transitions, I chose to think that I was a female instead. It was as if I intentionally forgot everything I’d learned that month despite spending most of it sitting in a classroom, even the differences between male and female skeletons. Then even worse, I argued with or beat up on anyone who questioned my change of sex.
With the promotion to staff sergeant, I finally felt as if I now had enough rank and pay to start thinking about starting a family. The time away in Korea had done a lot to heal the problems in my marriage. By this point, I’d decided that I was going to accept Sandy as she was, and no longer try and change her. We loved each other, and we got along well. Honestly, things were good between us and the sex was still great too. I liked the noises she made and the way her toes curled up in bed. Why should I care if she refused to wear dresses and makeup, I told myself. Having an eye on the future, we bought another house, a nicer one.
At the new place, not long after we’d moved in, one evening before having sex at bedtime, I asked Sandy to wear the lingerie set for me. She hadn’t worn it in ages, so I figured she’d agree to it as a special treat. After retrieving the stuff from the dresser, instead of slipping it on though as I’d asked, she instead told me to wear the items.
Her asking me to wear the lingerie would have been a fantasy come true back when I’d purchased it for her and started to think of myself as a female while viewing porn, but I was so shocked by her reaction that night that it nearly ruined the occasion. After I’d dressed in the outfit, she took over the role of being the dominant one during sex. I liked it. I’d always felt more submissive than dominant. As a male though, I always felt stuck in the dominant role during sex with females. It was just one of those things I didn’t think I could safely confess to women.
I’d never told Sandy about my desire of wanting to wear her intimate garments. Her regular clothing didn’t appeal to me. Except for that lingerie set, I’d never, ever even touched any of her undergarments. None of her bras or panties. Nothing.
Sex that night didn’t feel right. In the days ahead, I would continue to have mixed feelings about it. While it was a turn on to wear the sexy stuff, I’d become more attracted to the idea of wearing it for a man. The reversed sex role that night made me realize that.
If you read any of Ray Blanchard’s stuff on Autogynephilia, you’ll learn that he says people like me are turned on by the sex act itself with a man. He’s correct. I’m attracted to the idea of having intercourse with males while fantasizing that I’m a woman. I don’t look at men like a homosexual does and say: “Oh, he’s attractive looking, I’d like to have sex with him.” Men’s bodies don’t turn me on. The idea of their penis entering me as a woman does. During sex like that my rectum is a vagina in my mind. I’m a textbook case of Autogynephilia, but despite this, nobody stopped my gender transition. Neither did they question my motives for transitioning.
However, even after I learned about Autogynephilia and understood my behavior. To avoid looking like a pervert, I instead chose to hide under the veil of being a female. To do it, I used the familiar and now unquestionable transgender narrative: gender identity.
There’s an old saying that parents of gay kids sometimes use to accept their child’s gender transition. These parents confess it’s easier to tell people their child was born in the wrong body and therefore trans rather than admit their kid is gay, which might reflect poorly on them in their eyes because of society’s negative view about homosexuality. Gender transitions put their kids into a straight relationship on most occasions. Autogynephilia works the same. Likewise, I’d instead prefer to tell people I have a congenital disability rather than disclose the truth about my attraction to female clothing and sexual fantasy of thinking of myself as a woman. Admitting these things shows the world that it’s a sexual perversion and makes me appear as a monster or predator. Who wants to do that when you can claim to feel like a woman and have a female brain?
Our daughter was born in 1992 at Fort Hood, Texas. A cesarean section birth, she arrived beautiful and healthy. We’d agreed that Sandy would stop taking birth control pills. Then we’d see what happens? What happened was she got pregnant. Quickly. I was in the operating room with Sandy during her c-section. I just kept looking at her face and holding her hand. My goal was to try and distract her from what was happening. I figured that keeping her busy talking was the best way to do that. I can’t imagine what that must have been like to go through. I didn’t want to watch what the doctors were doing. By the time they pulled the kid out I was too worried about passing out to hold her.
Her birth presented some financial challenges though. The other house wasn’t rented out. It had just been sitting while we figured out what to do with it. What the place needed was a total renovation to sell it, but there had been way too much going on for us to deal with that. Being that Sandy wasn’t going to be working for a while because of taking care of our daughter, we decided to sell the new house and move back into the old one. That seemed like the best scenario because we could survive okay on just my pay in that home. The new place was in good shape. We’d had it less than a year. After I painted the interior, it sold immediately to an investor.
Not long after moving back into the old house, I got a phone call from the brother that’s six years younger than me. He’s the one that my uncle tried to molest in my Dad’s van. He calls me up and tells me he’s in Killeen. Then asks if he can stay with us? Not knowing what was going on at the time, I said sure, come on over. My brother was a mess. He’d been running a roofing business and was now deeply in debt because of spending the deposits people had given him for materials to replace their roofs. He was all strung out on crack. He stayed for several weeks, but I ended up kicking him out after he sold all my tools to a pawn shop to buy drugs. We didn’t want him around our infant daughter. While he was there, he told about how he’d been the one to find my younger brother who’d committed suicide. Seeing him in his car with his head blown off had scarred him terribly. Those two had been drug buddies.
I took on a new job at work at the civilian repair depot on West Fort Hood around that time also. We were there to augment the civilian workforce. A civilian mechanic would train us and then we’d work on our own on a particular product line. The same guy who taught me how to rebuild M88 engines was now showing me how to rebuild Bradley Fighting Vehicle Transmissions. Highly complicated, those things were a challenge at times to diagnose, repair and rebuild. One Bradley transmission is forever memorable. I and the civilian tech spent days trying to figure out what was wrong with it because it kept failing dyno testing despite having been completely rebuilt a couple of times. The civilian guy finally found the problem. Somebody on the vehicle crew had taken the cleaning brush for an M16 and broken it off inside one of the high-pressure fluid ports on the side of the transmission to disable the vehicle. If an armored vehicle went down for maintenance, the crew was allowed to sit around until mechanics fixed it for them. When I was on that maintenance team at the infantry battalion, we’d go to disabled vehicles and repair them wherever they’d broken down. Alternatively, we’d tow the tank somewhere safe and then fix it. Somebody had probably sabotaged this transmission to get out of some part of a field exercise.
The couple of years I spent at the Directorate of Labor (DOL) was the most enjoyable period of my military service, but there were a few hiccups.
I got approached one day by two senior NCOs, a sergeant first class and a master sergeant (E-8). They had cushy, do nothing jobs. They were my superiors at the time. They’d been slotted there just before retiring. The two took me off to a private location and said the sergeant major in charge of us was retiring. “So what’s the problem with that?” I asked. The two then told me he couldn’t get his Legion of Merit retirement award unless he took a physical fitness test. Being that I had the Master Fitness credentials, they wanted me to test him. “Okay. When does he want to take the test?” I asked next. “No, you don’t understand,” they said back. “He’s not taking the actual test. You’re just going to sign off that he did.” I told the two to get lost, telling them I wasn’t signing any fake PT tests. I guessed that the SGM believed he couldn’t pass the fitness test. The two NCOs got pissed at me. I don’t know who signed it for the SGM, but he got the award.
Somewhere around that time, I was selected for another promotion, a move up to sergeant first class (SFC). It would be a long time before it got pinned on my collar though. I needed another even more major course at Aberdeen before I could wear that rank.
What happened next really rattled me. On Thursday mornings we had Sergeant’s Time Training. The whole base shut down for it. It was a sacred period during which squad leaders and platoon sergeants trained their soldiers. Then, I was number two in charge at the depot repair facility. I had the shop foreman job. It was around ten in the morning. Our small platoon was out at a field site doing something mindless. We did the same stuff over and over half the time. Nobody cared what you did as long as you did something that looked good and wouldn’t get your first sergeant or officers in trouble. From a distance, I could see a black jeep coming, a privately owned vehicle. I recognized it as belonging to the first sergeant. “Oh shit.” Here we go I thought. He’d show up from time to time, kick us all in the ass and leave. Many people hated the cushy jobs we had then.
When the first sergeant pulled up and stopped, I walked over to greet him and explain what we were training on that day. He didn’t even get out of the jeep. “Get in.” He told me rudely. I was like” “damn, what did I do?” This behavior wasn’t normal. First, I thought something had happened to Sandy. Then I thought maybe another family member back in Maryland had died. My younger brother had killed himself about 18 months before. Option number three was I’d gotten in serious trouble for something.
Driving me back to the main base, the first sergeant let me meltdown for a while before saying anything. Finally, he spoke. “Ever been to Kuwait?” He asked. I responded that I had not. He had to have known that, I wasn’t wearing a combat patch on my right shoulder. “You’ll be leaving for there tonight.” He told me next. Hearing that, I took a deep breath, suddenly scared as hell. “This is what the Army’s been paying me for all these years,” I said back, trying not to sound afraid. I realized then that something terrible not even on the news yet had suddenly happened over there. Dropping me off at my car, he said I had two hours to get my gear and return to base.
Walking in the house, Sandy was doing the Mom thing. She’d returned to work because I wasn’t supposed to get deployed from the depot job. We had it set up where she watched our daughter during the day, and I took care of her in the evenings while Sandy worked. “I’ve got slightly over an hour to be back on base with my gear to leave for Kuwait,” I told her. We were both scared. Not know how long I’d be gone, Sandy called and quit her job. Then she helped me pack. We didn’t want our kid in daycare. She didn’t earn enough at the convenience store she worked at for it to make financial sense.
Sandy took me back to the base with my two duffel bags. We kissed goodbye, and I reported to the gymnasium where everyone was already assembled in preparation to leave. Teams were giving soldiers around 15 shots of various vaccine cocktails. I got in line for my round. We got hit in both shoulders by air guns that injected the medicine through the skin. My arm was bleeding after getting the shots because the medic jerked the airgun. Wills were getting done for everyone. I had one also done, giving everything to Sandy. Death sounded imminent on this trip. When we finished, they put on us a runway. As we waited for the plane to arrive, the base commander came and spoke.
Listening to what was going on, we were going to be a speed bump force meant to slow the Iraqis until more troops could arrive.
What was going down wasn’t normal. The philosophy in training was you trained with the same soldiers you’d be going to war with at the combat zone. I didn’t know any of these people. Twenty-five soldiers had gotten grabbed just like me to form a maintenance team, a sergeant first class, and a first lieutenant was also going. Those two were in charge of the platoon. I was in charge of maintenance operations. In other words, I supervised the troops most of the time.
Fortunately, it turned out where we didn’t have to engage in combat. Saddam Hussein backed down and pulled his troops off the border. Nonetheless, not knowing what was going to happen during the duration of the deployment was as scary as hell.
We got deployedtoKuwait for 36 days. I was sick when we returned. My tongue hurt, and I had sores in my mouth. It wasn’t a venereal disease. I’d behaved for a change. The base doctors and dentists couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Our maintenance team had worked pulling equipment off of ships and servicing it to get the stuff ready for combat. All of it had been in the first Gulf War. To this day I wonder if it still had chemical contamination because we’d done things like pull brake drums off and such. The trucks had been pressure washed, but areas such as those would not have gotten cleaned. We also did some ugly convoys getting the equipment back to Camp Doha, choking for hours on the desert dust stirred up by the massive column of vehicles moving. Our sleeping arrangement probably wasn’t any healthier. We spent our nights in a warehouse. Doha was the site of the Army’s largest-ever depleted uranium fire.
A short time after returning to Fort Hood, I got another set of orders. The Army was sending me back to Germany. We had less than six months to get our lives straight. I had a 3-year-old kid, a wife who wasn’t working and owned a house that I didn’t want to be responsible for while gone for three years.
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Apparently if someone asks you the question: “Is gender dysphoria a mental illness?” And you answer that question, you get banned from Twitter.
Here’s the thing. If you were to look in my Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical record, you’ll see that I have a diagnosis for Gender Identity Disorder (GID) and later for Gender Dysphoria (GD) after the name change. The VA treats me at their mental health clinics for this. But on Twitter, I’m not allowed to say GD is a mental illness.
But, wait. This gets even better yet. According to recent Department of Defense (DOD) data, between October I, 2015 and October 3, 2017, the 994 active-duty service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria accounted for 30,000 mentalhealth visits.
Again, how can it be a Twitter hate crime to say GD is a mental illness?
Here’s the Twitter conversation that got my account locked.
@Buttinghill In your experience did you expereince gender dysphoria? If so, do you consider GD to be a mental illness akin to a fear or anxiety of being your birth sex? 4:58 PM – 8 Feb 2019
@Buttinghill Yes. I consider gender dysphoria as a mental illness. That’s why I don’t support people with GD serving in the military. I also think it can be a learned behavior and can afflict anyone of any age. 5:01 PM – 8 Feb 2019
Confession: In your alone in the dark moments when no one else knows what you're doing or thinking. Ask yourself. Did my transition help me? Will transition help? Neither the change to female or non-binary fixed my problems. Lesson: Don't ruin your life advancing gender ideology. pic.twitter.com/IX58tPO6yV
“Sandy and I were two magnets pulled together by the force of our childhood damage. Like myself, she was sexually abused as a child also.”
The autobiography of Jamie Shupe (Part Four)
Note: This living document is part of a multipart series. The text may be updated to reflect better recollections of past events.
Length: Approximately 8,800 Words
The familiar trans narrative of going into one of the military services to “man-up” and solve a gender confusion problem didn’t fit me. Going into the Army, I identified as a male and thought I was one. I’m also not guilty of seeking out a job in one of the military services. Their recruiters came after me because of my intelligence scores. A career in the military got onto my radar because of that.
After deciding to enter the military, I made a pact of sorts with myself, that I wasn’t going to screw it up. For decades our family had virtually no military history other than two brothers on my mother’s side. They’d both went in during their teen years. Both of them got kicked out a short time later for serious misconduct. I’m pretty sure they were court-martialed and had bad conduct discharges. The two uncles never, ever talked about their time in the military, but my mother has. If I did this, I wasn’t going to screwup, I promised myself.
The biggest thing that meant to me at the time was I would never use drugs while serving. It was clear by the recruiter’s behavior that drugs were off limits. I can honestly say that I lived up to my promise the entire time I served. I never touched or abused any illegal substances while serving.
I entered the military during a period when it was gradually transforming itself from being a hollow 1970s force of Vietnam era drunks and druggies to a smart and nimble all-volunteer force that didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol. I was a part of that, I got told.
When it came time to depart for the Army in November of 1982, my mom drove me up to the 7-11 store in Charlotte Hall. That’s where the recruiter had agreed to meet up at an early hour. My recruiter picked me up there in a government sedan and took me on an hours-long drive to the Philadelphia area. That’s where the Military Entrance Processing Command (MEPS) was.
With my ASVAB test scores, the recruiters had promised me that I could have any job I wanted in the military. That story soon fell apart at the MEPS station. Shortly after arriving, they’d given me a physical.
Stuff at MEPS happened fast, but I’ve got a vague memory of being lined up naked, shoulder to shoulder with about ten other males. Then some simple-minded looking old dude with glasses hanging from his nose walked down the line, briefly inspecting our genitals and bodies. After he examined the front side of us, he walked along behind us and inspected our backsides. It was creepy.
The only thing that came up wrong during my physical was I’d flunked the color vision test. Oddly, up until that point, I never suspected that I had any color vision issues. However, I couldn’t disagree. I’d had notable trouble making out the different shades of reds, greens, and yellows when they got mixed into tiny dots in pictures within the book they showed me. I was supposed to tell them what numbers were in the images made up of hundreds of colored dots, but I couldn’t make many of them out.
“You can’t have the electronics job,” a MEPS center employees told me after flunking the color vision test. “You’re gonna have to pick something else,” he said. My heart sank. Flipping through the career option booklet, I didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a good position to be in because I was being forced to make a rash decision about what job to take. I’d wanted an electronics job, and because of that, I hadn’t spent much time studying all the positions the Army offered. However, I’d decided to go in, and I was there on the cusp of leaving for basic training. I didn’t want to go back home.
As he sat there impatiently waiting for me to make a decision, I said: “Fine. I’ll be a mechanic.” I told the guy. He then showed me 63H, a tank mechanic job. People at the gas stations thought I’d been a good mechanic, I decided on that and signed the paperwork accepting it. I didn’t get any bonuses or any other perks.
That night we flew into Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I’d never been on an airplane. The ride was okay, but it made me glad I hadn’t joined the Air Force. Plus, if you make a mistake fixing a vehicle, it just stops. Make an error repairing a plane, and it falls out of the sky. I didn’t want that on my conscious.
Everything was well orchestrated when I entered the military. At each step as we were passed off to others, our next handlers would be there waiting for us.
Basic training at Fort Jackson went by in a blur. It’s an eight-week memory of people screaming and hollering at us. I was no longer a single entity I was now part of a group. Everything was us rather than me. There are only a few very vivid memories of the experience.
Getting my first haircut in a barbershop during basic training, I nearly jumped out of the chair when the black man cutting my hair shaved the back of my neck afterward with a straight razor. He could tell by my reaction that it was triggering me and he tried to calm me down. My mind was flashing back to the guy that got cut up in the gas station as I could feel the sting of the razor sliding down the back of my neck.
On kitchen patrol (KP duty) I broke the dishwasher. I didn’t do it on purpose, but they bitched at me as I did. I’d mistakenly dropped a fork into the conveyor belt and jammed it up. It looked easy to fix, and I was going to do it, but they started babbling that only maintenance was allowed to touch it. Because of me, everyone at on paper plates for a day.
They had some weird rules in the dining facility, which we had to do pullup and pushups before entering at each meal. You weren’t allowed to have any soda at breakfast. I figured out to get around that though when I saw the power switch on the back of the soft drink machine. So each morning when I came through the line, I turned it on for everyone else.
The cooks were career military guys with not much more rank than us. We were privates. They were either a private first class or specialists. Despite that, they’d treat us like shit at meals, talking down at us like they were drill sergeants too. One of them quit doing it after I accidentally dropped my plate on his grill. I’d held it out for him to put my omelet on it, then it slipped from between my fingers. Honestly, the plate sliding out of my hand had been an accident, but he didn’t think so. Neither did the members of my platoon that saw what happened. So I just owned it, letting all of them believe I’d taught him a lesson.
People dropped stuff all of the time in the dining facility. We learned to holler “Airborne” when they did it.
I can also remember being lined up on a sidewalk in the sunshine late one morning at the position of parade rest. That’s where we had our legs shoulder-width apart, our arms folded behind our back, and our hands clasped together. The drill sergeant had left us to stand like that and went into a building. Even in his absence, everyone was scared silly to move or flinch. All of us were standing there perfectly still when a big monarch butterfly came fluttering along in front of the formation, lazily floating through the air. As it began to pass me, I whipped my arm around in a flash, catching the butterfly in my hand. I just snatched it right out of the air. I didn’t know I’d captured it until I looked around and didn’t see it flying anymore. Then while everyone was still in a state of shock because me getting in trouble meant them getting in trouble too, I opened my hand, releasing it. After I did, it flew away again. It was the most magical thing I’ve ever done.
On another occasion, I just about blew my promise to myself to not get into trouble. I and another recruit had been smoking in a stairwell while shining our boots on a Saturday afternoon. It was the weekend, but there are no days off in basic training. They let us smoke cigarettes outside in a smoking area, and gave us frequent breaks to do it. We didn’t think it was a big deal. Every morning the stairs got swept and cleaned. It was a rear exit stairwell that no one used. Deciding to come upstairs in that stairwell for some odd reason, our drill sergeant found some of our cigarette ashes on the stairs. When he did, he went off. The little dude had his chest all puffed out. He was screaming and hollering. The drill sergeant was so so mad he had us all in the position of attention in front of our bunks. He demanded to know who had been smoking? No one would tell him though. The whole platoon wasn’t saying anything. By then we’d developed a “blue wall of silence” mentality that we all go down together and say nothing to get someone else in trouble.
