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0:02 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Today is Saturday October 25th 2014. This is Aaron Johnson. I am participating in the Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Introduction to the interview with Aaron Slusher

1:12 - Personal history

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Partial Transcript: Having said that, can you please tell us your name, date of birth, place, and about your upbringing?

Aaron Slusher: My name is Aaron Christopher Slusher. I was born in--well I was born in Roanoke but I grew up in Floyd, and I was born on October 1st 1970.

Segment Synopsis: Description of family and hometown

Keywords: family; parents

4:29 - Gender identity and sexual orientation

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Partial Transcript: As I mentioned, we're both in an oral history class, and so we've been through the literature, things about LGBTQ community, particularly in the 20th century in the South. Two things that have really emerged are both identity and community. Could you tell us how you identify?

Segment Synopsis: Talks about personal identity regarding gender identity and sexual orientation

Keywords: cisgender; transgender

6:28 - Experience of transitioning

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Partial Transcript: Could you maybe talk a little bit about--you said you've been transitioning for the past three and half years.

SLUSHER: Three and a half years.

JOHNSON: Could you maybe talk about that, some of your experiences, what that's been like?

Segment Synopsis: Talks about the experience of transitioning from female to male

Keywords: depression; hormone replacement therapy; transgender; transitioning

22:48 - High school

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Partial Transcript: So it sounds to me like a lot of your life you were just acting, you were just playing a socialized role, these are the kind of roles I'm supposed to play, and high school was some of the most difficult times.

Segment Synopsis: Discusses time in high school in Floyd County, VA

Keywords: geeks; jocks; musicals; theater

26:32 - Marriage as a Cisgender Female

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Partial Transcript: JOHNSON: Now you said also that you married right after high school, is that correct?

SLUSHER: Right after college.

JOHNSON: I'm sorry, right after college. And you were married for two years.

SLUSHER: Mhmm

JOHNSON: Do you feel comfortable talking about that experience?

Segment Synopsis: Talks about reasons for marrying and the experience of being married as a cisgendered woman

Keywords: depression; divorce; suicide; therapy

30:43 - Experience of coming out as a lesbian

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Partial Transcript: So it seems--if we were to walk through this like a chronology of sorts--you were married at the time you were identifying as a heterosexual female--

SLUSHER: Yes.

JOHNSON: You were divorced. After your divorce, do you start to date women? Is that correct?

SLUSHER: Yes.

Segment Synopsis: Talks about the experience of coming out as a lesbian

Keywords: parents; relationships; siblings

38:33 - Experience of Coming Out as Transgender

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Partial Transcript: Coming out as trans was much more of a comedy of errors [laughs].

JOHNSON: Can you talk about that?

SLUSHER: Yeah [laughs]. I made the mistake of posting on Facebook that I was going to start my transition.

Segment Synopsis: Talks about the experience of coming out as transgendered

Keywords: parents; siblings

50:42 - Education at Virginia Tech

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Partial Transcript: JOHNSON: So, if we could maybe jump back a little bit.

SLUSHER: Sure.

JOHNSON: We talked about high school. Did you decide to come to Virginia Tech straight out of high school?

SLUSHER: Mmhmm

JOHNSON: Okay. What kind of led you to Tech?

Segment Synopsis: Discusses the decision to attend school at Virginia Tech and what it was like at Virginia Tech

Keywords: social work; veterinary medicine

57:46 - Treatment of the LGBTQ community at Virginia Tech

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Partial Transcript: JOHNSON: So while you were at Tech, from 2009 to 2011 maybe--

SLUSHER: No, 2010 to May in 2012.

JOHNSON: Ok great. So while you were here at Tech did you notice--or could you sense--was there--was Tech in anyway welcoming to LGBT community? Or did you notice that while you were here at Tech? And possibly were you involved with any of the organizations?

Segment Synopsis: Describes the treatment of the LGBTQ community at Virginia Tech in the early 2010s

Keywords: human sexuality; panel discussions; sociology

65:05 - Watching someone come out in the early 1990s

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Partial Transcript: The other story I was going to tell you: When I was an undergrad, the first time through, those first four years, my spring semester of my senior year I actually took the undergrad human sexuality class.

JOHNSON: So this was 92, right?

