In the last four-plus years I’ve discussed a number of different subjects, most of which involve gender identity. I’ve also wandered into the realm of politics on occasion, especially in the last year or so. Most of the time I have talked about myself and my own ideas, emotions and interests. On the rare times when I’ve discussed other people it’s been about family, with the rare occasion that Caitlyn Jenner has been the subject. I have to admit that there is one person whom I have not discussed but who deserves attention so that’s who I’m going to tell you about this time.
My first awareness of Regina Gazelle-Wells was when she appeared on the cover of ECHO Magazine in Phoenix. She had been named Woman of the year by ECHO for 2008. The reason for that distinction was an extremely appropriate one. She had founded the first home for trans-gendered men and women in transition with a 501-3c tax exempt designation.
My first thought at the time was “That’s a really cool idea.” And it was a “really cool” idea. I just didn’t realize how cool. I have never been one to insert myself into any situation that I’m not invited into, so I simply watched from a distance for several months.
But then at a church potluck, on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of the founding New Foundation Christian Fellowship, in late May of 2009 I saw Regina sitting outside in the backyard and decided this was my chance. The main intention at first was just to be able to tell her that I admired what she was doing so I sat down next to her and after introducing myself we struck up a conversation. That conversation opened my eyes to a world that I’d never known existed. By the end of the afternoon I was totally impressed, but not nearly as impressed as I would eventually be.
Before we parted I got Regina’s phone number and address and had volunteered to help in any way I could. Within a week I was helping her organize her office and records which had been badly ignored for some time. In the process, Regina and I got to know more about each other and the more I knew about her the more impressed I was. The world is rife with people who have overcome adversity to become mentors and examples of rising to high levels of accomplishment in the world of alternate gender and sexual identity. Regina is, as I learned, exceptional.
When Regina eventually became aware of my literary contributions to various gender focused publications and the fact that I had completed my memoir she asked me if I would consider writing her biography. I felt that it was important for me to agree to do it. And so, we began.
Once a week I would show up at her home and sitting at the kitchen table I would take notes as fast as I could while she talked about her life. The more she talked the more I was awed by her … and the source of the dream she was struggling to keep alive. There were days when she would struggle to maintain her composure. The day came when she simply said, “I can’t do this anymore … for now.” Memories that she had kept buried for years had dredged up emotions that were just too painful at the time.
Soon after that she announced that she had turned management of T.I.H. over to someone she felt she could trust with the mission and she headed for Los Angeles.
In her absence I began putting the bits and pieces of her life together in some semblance of order as accurately as I could. What I eventually had was the story of a young boy who felt that the body he had, was not the body he felt comfortable in. He began sneaking out of the house late at night in his sister’s clothes and walking the streets of Watts, California. Eventually, Regina was caught by her mother once too often and in a self-righteous Pentecostal fit of anger her mother threw her out on the streets of Watts with not much more than the clothes on her back.
Regina was a survivor and survive she did in spite of the obstacles she faced. She did whatever she had to, to survive and that was generally not within the scope of things legal. She went from jail to jail from situation to situation, from coast to coast, relationship to relationship for years. Each time she was sent to jail she was thrown in with the male populations where she was physically and sexually abused continuously. Generally, after being released from jail she was sent to halfway houses where, again she was housed with men who continued the abuse. That roller coaster existence continued for years until she finally ended up in prison in Phoenix.
While there, she learned that her best friend had died. It was like the final straw on the camel’s back. She felt that she just couldn’t go on. A fellow inmate contacted Pastor Patrick Stout at Community Church of Hope in Phoenix and told him there was someone who really needed help. With the help of appropriate scriptures and time Pastor Patrick helped Regina realize that her gender identity was not a sin, but a gift.
By the time her sentence was up Regina had given up the life she’d been leading and a dream had replaced the desperation that landed her in prison. The dream was a halfway house, a home for transgendered men and women who were down on their luck and in transition; a place where they could live in safety until they were ready to take on the world as the people God intended them to be.
Accomplishment of that dream was the reason she was ECHO’s Woman of the Year. T.I.H. suffered without her personal guidance and eventually closed down but true to her character she is reviving the dream. In the time I have known her she has become a close friend; a friend that has helped me through some tough decisions with a wisdom that is always surprising … and perfectly stated. Her life experiences, her faith and indomitable spirit make her the perfect person to lead that mission of helping others who are where she has been.
If you want to know more about Unity House T.I.H. visit the web site www.unityhousetih.org As with any undertaking of this type, money and personal involvement are always in short supply. Need I say more? You know what to do, so please do it and share this story with everyone in your address book.
P.S. We are back to work on her biography.