After about five minutes of no one confessing and total silence, the drill sergeant upped the punishment threat, saying we were all getting Article 15s. If you get an Article 15, it’s a formal, written punishment under The Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) that goes in your records and stays there. It’s an awful thing. I wasn’t going to let everyone get in trouble, so I confessed to being the one who’d been smoking. After I did, the drill sergeant came over and stood in front of me. He was a little, short black guy, a staff sergeant with a bit of a pudgy belly. Standing in front of me but looking down the rows, he screams out: “who the fuck else? I know he wasn’t by himself. Which one of you motherfuckers was with him?” He asked. Again, nobody spoke up. So I called the other recruit out who’d been with me and told him that he needed to fess up also. Reluctantly, he did, but he wasn’t happy about it.
I just knew we were going to get the Article 15s he’d threatened. Knowing that I braced myself for the coming punishment, but it never arrived. The drill sergeant surprised me and didn’t punish us because we’d confessed.
I would later become a heavy smoker and didn’t quit until 2005, five years after I’d retired. Leaving the tobacco fields of southern Maryland, the Army I joined had a “smoke em if you got em” policy and way of life. During the year I spent in Korea in 1989, cartons of generic cigarettes in the base exchange sometimes had a $2 off coupon, making them cost just five cents with the discount. The military knew they were creating legions of sick people down the road, but they didn’t care as long as they got what they wanted out of us during our younger years. They know most people leave after their first enlistment.
A hard lesson, I wish I’d never smoked. Between environmental exposure from silica dust from the desert sand and the diesel smoke, I experienced in armored division convoys and the maintenance shops, coupled with the lung damage from smoking. I now have pretty severe respiratory issues that require daily medications to keep me breathing.
There were probably about 50-60 of us in the platoon. All but two of us were between seventeen and nineteen years of age. We had two guys in their thirties. The drill sergeant made them squad leaders and had them watch over us because of their age. Some of the kids had parents who’d been in the military. Because of that, they brought some bad behaviors that had gotten taught to them at home by their dads along with them to basic training.
Those guys had shown up with the expectation they’d get to participate in giving someone a blanket party, which is where a group of people throws a blanket over someone while other members of the group beat the person with pillow cases filled with things like bars of soap. After the smoking incident, I figured I had one coming my way, but they never messed with me. Several members of the platoon did, however, give another kid one though because he to wanted to quit basic training. He did end up leaving. If you didn’t want to be there, the drill sergeants didn’t make you stay.
The only other stand out event was one day when we were marching, that same drill sergeant came up beside me and slapped me hard in the back of the head for carrying my weapon wrong. He could have gotten in trouble for that, but he’d let me off, so I reciprocated and let him off too.
I’d gotten the vibe that it would have taken a big major screwup for them to get rid of me. The drill sergeants let us know that they’d examined our test scores. One of them, a female sergeant even said something to me about it one day while we were in a formation. Stopping in front of me. She asked: “What are you doing here?” I didn’t answer her because I didn’t know how to respond. They’d said that it took a score of 110 or above to be an officer. I had a 125 ASVAB score.
My country boy upbringing made it easy on the Army. Because of working in the tobacco fields and gas stations, I was already in great physical shape before I even arrived at basic training. Likewise, because I’d spent so much time hunting, I was similarly a crack shot before I showed up also. That skill showed up on the rifle range. The drill sergeant would stand behind me as I was shooting and marvel at me hitting nearly every target right from the very beginning. On the live fire exercise where we low crawled through razor wire while they shot an M60 machine gun over our heads, I was goofing off, shooting the blue training grenades that littered the ground to see if I could hit them. I did.
I went into basic training weighing 138 pounds and left at around 150, give or take a few. Eighteen years later when I retired, I still only weighed 163 pounds. I stayed fit and muscular for the duration of my career. During the first four years, I maxed the fitness tests. At Fort Hood, I became a Master Fitness Trainer, a job you couldn’t get without having an ASVAB score above 110.
Beginning as a private (E-1) in November 1982, my base pay was around $558 per month. However, during the first year or so I was in, I had to spend $200 per month of that paying back my brother for the Camaro loan. The Army fed and housed me, but it was a pretty bleak existence.
Being that I’d selected the mechanic job, my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) occurred at Aberdeen, Maryland. So after basic training, the Army flew me back there. That didn’t mean going home much though. I was locked in at the base for most of the time.
The rigid discipline slacked off a bit during AIT, but it still wasn’t much fun. I breezed through the course. Military equipment back then was made to be as uncomplicated as possible, and it wasn’t hard to fix. I’d done much more complicated repairs at the gas station. The instructors just wanted to hustle us through the course and let the units finish training us out in the field. One of the tasks we had to do to pass was rigging the boom of the recovery vehicle. When a black soldier in the platoon couldn’t do it, the instructors sent me back on top of it to make it look like he could.
They had an enlisted club that we could visit and drink if we wanted to, but I usually stayed in the barracks and worked out. My goal was to max the fitness tests, so I’d get promoted quicker.
When I arrived in Germany at 19-years-old for my first duty assignment, my platoon leader, a young second lieutenant in his early twenties confessed that my intelligence test scores were as high as his.
The Army in Germany in 1983 was still very much a culture of alcohol. After work the noncommissioned officers (NCOs) would disappear to the NCO club to get snockered.
When a German beer festival set up shop on base shortly after my arrival, my platoon sergeant gave us all a lecture to not get drunk or in trouble at the fest before releasing us for the day. I later saw him passed out on a picnic table at the fest. His style of leadership was “do as I say, not as I do.” It taught me to not be like him in the future.
It was work hard and play hard in the Army in the 1980s during the “Second Cold War” in Europe. Our leaders worked us like dogs from before sun up to after sunset, something that I wouldn’t be able to do with troops by the time I became a senior leader in the 1990s because the military had changed so much. That made my job a lot more stressful because you had the troops for fewer hours to do the same amount of work.
At times the nuclear situation was pretty scary. We’d often go on alert at 4 a.m. When the alarm sounded, we had to get into chemical gear and gas masks. Then we’d draw M16s and head to a formation. If you didn’t hustle, you got in trouble. We never knew if it was real or not until the commander called it off.
In Germany, I’d carried a 30-pound backpack for 2,000 miles while training with an Army team to prepare for a 100-mile international marching event in Holland. We were a pet project of the battalion commander. He got off on the idea that he could train a bunch of mechanics and supply pukes to kick the infantry’s ass. Everyone on the team had a max fitness score and unblemished performance record.
At the end of the Nijmegen March, a 25 mile per day, four-day event. Our team finished in first place, each of the four days, the second straight year that had happened.
There was a dark secret though behind how our battalion’s teams had won for two straight years. The minimum goal at Nijmegen each year is for an Army team to march the 25 miles each day for four consecutive days. It’s not a competition, but the event has been turned into one by the officers. What the two lieutenants in our battalion did to finish first was have the soldiers on their teams fills their rucksacks with styrofoam peanuts instead of the required 22 pounds, plus your water. So by not carrying any weight, our battalions teams were able to finish first each day, earning the two lieutenants kudos from the battalion commander. Who in turn got to brag to other officers how good his soldiers were.
I was bothered by us cheating like that. We’d trained so hard I thought we could have won without cheating. That was another one of those significant character-forming events that shaped my values.
The first time I ever had sex with a prostitute I was sixteen. I’d helped the friend whose father owned the big sheet metal shop install a restaurant kitchen on 14th Street in DC. While we were up there, for the first time, I saw streetwalkers. I was fascinated with them and returned one evening a few weeks later to hire one. The price to have sex wasn’t expensive. It was all the incidentals that got tacked onto the process that made the experience pricey — things such as paying for the room at rowhouses that hosted the women for the 15-minute pleasure sessions.
I had sex with three hookers in DC before leaving for the military. The third one emptied my wallet. I was incredibly dumb. She was a black girl, the only black chick I’ve ever had sex with in my entire life to date. She offered me oral sex in my car, and I agreed to it. I didn’t know the area at all, but she had me pull into an alley. She then gave me this line about not feeling safe alone with a male, so she wanted me to sit in the backseat. After I did, she leaned into the back from between the two front bucket seats and removed my pants. She then performed oral sex on me. What I didn’t know was, she cleaned out my wallet as she did it. I’d just gotten paid, so that was a painful week and hard lesson.
Prostitution in DC was on a small scale compared to what I would see in Europe. Outside the gates of our base in Pirmasens, we typically had 5-10 streetwalkers there every evening, sitting in cars such as big Mercedes sedans. Troops would have sex with them in those vehicles. Also, a short distance away in the town, there was a club that had 10-15 girls.
The crazy thing about it at the time was the currency exchange rate heavily favored dollars. It cost just 40 German Deutschmarks to have sex with any woman you wanted. After the currency conversion, soldiers were paying only $13 to get laid. It was so cheap that I once hired an identical set of twins who were in their late 30s, and had sex with both of them. They charged me like $25.
In Kaiserslautern, where our battalion was, they had a mega-brothel called the Annabella House. The place was the size of the average American hotel. On each floor, women would sit at the doors of their rooms if they were available. I had sex with probably three women in that place during my tour.
For the soldiers that had been in Germany for a while, it was a big thing for some of them to take newly arriving service members to one of the brothels. One such incident went down that I was uncomfortable with though while on the marching team.
We had a kid in the battalion that I thought was probably gay. One night a bunch of us were headed to the Annabella House, and some of the guys decided he should come along. He was quite feminine and had an admin job. He was like: “Okay. I’m gonna come along, but I’m just hanging out and watching the girls and waiting for you guys to get done. I’m not doing anything.” It didn’t work out that way for him though. I don’t know if he had sex with the woman or not, but as soon as we got there, one of the guys paid a girl and shoved him in her room.
When people got kicked out of the military, the Army leaders referred to it as being chaptered out. I saw lots of people leave during the tour in Germany. They’d often depart around the 2-3 year mark. My first roommate was one of them. The first night I was in the unit, he took the guy I’d arrived with and me to an after-hours club that opened at midnight. We stayed for a couple of hours. He was sucking down beers and carried one of the bottles out with him as we left. Taxies would often sit in the parking lot. Just as we passed one, he threw the beer bottle into the windshield of a cab that was still occupied by its driver. “Run,” he told us after smashing the window. Scared we were going to get in trouble, we ran after him. He then showed us how to slide under the rear gate to get back to the barracks.
Tons of crazy shit went down in the barracks too. It was nothing to be buffing or mopping a hallway before work and see German girls come out of people’s rooms and use the men’s bathroom to pee. A couple of them even came in and showered in the large community shower room once while I was taking one also. I’d seen them before at the bars outside of the base.
One of the guys I went to AIT with was another one that got chaptered. He became a complete alcoholic as time passed. It wasn’t uncommon to see guys like him asleep in the bathroom stalls at work. He eventually got hit by a transit bus downtown. The accident messed him up so severely he had to be sent back to the states on a medical flight. At the time he was dating an underage girl who was the daughter of an NCO in another unit. She lived in the housing area next to base with her parents but was frequently in the barracks with him. The girlfriend was so pissed that he didn’t tell her he was getting evacuated that she had sex with five of his friends in the barracks one night right after he left to retaliate. She was 15.
Between the girls growing up, the German girlfriends I had on that tour, and all the prostitutes I slept with, I’d had many sex partners by the time I returned to the U.S.
It’s another one of those tough things to admit, but just about everything I got exposed to as part of my male socialization taught me that women were a commodity. Females were for sale, and they could be exploited for men’s use as they saw fit to use them.
Because of the marching team, lifting weights most nights in the barracks, and fixing heavy equipment during the day at a maintenance shop, I was rippling with muscles when I departed Europe in 1985.
During my 24-month tour in Germany, I spent 16 months in Pirmasens in a maintenance company as a truck mechanic and the rest of the time in Kaiserslautern at battalion headquarters on the Nijmegen March Team. After the marching team I served a brief stint as the colonel’s driver before returning to my unit in Pirmasens, the 546th Maintenance Company.
Although it was a privilege to get picked to perform the driver job, I would not describe the position as enjoyable. Immediately, I understood why the guy who’d previously had the assignment had bailed. For starters, it was a significant responsibility to drive a senior officer around at high speeds on the autobahn at 20-years-old. Also, my uniform had to be perfect every day. During the day, I would have to sit outside of his office, awaiting a command to take him somewhere. Then when I did, I had to be on high alert in the sedan, watching for him to come out of a building. Sometimes his meetings would last for hours. As soon as he’d finish whatever he needed to do or see, I’d have to jump out of the vehicle, salute him, and open his door. The job sucked.
Fort Knox would be my next duty station. The Army picked it, not me. I hated the long, bumpy flights to and from Germany. It felt good to be back in the United States afterward.
I hadn’t used any of my leave while in Germany. You get 30 days per year. So by the time I arrived back in Maryland, I had quite a few days to burn. While I was gone, I’d gifted the Camaro to my brother six years younger than me after he’d gotten his driver’s license. Without anything to drive while I was back, my mother let me borrow her car while I was home for whenever I wanted to go out. I’d become her “son the soldier, who’d just arrived back from Germany.” My mother showed me off to everyone she could. On Saturdays she had me go to the farmer’s market in Charlotte Hall with her, making her rounds with me in tow and introducing me to everyone she knew.
When my leave ended and it was time to report to Fort Knox, my mom took me to the bus station in DC where I bought a Greyhound ticket. Before I left she gave me a paper bag. On the bus I found out she’d packed me some fruit and a magazine. The trip took about 24 hours. During the ride a girl around 19 took an interest in me. Just a bit on the chunky side, she had dark red hair and freckles. She was traveling with her mother in the front seats of the bus. I was sitting in the back. The bus was pretty empty. After talking for a few hours, the conversation turned intimate. Not long after it did, she was going down on me as the sun was coming up in West Virginia. I got the impression she was looking to get hooked up with a military man, but like everyone before her I just loved her and left her.
The girl’s behavior was something I was starting to get used to and see a lot. Numerous women who were economically disadvantaged wanted to bag a military guy because of the benefits. I guessed she wanted to show me that I’d be getting a good deal with her. When I got off the bus in Fort Knox, she gave me her number, but I never called her.
Upon arrival I got assigned to Delta Company of the 75th Support Battalion, a part of the 194thArmoredBrigade. We were the Delta Dogs and that was a pretty accurate description. Military-wise the 18-month Fort Knox tour was a poor ambassador for what most other parts of the Army looked like and for how they behaved. I’d come to realize that after serving elsewhere in the years ahead.
When we were in garrison at Fort Knox, we had almost zero to do. Because of that, they’d put us on guard duty all the time at places like the museum. Those were 24-hour shifts and we left our barracks to sleep in other makeshift billets. Also, because the base was too small to maneuver an armored brigade during field training exercises, we had to deploy to either the National Training Center (NTC) or White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
The first time I laid eyes on my wife was during a party at the home of a friend’s girlfriend in Radcliff, Kentucky, a military town outside of Fort Knox. The friend was a member of my platoon, and his girlfriend lived off base at her parent’s house. We were the same rank, specialist (E-4). One weekend when the girlfriend’s folks were out of town, the two threw a small party, inviting a select group of people who lived in the barracks. I was asked to come, so was my roommate. He drove us there.
When Sandy entered the house as the date for another member of my platoon, my eyes lit up. With perfectly straight, dark brown hair that followed her figure down her back and reached just past her buttocks, she had an exotic appearance. Studying her facial features and admiring her brown eyes, I concluded that she wasn’t fashion-model type pretty, but she was nonetheless attractive. At five foot, seven inches I’m pretty small for a male. I guessed Sandy to be around three inches shorter than me. Small framed and not weighing more than a hundred pounds back then, she had on a pair of tight, faded Levi’s and a loose t-shirt that left her breast size hard to determine. The folded biker bandana tied around her head, gave her a free-spirit, almost hippy-like appearance. She could have passed for a female member of The Beatles. I wanted to hit on her and ask her out, right then and there. However, not wanting to start a fight with her date and get in trouble with the Army, I remained quiet. I admired her from a distance for the remainder of the party.
I’d dated the girl voted most beautiful in high school, a blonde, and that type didn’t interest me. A podcast interview I did with NPR says I drove a big-wheeled Camaro and dated the prettiest girl in school.
The guy from my platoon that Sandy was dating was a loser in my opinion. He drove a jacked up black 4X4 pickup, that had empty beer cans in the bed. They’d be there for months. If I had to name a celebrity that he resembled, I’d go with Burt Reynolds. However, the comparison is a stretch. He was much less good looking and scrawny. His persona screamed redneck, and he wasn’t a high performer at his job. He worked as a welder in the service and recovery platoon. We were both assigned to that work section in the shop. I knew I could easily take Sandy away from him. I also wasn’t scared that he’d try and kick my ass for doing it.
A short time after the party I told my barracks mate to pass the word to his girlfriend that I wanted to date Sandy. I’d learned they were friends.
He did, and she told her.
“Shupe wants to date you,” the girl said to Sandy. “Shupe? Who’s Shupe?” Sandy had asked her.
“The dude with the muscular chest,” my friend’s girlfriend told her.
Sandy didn’t even remember me from the party, but she agreed to go on a blind date, indicating that things weren’t solid with the redneck.
My first date with her was at a bar in Louisville on August 18, 1985. The date’s correct, I verified it with her. Chicks remember that sort of thing. Sandy still recalls that the waitress spilled beer on her also. We double dated with my platoon mate and his girlfriend.
We spent the trip to the bar getting to know each other in the backseat. On the way I learned Sandy had been a college student, an engineering major at the University of Kentucky, but had dropped out after two years because she’d decided it wasn’t a good fit for her. I was smitten with Sandy’s intelligence, but I could sense an engineering program hadn’t been a good fit for her.
If I was going to get hitched, I wanted a wife that could balance a checkbook and manage the finances when I got deployed, a critical part of being married in the military. Don’t laugh. The military gave classes to soldiers and spouses during that era to learn those skills. Maybe they still do.
Going to the bar in Louisville was just an excuse to get us together. It was the idea of my barrack’s mate and his girlfriend. Neither Sandy or I were drinkers. We still aren’t. We both have too much baggage from our childhoods to become alkies.
Sandy’s father was an alcoholic. To this day she can’t tolerate the smell of Budweiser, his drink of choice. I have similar issues. I can’t tolerate the smell of liquor on someone’s breath. For me the scent of whiskey triggers memories of the drunken uncle who would molest me at my grandmother’s house or in my parent’s basement.
Once Sandy and I began dating, she took me to her brother’s home in Louisville for dinner. An artist for a sign company, he was an interesting character. Sandy’s brother had a pet turtle that roamed loose in his home. “It only goes to the bathroom in corners,” he told me. After dinner her brother broke a joint and fired it up. Terrified of failing a urinalysis from even breathing the marijuana smoke, I stepped away from the table. Sandy said afterward that her mother would sometimes smoke pot with him too. I thought they were a cool family. My folks were squares in comparison.
Unlike me, Sandy was sexually inexperienced. However, right off the bat, we developed an intense sexual relationship, becoming lovers in the first week.
There was a large parking lot on the other side of the road from the barracks where the unit had physical fitness training (PT) in the mornings. Sandy would pick me up after work, we’d go out for a while, and then we’d have sex for hours on end in the backseat of her car, a light blue Dodge Duster. We didn’t use condoms at first. If we had, I would have thrown them in the bed of redneck boy’s pickup truck. I didn’t worry about getting her pregnant. I would have married her if I did.
Prying into Sandy’s history out of curiosity about how many people she’d slept with before me, she confessed that I was her third lover and that she’d only had sex a few times. She was equally curious about my past, but I was evasive to avoid upsetting her. In my case the number of sex partners was high at that point. I didn’t want her dumping me because of my promiscuity. I wasn’t about to tell her about the bus ride on top of that.
Sandy and I were two magnets pulled together by the force of our childhood damage. Like myself, she was sexually abused as a child. A twenty-something neighborhood man that lived across the street with his parents had molested her. We don’t discuss it much because it still traumatizes her, but my understanding is he never got prosecuted. She also refuses to get therapy for it. Violent fights between her mother and an alcoholic father further messed up her life as a youth.
Both I and Sandy heard the same bullshit story growing up, that we had Indian heritage. DNA testing has since revealed that it was a lie. As a kid, I’d gotten told my grandfather on my father’s side was part Cherokee. Sandy had heard the same load of crap. Her father from Nebraska claimed he had substantial Native American blood too. Genetic testing performed while we were living on the Oregon coast showed that both us are zero percent Indian. My ancestry is almost entirely western European. England, Ireland, Norway, places like that. Sandy’s lineage traces back to eastern Europe and her ancestors are mostly from that region. She’s Jewish.
