I remember it like yesterday, I was in the seventh grade when I privately started to acknowledge, in my mind that I was gay. I was going to a little magnet school called "The New Orleans Free School" and it was a school where a kid could be a kid, learn and grow. It was here that I had my first pubescent crushes, and battled with whether or not I believed in God. On one hand I was being raised by my grandmother who is a Jehovah's Witness and one thing about the Witnesses is that my sexual orientation is not in line with their teachings or ideals. On the other hand I struggled with what people told me what my belief system should be vs my own independent thoughts that I do not believe in any God. It was a dual battle to believe and be straight, two things that have never been good at and never will be LOL! Anyway, I was having a conversation at recess with my favorite teacher Mary Garton, was not only a great teacher, but a strong woman in her own right. The few things that I remember about this conversation is that it was a warm and sunny day in New Orleans and Mary, a classmate and I were talking about random societal issues (yes we were pretty advanced). During that conversation I blurted out, "I think that I might be gay..." and then the conversation continued with a thoughtful acknowledgement of my statement. That day turned out to be a precursor to when I would actually come out as gay and the way my life would change.
One day, during my freshman year at McMain I read in the local paper that one of the teachers at my school had come out as gay in the interview that he had with them. That teacher turned out to be Marco Menghini a Spanish teacher, he was brave enough to allow the paper to list his phone number in article. That very same day I called him to tell him that he had my support and we talked for a few minutes, not knowing what drove me to call him, I felt a calling to do it. The conversation ended with an invitation to meet in his classroom with a small group of students to discuss creating a Gay/Straight alliance on campus. When the day came to meet in his classroom, there was a lot of anticipation on my part, I was curious to know who the other students were and what they would be like. So, during the lunch period I headed to the meeting and there stood the folks that I would come to be friends with to this day.
That day we came up with the name “Student Alliance For Equality” or S.A.F.E and recorded a video introduction for the morning announcements. We ironed out a script for those who would speak and when the camera started to roll something weird happened. The person who was supposed to say his lines froze in fear, understandable considering the circumstances. For some reason, I remembered lines and stepped forward to recite them. It was like my alter ego pushed me forward and said the words for me. It went something like this (paraphrasing), “Hi my name is Ashton Woods and this is the Student Alliance for Equality, if you are gay, lesbian, or bisexual come and join us at the S.A.F.E club…we are family.” I am quite sure that some of the wording may have been different, but you get the point! Keep in mind that my actions during this recording facilitated my coming out to a student body of close to two thousand plus students. The prospect of this never scared me, but it set me up for triumph and failure on a scale that would take me years to come grips with.
I had help and friends to come and go over the years, like I said on my S!N Blog post "Why WE Must Support OUR Trans Brothers & Sisters NOW!" After I came out that I had some help through my coming out process, "I have had the privilege of meeting some great people who just so happened to be Transgender. When I was fifteen and still living in my beloved New Orleans, I would visit my life long friend Dee whose mother is friends with my mother. He lived around the corner from me and when I would visit him I would notice four people sitting on a porch, sometimes five, two to three women and two men. I had always spoken (its a NOLA thing) to them in passing and one day I was drawn to go directly and speak to them out of attraction to this beautiful man named Jeff. My attention was quickly stolen by a regal and stately elderly woman named Mrs. Williams, who I came to think of as my own family: "boy come on up here and sit on this porch.." she belted out in strong yet soft tone. It turns out that this group of people for a short time in my teenage life would be part of my chosen family! Amber, one of the women, out of the three happened to be Trans and I couldn't tell until she made mention of it."