Not wanting to get my heart broken again after the devastating experience with the first girlfriend I’d had, I was reluctant to let myself fall in love after that. Complicating that further, boys on the school playground had taught me to treat females with the five finger philosophy. Also called the Five F’s. Find them. Feel them. Finger them. Fuck them. Forget them. However, Sandy snapped me out of that pattern of treating women as sexual objects. Once I realized that she loved me as much as I’d loved that first girlfriend, I knew she was the one that I might marry.
I’d bought an expensive state-of-the-art Curtis Mathes TV when I came back from Germany with my travel pay. I trusted Sandy so much I put it in her bedroom while I was gone on a field exercise to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico a short time later. In my absence during what turned out to be a 60-day maneuver exercise for the armored brigade, she wrote me letters and faithfully awaited my return. Her old boyfriend had gotten deployed with me. I knew he wasn’t banging her while I was gone.
Spouses or girlfriends of soldiers running wild, spending all the money, and having sex with “Jody” while the troops from a base got deployed often became a massive problem for unit leaders. It was even worse if only part of a military post got sent somewhere, and all those remaining single males had access to the women who’d been left behind and had nothing to do. Tales of marriages and relationships falling apart during deployments were so legendary in military culture that we sang cadence about our possible fate. “Jody was there when you left,” we’d sing nearly every time we marched somewhere, creating an expectation of coming home to nothing at some point in your career. I’d repeated jodies so many times they’d become imprinted into my memory cells.
No rank was immune. I’d seen officers fall victim too, especially young lieutenants. Because of that, I was reluctant to get hooked up with a girl from a military town, but Sandy radiated trust. I sensed she was different.
I nearly got killed during that deployment. I’d gotten assigned to the M88recoveryvehicle, a tank that weighs 112,000 pounds. The same type vehicle I’d helped the black kid rig the boom on in AIT. As the highest ranking E-4 at the time, I was the vehicle commander. While we were out in the desert, one afternoon the platoon sergeant jumped inside and instructed the driver to take him for a joyride.
We had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on top of the M88 and would lug it through commercial airports. People would gawk at us when we did. When we deployed the equipment would ship by train, and we’d fly.
A guy in his twenties, the vehicle driver, was a notorious drunk. Out in the field, he would carefully stage a setting around the machine gun and have me take his picture. He got a DWI when we returned to garrison. He got a second one later.
Following the platoon sergeant’s orders, the driver fired up the massive vehicle. With a rumble and black diesel smoke pouring from the engine, we took off. Having been kicked out my commander seat, I stood in the mechanic’s hatch in the front, my head poking out of the vehicle in a crew helmet. Up ahead I could see a tank trap, a ditch dug by the engineers to contain armored vehicles. I made the common sense assumption that the driver would stop, which he did, however, after he’d braked and the tank came to a halt. The platoon sergeant instructed him to try and jump the ditch. I can tell you from experience: Sixty tons doesn’t fly across anything. I knew something was going to happen, and I should have gotten out of the vehicle.
The driver backed up 20 yards or so and gunned the engine. As soon as the nose of the vehicle crossed the edge of the tank trap that was about six feet wide, we started dropping into the deep hole. I watched in slow-motion as we headed for the opposite wall. At impact, we hit so hard that it broke the latch on my hatch. A several-hundred-pound steel cover about two inches thick, the hatch slid forward, lifting me by the neck and carrying me forward with it. I tried to slip back inside the vehicle, but I wasn’t fast enough. In the same way that the tank hit the dirt wall, the hatch slammed me into the front of the opening that it covered. The crew helmet saved my life, but I still got hurt.
I didn’t know how bad I was hurt or if I was hurt. However, in hindsight, I probably had a concussion. I was unable to move, and the crew had to pull the heavy hatch off of me to free my head. I’d gotten pinned to the opening. Ever since then, I’ve had a lot of mental health problems while inside vehicles. I still have a lot of intrusive flashbacks about that accident. I never got any medical care or even checked out for that wreck because reporting it would have gotten the platoon sergeant in trouble.
The crash damaged the M88. The impact bent one of the large steel sprockets that guide the track in the front. To fix it we had to unhook the heavy track and then move the vehicle off of it to replace the damaged part. The repairs took an entire day, and it was backbreaking work messing around with pieces that weighed hundreds of pounds.
That trip to Fort Bliss was a lousy field exercise. I nearly got in trouble for cussing out the section leader. I’d just finished repairing a vehicle. I was all sweaty and dirty. Seeing me, he decided to throw an egg at me that he’d found in the mess hall trash. The raw egg hit my uniform and broke open, splattering on me. We weren’t getting any laundry service and hardly any showers out there either. Piss poor leadership. I wore each of my four uniforms for a week each expecting to get laundry service. When it never materialized, I wore each dirty one for another week. After the staff sergeant (SSG) hit me with the egg, I tried taking one of the five-gallon water cans we had outside the tent and pouring it over myself to get cleaned up. When I did, I found out that he’d put Lime Kool-Aid into it, another leadership violation. When I realized I was pouring all that sugary shit all over me, I just started cussing, calling him a fucking asshole. He was laughing about it, but I was ready to kick his ass.
The staff sergeant could have given me an Article 15 for disrespect to a noncommissioned officer (NCO), but he was too scared to press the issue because of his behavior. He was a pothead, and he knew I had that on him as well. They never gave us urinalysis tests at Fort Knox, so he never got caught for it.
Later in the exercise, we had a sergeant first class (SFC/E-7) become the new platoon sergeant. Because the staff sergeant that was in charge had gotten a DWI before leaving for the deployment, the commander thought he should get replaced. E-7 is the rank I retired with after 18 years. Within a few weeks the new platoon sergeant got busted and reduced in rank at a court-martial. For his punishment, he was reduced back to staff sergeant after slipping away from the field exercise and getting drunk somewhere near El Paso in a military vehicle.
People should have gone to jail for what we did to the desert during those deployments in the 1980s. We were supposed to use barrels to drain used engine oil and transmission fluid from the equipment we worked on, but the leaders we had instead ordered us to bury the fluids beneath the sand. They didn’t want to haul or ship the waste of fluids out the desert. The maintenance leader would order us to use the blade on the recovery vehicle to dig trenches. Mechanics would then empty M60 tank transmissions containing 25 gallons of transmission fluid into the holes. Afterward, they’d order us to cover them with sand. I was sickened by it.
Sandy and I along with the platoon mate and his girlfriend went to an AC/DC concert at The Commonwealth Center in Louisville after we returned from the field problem. The show was in November of 1985. I was into heavy metal and hard rock back then, but I could tell that Sandy wasn’t. During the concert I joined the crowd in standing up in our seats, holding up our lit cigarette lighters as candles, and swaying to the thunderous beats. Despite the revved-up crowd, Sandy just sat there quietly. I was envious of all the people who were smoking dope, a privilege I didn’t have and a risk I couldn’t afford to take while in the military.
The guys in my platoon were such a bunch of losers that I couldn’t stand to hang around with them while off-duty. One of them was having an affair with my squad leader’s wife. They were always in trouble. My roommate got a DWI, so did most of the other people in the platoon. Because of that, I became close friends with a guy from the electronics platoon.
In any maintenance company the smartest people are in the electronics platoon because of the aptitude test requirements to get those jobs. It’s where I should have been, but the color vision test had ruined the opportunity.
To pass the time I either hung out with him at coffee shops or a video arcade off base that had pool tables. Sometimes we went trout fishing. A lanky guy, he was a geek with glasses that liked to wear western stuff. He’d always be in a straw cowboy hat. The guys in my platoon would tease him for it, calling him “Tex from Florida,” a nickname they’d given him. Tex had a cream-colored Ford Fairmont that we’d use to go out to Radcliff and the surrounding areas. Sandy had a retail job, so she wasn’t always around to do something.
Tex liked to drink too, but not on the scale that the members of my platoon did. I went camping with him once. We took our Army shelter halves and made a pup tent at a campground. That afternoon after we’d set up camp, he got drunk and while shaving a piece of wood with his buck knife cut his finger pretty bad. I’d started talking to a group of college girls that had camped nearby after they came over and started flirting with me. When I came back to the campsite and saw how deep his finger had gotten cut, I knew we had to leave. He needed stitches. So I drove us back and took him to the base medical clinic.
Sandy and I used to go fishing a lot also at the many lakes that dotted Fort Knox. She wouldn’t touch the worms though. So we had an agreement that for every worm I put on her hook, I got a ten minute back rub. To this day she swears I put them on sloppily so they’d fall off easily.
I brought a lot of expensive stereo equipment back from Germany that I’d purchased there. That was what everybody did in Germany during those days, spend their money on high-end audio equipment at the base exchange and blast the stereos in the barracks. I wasn’t getting paid hardly anything still then, so I sold the stereo stuff to a pawn shop so I could get enough for a downpayment on a car. I took the money and bought a light blue Mercury Bobcat, a spinoff of the Ford Pinto. Not my style of car but all I could afford at the time. I bought it at one of the predatory used car dealers that ring military bases, and they financed it at a nosebleed interest rate. I was too unsophisticated then to realize I probably could have gone to a regular car dealer and got financing because of being in the military.
We got caught having sex in the Bobcat by two military police officers (MPs) one afternoon. It happened somewhere around either upper or lower Douglas Lake. The weather was hot, and we weren’t catching anything. So we decided to go park somewhere shady in the woods. Seeing a dirt road that looked like it led to a bivouac area, we headed down that and parked under a stand of pine trees. Sandy had slid the passenger seat back, and I was on top of her. She was naked, but I still had my shirt on. We didn’t even hear two MPs pull up in a jeep behind us. The windows were down, and he walked up to Sandy’s door on the passenger side, asking what we were doing. He knew and could see what we were doing, but he was playing around with us, trying to make me squirm. It worked. I did my best to keep Sandy covered as he stood there talking to us. The MP was a good sport about it. He said we had to leave.
Duty at Fort Knox was a circus. Before my career was over, I would go on to serve in a lot of military units. None of them came close to being as bad as the unit I was in there. The situation left me conflicted. I liked Sandy, but I didn’t feel like I could stay in the Army and reenlist in that unit with everything that was going on. I also didn’t think I could support the two of us in a military town like Radcliff. By the time my 18-months there came to an end, I was ready to leave the Army.
By the time I left the military in November 1986, the AIDS epidemic was raging. I’d always used condoms for any sexual contact with prostitutes, but before departing the Army, I made them test me for HIV. The doctor thought it was a weird request, but he went along with it. I was kind of shocked he knew so little about what was happening in the world at that time. Fortunately, the test was negative.
Saying goodbye to Sandy, I ended up doing just that. After getting discharged, I went home to Maryland.
“The recruiters repeated it over and over to me to make sure I understood. “You haven’t smoked any dope,” they said repeatedly. I nodded my head side to side in agreeance.”
The autobiography of Jamie Shupe (Part One)
Note: This living document is part of a multipart series. The text may be updated to reflect better recollections of past events.
Length: Approximately 10,500 Words
In Rockville, I became tight buddies with two older boys that lived on the right corner across the street from me. They were the brothers of the kid I’d knocked off his feet during the baseball game. Already hitting six foot in their mid-teens, they had big dreams of becoming professional basketball players. Both were on the team for Parkland Junior High School, and I’d attend their home games.
Short and small, the game wasn’t my thing whatsoever, but I’d play whenever they asked me. To avoid getting the basketball “rejected” back into my face, I learned how to score by taking longshots a considerable distance from the hoop.
Moving in after I did, I don’t think my two new buddies had any of the kinds of baggage in their past that I did, but for some reason, they were angry and destructive. The two wanted to vandalize and destroy things. That sort of behavior wasn’t my nature, but I’m guilty of going along with it so that I could be friends with them.
To see if we could get away with it, we started small. Getting out of the house for the two brothers was easy. Their bedroom was in the basement. They had a window in their room. All they had to do was stand up on the bed and climb out. Things were a lot tougher for me. I had to first talk my parents into letting me sleep downstairs too. My mother didn’t like the idea. Reluctantly my parents went along with it though for weekend nights.
Our vandalism rendezvous would occur around one a.m. in the shadows of my house on either Friday or Saturday nights. I think the band manager fantasy was over for my Dad by then. We’d use our bicycles to travel. By that time we’d all graduated to ten speeds. I had no idea initially what their plan was, but they’d already put some thought into it. For starters, the two wanted to go swimming in the middle of the night.
We biked to a nearby pool, climbed the six-foot fence and swam in our underwear until we were tired. Afterward, we sat against the wall of the snack bar, out of sight to rest. Beginning to think about what was inside, the two of them got the idea to break into it so that we could have some snacks. I don’t remember what they used to get into the door, but they managed to break it open. Once they did, we feasted on Pepsis and Milky Way candy bars.
Going for a swim and breaking into the pool snack bar became a regular thing. We did it three or four times without getting caught. There weren’t many cops patrolling a neighborhood such as ours. As we got braver and bolder, we even began riding our bikes home while still in our underwear. Streaking was popular during those days. People would get naked and run around a sporting event until they got dragged off the field. We wanted to try that too.
After around that fourth break-in, we pretty much figured we’d exhausted the snack bar gig and would get caught if we kept it up. So the brothers got the idea to hit the junior high school next instead. Hearing that, I wanted to say no and go home. Things were getting out of hand. I knew it. However, I let them talk me into going along. To this day I regret the decision.
Those two had gotten much more professional by that stage of the break-ins. They’d begun raiding their dad’s toolbox, and we’d graduated to being almost professional criminals. We were now using things like crowbars. When we got to the junior high school, the two were quickly able to pop open a door on the side of the building.
There wasn’t a clear goal when we entered the school. Giving it some thought once inside, we got the idea to start tossing lockers. These two were big kids. They didn’t have any bullies picking on them, so they chose the wall-lockers of people they didn’t like. For me, the choice was a bit more nuanced. There was a fat black kid who’d kept threatening to kick my ass because I’d started selling candy between classes and he thought the market was exclusively his. I tossed his shit all over the floor. Then there was the girl who was about six inches taller than me who wouldn’t leave me alone at school dances about being her boyfriend despite having tossed a Coke on her at one of them. I threw her belongings all over the hall too.
Once we’d made a big mess in the hallways by emptying lockers, I went to take a leak in a bathroom at the end of the hall. While I was gone, those two were draining fire extinguishers. As soon as I walked out of the restroom, a female cop grabbed me, putting me up against the wall. She said I was under arrest. Another policeman already had my two friends in custody. The officer told us he’d put his vicious police dog away after it hadn’t found us. I don’t remember seeing or hearing a dog, and there were only two police cars. I think he said that to scare us.
The police didn’t mistreat us. After handcuffing us, the two brothers got put in a squad car with the male officer. I rode with the female cop. Giving me a warning before leaving, the male officer said not to give her any trouble during the trip. Handcuffed and seatbelted into the backseat of the cruiser, I don’t know what he thought I might do. Tearing up, I didn’t speak during the twenty or so minute ride.
At the station, the police didn’t put us into a cell. “Wanna end up like them?” The male officer asked. A short distance away I could see a few men behind bars. I still recall the face of a hippy looking guy, who appeared to be in his early twenties. He had long, dirty blonde hair and looked stoned out of his mind. His eyes met mine as I was checking him out. Then he went back to staring straight ahead at the wall.
When our parents arrived at the police station to get us, my dad didn’t seem overly upset about my arrest. Getting raised in the streets of DC, he’d no doubt seen numerous people get taken down by the cops. My mom, on the other hand, she was devastated. I think she thought she was a failure as a mother. We all got grounded. I don’t remember how many weeks of restriction we got. A month seems about right. Sleeping in the basement was over for a couple of years.
Nothing became of the school vandalism charges. The cops hadn’t connected us to the snack bar break-ins. Our parents pooled their funds to pay for the damages. We got off and the whole thing just sort of went away. It didn’t affect me going into the military, and didn’t come up during my background checks. I’m not sure if a record even exists.
The vandalism arrest shaped me later in the military as a leader. It taught me to be a leader instead of a follower. The event also taught me to not go along with wrongdoing. Shut problematic things down or walk away from them I’d learned.
Me getting arrested at age thirteen was the catalyst event that my mother had been awaiting. Not long after my parents had gotten married, they’d bought a lot in southern Maryland. In rural Saint Mary’s County. As kids, we’d visit the parcel from time to time to keep it cleared. The property was part of a community association that had a private beach. We’d always visit that too. Poison ivy wasn’t the only thing we returned with to Rockville. We came back with sunburn also. My mother had been pushing my father to move us there. After my arrest, she now had a valid reason in her eyes.
Up until that point, my father had resisted relocating despite one of the crazy things my mother had done. Which was buy a nanny goat. You weren’t supposed to have farm animals in the suburbs of Rockville, but my mother had purchased one. She wanted us to experience having animals growing up. With the neighbors starting to gossip about the smelly goat in our backyard, my father gave in. Our home went up for sale almost immediately, selling a short time later.
The Rockville house at 13300 Keating Street had appreciated substantially during the ten years my parents had owned it. My folks bought it for around $18,500 in the mid-1960s. They sold it for $48,000 or so a decade later. The profit was used to build a custom home built on the lot in Sandgates.
With the house sold, my parents didn’t wait for the new one to get built. Being that we had the 25-foot Terry travel trailer, we’d used for the Florida trips. They made the decision that we’d live in that until we could move in.
Six people trapped inside a few hundred square feet created a tense and hostile environment. That fact that my dad was now driving 50 miles each way to and from work didn’t help. One night when I mouthed off to my mother, he drew his arm back and punched me violently in the jaw. I was standing in front of the small refrigerator at the time. After he hit me, I bounced off the door. After sliding to the floor in slow motion, I cried hysterically. Nobody checked to see if I was okay or not.
One of the reasons my Father had resisted the move was because things were beginning to go poorly at his television repair shop. To avoid closing and filing bankruptcy, he’d had to downsize and move across the street to a much smaller shopping center with only three stores: his business, a laundromat, and a 7–11 convenience store.
A white kid with an uppity attitude from the affluent suburbs of Montgomery County, I was an odd fit for farm country. Showing up in a dark blue pair of leather Puma basketball shoes, I attracted much attention. Making matters worse, I seemed to be about a year ahead of my peers academically. Montgomery County had a reputation for being one of the best school districts in the nation. Saint Mary’s was known as one of the worst in the State of Maryland. Everything I was getting taught seemed like ancient history.
Almost immediately, I fell in with the wild bunch. Within a couple of months, I was ditching classes during middle school at Margaret Brent to hang out and smoke cigarettes on the side of the school building. The kid I was doing it with had a bad reputation and grew up in a broken home. When I came back from the Army, I found out he’d ended becoming a rapist and had served a lengthy prison sentence for the crime.
Skipping school became an increasingly bad habit. When the weather got warm in Spring, we’d ditch class and head to remote beaches along the Patuxent River in places like Queen Tree. In the sun and sand, we’d have beer parties until late in the afternoon. Starting drinking early in the morning, we’d stay long enough for the alcohol to begin wearing off. Other days, we’d go to someone’s house in Sandgates whose parents were away at work. The older kids would transport us to all of these places in their hotrods. Hollywood could have made a movie about my teen years.
I was 14-years-old the first time I had intercourse with a girl. She was 13. It’s one of those embarrassing to admit things about my adolescence, but I was so young then, I didn’t understand ejaculation or orgasm. It’s not like I was in science class to learn either.
Sex with her had felt good, but I didn’t realize there was an even better feeling yet to get discovered. My make-out sessions with that first girlfriend were so hot and heavy that I began developing severe pain in my testicles. I was clueless what the cause was.
Thinking something serious was wrong with me, my mother took me to the doctor for an examination. Nothing abnormal with me got discovered during the exam. By then my parents had cranked out another couple of babies. With a bunch of very young children to watch at home, My mom had no clue about what I was up to with the girlfriend. The doctor probably did though. I had blue balls, the condition is known medically as epididymal hypertension (EH).
After I began to understand that she could get pregnant, we started using thin plastic sandwich bags as a substitute for condoms. We didn’t have any money to buy such things, and we would have been too embarrassed to do it. While I was naive about the dangers of her becoming pregnant initially, I don’t think she was. Her older sister had gotten several abortions and had a reputation for being a slut. My older brother slept with her.
At fourteen, I began working on tobacco farms in southern Maryland during the summers. The brutal job was not something I had a choice about or cared to do. With my dad’s income rapidly declining, If I wanted money for new clothes at the beginning of the school year, I had to do it. Five or six dollars per hour was a fortune at that age to me in the 1970s. I’d only gotten fifty cents an hour at the TV shop for cleaning the place up.
That first summer when I entered the sweltering fields, I had mild gynecomastia. My mother had bought me a pair of tan work boots from a thrift store to do the job. Almost immediately I developed nasty blisters on my hands from swinging the tobacco knife and hoisting the course wooden tobacco sticks high into barns. High up in the rafters the plants would cure by air. By quitting time, my back would ache from walking a quarter mile at a time down rows of plants while bent at the waist. We’d chop the plants at their thick stalks close to the ground and then lay them in neat rows to get speared. It was tough stuff, but I didn’t quit. I figured if the kids my age whose parents owned the farms could handle the job, I should be able to also. Those farm boys were rippling with muscles from years of doing that kind of work. I wanted to look like them.
By September when school began, I’d become deeply tanned from working with my shirt off in the fields. My body had grown lean and hard within a short time also. I could make my pecs flex at will, something I would later show off for Sandy.
The job paid cash. To my knowledge, they kept no real records of who worked there. The family who hired me didn’t report my income to the state or federal government. The farm also didn’t deduct any money for taxes or Social Security from my wages. The job was under the table money from what I could tell. The farmers told us to claim it ourselves, making it our responsibility. I don’t think any of us reported the income. I didn’t.
We’d spend all summer getting the tobacco plants into the barns. Then the farmers would spend their winters stripping the plants of their leaves. After that, they’d sell the tobacco crop in the spring at a farmers market in the northern end of the county. The farmers market was also a flea market. My mother worked there as a shop helper in her later years.
The only job perk of cutting tobacco was the farmer’s wife fed you lunch. The farms called lunch the dinner meal, something I found strange. It was always a big spread of food. A meat and potatoes affair, the farmer’s wife plied us with sweet tea and buttered biscuits.
I would later come to see that the military operated much the same way. Like the farms, the Army wanted you well fueled for equally backbreaking work.
Tobacco farming must have been lucrative because a lot of the kids whose parents owned the farms often showed up in brand new pickup trucks during high school as soon as they got their drivers licenses. Bragging, they’d talk about how their dad’s had given them a couple of acres of the crop in exchange for working the farm. With my dad getting poorer by the minute I was jealous.
I was still dating the first girlfriend in the evenings and weekends during the tobacco job. When we got paid, I used part of one of my early paychecks to buy her a new dress. In the southern end of the county, outside of the Navy base, Lexington Park had a few department stores. I don’t remember who took me shopping for it, but I bought it at Peebles. Light blue and silky soft, the dress cost $30.
Not knowing what size to buy her I’d asked the sales lady for help.
“Well, how big is she?” The older woman asked, curious as to why someone my age was buying a dress.
“I don’t know, my size,” I said to the saleslady. She could tell I was confused. After holding several dresses up in front of me, she announced: “this one looks about right.”
When I gave my girlfriend the present, I thought she’d be delighted, but she wasn’t all that impressed. She only put it on once. Her parents were though. They were struggling financially to raise five kids from two different marriages. Her sister’s many abortions were busting the budget.
She broke up with me a short time later. My first real girlfriend, I’d been head over heels in love with her. I was sure that we would get married and spend our lives together. I remained devasted for months afterward. Finding out that she’d started dating someone else only made it worse.
“You can’t force someone to love you,” my mother finally said to console me after becoming tired of me moping around our house.
Taking my mother’s advice to heart, I embraced it as a lesson. When I realized Sandy loved me as much as I’d loved that first girlfriend, I knew she was the person I should marry.
The guy that the first girlfriend ended up marrying committed suicide some years after she divorced him. He was an alcoholic.
The kids in the Sandgates neighborhood were starting to get more adventurous. Drugs were now getting mixed in with the alcohol at parties. There were whispers of cocaine. Not wanting to get arrested again, I began to distance myself from them. With nothing to do, I started hanging out a nearby marina where the old folks would gather to play pool and horseshoes.
Two couples in their sixties owned the marina. The women were sisters. They took a liking to me right away, giving me a job because of that. The place rocked with hordes of people coming down to their boats from the DC area on weekends. The owners couldn’t keep up with the crowds, so they hired a short order cook and me to work the kitchen behind the bar for them. They concentrated on running the barroom.
The cook was a massive man. He told me he used to play for the Washington Redskins as a lineman. I could see that he was an alcoholic. He’d spend his work money at the bar after his shift. Growing up, everyone being alcoholics seemed normal. So did car wrecks.
Not long later things at the marina began coming apart. The wife of one of the owners started having an affair with a guy who lived aboard a boat there. Gossip about him and her having sex on the beach permeated the bar. The two couples lived in a small hotel up the hill from the marina. A short time later, the husband of the wife that was screwing around killed himself with a handgun in their room.
The short order cook and I moved on.
Sandgates Road formed a horseshoe and emptied onto a 55 MPH highway at both ends. The tobacco farm sat on the curve. The cook lived just beyond that, far back off the pavement. He’d taken a liking to me as well and had me start helping him do carpentry work and chores at his house. Sometimes I spent the night. He’d met my mother. Approving of him she didn’t care where I was with all the kids her and my dad had at that point. In the back of my mind, I had fears of getting molested all over again, but he turned out to be a good man. Because of the molestation, any time men took an interest in me. I always questioned their motives.
The cook, a man in his fifties, was deeply depressed. He had a son. The kid had turned out badly and was doing time in prison. He’d also had a stroke. His backyard was a meadow like setting with acres of grass. He told me he’d used a push mower to cut it all after the stroke to get better and rebuild his strength. In a cutout off of the field, there were about 20 dog houses. Every one of them had a beagle chained to it. He said if I’d help feed the dogs and do a little bit of carpentry work on a house he’d contracted to repair, I could have one of the puppies. I wanted a red one.
He watched me feed the dogs at first to see if he could trust me. Not wanting to scoop food out to each animal, because he was lazy, his son had thrown the buckets of food into the woods, the cook told me. I worked with him until school started again and he gave me the puppy for my labor.
Some Saturdays, I still went to the television shop too. I took the puppy with me.
Living in Sandgates didn’t mean the end of seeing my pedophile uncle. When he was fighting with my grandfather, my dad still brought him home sporadically. I lost all respect for my father because of that.
One Saturday when it snowed me and the brother six years younger than me both went to work with my ad. The uncle ended up returning home with us that day. The weather was freezing and the stripped-down White Ford Econoline van my father had at the time had poor heating. Shivering my brother and I sat huddled together under a blanket used to cover televisions to keep them from getting scratched. We’d scooted as close as possible as we could towards the engine cover between the driver and passenger seats, but we were still cold. My uncle was drunk as usual. Off and on, he would reach under the blanket trying to fondle my little brother’s genitals. He wanted to molest him despite my dad being right there. My father said nothing even though what was happening was occurring in plain sight. To protect the kid, I dragged him away into the back of the van.
That brother is currently doing five years for dealing heroin in a Virginia prison. Like the brother between us, he’s had severe substance abuse problems his entire life. I can’t get the question out of my mind. How many of us kids did my uncle molest? Even worse: how could my parents not see what was happening and report the sexual abuse to authorities. It made me wonder how much of the same thing had gone during their childhoods, especially on my dad’s side of the family.
The neighborhood kids got suspicious about me abruptly disappearing. The marina owners didn’t like most of them because they were druggies. Paranoid about everything while on drugs, they thought I’d become a narc.
When we started back to school, just as I was about to board the school bus, the biggest of them suddenly turned, punching me in the face when he did. After hitting me, he then hopped aboard the bus as if nothing had happened. The bus then drove off as if nothing had happened too. The woman driving, who was another kid’s mom said nothing. She also didn’t report it to the school. My parents were the same, they should have called the police, but they didn’t.
The tobacco farm owned the bus.
Not wanting to be known as a narc I gradually started hanging out with the other kids again, sometimes smoking pot with them. I’d seen on TV that narcs couldn’t do drugs so I figured that would prove I was safe to be around.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the kids in the neighborhood would pool their money. Someone, often an adult would buy us alcohol, usually beer. On occasion, they’d get us bottles of Tango, a mixture of orange juice and vodka. On rarer moments, they’d purchase Boone’s Farm wine for us. We didn’t care what we were drinking as long as we were partying.
A fast car was a badge for being cool. Quite a few of the kids had them for that reason. Nobody wanted to be driving their mother’s station wagon. At fifteen when I entered the ninth grade, I’d sometimes catch a ride to school with an older boy. He owned a metallic green Plymouth Road Runner. The car had a souped-up 383 engine and dual exhaust. When he pressed on the gas pedal, it roared and leaped to a start. You got laid back in the seat from the acceleration. We’d sometimes hit well over 100 MPH on the short straightaway between Sandgates and Loveville Road on the route to high school.
Lots of people died or got severely injured in terrible car wrecks during my teens years, but that didn’t deter any of us from driving fast. The police also tended to look the other way. I got caught doing donuts in the middle of the highway in front of Loveville tavern one night in a Chevy Chevelle, smiling the officers let me go with a warning.
Some of the kids in Sandgates would go hunting after school. Wanting to join them I took up the hobby too. Despite my uncle committing suicide in my grandfather’s house with one of his handguns, he still had a bunch of weapons laying around. In a corner by the front door, he kept a 12 gauge shotgun. When I asked him for it, he agreed to let me have it, sending the gun home with my dad one evening. By the time I got it, the shotgun had sat in the corner for many years that the bluing had rusted off of the barrel.
My father taught me to shoot it at an old dump within walking distance from our house. My ears would ring after firing the large semi-automatic 12 gauge with a 28″ barrel. Despite having a rubber buffer on the end of the stock, the recoil would dig into my shoulder. My shoulder would hurt for days afterward sometimes if I fired it repeatedly.
Feeling like I’d mastered the shotgun after bagging a bunch of squirrels, I asked my grandfather for another weapon. I wasn’t too fond of the hard kick and loud boom from the 12 gauge. “I wanted a hunting rifle,” I told him. I knew he had a .22 caliber with a scope on it. I’d seen it hanging in a glass display case over the couch in the DC rowhouse. Agreeing to give me that gun too, he said he’d bring it to the TV shop the following Saturday.
Taking a break after smoking one his Kool menthol cigarettes, my grandfather retrieved the rifle from his van around 2 p.m that Saturday afternoon. The wooden workbenches in my father’s shop all had burn marks from where my grandfather had forgotten about his cigarettes while working on televisions. Before giving me the .22 rifle, my grandfather test fired it, shooting it out of the side door of the television shop. A good shot, the bullet went into a crevice of a rock wall belonging to a house that butted up against my dad’s business. Riverdale was a densely populated area. Nobody said anything about the crack of the gunshot. The police never got called.
Around that time my brother was also driving. Now dating girls too, he thought he was too sophisticated to allow his little brother to hang around with him anymore. My older brother was shocked when he’d see me show up at the same parties with chicks also. With that first girlfriend, I’d beaten him to the accomplishment of getting laid first, unless he’d slept with my aunt and was hiding the secret.
Our family operated along patriarchal lines. My brother had always gotten extra attention from our grandparents for being the firstborn son. When he got his drivers license, my grandfather immediately gave him a Ford LTD that he hadn’t wrecked yet. A dark gray that was nearly black, the big sedan had a big 390 engine in it. The seats were a tan cloth, almost silky in texture. They’d gotten stained from a couple of years of Schlitz beer getting spilled on them.
Soon after being given the LTD, my brother wrecked it while driving drunk. Like our grandfather, he managed to escape the crash unhurt. He also wasn’t charged with anything by the cops. He and two girls had been skipping school in the vehicle. Trying to show off, he’d run it into a large oak tree on a country road. One of the girls got injured but not severely. Someone else had taken over getting hurt for a change.
After my brother totaled the gray LTD, my dad gave him a green VW bug he’d bought to cut fuel bills on his long commute. He went back to driving his work van.
My brother was becoming a wild child too. The family rule was that you could quit going to church and start smoking at sixteen. When my brother hit that age, he stopped going to church, but my dad still dragged me along. As we were preparing to get into my mom’s Ford station wagon one Sunday morning before the service, I found it odd that my dad got back out of the car. Taking his handkerchief out of his pocket, he came around to my side of the vehicle. My brother had been out the night before in the car. Watching my father remove it, I suddenly realized there was a used condom hanging from the antenna.
Somewhere around that time frame, my father gave up on trying to get us to go to church with him. He just quit caring and went by himself.
By then I was drinking at bars in Leonardtown and Loveville. There was no enforcement. No one cared. When I went overseas in the Army, soldiers described Germany as a place where if you were big enough to put money on the bar, they’d serve you. Saint Mary’s County wasn’t any different. On the weekends, my brother and I would tiptoe back into the house at midnight stoned blind drunk. My mother would get out of bed, sniff our breaths and scold us. “You’ve been smoking again,” she’d holler at me.
Before leaving Sandgates, I had another job at the Montana bar. Sitting at the intersection of North Sandgates Road and Route 235, the establishment had been there for at least a couple of decades. Maybe longer. A giant man who weighed at least three hundred pounds and his wife were the longtime owners. They had two kids, a boy older than me and another that was a bit younger. I went to school with them. Shortly before we moved, they expanded into both a convenience store and bar. I worked there sometimes after school and on the weekends.
However, one afternoon I nearly got fired. I’d often catch a ride with other people leaving school early who were also in the work release program. A kid from Golden Beach gave me a ride that day, the boy my old girlfriend had begun dating. He went out of his way to drop me off. On the trip, he broke out a face mask bong and stuffed some weed into it. I’d never seen anything like it. The pot ended up being the most powerful thing I’d ever smoked to date, going far past the slight buzz I’d expected. I think half the stuff kids had back then wasn’t even marijuana.
When I showed up for work, I think the man who owned the place knew I was high as a kite. He could tell because I was having trouble working the cash register. Surprisingly though he didn’t fire me. Instead, he sent me to do stock work in the back until the effects of the marijuana had worn off. One more lesson had gotten learned.
The date it was acquired is a little fuzzy, but somewhere around this timeframe my dad somehow got another Ford LTD. This one was a 1970 model, light blue, dark blue seats. I began to think my father’s logic was if LTD sedans could keep my grandfather safe in all the wrecks he’d been in, then those cars were probably a good choice for teenagers too. He probably came across the car on one of his television repair calls. It wasn’t uncommon for people to swap stuff with him in exchange for getting their TVs fixed. On a couple of occasions growing up, he’d come home with stamp or coin collections and gave them to my oldest brother and me.
Seeing what was going on and how out of control we’d gotten, my mother decided to move us again. It had only taken two years for the allure of the Sandgates house to lose its appeal. There were now seven of us kids. This time, we relocated back to the North a little bit, landing in Mechanicsville. I guess my parents thought it would shave a few miles off of my dad’s commute. Like Rockville, the house went up for sale and quickly had a buyer.
There’d been many kids in Sandgates. Where my mother moved us next was nothing but farm country. My parents bought several acres of land and ordered a modular home. While we waited for the house to be built and delivered, we lived in a 50-foot single-wide trailer.
By then there were seven of us kids. It was pure hell. We had one bathroom. It was in the crowded living conditions of the trailer that I stomped on my younger brother’s toy car with my heel after stubbing my toe on it after he’d left it lying around. With all of our furniture crowded into the small living space, there were only pathways through the living room. I was so mad that I completely smashed his toy car, caving the roof in of the white metal station wagon.
Three years younger than me, my younger brother that owned the toy committed suicide. Stationed at Fort Hood, Texas at the time, I was a Staff Sergeant. Sandy had just given birth to our daughter about a year earlier. She’d stopped working so we were flat broke. I had to borrow money from the Red Cross to get us back for the funeral.
His death was particularly troubling to me because by then I’d had all sorts of suicide awareness training as a leader. Suicide is such a common thing in the military that we routinely had classes about preventing it. My brother’s death was probably preventable with the right help. Someone knowledgeable would have seen right away what was going on. He displayed the classic suicide sign of giving away all of his possessions to carefully chosen people before killing himself.
By showing his death certificate to an airline, we got a free flight home. The document read “death by gunshot wound.” He’d blown his head off with a shotgun while parked in a farm field in the north end of Saint Mary’s County. The funeral had to be closed casket.
A construction worker, my younger brother, had severe drug and alcohol problems. On one occasion he’d been jailed while under the influence of Phencyclidine (PCP). When my mother showed up with a prominent bail bondsman to spring him, he’d cussed both of them out. Embarrassed by his behavior, my mother left him in jail and went home.
My brother had a kid. I think he thought the child would be better off without him. I think his plan was to off himself and let Social Security pay to raise his kid. The idea worked. That nephew is the one who mysteriously called me the morning I’d painted the garage doors in Leonardtown.
The two of us got along terribly growing up, which made me feel even worse about his death. I was pretty much a whiz at most things I did. That younger brother couldn’t do hardly anything right. I also didn’t care for his behavior. I once saw him whack a kid on the side of the head with a large stick in a fight. The boy needed stitches.
I have a memory that won’t release since his death. Since his suicide, I’ve always felt terrible about stomping on his metal car. Like the POCD from the molestation, that intrusive memory torments me and makes me believe I’m going to crush something with my foot. It often intrudes when I try to do things like pet my dog. It makes me think I’m going to hurt the animal.
I still frequently wonder if my uncle molested him too? Another thing about his past troubles me even more though. A disabled old man he lived with at one point got murdered alongside the highway in the northern part of Saint Mary’s near the County line. I’ve often wondered if he was involved in that. I’d heard rumors about the guy giving young boys alcohol. The place was a flophouse. The old man that owned it may have been a pedophile.
With plenty of time to kill, I read everything I could get my hands on after we’d moved into the modular home, including women’s magazines that belonged to my mother. One of them talked about putting mayonnaise on your hair to make it soft and silky. I raided the refrigerator and gave it a try to see if it would work. My mother went effing bonkers when she saw me. Hauling off and slapping me, she called me a sissy afterward. It was another memory I used as proof when I decided to declare myself a trans woman.
Eventually, the modular home got delivered. It was a modest three-bedroom, a lot smaller than what we’d been in before. It had 2X6 walls and was well insulated. Three of us, the oldest boys were in one bedroom in a set of bunk beds and a twin bed. My four younger siblings were in the other bedroom, also in bunk beds or cribs.
Not long after moving into the new house, my older brother got his then-girlfriend pregnant. He left after that to try and make a go of life with her. It didn’t work out, but he stayed gone. I got his twin bed.
Happy that I’d shown an interest in hunting, my grandfather had given me most of his guns by then. I now had a .22 caliber rifle and two shotguns, a 20 and a 12 gauge. With nothing to do after school, I disappeared into the woods until dark, smoking cigarettes and bagging whatever sort of game I could shoot. Hoping I’d kill some deer to help with our food situation, my ad bought me a compound bow armed with razor broadhead arrows.
Route 236 is six miles long. We were four down from the highway that leads out of Saint Mary’s, heading to DC. If I needed cigarettes, I had to walk the two miles in the other direction and the same back. My dad kept a considerable pile of change on his dresser for our school lunches. He didn’t say anything about me taking money for smokes too.
Unemployed at that point, my father was grateful for whatever game I brought home from my hunting trips.
The blizzard of 1979 hit sometime around when we finally moved into the modular home. One of the worst snow storms in DC history, it was the first time my dad didn’t go to work. He tried, but his van got stuck in several feet of snow a short distance down the road from the house. A short time later, he stopped going to work altogether.
My mother kicked him out of the house soon after that. I later heard that he’d been walking around on the beach of the fleabag hotel he was rooming at in Piney Point with his revolver in his hand. He was suicidal but decided to throw the pistol into the waters of the Potomac River.
The first farm I worked on in Sandgates was mostly a family operation. Two brothers, their children, and various relatives operated the business. The second farm I had a tobacco job on was much more extensive. It had far more acreage. Located in Mechanicsville, not far from our new house, that outfit hired quite a bit of cheap black labor. Several black children, I went to school with worked there.
Poor like me, they needed money for school clothing too. Like the military, the tobacco fields were where the poor folks ended up.
When the blacks were out of earshot, the farmers would refer to them using the “N” word. Sadly, Saint Mary’s County, Maryland was still like that in the late 70s and early 80s.
At the Southern end of the County lies Point Lookout, a former civil war prison camp for 50,000 Confederate soldiers. Nearly 4,000 of them died there. Tales of seeing ghosts along the roadways or when it’s foggy still abound. The soil of the land has a history of racism and hate.
On my first day at the second farm, we’d spent the morning cutting endless rows of plants and spearing them onto sticks. You were supposed to put 5–6 tobacco plants on each wooden stick. They became quite heavy once you did. Then we’d sling the heavy sticks into piles that were about three feet in height. A tobacco stick filled with plants on top would protect the plant-laden sticks lying below from getting burned. It was a time-sensitive procedure. Because of the sun’s rays and the subsequent heat build-up in the piles of plants, we had to hustle. The farmers wouldn’t hesitate to bitch if you didn’t.
“You trying to burn my bacca up boy,” the second farmer would holler out in a southern accent to anyone not working fast enough.
Smaller tobacco farms would work early in the mornings or late evenings to avoid the daytime heat, but bigger farms had no choice but to bring the tobacco in during the hottest part of the day.
The farmers often came off as being just as uneducated as most of us workers were. However, in reality, they were smart. The first farm had school buses to supplement their income. This one had a row of concrete block apartment homes.
Once the tobacco we’d cut had been speared onto sticks and stacked into piles, we’d transfer the collections of plants onto trucks or farm carts. Then we’d hang the crop in barns that dotted the landscape.
In the large, rectangular tobacco barns that sometimes reached three stories high, the plants would dangle in evenly spaced rows from tiers of different heights. The farmers or their sons were the only ones allowed to climb into the higher elevations to avoid having any of the workers getting injured from falls. It wasn’t only an all cash, under the table job. It also didn’t provide health insurance.
After the morning crop got cut and stowed we’d have the dinner meal. We’d then repeat the whole thing over again in the afternoon.
I got to see blatant racism in action firsthand at the second farm. When we arrived back at the farmer’s house for the dinner meal on that first day, I headed to a series of picnic tables where the food had gotten laid out. Several of the black kids were strutting along beside me. We were all hungry. As we neared the food though, the farmer began yelling. Standing on the steps of his covered porch, he was motioning for me to come to him.
“Get over here boy,” he said. At first, I didn’t know which one of us he was talking to, we were all boys, but I soon realized it was me. Joining him on the steps, he led me inside his house. “Them n-word expletives eat outside. You’re white. You eat inside with us,” the farmer told me. I ate with them, but I was uncomfortable with the situation.
The second farmer was a tough old bird. He looked to be in his late fifties, but he could work just as hard as any of us youngsters that were a third of his age. Two of his sons were in their mid-teens like me. I attended school with them. They worked the fields alongside the black kids and me.
The younger of the two boys was pretty mellow. The other one had a reputation for being a hothead at Chopticon High School in Morganza. He struck me as unpredictable. So I stayed clear of him. I knew he’d let his fists fly in an instant. Another son was serving time in prison for murder. I wasn’t into fighting. I did my best to avoid it.
One evening just before quitting time on the second farm, I was standing in the rear of a flatbed truck as it raced down one of the small county roads back to the farmhouse. My mom would be waiting there to pick me up. We’d worked late, and it was probably around 7:30 p.m. Enjoying the evening breeze a bit too much after a blistering day in the sun, I accidentally let my ballcap blow off. Not wanting to lose it, I leaned around the side of the cab, asking the farmer to turn around so I could get it back. The old man went off on me, refusing to stop. When we reached the house, he cut loose on me again. The verbal lashing was so severe that I began to cry. In tears, I walked away, telling him that I quit. My mother took me home.
Later that evening, the farmer’s wife came to the house and apologized. Aftward, she asked me to return to work the next day. Reluctantly, I did. Her husband treated me a lot nicer after the lost hat incident. A kind woman, I had much respect for her. You could tell she was the peacemaker in the family. I began to see a pattern of males causing problems and females trying to clean up the messes they’d made. In time, my future marriage would have the same problem.
Before returning to school that year, I took some of the tobacco job money and got my hair permed at a hair salon in Charlotte Hall. One of the stylists was rumored to be an effeminate gay man, so I figured it was safe to get it done there. He got killed in 2006.
Arriving to class with long brown ringlets dangling, the girls loved it. So did one of the teachers. In her mid-20s, she was new and started hitting on me.
My first legitimate job where they withheld taxes was at a combo ice cream stand and fast food restaurant on Highway 235 in Mechanicsville. Like the Montana bar, Tasty-Kwik was a small family owned and operated business. I was the only male employee. I worked there after school and on weekends with eight different females of various ages. Their ages ran from mine up into their 30s. Located on the main highway into and out of St. Mary’s, I could take a different school bus and get dropped off right in front.
Tasty-Kwik had an interesting dynamic. I would show up for work after school “teenager” hungry. While working the counter and windows, the female cooks in the back kitchen would feed me anything I wanted. I kept the relationship professional while employed there, but one of the women later dragged me out to her car and made out with me after seeing me out one evening at a bar. I was there playing pool.
Somewhere in that time frame, I’d started working at gas stations as an attendant. An easy job, I would fill vehicles with fuel, check oil, and fix flat tires. You got a ton of exercise running back and forth to the pumps so that I couldn’t keep any weight on me. For transportation to work, I was still getting a ride from random people also leaving school, or my mother would take me.
Right before sixteen, I got my drivers license. I’d had a drivers education class in high school. We’d trained in a Chevy Nova that had a brake on the passenger floor side for the teacher to stop the vehicle if necessary. “You’re accelerating too fast,” she’d tell me. “I’m paying the damn fuel,” she’d complain. I took the driving test in my mother’s gold Ford LTD station wagon. Passing the exam the first time, I was lucky to parallel park the beast. The written test was easy. I was able to memorize test booklets.
About six months after getting my license, I hit a 150-pound deer in that station wagon just down the road from our house. My parents weren’t mad. The deer running around all over the place were a nuisance and hard to see. My dad butchered it.
With dad gone and mom struggling to feed and care for us, she was depressed on Christmas Eve. We didn’t have a tree, and that was bothering her. Grabbing an ax from the shed, I took the station wagon down the road, and something down that passed for one, getting the car stuck in mud in the process. The brother doing time for heroin was with me. We walked for miles to the racetrack at the end of the road and got the black man who worked and lived there to pull us out with his tractor. It was well past midnight before we got back with the tree — no such thing as cell phones in those days.
By then I had two part-time jobs that equaled a fulltime job at two gas stations. I worked at a Gulf in Charlotte Hall and a Sunoco in Hughesville. The Gulf filling station is the only job from which I’ve ever gotten fired. Two other teenagers who worked there also were stealing money. So one night the owner did something to set them up with the cash count in the register. We were buddies, so I warned them if they didn’t stop he was going to fire them. The two brothers did the opposite of what I’d expected. They confronted the owner, bitched him out, denied being thieves and quit. Mad about what had happened, the owner fired me for telling them that he’d set them up. I didn’t like the guy to begin with, so I switched to working full time at the Sunoco.
Curley’s Sunoco was another family business. The station owners were an old man and his wife. They were in their 70s and had retired from it. Located on the commute to DC, they’d made a fortune over the years and appeared to be quite wealthy. They lived in a large waterfront house in Ridge. Beside the gas station, there was a trailer that his brother, his wife and their son were now living in. They’d taken over operating the business. The owner would still show up from time to time to check on things though. He was an ass but, I learned a lot about having standards from him. I’d go on to become a lot like him in the military. He’d make us wash and vacuum his car while he and his wife went shopping. He’d also inspect the place for cleanliness whenever he’d randomly stop in for fuel. His wife was a drunkard. Some of the employees who’d been around for years claimed she used to sleep with some of the gas station attendants while he was gone fishing. After she hugged me a few times with liquor breath, I thought it was a credible story.
Despite him being twice my age, I became a close friend of the manager’s son. We’d hang out together after work. We both liked to drink coffee, so we’d go to a donut shop in Charlotte Hall and play Pac Man. He was the most gifted mechanic I’ve ever met. I’d begun to take an interest in fast cars around that time, and he had several. He had a 55 Chevy that made the Road Runner I’d ridden in seem slow. We built one of his race cars while I worked there.
Military recruiters showed up at Chopticon High School when I was in the 11th grade to give us the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. I found out by phone a short time later that I’d scored deep into officer territory. All of the branches of service wanted me to join because of that. An Air Force recruiter said I could quit high school and they’d get me a GED. The Marine recruiter began showing up quite a few nights at Curleys. He kept a pack of Marlboros in his socks, so the cigarettes weren’t visible in his dress uniform. After about five evenings of him being there over several months, I finally told the Marine staff sergeant it wasn’t happening and sent him on his way.
Curley’s staged a fake robbery as well when it hit tough times. Same deal as some of my dad’s shenanigans, the cops couldn’t prove a robber hadn’t entered the office in the trailer when my boss claimed he’d left it unattended, so the insurance company paid off. It was the only way they could make payroll that week. The gas station folded not long after. I began to think that fake robberies were a survival mechanism for small businesses.
After Curley’s closed up shop, I ended up working at a different Gulf station in Mechanicsville. My older brother had gotten his life together by that point and was doing well at a job on the Navy base. He loaned me $2,000. I bought a white 1976 Camaro with the money from a dude name Chuckie. A nice looking car, it had a spoiler and white bucket seats. He took the nitrous oxide bottle off before selling it to me.
The Gulf station let us work on our cars after-hours, so I put headers, traction bars and all sorts of stuff on the car while working there. By the time I’d finished, it was quite fast. I’d drive the Camaro to high school in the mornings, and used it for dating on the weekends. The car was a chick magnet. I had a lot of sexual escapades in it with many various girlfriends.
By the time I entered the military, I had twelve points on my driver’s license and was on the verge of losing it because of my crazy driving in the Camaro. I’m lucky I didn’t get killed in it. On more than one occasion I drove it well over a 100 MPH. At 120 it felt like it was floating just above the highway.
I hated high school. I thought it was a waste of time, and didn’t find it challenging. Despite demonstrating a high amount of intelligence, no teacher ever talked to me about going to college. However, I did recognize that I needed to get a high school diploma.
In my senior year, I’d already skipped 40 days of school when they created a new school district policy that you couldn’t miss more than ten. So even though I was still getting Cs and Ds on my report card, they kicked me out school after the rule change.
I’d show up enough during high school to hear what was going on in class and then wing the multiple choice tests without studying. During my junior and senior years, I was only attending courses for half a day because of the work release program.
When I got expelled, I hadn’t seen my mother so upset since I’d gotten arrested for the vandalism in Rockville. Because of that, I tried attending night classes, but that screwed me up on working. Money was my lifeline. I had car insurance to pay, gas to buy. I quickly gave it up.
I only need one semester to graduate, so I just took time off from school altogether and then went back for the last half of the school year in 1982.
For my senior prank, I talked some friends into repainting the Future Farmers of America (FFA) barn that sat to the left of the Chopticon school building. Historically, the way it worked was the graduating seniors would be given time off from the school day to repaint the barn each year. After it was painted white, they could then write their names on it. The prank was me, and a small group of friends came back at 1 a.m. and repainted the barn white once more after all the seniors from the Class of 1982 had painted it earlier that day and put their names all over it. We didn’t do the entire barn. We did the side facing the school and parking lot, the most visible parts. Once we’d finished repainting, we wrote our names in place of theirs. Other students were so pissed that we skipped school that day.
The barn prank was a classy operation. We showed up with ladders, buckets of paint, rollers, and brushes. One of the kids shot a rope over the roof using a compound bow and scaled the high elevations, painting them.
It’s customary in Maryland for graduating seniors to spend a week in Ocean City. That wasn’t something I could afford, but one of my friend’s parents and extended family were extremely wealthy. His father’s brother owned a large vacation condo in Ocean. He let us have it for that week. A mixture of boy and girls, around ten of us stayed in the condominium that was within proximity of the beach. The drinking age was 18 in Maryland at the time, so we had a crazy week of sex, sun and partying.
The Camaro had been too modified by then for such a long drive to Ocean City, a resort town on the Atlantic Ocean of Maryland’s eastern shore. Because of that, I rode there and back with Cameron Nolan. He had a brand new Oldsmobile he’d gotten from insurance settlement money. He’d been in some horrible car wreck during high school. Cam could barely walk and had neurological issues. He needed friends, so I rode with him. He later died in another car wreck soon after graduation. I still think of him often.
The father of my friend whose family owned the condo gave me a job in his large sheet metal company after graduation. His dad supplied the paint for the barn too, although he didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t care for the metal crafting work. Plus it was a long commute each day up to Suitland. Without any vision for the future, I started thinking more and more about going into the military. My mother still had many kids at home. I needed to get out of the house. With all that going on, I decided that going into the Army was probably the best bet. I also figured being that it was the largest of the military services, it would have the most chance for advancement.
The recruiters hadn’t forgotten me. My 125 ASVAB score was still on file. The recruiters repeated it over and over to me to make sure I understood. “You haven’t smoked any dope,” they said repeatedly. I nodded my head side to side in agreeance.
I signed up in July of 1982 for the Army’s delayed entry program. They scheduled for me to leave for basic training in November.
“All of them looked at me strangely for shedding the tears. Out of everyone present, just Sandy knew the secret behind my emotional outburst.”
The autobiography of Jamie Shupe (Part Two)
Note: This living document is part of a multipart series. The text may be updated to reflect better recollections of past events.
Length: Approximately 8,200 Words
My childhood was messy and traumatic. Because of that, half of my mental health issues are so troubling, I can’t even bring myself to talk about them with therapists. What they might think about them on a personal level scares me. As the years flew by, I started to realize I mainly only remembered significant events and traumas.
As a youth, I was fragile emotionally. That didn’t change when I matured to a teen or became an adult. I learned how to hide it, but that shameful characteristic would later lead me to believe that I possessed the stereotypical traits of a female, making me think I was one because of them.
Born in the District of Columbia while my parents were living in Kentland, Maryland I was one of eight children. Technically, I’m kid number three, but I’m recognized as the second oldest. Another boy was born between my older brother and me, but he passed away shortly after his birth at just a few days old. Six of my siblings are boys, and I have one sister. Next, to the youngest, she was still quite young when I left home for the Army.
I’m not close to my sister at all because of the substantial age difference. The gap between us is big enough for me to be her parent. My mother had always wanted a girl, and when she finally had my sister, she lavished her with attention. The standard introduction for my sister by my mother was: “she’s my only girl,” my mom would say with fondness. Because of that, my sister became quite upset when I transitioned and declared myself to be a female too. My sex change had bumped her from being the first girl. She mentioned going to therapy because of it.
Unsophisticated and uneducated, my parents were well-intentioned while trying to raise us, but they deserve everything negative I say about them. They married young. Both of them came from abusive and dysfunctional families. They were frequently beaten and adopted that as a parenting skill that they unleashed on us. There’s no nice way to spin my upbringing, and I don’t make any effort to protect my folks from scrutiny.
When I became famous, and reporters demanded to know my background story, I threw my mom under the media’s camera van, telling the Daily Dot journalist who broke the story about my landmark court decision how she’d beat me as a child, and called me a sissy when she was angry. Wanting the world to know that boys get sexually molested too, I also confessed about having been sexually abused during my youth by a male relative.
In my parent’s marriage, my mom was the dominant one. She ran the family. My mother would ask my father once to do something. If he didn’t, she either did it herself or got so indignant about it that he’d stop whatever he was doing and do it on the spot. I take after my mother. If someone doesn’t do what needs to be done, I do it myself.
If we misbehaved while my father was at work, my mother would order him to beat the hell out of us when he returned home. On command from my mom, he would. When my mother felt our punishment couldn’t wait, she’d mete it out herself. We got whipped with belts, paddles, and anything else within reach of her when she snapped.
In 2007, the pedophile uncle, who molested me died after drinking a bottle of rubbing alcohol while institutionalized in a mental hospital somewhere around DC. He was one of my father’s younger brothers. By then my grandparents were dead, and the only ones still alive were my dad and another brother. My father is a religious person, he claimed the body and buried my uncle in the same Leonardtown cemetery that my younger brother is interned in.
With me not having a job, my father saw no reason for me not being able to attend my uncle’s funeral. Asking me nicely, he pleaded with me to come because no one else would. All of my brothers had weaseled out of going to the funeral by claiming their jobs wouldn’t let them off. As the priest began the eulogy, I started to cry uncontrollably. It was only me, my mother, My stepfather and Sandy there. All of them looked at me strangely for shedding the tears. Out of everyone present, just Sandy knew the secret behind my emotional outburst.
Years later, I would confess the childhood sexual abuse to my daughter in a coming out letter. Explaining that I was a trans woman, I also revealed the reason I’d always been so distant from her while growing up. I said it was because of the sexual molestation I’d experienced.
I was profoundly affected by my childhood sexual abuse. Because I’d gotten sexually aroused when my uncle molested me, the guilt from that ate me up. At first, I was so young that I didn’t understand what he was doing. I thought maybe it was some secret “guy thing” he was initiating me into.
After the childhood sexual abuse, I became hypersexual for decades. Sex was a drug to mask the mental health problems it had given me. I would go on to have a lot of affairs. I’d later come to realize that sex and orgasm wasn’t really the prize. It was the predatory hunt itself that drove me to do it.
As a child, I was emotionally fragile. That didn’t change when I was a teen or became an adult. I learned how to hide it, but that shameful characteristic would later lead me to believe that I possessed the stereotypical traits of a female, making me think I was one because of it.
There were a few quirks in my mother’s side of the family. While I was growing up, her sister had run off to California with her husband’s son. She ended up having children from both the older man and him. I didn’t get what all the hysteria about this meant until I was older. But other than that, my mother’s side was pretty respectable.
Beneath the shimmering surface of success, my father’s family was a slow-moving race to death.
My dad’s father was a famous charter boat captain that fished the waters of the Chesapeake Bay for decades.
His mother was my favorite grandmother. The sweetest person in the world, she’d spoil us whenever possible, buying me and my brother stamps for our collections or other gifts. I could never picture it, but there were rumors of her sunning topless on the boat as other charter captains gawked. I always thought she was an odd fit for my grandfather.
I know very little about the early history of my grandparents. But I do know that while my father was growing up, his parents owned a successful grocery store in Washington, D.C.
The Sunny South Market was rumored to be highly successful. As a kid, I’d hear occasional whispers about hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash hidden away in a safe in the basement of my grandparent’s row house located in Northeast Washington.
Once my grandparent’s corner grocery market had become established, my grandfather bought a boat and became a charter fisherman. Named the Eileen III, the 40 or so foot craft, sat low in the water. It was based in Deale, Maryland. My grandmother was the first Eileen. My dad’s sister was the second Eileen, and the boat was the third.
My grandfather’s charter boat fishing business was equally a success. Because of that, my grandfather was the weekly guest of a fishing report aired by a DC radio station. Known as Captain Jim Shupe, the Washington Post frequently would write about him.
The Washington Post doesn’t have much to say about me because I’m a desister of transgenderism. The Post prefers to sell the narrative that cutting off healthy body parts and sterilizing children is a cure for gender dysphoria. It’s not.
Whenever he had a charter party or was doing maintenance on the boat, my grandfather would be away from the grocery store. In his absence, my grandmother and the kids would run the business. My father said she used to feed poor black families without my grandfather knowing about it.
Like the uncle who molested me, my grandfather was a notorious drunk. Known for carrying several thousand dollars in cash, he once got kidnapped by a group of black men and rolled at a bar near where the boat was docked. My old man had to go pick him up that night somewhere outside of Deale. My dad rescuing my grandfather from misadventures or car wrecks was a common theme during my early years.
As a child, I couldn’t determine if the basement safe in my grandparent’s basement, which I’d seen, had come about from my uncle the pedophile, or if he became interested in safes because of it. He owned a rowhouse about a block down the street from my grandparents. I’d been in his basement too. His cellar was chock full of large safes, and the upstairs of the home was full of valuable antiques. My dad’s brother didn’t have a job that could explain all of that. I didn’t even know what he did for a living. Because of that, I often thought he was a professional criminal. He was married at the time. They would later get divorced, and I’ve never seen their kid since.
As I was growing up, my grandfather would frequently total new or almost new vehicles. I can remember a string of Ford LTD sedans being replaced. With all those car wrecks, I never understood how he kept his driver’s license. I often wondered if that wad of cash he carried went to cops who’d stop him for driving while intoxicated?
“While we cruise for drum with a dozen other fishing boats, Shupe talks about his life on the water, even parts that are painful to recall, such as the suicide 17 years ago of his 27-year-old son Tom, who also worked as a charter boat captain.”
“For nine years after the suicide, Shupe says, he stayed drunk nearly 24 hours a day. He would start each morning with a six pack and consume two cases by day’s end. He totaled eight cars during that period.”
The WashingtonPost quotes my grandfather as saying he spent nine years drunk after my father’s youngest brother committed suicide. To protect herself emotionally my mother says it isn’t true.
The uncle who killed himself had four kids and a wife. At the time of his death, he was rumored to be deep in debt from a failing restaurant named James III. He also had a spanking new charter boat he’d bought trying to imitate my grandfather. I heard bits and pieces of a story claiming that he’d asked my grandparents to bail him out. When they refused, he blew his brains out in their bedroom while they were away from the house.
The only girl in the family, my father’s sister was plagued with issues too. Like everyone else, she was an alcoholic. She cycled in an out of our basement, wrecked cars and slept with a lot of men. My first trip to New York was a ride there to bring her back after she’d broken up with a boyfriend and he’d kicked her out of their apartment. Both her and the guy she’d eventually marry died young around age 50. He allegedly had a bisexual sexual orientation. Nobody would say what he died from.
Emphysema is what killed my grandfather, the charter boat captain. He’d gotten deathly sick. An ambulance crew came to pick him up at the DC rowhouse and take him to a hospital, but he climbed back out of the vehicle. He then went back into the rowhouse, where he died not long after. Left to take care of my alcoholic uncle, my grandmother did the best she could.
Since 50 years have passed and I was only 3-4 years old, I don’t remember much about the house in Kentland, a part of Prince George’s County. I do remember it being a two-story duplex, with a shingled front and concrete porch with just a couple of steps going in. I can also still picture the staircase in the living room to the right of the front door that led upstairs at a 45-degree angle.
The scar beside my left eye came from those stairs. My older brother and I had been playing a game of leap-frog in the living room. On one of my jumps, I rolled off his back and hit the wooden steps. Although it’s faded over the years, judging by the scar, it’s doubtful that I got stitches.
My mother has told me that I nearly died on the front porch of the Kentland house. A neighbor across the street who had paramedic training gave me mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and revived me, she says.
Getting injured while being involved in things with my oldest brother would become a recurrent theme while growing up. My mother had always said I should have become a lawyer. If I had been one as a child, I would’ve sued the bastard.
Between all of the injuries I incurred as a youth and the sexual molestation, the two would later affect my parenting skills.
Throughout my daughter’s childhood, I was overly protective of her against injuries. For example, I didn’t want her riding a bicycle. Her being a female, I knew men measured women by their beauty. I wanted her to safely reach adulthood without any of my scars. Because of the molestation, I was never able to form a strong bond with her. I was so damaged by the sexual abuse that I feared I could become an abuser too. So even though I didn’t have any inclination to become a pedophile, I pushed her away from me to protect myself mentally.
During my mental health reading, I discovered that what was happening to me is referred to by psychologists as POCD. An acronym for pedophile OCD. It’s where your obsessive-compulsive disorder uses your traumas to torment you. You’re not actually a danger to anyone according to what I read, but you literally drive yourself crazy believing that you are.
Despite many people praising me for intelligence as an adult, I could be incredibly stupid as a child. I’ve never been tested, but I suspect I have autism, the high functioning variety, Asperger syndrome.
At a very young age, I once broke a thick glass Aspirin bottle in the street. I then used a shard to punctured the end of my finger to see my blood. My mother had a difficult time getting the deep wound to stop bleeding.
While I wasn’t one of those kids who threatened to cut my penis off, I do have a vague memory of wondering why I couldn’t just get rid of that dangling thing? I just didn’t understand why it was there and thought I could get rid of it. Fortunately, I never attempted that because of the Aspirin bottle experiment.
That’s the kind of stuff you can think about later and say, “oh yeah, I’m trans, the signs have always been there.” When you get it in your head to transition, you start looking for the things in your past that will justify the decision in your mind to move forward with attempts to change your sex.
Around the time I was four to five, my parents bought a three-bedroom rambler in Rockville, Maryland. The house sat on an idyllic tree-lined street. There were a ton of other kids in the neighborhood for us to play with.
The first four children in my family are all spaced three years apart. When we moved to Rockville, there were just three of us.
Not long after we moved into the brick rambler, I watched a man that lived down the street die. We used to catch all sorts of different types of colorful butterflies in his yard. A tree of his just beyond the fence had large balls with prickly thistles, that would fall to the ground and reveal large nuts when they dried and burst open. For some reason, the butterflies loved it. One day when he and his wife returned home, he collapsed onto the grass between the street and sidewalk after getting out of the car. Gathered with a group of the neighborhood kids, we watched as the ambulance took him away.
I had a lot of trees in my yard too. In the summer, I would lay in the grass under them for hours trying to catch birds. Using a cardboard box, I would prop it up with a stick that I had a string tied to. I’d have some pieces of bread under the box. When a bird went under it to get the bread, I’d yank the string, but I never caught one.
My father had two large parrots, a gray and black one and a multi-colored yellow one. He also had a mynah bird. He tried, but he could never teach any of them to talk. I wanted a bird too.
He’d bought the birds at a pet shop in Wheaton that sold exotic animals. He used to take me along sometimes. On one occasion, a monkey there reached out of its cage and severely scratched my right forearm, leaving three scars a short distance apart. Today they are a faint memory of that evening.
That same shopping center is where my mom would take us for haircuts. I never wanted them. Sitting in the barber’s chair, I would scream and cry. My mother would offer to bribe me with McDonald’s afterward, but I would tell her I didn’t want any hamburgers. I wanted my hair, I told her.
When I decided to transition to female, me not wanting haircuts as a kid was part of the evidence I used against myself as more proof that I was really a girl.
Growing up in a suburb of charming homes that my parents believed was safe, I walked a couple of miles each way to school. Even in elementary school. The older kids were instructed to watch us younger ones, and for the most part, they did.
Attending Wheaton Woods Elementary School, I would gaze out the windows, disinterested in school work. One day during heavy rains, large puddles formed on the walkways and in the grass bordering them. I was supposed to be doing an assignment, but from my desk beside a window, I could see bubbles forming. They would rise to the surface and then burst. Fascinated, I called the teacher over, demanding to know if there were frogs or tadpoles in the puddles. “Frogs. Frogs,” I told her. I was disappointed that as an educator, she wasn’t able to tell me what the source of the bubbles was? She got away from my desk by promising to ask the science teacher, and never got back with me with an answer.
When my parents bought the Rockville house, located in a subdivision known as Wheaton Woods, the basement was unfinished. My mother wanted the downstairs turned into a living area, but my father never had the time to fix it up. My dad worked six days a week. He was gone a minimum of 12 hours a day at his television shop.
On Sunday mornings, My dad would go to church, dragging us kids along. He never missed a Sunday service. If we resisted going, he’d beat us. My mother would dress us up in little suits and send us off with him, but she never went herself.
My mother would be the one to finish the basement. She could scrub up and put on a feminine appearance when required for friends or relatives, but it wasn’t her true nature. She tarred the basement walls, installed framing and insulation, and then put paneling over that. Afterward, she bought an area carpet for the rec room and added pieces of furniture such as a black velour couch, a set of end tables and a coffee table. Being that my father owned a television shop, he put a TV and stereo down there too.
I still remember rolling under that brown coffee table with a veneer top in the basement as my mom chased me while I ran wildly through the house one day to get away from her, whipping me with one of my father’s leather belts the entire way. Trying to reach me under the coffee table as I rolled back and forth to escape the belt, she’d slammed her arm down on the edge of it. The injury later turned into an ugly bruise the size of a baseball, but I didn’t feel sorry for her.
I got hurt again playing with my brother at the Rockville house when I was five. We were in the back yard. He and his friend were letting large, metal trucks go down the sliding board. At the end of the slide, they’d placed a concrete block the trucks would smash into. From the top of the slide, they’d give the vehicles a shove. The trucks would then fly down and slam into the concrete barricade at the bottom. I was standing at the end of the slide, barefoot, watching the destruction. One unusually large truck hit the block with so much force that it knocked it off. Falling eight inches or so, the block crushed the big toe on my left foot. The injury required a large number of stitches to sew the wound up.
I can remember my mother carrying me around for a few weeks afterward. She’d bring me outside, and sit me in a lawn chair on the patio to sit in the shade. When I tired of that, she’d carry me back into the house to watch television in the living room.
The basement had a few mysterious things in it that I didn’t understand, such as a dark brown wig on a foam head that sat on a table in the rec room. My mother owning a hairpiece didn’t make much sense because she was still in her twenties then and had a full head of hair. After I began cross-dressing, I often wondered if the wig had belonged to my father?
When I came out to my father as a trans woman, he confessed to thinking that he was a girl when he was growing up. He has Parkinson’s disease now, and wouldn’t elaborate further.
Two much older neighborhood girls from across the street took notice of the wig too. They’d sometimes babysit us when my mother had things such as doctor’s appointments. One Halloween, they decided to throw a party in the basement for us and their little brother, who I sometimes hung out with. The girls lived across the street, and I always hung out with them rather than their brother whenever I could. Because of that, they made me into a girl for the evening. They put the wig on me and brought one of their old dresses over to dress me in. It was purple with white trim. I spent the party as a girl, and they treated me like one. I might have been six or seven then.
The older girl, who I really liked would later put her arm through the glass of their back aluminum storm door. Mad at her brother one day when I was with him, she tried shoving it open to leave the house, missing the handle. When her hand bounced off the small door latch, her arm went straight through the window glass. She’d cut an artery and blood would pump into the air each time her heart beat. An ambulance came and got her too. But unlike the man down the street, she came back.
Her brother and I often got abused by an older neighborhood kid. He once made us remove our pants and underwear in the middle of Independence Avenue. Then he berated us for having small penises. Our bully didn’t have a mother and was being raised by a couple of much older brothers. A Vietnam vet, one of them had a reputation for being totally nuts. Because of that no one messed with them. They had a yard with no grass and were always partying on the front steps of their house.
In addition to the sexual molestation by my uncle that had first occurred at my grandparent’s house, and then later in the basement, the rec room was the source of another childhood trauma. One day I’d stayed home from school, telling my mother I was sick. I thought it was kind of weird that she was pushing me really hard to take an afternoon nap, something she didn’t usually do. So I faked it, going off to my bedroom and pretending that I was asleep.
A short bit later, I heard someone knock on the front door. Sneaking into the hallway, I saw my mother open it and greet a guy with mirrored glasses and slicked back hair. For an instant, I’d thought it was my father trying on some fresh new look, but I quickly realized it wasn’t. I’d never seen this man before. Ducking back into the bedroom, I hid. Emerging later, I was shocked to not find them anywhere upstairs. I figured they must be in the basement, so I crept down the stairs, hugging the paneled wall and careful not to make any noise. Peering around the corner to see what they were doing, I saw the two of them on the black couch. My mother had her legs drawn back. He was on top of her moving. It would be years later before I’d realize they’d been having sex in the missionary position.
I never said anything about my mother’s affair to anyone, and it would become just another of the secrets locked away in my little chest of memories that traumatized me. I often pondered a link to me having so many affairs.
In the front corner of the basement that faced the street, my father had a small workshop. When we first moved in, I used to watch him sharpen his knives in the evenings. Before becoming a television repairman, he’d been a meat cutter for a grocery store. Meat cutting skills were something my dad picked up during his own childhood at the Sunny South.
When the aunt that had married both a father and his son came back across the country, they stayed in our basement in the Rockville house. The cellar in Rockville became a landing zone for extended family members that ran into issues. The alcoholic uncle who molested me frequently stayed in it also when things got violent with my grandfather. He usually lived at my grandparent’s home. But whenever they’d start fighting, my grandmother would call and my father would go pick him up, bringing him back to our place. At one point, my father’s sister lived in the basement for months too.
Curious about what a naked woman looked like during my elementary school years, I peeked at my aunt through a heat vent one evening while she was living with us, discovering that women don’t have penises. She’d just showered and was changing in one of the three upstairs bedrooms. I’d learned that the heat vent from my parent’s room went straight into that one and you could see things through it. With a limited field of view, I couldn’t look at her breasts. I was only able to catch sight of her dimpled butt and pubes. I might have been 8 at that time.
She was my favorite aunt. When my older brother would visit my grandparents’ house, he would sleep with her. He once told me how she’d given him wine one evening. When I would visit, my grandparents had me sleep with my uncle. That’s when he began molesting me.
I was exposed to pornography at an early age. On the playground at my elementary school, we’d find playing cards with naked women on the backs. During a week-long stay with another uncle on my mother’s side when I was around ten, he’d given me and his oldest daughter, a girl around my age copies of Penthouse to view and read in her bedroom. We didn’t do anything but look at the magazines, but I’m sure she’s just as tormented that he did that as I am.
Around 11-years-old I would get hurt yet again. My oldest brother and a different neighborhood kid had set up ramps to jump with bicycles, which everyone in the neighborhood had. The daredevil Evil Knievel was a cultural fixture at the time, and they wanted to emulate him. At first, there was just a single ramp that you’d get up speed and jump. Nobody had any problems jumping that and landing safely. But when everyone tired of the easy jumps, my brother and his friend set up a second ramp too that you had to land on, making both even higher when doing so.
My brother’s friend jumped first. Four-years older than me, he successfully jumped from the first ramp, making a smooth landing on the second about six feet away. Seeing him do that, I wanted to try it too. I came down the hill, getting up a bunch of speed on the way, and went up the ramp. Going too fast, I overshot the second ramp and came down on the front wheel of my bike. I then went over the handlebars and landed on the sidewalk. The bicycle then came down on top of me. When it did, both us slid down the concrete until we lost momentum and stopped. I was so dazed nothing was hurting yet.
I was pretty injured, but all of the kids wanted to hide me from my mother to escape blame. My brother and some of the other children took me into a neighbors house, trying to clean me up as best they could. I had road rash all over my exposed skin and was bleeding from several cuts and severe abrasions. The scar on my nose is from that crash. My left arm was broken. I was in too much of a daze to realize how badly I was injured.
Eventually, my older brother had to take me home. My mom knew right away that my arm was broken, she could tell by giant bulge above my wrist. After getting the call, my father rushed home from work, and they took me to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, where another brother would soon be born.
I still cringe when I think back to the noise my bones made when the doctors set my arm. “This is gonna hurt,” the emergency room physician said before snapping things back into place. After he fixed my arm, they took more X-rays and put me in a cast that nearly reached my shoulder.
My old man must have had a “get back on it and ride that horse again” mentality because no sooner than I’d left the hospital, he took me to a bike store, also in the Wheaton shopping center to help me feel better. My old bicycle was trashed. The front rim and handlebars were bent, the paint was scratched.
A kid two houses down had a Schwinn Apple Krate, and I was jealous as crap of his bicycle. With a fat back tire, a banana seat, long front forks and a small front wheel, the bike was exotic and ahead of its time. I hoped I would get one too because of the busted arm, but the most my dad would go for was a midnight blue Schwinn 5-speed. It was used. Plopping $105 down on the counter for it, we took it home.
Not wanting to wait for the cast to come off to ride it, I got on the new bike immediately in the days following the purchase. I ended up breaking the cast at the elbow joint from riding it so much.
The 5-speed dad bought me was similar to one I’d nearly gotten hurt on a couple of years before, just a different color. The kid up the street had gotten one for Christmas. His was purple. There wasn’t any snow, and the weather wasn’t bad, so he was outside showing it off to other kids in the neighborhood that morning. Seeing a group of friends standing around admiring his new bike, as soon as I walked up to them, I bragged that I could ride it. Taking me up on the challenge, he offered me the chance. “Go ahead, let’s see you do it,” he said, challenging me.
Up until that point, I’d never ridden a bike with hand brakes before, and his sudden offer to let me do ride that one had caught me off-guard. With handles and cables on the handlebars and a six-inch gear shift with a big black knob in front of the seat, I had no idea how to operate it. But after bragging that I could ride it, I was too embarrassed to ask how everything worked.
Saying nothing about not knowing how to operate the controls, I jumped on his new bike and started pedaling fast down the sidewalk. We lived on a slight hill, so by the time I neared my house several hundred feet down the street, I felt like I was flying. Being used to rear wheel drum brakes, I pushed the pedals in a backward direction to slow the bike down, expecting them to make the thing stop. But nothing happened. Confused, I spun the pedals backward in a frenzy, praying for the brakes to finally kick in. Round and round, the pedals spun, making a weird noise I’d never heard before.
Knowing my speed would keep increasing the further down the steep sidewalk I went, I steered the bike right into the side of the hill in front of my house, letting it slide from beneath me as I did it. Seeing what had happened, the kid who owned it and all the other kids came running towards me. A boy, a couple of years older than me, he was pissed. I was sure he was gonna beat the hell out of me, but he didn’t.
Some men buy a Corvette and get a young chick for a girlfriend for their mid-life crisis. My old man did something far more radical. He developed the grand illusion that he could become the manager of a successful country music band and strike it rich.
Except for the uncle, most of the relatives were done passing through in the basement by then. Which was a good thing, because my father filled the rec room and an adjoining bedroom with musical and recording equipment. He blew a bunch of his TV shop money on it and went deeply into debt also.
The band manager fantasy caused a series of highly problematic people to cycle through our house on Friday and Saturday nights. Some of them were musicians and singers he’d no doubt hired from classified ads, others were down on their luck helpers at his TV shop. He always kept someone on hand to help him carry and load the big console television sets that needed to come back to his electronics shop for repair.
Band practice frequently got out of hand. As the musical notes shook the house, alcohol flowed. My dad would provide the wannabe artists with whatever they wanted to drink, and some of them were mean drunks. A couple of times, the musicians started fighting, and the ensuing melee spilled out into the street of our home in the classy suburb. Somehow the cops never showed up.
My old man probably found religion when he got older because he was a con artist during his younger days. I often went to work with him on Saturdays to get away from the house and the neighborhood. The colorful cast of characters hanging around or working in the TV shop he owned was far more interesting than anything going on there.
I went on one memorable repair call where his young helper dropped the back of the TV set onto the neck of the picture tube and broke it. As the air was hissing out, my dad told the woman: “We’ve found your problem, ma’am, you need a new picture tube. Loading up her set, they took her set back to the shop and billed her for the full repairs.
After my father started to run into financial difficulties, the band equipment mysteriously disappeared late one night. My father supposedly had a buyer for it, so it all got moved into our living room for the purchaser to pick it up the next morning. The following day when we got up, the equipment was gone. Nobody had heard a thing. To this day, my mother still swears my dad drugged her before she went to bed. Our insurance company paid off on the robbery because they couldn’t prove we hadn’t been burglarized. There were some faint marks on our front door frame, making it appear that someone had pried our front door open.
I got to run wild at my father’s television shop. I could take the key and open the Coke machine, drinking as many as I wanted. Or I could get small amounts of money out of the cash register for snacks at the High’s convenience store a couple doors down. At lunchtime I could also take money to get whatever I wanted from the pizza parlor a few doors down in the other direction.
If I got bored, I’d get into all sorts of mischief. I would take the blown glass tubes that had been discarded from TV repairs and throw them across the back parking lot, watching them explode. The guys from the Chinese restaurant next door that often sat out in back to smoke would watch in amazement. Another time, I found a bottle of mercury like I’d seen in science class. Letting a bunch of it out on a workbench, I moved the heavy mass around until I got tired of playing with it, then herded the silvery bubbles back into the bottle.
Like the basement, the television shop was where all of our down and out relatives got back on their feet. My dad was expected to give them all jobs until they’d recovered enough economically to survive on their own.
Although they didn’t need the money, my grandmother was often the secretary. And even though he didn’t know the first thing about electronics, my grandfather would often work there during the winter when he couldn’t fish.
My grandfather was the badass enforcer for the operation despite being a little guy. I still recall the black man who was upset about his high repair bill. If you didn’t pay the bill, you didn’t get your TV back, so he showed up with an even bigger black man demanding his set back and a reduced repair charge. Seeing what was going on, my grandfather came out of the back with a two-by-four board, slamming it on the front counter. After that the man paid up.
Legitimate robberies were a real thing growing up too. Numerous times my old man had to go into work during the middle of the night. On one occasion someone backed a large truck through the bars on the windows of his business and cleaned out the entire showroom. His TV shop was located in Riverdale, Maryland as part of the East Pines shopping center. My dad was a dealer for the Admiral brand. The robbers took nearly everything he had on display within minutes despite the burglar alarm going off.
When I wanted to be in the elementary school band in 5th grade, because of my father’s interest in music, he didn’t hesitate to buy me an expensive trumpet. My mother was livid. “How do you know he’s gonna stick with it,” she was hollering at him. “You should have rented one,” she said in disgust when we returned with the instrument.
The first song I learned to play while in the school band was “Suicide Is Painless,” the MASH theme song. A prescient melody considering I would experience two family members killing themselves and then enter the trans community that has a 41% attempted or completed suicide statistic.
A dream neighborhood to grow up in, if we weren’t riding bicycles, we were playing either baseball or football. As a kid I didn’t care for sports, but peer pressure forced me to play anyway. At school, the girls would play jacks, I preferred that over competitive games. But there were very few girls on my street who came outside to play. Because of that, I’d get drafted to fill some kind of position on a hastily assembled football or baseball team.
I lived in front of a threeway intersection of low-speed streets. About a third of a mile up the sidewalk from me, there was a small strip of public land that connected to another tree-lined avenue behind that sat down a hill behind us. It was there that all of the neighborhood kids would gather to play football.
The older boys would watch pro football games on television and then fantasizing that they were gonna become quarterbacks, they’d use us little kids as linemen to protect them. Another older boy would live out his fantasy as the wide receiver. We were playing tackle football and not wearing any protective equipment. I got knocked silly more times than I can count. We’d often go home covered in mud, but my mother tolerated it because she didn’t like having us in the house.
At the street intersection in front of my house, we’d play baseball using a tennis ball. Nobody must have cared about their cars, because we used to regularly slam the ball into them. A Jewish woman in her 40s that lived next to me would run out of the house and confiscate the ball if someone hit a home run into her yard. Sometimes, she’d call the cops on us too, but we’d all disappear into our homes, and nobody ever got in trouble. She had kids also, but she wouldn’t let them play with us. She thought we were hoodlums.
A disabled Vietnam vet who worked at the VA lived up the street. He drove one those aerodynamic Winnebago looking campers around that had been converted into a mobile office on wheels to visit places and sign disabled vets up for benefits after the Vietnam war. Sometimes he’d bring the spaceship looking thing home and park it on the street in front of his house. He was the father of one of the few girls in the neighborhood. She was 2-3 years younger than me. Like the boys who wanted to be quarterbacks, he’d sometimes come to join the baseball game after work, being either an umpire or coach.
Years later when I returned for a visit, I learned his daughter had become the neighborhood whore and was making out with all of the boys on the backyard hill at a house two doors down from my old one. She was cute. I left too soon, I told myself.
The wannabe coach had everyone fired up one evening. It was just before dark, and he was riding us hard. We had a lot of players that night. I don’t remember what set him off, but the brother of the two older kids that I was best friends with shoved me when I was on third base. They lived on the other corner across the street. After pushing me, he started getting even more aggressive. Thinking he was gonna jump on me, I took a wild swing and knocked him off clean off his feet. When I did it, the noisy game stopped, and silence took over. The coach spoke first: “your old man a boxer?,” he wanted to know.
As it sunk in about what I’d done, I began to think for sure that his two older brothers were gonna give me some payback despite being buddies, but they never said anything.
Once the neighborhood kids learned how to bash homosexual behavior as part of their maturing process, I came to realize how damaged I was. They started calling the football games “smear the queer.” The guilt of secretly being the hidden queer was crushing. I thought the uncle molesting me had made me gay.
The success of the wild punch would soon go wrong. A short while later on the playground at school during recess, an immigrant kid from somewhere violent in South America tried bullying me. Before it even got going, I took the same wild swing at him. An experienced fighter, he merely stepped back, dodging the punch. I’d swung so hard it caused me to spin around. I ended up looking like an idiot. Luckily, he didn’t really want to fight, and we both backed off. But I learned my lesson from it.
There were a lot of similarities in my childhood to the kid in Goldfrapp’s music video Annabel. The sexual abuse made me a loner. I always felt like people could tell how damaged I was just by looking at me. As a result I often disappeared on my bike. There was a park in the neighborhood, and I spent a lot of time there. My parents quit smoking in their early twenties, but nearly all of my relatives smoked. Sometimes I’d sneak cigarettes and smoke them while I was in the park. I probably had my first cigarette around ten.
Us four older kids came along while my parents had a good income. Plus I’m sure my grandparents were contributing financially to our upbringing. For about 5 years we went to Florida every winter for a few weeks in February. My parents would just write a note and pull us out of school, regardless of what the teachers thought of it.
At first, we stayed in hotels a couple of years on the trips. But then my parents bought two campers, a small one initially and a bigger one later. My dad towed them behind his Dodge van. Some of the trips were just our family. Other times we took one of my grandmothers.
At one point my dad bought an even bigger and much more expensive Dodge van. But after he figured out that he couldn’t pay for it some months because of the unreliable income from the television shop as a result of all of the relatives on the payroll, one of the thugs that hung around there burned it up for him. The guy set fire to the engine on a country road in Gaithersburg. Like the stolen band equipment, the insurance company couldn’t prove it was arson.
The pedophile uncle came along one year with us because my grandmother was scared to leave him alone with his father, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After the transmission in the van went out at a Florida campground from towing the heavy trailer, he rebuilt it. Despite his alcoholism, my uncle was incredibly gifted. He could quickly master anything mechanically. Even if it was something he’d never done before.
My dad’s brother also wasn’t squeamish like I am. My younger sibling once accidentally hooked him in the eyelid while we were perch fishing with a treble hook. I was ready to pass out just by looking at the yellow fishing lure dangling from his face. But my uncle pulled the barbed hook out as if nothing had happened, and went back to fishing too. I think he removed his own teeth also after liquor had rotted them.
One day when I was around ten or so, we departed in the late afternoon for a funeral home far down in Virginia. Some distant relative I’d never heard of or seen had died. By the time we reached the Roanoke area, it was dark. We’d gotten lost trying to find the rural funeral home.
Stopping at a little hole in the wall filling station for fuel and to ask directions, my dad went inside. I jumped out of the van too, close on his heels. But just as the guy working the pumps began giving us travel instructions, a pickup screeched to a stop in front of the station. A white guy lept out, entered the small office and collapsed on the floor. His arm looked like strips of bacon. He was bleeding badly. I’d seen my father work on engines a few times, I thought maybe he’d gotten his arm caught in the fan blades. Pointing across the street in the direction of a group of black men that had also stopped in a car, he shouted out: “Fucking n-word-expletives, they cut me up.”
Having spent so much of my childhood in the white suburbs of Rockville up until then, I began to equate black men with violence. The crack wars in DC during my late teens further fed that belief.
By twelve, I was hanging out in the magazine section of the Dart Drug store in the Aspen Hill shopping center with older boys, getting a boner. It was crazy how long we could stay and read adult magazines before someone that worked there would kick us out.
“The never before told details of former transgender activist Jamie Shupe’s rise to become the first legally non-binary American and the events that would ultimately lead him to return to his male birth sex.”
The autobiography of Jamie Shupe (Part One)
Note: This living document is part of a multipart series. The text may be updated to reflect better recollections of past events.
Length: Approximately 7,500 Words
Preface: The only way I can help others whose lives might resemble mine, and who might be thinking about embarking on a similar adventure, is by sharing my story. What I’m about to tell you is the no-holds-barred account of my journey to become the first person in U.S. history to become legally non-binary. An accomplishment that I became famous for. However, the real story behind my rise to become that person doesn’t prop up the transgender narrative. It rips it to shreds. My tale is a cautionary lesson for anyone who believes that you can change your sex. To unburden myself from the secrets I’ve been keeping and to release my inner demons, I have to shine a light on my darkest moments. To help others and myself, I need to confess about how much of a monster I was. I need to tell you how bad my behavior was. And I need to share how dark my thoughts were. I’m not doing any of this because I’ve found religion and become religious. I’m doing it because my moral compass has led me to do so. I invite you to join me as I take you down a trail of destruction that ultimately leads me to return to my male birth sex.
Dedication: This story is dedicated to my wife, Sandy. She has stuck by my side and continued to love me for over three decades despite all of the horrible things I’ve done. Hers has been an enduring love for an often unloveable person.
“Total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.”
In the autumn of 2011, my wife wanted me committed to a psychiatric hospital. But when she called my treating psychiatrist to enlist his help, not wanting to get involved, he told her to call the police instead. Fearing a suicide by cop ending for me, she chose to continue doing what she’d done for the past couple of decades. Stick by my side and hope for the best. Our life together had been a bumpy ride, but somehow we always landed on our feet.
A civilian psychiatrist, the doctor she’d called, was nothing but a pill pusher. He was performing the role of medication management for me. For a couple of years, he’d been pumping me full of psychotropics and Benzodiazepines. He’d given me Xanax, Klonopin, Lexapro, and Celexa. Probably other things too that I can’t remember now.
My visits with him never lasted more than fifteen minutes. I’d been his patient off and on since being medically retired from the Army. His records were part of the evidence used to get me a 100% disability rating from The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) for service-connected mental health issues.
At one appointment, after I’d begun to really unravel, he gave me a sample of an atypical antipsychotic medication. It’s been eight years or so, but I can still recall the distinctive black cherry taste of the Saphris the psychiatrist had given me. I took the medication before bed as directed. The next morning, I collapsed on the downstairs floor of my home in Southern Maryland. Unable to get up, I just laid there. Eventually, my wife and sister in law helped me to the couch. Three hours passed before I was well enough to continue the day.
At my appointments, the psychiatrist would often let me choose which mental health drugs I’d take. I’d research things online, then make my case during my next visit to try a specific medication I’d read about. When a disability examiner said to me: “some people just have to spend the rest of their lives on Vallum,” I asked the psychiatrist for Xanax because I thought it was a superior drug. He didn’t hesitate to prescribe it. If I didn’t believe a particular medication was helpful, I’d ask for something new. The behavior of controlling my care, being my own doctor and frequently switching medications set the stage for how I would later behave while undergoing hormone replacement therapy to become a woman. The same goes for gender. After I realized I wasn’t a transgender female. I merely asked the doctors and an Oregon court for a new trans identity.
The behind my back effort by my wife to get me committed was during a notably troubling period. We’d bought a $365,000 new construction home in a cookie cutter subdivision. And like many of the other houses in our development, the dwelling had severe construction defects. The builder had rushed to construct them while the feds were giving away substantial tax credits for new home purchases to stimulate the economy after the housing bubble had burst. A dream home, the purchase stretched our finances to the max and required both of our incomes to pay for it.
Saint Mary’s County, where I’d grown up, was an excellent place for greedy developers to build such tract homes. With the Federal Government as the largest employer and an exploding population of highly paid civilian workers and military officers at the naval base, the local economy never missed a beat during the great recession that paralyzed much of the rest of the country.
Construction crews made up of immigrants who couldn’t speak English framed my house using inferior quality framing lumber that came from Canada. Some of my walls weren’t plumb. The dynamics of the situation were complicated because the subcontractor running the framing crews was practically the best friend of one of my younger brothers. He attended the wedding of another one of my brothers. That relationship had led me to believe that I’d get excellent work. It wasn’t the case, I got the same garbage craftsmanship as the next family in the development.
When it became apparent the builder wasn’t going to fix the many construction defects, I began to engage in terroristic tactics to retaliate. I’d seen the movie Pacific Heights a couple of times where Michael Keaton had destroyed the apartment he’d rented. I decided to do something similar.
To disrupt home sales, I put on a sweatsuit, pair of combat boots, camo jacket and a knit stocking cap, giving me the appearance of a homeless veteran. Then while wearing dark sunglasses and with my 85 pound Labrador Retriever on a blanket beside me, I stood out in front of the builder’s model with a homemade picket sign, protesting the construction quality of my house.
With the model home being located at the entrance of the development, my protest attracted a lot of attention. I’d been there less than an hour when the sales agent inside decided to call 911 and report me as a threat so the cops would get rid of me.
At first, I didn’t know who had called the police, but after filing a freedom of information request with the 911 Call Center, the audio recording verified that it was her. She’d been our sales agent as well when buying the home. But as a representative of the builder, her loyalties lied with him and not us. I’d brought a black duffel bag along to carry things like the dog’s blanket. She reported it to the police as a threat, telling them she thought something dangerous was in it. The cop paid no attention to the open bag and didn’t search it.
Some of the local police were working off-duty security at night for the builder to guard the massive development. When the 911 came in, a Maryland State Trooper was there in minutes. Despite no laws against protesting in Saint Mary’s County, the officer threatened me with arrest if I didn’t leave. To avoid being jailed, I packed up and went home.
When I tried to lodge a formal complaint about the threat of arrest that shut down my protest, a sergeant staffing the front desk of the state police barracks refused to take it. I thought there was a conflict of interest between the police and the builder. The barracks commander also declined to take any action. So I sued them, acting as my own attorney. But because I was clueless about how to navigate such a lawsuit, the State of Maryland was easily able to get the case dismissed on a technicality. It was the first of several lawsuits I would file in the months ahead.
The planned community we lived in had strict rules about the appearance of homes and the upkeep of individual lots. Any modification to your property required approval from the homeowner’s association (HOA) which was controlled solely by the builder. Despite that, I began to dig up my yard and dismantle parts of my house to be a nuisance.
Across the rear of my quarter-acre lot, I dug a massive trench. When I was on active duty, we would hand dig fighting positions that were two M16s wide by one M16 deep. I did something similar but far bigger across my rear property line in my backyard, digging a trench that was 75 feet long, two feet wide, and five foot deep.
I’d wake up early in the morning, pop a couple of Xanax and dig until it got too hot. Then I’d quit for the day. During breaks, I’d sit on the front porch with my dog, consuming excessive quantities of coffee to fuel me. I enjoyed the combination of caffeine and benzos, I thought they complimented each other. My wife had a full-time job, she was away from the house five days a week. She knew nothing about construction. I was easily able to explain away what I was doing initially.
In front of the house, I excavated a sizeable enclosed area between the front sidewalk and the basement wall, digging a massive pit that was ten foot wide and fifteen feet long. With a downspout draining into the enclosed area, it was another construction defect. Before I started digging, water had already created a two-foot hole under the sidewalk. Like the backyard trench, I dug it five feet deep. Afterward, I lined the walkway with small potted trees.
When the builder protested what I was doing because of how unsightly the house had become while they were trying to sell lots across the street, I responded that in the front I was sealing the foundation and considering a koi pond. To explain the backyard, I said I was fixing drainage problems they’d caused and that I was installing a French drain.
Across the street, several vacant lots hadn’t been built on yet. For hours on end, for months, I carted the dirt from my lot to those lots. One wheelbarrow at a time, I moved tons of soil, creating massive berms. At times, investigators would show up and take pictures.
I was getting incredibly physically fit from the digging. Losing twenty pounds, I hadn’t been in that good of shape since my twenties.
The development company gave up on the idea of building out the lots around me because of my digging and moved on to develop another part of the subdivision. Stereotyping me as the “crazy vet,” who’d just come back from the war, the workers were saying they feared to be around me. Hollywood had conditioned them to think like that. Knowing that I played the role and gave them a star performance.
Our home was a 2,400 square feet colonial model with a covered front porch that spanned most of the front. On it, I piled solid concrete blocks in front of a large picture window, creating the appearance of another fighting position.
Signs of any type were prohibited on properties without approval from the HOA. I broke the rules and pounded black no trespassing signs with reflective orange letters into the ground all over the yard. The HOA sent letters demanding I remove the placards, but I refused, responding that we required them because of threats we were receiving from other neighbors. I also cited a need to keep people out of my construction projects.
As tensions mounted with the builder and my neighbors, I had my brother, a carpenter, drill holes in the exterior walls. When he was done, I installed security cameras capable of monitoring most of the property. Anything that went on was captured on a DVR and fed to a large screen TV inside my den.
I’d paid for a home theater package in one of the rooms on the main floor. After one of my speakers began to fall off the wall because of nothing but drywall holding the mounts, I ripped out the wallboard and piled it four feet high in one of the two garage bays.
At the county level, my wife and I got on public television one evening. Every so often the county commissioners would conduct public meetings that were broadcast live. I’d prepared a scathing letter blasting the county government for failing to have building codes that addressed acceptable radon limits. Many of the homes in the neighborhood had radon levels that surpassed recommended federal guidelines. Testing revealed mine did too. I’d paid for a radon evacuation system under my basement floor, but the pipe had been mistakenly filled with concrete by a contractor. The builder refused to fix it or pay to get it fixed. I was too drugged out on Xanax to read the letter at the hearing, so my wife did as I sat beside her. With straggly, unkempt hair, beard growth, and dark tinted eyeglasses, my appearance was disheveled. It was our first time in front of cameras. I looked like a recluse.
My neighbors were mostly active duty or retired military. Some of them worked on the nearby Navy base as government workers or contractors. Most of them still had the housing bubble mentality. The naval officers wanted a quick flip to profit from during their tour of duty in the area. But I was wrecking property values, and people were getting pissed. They didn’t want attention drawn to the construction problems in the neighborhood.
“I’m a little bit off the chain, call me insane”
“But the fact remains that I’m a psycho”
“Better get it through your brain”
“When you say my name”
“Never say it in vain, ’cause I’m a psycho”
To stay pumped, I’d listen to rap music by artists such as Eminem and D12 at night, playing their songs at unsafe volume levels while wearing headphones. Lost in the music, I’d just sit there, staring at the security cameras. American Psycho was my theme song.
Before my morning digs, I’d update a blog I’d created that advertised the defects in my house. It had a long-running series of posts. I’d either post a daily construction defect or something terroristic. When it was freezing in my sunroom on a winter morning because of flaws in the HVAC design, I posted a picture of a thermometer sitting on a table displaying a temperature reading of 55 degrees. Other times I’d post things like videos about how to clean a Glock or lyrics from violent rap songs. Google eventually shut the website down. I believe law enforcement requested for them do it.
With a background in information technology, I knew how to capture and perform a WHOIS on the IP addresses of the people who were reading the blog. I’d installed scripts to log the IPs of visitors. I could tell the builder was reading it. I knew the Naval Criminal Investigate Service (NCIS) was too. The blog was getting quite a bit of traffic and was widely read.
I became curious about a frequent site visitor whose IP address resolved to a company called Sierra Technologies at the Navy base. But when I plugged the name of the company into internet search engines, it didn’t exist. On a lark, I decided to call the base phone operator, asking to be transferred to Sierra Technologies. The person who answered the phone identified themselves as an NCIS agent. In turn, I told him who I was too.
After that, their next tactic was to have someone become friends with me.
Later, three of my siblings who worked on the naval base all confessed to having been interviewed by NCIS to asses my threat potential.
From all appearances, the Navy was siding with their officers despite reprehensible conduct from some of them. One evening the police arrived, telling me they’d gotten an anonymous complaint that I was stealing construction materials from the builder. To find out who’d called, I filed another public information request and got the audio of the call and the phone number of the caller. I then paid $10 on the internet to get the name behind the cellphone number. It belonged to a naval commander that lived down the street from me. To retaliate, I made a YouTube video of the audio and posted it on the blog, mocking him in it. I also sent it to the base commander’s email address, telling him the man was a coward.
At the height of my meltdown, I uninstalled the dishwasher and dragged it into the garage. The builder wouldn’t fix or replace it, so I cut it up with an ax and tossed the pieces into the front yard. They stayed there for weeks. I removed them just before fines from the HOA would commence. I filmed the entire thing, posted the video on YouTube and linked it to my blog.
I got the idea to execute the dishwasher on camera after watching YouTube videos of people suspending computer monitors on a rope and smashing them with baseballs bats, something that was popular online during that time frame.
Relations with my neighbors deteriorated to where it was unsafe for me to leave the house. One day when I tried walking my dog, a neighbor a few houses down confronted me with a shovel. He said my Lab had soiled his grass, threatening that it better never happen again. His claim was untrue. When he began to pursue me on a dirt bike, I recorded the incident on my phone and called the cops. The deputy that arrived threatened to arrest me for illegally recording the neighbor and left. Another neighborhood resident who lived quite a bit away began parking in front of my house and sitting in his vehicle for long periods. Other neighborhood men would pull into my driveway, stop for a short bit, and then leave. One evening when I tried to mow the lawn, two former naval aviators came over and sat on the curb in front of my house to intimidate me. The neighbors encouraged their teenagers to harass me as well. If the kids saw me outside, a pack of them would blow by on bicycles and taunt me, calling me names such as “crazy man.” To better fit their description of me, I took hair clippers and gave myself an Indian style mohawk.
I could tell by the visits from NCIS to the blog that the neighbors were trying to get me arrested. I suspected NCIS was also surveilling me because a black government SUV began to park near the entrance of the only road out of the development.
It was also clear that law enforcement was on the neighbors and builders side because every time I filed a police report, no action was taken. I knew I was on my own. I also sensed that a violent confrontation with one or more of the neighborhood men was imminent. They kept trying to bait me into some sort of incident.
Having a 100% disability rating from the VA for mental health issues, I didn’t know if it was legal for me to own a gun or not? I didn’t have a criminal record, and I’d never been committed to a psychiatric facility. It was a murky question. But after a series of neighbors did the “park in my driveway thing” one Saturday morning, I told my wife we were buying an assault rifle. Because of the mental health question, my wife made the purchase, and when we got home, I taught her how to operate it. We already owned a tactical Glock with a laser sight that she’d also bought, but I wanted something with more knockdown power, a gun capable of shooting longer distances and possibly through protective vests if necessary.
An AR-10, the assault rifle was a carbon copy of the M16 I’d carried for almost two decades in the Army. I could have unassembled and reassembled it blindfolded. Like the Glock, it had a laser sight on it. But it was far more powerful than my old M16. Instead of the smaller 5.56 mm cartridges, it fired far larger 7.62 mm rounds. The same bullets I used to shoot from the belt-fed M60 machine gun for hundreds of yards.
The assault weapon came with two magazines, the Glock had three. I loaded all of them with the heaviest grain hollow-point bullets available and then began keeping either the rifle or pistol nearby in the house. At night I’d sleep with the Glock under my side of the bed. If those Navy boys wanted war, I was willing to give it to them. I was suicidal when I left the military, and I was still that way.
In hindsight, I can look back on that period and see that I was psychotic, delusional and paranoid. I had lots of unaddressed problems that a sex change wasn’t going to fix.
One morning in the internet news, there was a story about how Ford was going to stop making the Lincoln Town Car. Once dealership stock was sold, that was it, the article said. Having always wanted one of those, I looked at a local dealers inventory online and saw they had some. Picking up the phone, I called and asked a salesman if they still had the silver one? He said they did. I then asked him if he’d pick me up at my house so I could buy the car? A half hour later he arrived, picked me up, and drove me back to the dealership in the vehicle I’d inquired about. Back at the dealership, they quickly got me financed, and I signed the paperwork for the loan. Afterward, the salesman drove me back home and parked it in the garage for me.
I had no drivers license at the time. It had expired. With all the psych drugs the shrink had me consuming during that period, I hadn’t renewed it.
My wife went apeshit when she arrived home from work and found the new vehicle in the garage. But not understanding that it was an impulse purchase because of bipolar mania, she didn’t take any action to try and force the dealer to take the vehicle back. In the future, after hearing other people’s stories in mental illness support group meetings, I would later learn that taking antidepressants without a mood stabilizer brings on mania when you have bipolar disorder.
Feeling like I should get out of the house one afternoon, I had my wife drive me to an area flea market to search for some used music CDs. Leaving the development, we passed the black SUV again. At another point during the outing, it looked to me like a State Trooper was tailing us. I became convinced that I would soon be incarcerated or institutionalized.
Paranoid, I told my wife we were leaving the state right away. I didn’t want to kill anyone or get arrested. I figured if I got out of town it would deescalate the situation. My wife took a leave of absence from her job. We hastily packed some bags, and we departed in the Town Car. My dog stretched out in the back seat of the giant luxury beast that floated down the highway like a cruise ship. My plan when we exited was to let the house go into foreclosure. With no idea where to go, we headed north. We ended up in a little mom and pop hotel near Bangor, Maine. I wanted to eat lobster at Bar Harbor.
When a nearby hotel room became occupied by a guest with Virginia plates, my paranoia ramped up further. When I’d take the dog out to do her business, the man would come outside and smoke a cigarette, watching me. I was convinced he was some sort of government agent from Quantico. I began to think the feds had installed a tracking device on the car.
When I’d left town, I’d told one of my younger brothers that he and his wife could live in the house until the bank took it back. When I called to check on them, he told me one of the neighbors had bullied his wife while she had their dog outside in the yard.
Days later, the suspicious Virginia guy left, but I was still convinced my whereabouts were being monitored. I had my wife drive us to a Chrysler dealer, where I traded in the Town Car and bought a new Jeep Rubicon. Like before, because I didn’t have a license, the salesman drove the Lincoln back to the hotel for us. No sooner than he’d left, I had my wife put the Town Car in a rented garage bay at a long-term storage facility. The brand new car stayed there until 2013 despite me not ever paying the storage bill.
I planned to buy a camper that the Jeep could tow and start living in campgrounds, always moving, but my finances were so over-extended the banks turned me down for the purchase. Nearly broke, we returned to Maryland within a few days. We couldn’t afford to pay our credit cards and the cost of hotel rooms.
Once the neighbors realized I was back in the neighborhood, the feuding resumed all over again. In response, I ramped up my terrorism campaign.
At one point anonymous forum comments began to get made on a local electronic bulletin board that was popular in the area. In craftily worded comments, the posters would imply that I was molesting my daughter. Commenters in the forum would write things such as: “that’s not a paint can he’s shaking when he’s standing over his daughter’s bed,” mentioning me by my full name in the postings. Having been molested as a child, I became homicidal. I decided to try and unmask their identities using lawsuits. Then I planned to kill them.
To unmask the identity of the posters and sue them for defamation, I filed several more lawsuits. I also filed sued the man and woman that owned the forum. Same as before, I acted as my own attorney because I couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer. These suits were also dismissed, but based on the merits of the cases none of the parties were awarded legal expenses in the dismissals for their attorneys despite incurring significant bills. I never did find out who wrote the forum postings, but I’m sure NCIS knew who they were.
I had a humiliating Xanax moment during one of the trials. I’d taken a couple of the pills to stay calm, but because of doing so I couldn’t keep up with what the guy’s lawyer was saying in closing. It was just a blur of unintelligible words, and I was unable to effectively counter what he said to the judge. In another of the cases, I literally just broke down, and the judge had to give me time to compose myself.
I started to entertain the idea of going Rambo on the neighbors that were bullying me. The fight was between the builder and me, but they were injecting themselves into it to protect their property values. Most of the homes had two 100 gallon propane tanks sitting up against them. I began to think about shooting the gas tanks with the assault rifle and some M60 machine gun tracer rounds to blow up the houses that belonged to the men who were bullying me. Afterward, I figured I’d depart in a hail of bullets with the cops. That’s how far down the rabbit hole I was.
The final straw for the builder was the morning I took a bucket of black home theater paint and a paintbrush to my two garage doors and sunroom. In six inch letters, I wrote the name of the company that had built my house on one garage door and “sucks” on the other. I did the same thing on the bright white walls of the sunroom.
I barely made it back inside the house before a Maryland State Trooper arrived. Pounding on the front door, he told he was there to check on my welfare after a neighbor had called trying to get me arrested. I refused to open the door or let him in and ordered the policeman off the property. A short time later, my phone rang. A nephew that had never before called me was on the line, asking how I was doing? I suspect the cops had him call me.
I give the police a lot of credit for how they dealt with me despite my outrageous behavior. Not long before I began acting out, another veteran had been killed by a Maryland State Police sniper during a standoff in the County. The cops got a lot of bad press for killing him. I suspect they didn’t want another repeat of that with me.
Within a few weeks of covering the garage and sunroom with graffiti, my wife and I received a summons to appear in circuit court. The builder had sued us. He was demanding $3.5 million in various types of damages in a civil suit. Because she was on the deed, my wife was part of the lawsuit.
I don’t think anyone expected us to come to court and fight the lawsuit because I’d posted on the blog that I was letting the house go into foreclosure to scare other buyers away.
When we arrived at the hearing, the courtroom seats were filled with 30 or so of my neighbors. Indications were, they were all there to testify against us. Acting as my own attorney, I began to humiliate the builder and the real estate agent that had sold us the house in cross-examination as they took the witness stand for their attorney. Seeing what I was doing to the builder and his people, only one of the neighbors would testify. The guy who lived a distance away who’d been parking in front of my home. “That’s it, that’s all the testimony,” the judge asked the builder’s legal team? Like me, he was under the impression all those folks in the courtroom were going to be testifying on behalf of the builder and HOA.
In the legal complaint, the real estate agent had lied and said the colors we’d chosen for the interior of the house were bizarre and as a result had significantly devalued the home. I’d brought a piece of my Corian kitchen countertop along to prove that she was lying. Holding it up, I told the judge: “I’d like to enter this dish drain into evidence, your honor.” The 2-3 hour hearing was a circus. The builder’s lawyer was so incompetent he was asking the judge for legal advice on how to deal with me in the future if I misbehaved further.
As part of the suit, in addition to the monetary damages, the builder asked the court for an emergency order forcing me to remove the no trespassing signs and graffiti from the garage doors and sunroom walls because it was impacting home sales in the neighborhood. According to the builder, those things were a violation of the HOA covenants, and they were. The judge granted the order for the removal of any and all signs on the property and told the builder we’d be going to trial at a future date that he’d announce.
Before we left the courthouse, the builder’s lawyer asked the judge what he’d do if I put signs on my vehicles about the builder and the house? To his dismay, the judge told him there was nothing illegal about it.
Forced by the granted injunction to remove the graffiti and no trespassing signs, I went home and fired up a high-speed grinder that I borrowed from my brother. The judge had said I had to remove the writing and the signs, he hadn’t dictated how I had to go about doing it. For the garage doors, I used a wire brush attachment, leaving streaks of bare metal behind. But on the sunroom, I used a cutting disk. The sunroom walls were made of a fiberglass type board. As the hard, six-inch blade dug into the softer material at hundreds of RPMs, pieces flew everywhere. Watching from their windows as I destroyed the exterior walls of the sunroom, the neighbors were shocked. By the time I was done, the sunroom walls were ruined and lined with a trail of deep gouges. White dust covered the lawn. Taking off my safety glasses, I pulled up the signs, tossed them in the garage, and went into the house.
Several days later, an offer from the builder to repurchase the house arrived in the mail. Not wanting to go to trial or back to court, they were offering to buy back the home. Being that I’d stopped making payments a few months before. I accepted the offer and agreed to move.
The benzos were starting to affect my memory. I was eating 2-4 Xanax a day. When I went to the courthouse to do the documents agreeing to drop the lawsuit, I stood at the counter confused. Finding that I couldn’t remember how to make the letter G to complete the release agreement, I desperately started looking around for something that had a G on it. Seeing documents stapled to the wall inside a glass display case, I scanned the materials until I found one.
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire
My parents and siblings helped us move out of the Leonardtown house. We gave some of my brothers most of our possessions, a lot of it pricey stuff. A commercial treadmill and recumbent bike, living room set, appliances. We put a few of our remaining items such as a bedroom set in storage.
After giving my parents the guns, taking the battery out of my cellphone so I couldn’t be tracked, and removing the back seat of the Jeep so the large Labrador could lay down, we left town again. Refusing to let me out of her sight, my wife quit her job.
The settlement offer from the builder was generous, I got the original purchase price of the house and moving expenses. My kid was in college and needed money for a semester abroad in Greece. I gave her $6,000 of the moving expenses, most of the money. Knowing that we were leaving, the neighbors mellowed.
At that point, I didn’t want another house. I didn’t want any more neighbors either. Mentally, I was a train wreck. Being that it was the middle of winter, we headed south. Because of the dog, we could only stay at La Quinta hotels. We typically spent a week or sometimes two in a major city and then moved again. At 65 MPH interstate speeds, the instability of the Rubicon gave me panic attacks. To deal with my anxiety, I kept eating benzos.
I was nearly killed in a tank accident at White Sands Missile Range early in my military career during a training exercise. At the time, I was serving in the 194th Armored Brigade at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I’ve had a deathly fear of being in vehicles ever since. Crew members had to remove a several-hundred-pound hatch cover off of my head. If not for the crew helmet, my skull would have popped like a pimple.
Fort Knox is where I met my wife, she an army brat.
Although I have a more than generous disability pension, the cost of staying in hotel rooms ate it up. We stopped paying all the bills we’d run up moving into the house and furnishing it, a considerable amount of money. Within a couple of months, our credit scores plummeted from the mid 700s to the low 500s. But with the battery out of the cellphone, creditors couldn’t reach me either. I didn’t care about anything at that point. Suicide still seemed like a good option.
During a stay in Tallahassee, we stopped at a car wash to get the Jeep cleaned up. The back of the vehicle was covered in dog hair, and clumps of it were blowing around when the windows were open. As I stood there with my Lab on her leash, watching the staff vacuum the vehicle, a blonde haired woman appeared and pointed her cellphone at me. I heard the distinctive click of the camera as she took my picture. I figured she wanted to make it known to me that I was being surveilled. Or was I just imagining the whole thing and she’d been texting? Reality began to get blurry.
My paranoia had started to subside a little bit, but it returned with a vengeance after the incident with the blonde. If we were going to be away from the hotel room, I’d leave one of the security cameras I’d brought along from the house running and pointed at the door. I had it hooked to my laptop to record everything that happened in the room. I wanted to know if anyone entered.
We spent time in all of the Southeast states. Then we began making our way back north in the spring. Stopping in a South Carolina McDonald’s to eat one afternoon, while my wife went inside to get the food, I decided to call my Father. We hadn’t talked in ages. My cellphone hadn’t been turned on in months either. Minutes after I put the battery back in and called my dad, a cop car appeared several hundred feet down the street from the Jeep and parked. Every time I saw a police car after that, I thought I was going to be arrested on some sort of trumped-up charges.
We hung out in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the spring, driving on the parkway and taking walks with the dog in the woods. I needed to heal. In Bristol, Tennessee I took pictures of roaches in our hotel room and posted them to TripAdvisor. After that, we headed north to upstate New York and later Vermont, following the same pattern. We’d stay a week or two and then move on. My wife paid for everything, I was too scared to use my debit card for fear that it would be tracked.
To occupy our time, we’d visit thrift stores and flea markets. I started collecting music discs. I didn’t have room to store the jewel cases, so I threw them away and just kept the discs and inserts. I started filling little plastic boxes with them. I’d spend my time in the hotel rooms ripping the CDS to the hard drive on my laptop and listening to them.
Collecting music CDs became a compulsion. Before I’d end up stopping, my collection would climb to over 3,000 titles stored in 50 or so containers.
By June, I was exhausted from the blur of hotel rooms and constant traveling. We’d stayed in so many hotels and motels, I often couldn’t remember our room number when I’d take the dog out to pee. By then we were Elite members in the La Quinta Returns program and getting free stays occasionally. Just wanting the traveling to end, we rented a cheap apartment in Hagerstown, Maryland, so we could get our finances straight and begin putting our lives back together. I figured if I hadn’t been arrested by then, that it was safe to stop moving. We wanted to be close to family but not have them in our hair.
Getting the apartment was a bad idea. I wasn’t ready to be around people again. Things began to sour quickly. The upstairs neighbor, a divorced parent, would exercise in his living room. When he did, because of the crappy construction, the ceiling fan in my living room would begin to swing around. The sound of his feet hitting the floor would reverberate into my apartment. Everything nowadays is built with cheap particle board I-Joists that flex. Back to my old tricks, I recorded his exercise sessions, showing the ceiling fan swinging around and displayed it to the landlord. When the landlord refused to do anything, I posted the video to YouTube.
On the weekends, the upstairs neighbor had his teenagers. They’d wrestle on the floor and slam the recliner and refrigerator door shut. The noise started to agitate my PTSD. I tried escaping it by turning the stereo up, but I couldn’t. During my most agitated moments, I started thinking about firing the assault rifle through the floor to make it stop. I knew I had to get out of there. The landlord agreed to let me break the lease. I removed the YouTube video.
Packing up yet again, we landed in a remote house deep in the woods of Accident, Maryland in November 2012. Our new town had a population of 302 or so according to the sign. I think we were the two. A summer vacation home for the owners, it was situated at a high elevation in the mountains of Western Maryland. Located far off the main road, you had to navigate a series of dangerous logging roads to get to the cabin. Moving in, the weight of the U-Haul trailer pushed us down an ice-covered dirt road. The jeep stopped just short of sliding into a ravine with a stream. If it snowed heavily, we couldn’t get out. There was no TV service. Satellite television was out of the question because we were surrounded by a wall of hundred-foot trees. For internet service, we had to use a sporadic cell phone signal that came in over a cellular hotspot. I just wanted to drop out of society and disappear. The cabin seemed like the perfect place to do just that. The only thing I saw each day was deer, bears and wild turkeys.
As life settled down and the constant motion of the traveling came to a pause, I began to research my mental health problems. I wanted to know was wrong with me? What was driving my behaviors, I would ask myself? The treating psychiatrist had never actually given me a firm diagnosis. The VA hadn’t either. Still hurting from the loss of the house in Leonardtown, I was in search of a cure. After emerging from that significant mental health crisis that had almost gotten me killed, I didn’t want another repeat of what I’d only recently been through.
Like so many of the gender confused and mentally troubled youth of our current social media moment, I turned to the Internet for answers. Being that nobody had told me what was wrong with me, I decided to find out by performing a self-diagnosis. I knew that was a bad idea, but with nothing to do but read while I was snowed in, I did it anyway.
I spent weeks of entire days online scouring mental health articles and related websites. I read self-help articles, and studied descriptions of mental illnesses. I even devoured forensic psychology journals. In some of the information, I began to stumble across medical references to gender identity disorder, gender dysphoria, and transsexualism.
I had cross-dressed sporadically while I was in the military. But as I progressed through the ranks, the psychological fear of getting caught increased with each promotion and year of service invested. By the time I became a senior noncommissioned officer, I had become all too well aware that do it was a career ender. Yet, I was pulled that way by an inner “direction of travel” arrow. Women’s clothing was true north on my internal compass when I was fueled by testosterone. But because getting caught meant the end of my career, the reason why I’d been drawn to do it had gone unexplored. With the penalty so severe for getting caught, it had remained a Pandora’s box that I was scared to open. But now I was going to do just that, crack the lid open on that chest of horrors that had been slammed shut for 25 years or so. After everything I’d just gone through, I figured what else could someone possibly do to harm me?