Segment Synopsis: Describes watching someone come out in a class in 1992

Keywords: human sexuality; lesbian

67:58 - Transgender acceptance at Virginia Tech and in general

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Partial Transcript: So more recently in your experience at Tech it sounds like you had quite a few allies.

SLUSHER: Oh yeah.

JOHNSON: But you also had quite a few challenges, because you mentioned at one point you said LGB but I think you kind of intentionally left off the T. So can you talk about that a little bit more?

SLUSHER: Um well it's not just Tech.

Segment Synopsis: Talks about acceptance of transgendered people at Virginia Tech and in general

Keywords: civil rights; marriage; protected status

72:12 - Desires for the future of Virginia Tech

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Partial Transcript: JOHNSON: So if you were thinking about Tech in the future, where would you like to see Tech go?

SLUSHER: Um--[laughs]

JOHNSON: Given there's been a lot of recent progress. What would you--

SLUSHER: Absolutely

JOHNSON: How would you like to continue to see the progressions grow?

Segment Synopsis: Discusses changes and progress desired for Virginia Tech's future

Keywords: gender-neutral bathrooms; panel discussions; pride parades

75:39 - Religious faith

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned early on that your mother, or your family, really, you were at the Church of the Brethren, right?

SLUSHER: Yes

JOHNSON: Does faith factor into your life at this point? Could you maybe talk about that if it does--or if it doesn't?

Segment Synopsis: Talks about reconciling religious faith with being transgendered and the church's reaction

Keywords: Church of the Brethren; judgement; organized religion

81:38 - Why LGBTQ history needs to be preserved and told

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Partial Transcript: JOHNSON: So we really believe this is a very needed and very valuable project. Having this voice heard and being a part of Virginia Tech. So, having said that; why do you think this history--why do you think it needs to be told? Why do we need to preserve it?

Segment Synopsis: Talks about why LGBTQ history is important

Keywords: oppression; role models

85:09 - Closing

0:00

´╗┐Interview with Aaron Slusher

Date of Interview: October 25, 2014

Interviewer: Aaron Johnson

Place of Interview: War Memorial Hall, Virginia Tech

Length: 1:28:03

Transcribers: Aaron Johnson, Dara Green

Aaron Johnson: Today is Saturday October 25th 2014. This is Aaron Johnson. I am participating in the Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project. Beginning in the fall of 2014, faculty and students in the Virginia Tech History Department, along with colleagues in the University Libraries Special Collections, campus partners including Hokie Pride, the LGBTQ faculty staff caucus, and Ex Lapide Society, the LGBTQ alumni network at VT began collecting oral histories to document the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer life in the twentieth century American South, and specifically at Virginia Tech.

Researchers plan to conduct approximately twenty-five to thirty oral history interviews with current and past Virginia Tech students, staff, and faculty, as well as with area community members, in order to document this vital part of our shared history. Interviews will be made available through Special Collections, as part of a larger archival project to preserve Virginia Tech's LGBTQ history. 1:00This project will include an interactive timeline tracing Virginia Tech's LGBTQ history, as well as public exhibits and displays of the material. Having said that, can you please tell us your name, date of birth, place, and about your upbringing?

Aaron Slusher: My name is Aaron Christopher Slusher. I was born in--well I was born in Roanoke but I grew up in Floyd, and I was born on October 1st 1970. And you wanted to know about some of my growing up history: I grew up on a small farm that has been in my family for a very long time. The house was actually my grandmother and grandfather's, and they built that after their first or second child was born. But my family has been in Floyd County for six generations, on 2:00both sides, both mom and dad. And so we have some pretty deep roots there which have kept me grounded over the years, and brought me back from far distant places.

My mom's side of the family was very active with one of the dominant Baptist churches in the area. However mom left the church after she decided to marry my father, because he was going to be her second husband and the church really frowned on that. So I grew up going to Laurel Branch Church of the Brethren, which is just literally right up the street from my house. They were--it was a wonderful loving, caring group of people. Who have been very accepting of pretty 3:00much anyone, which has made it very comfortable for me, although I don't attend that much, anymore.

My father's a farmer, although he worked at Radford Arsenal through most of my childhood. I have one younger brother, who is seven years younger than I am. He lives in Charlottesville now. And let's see, I lived with my--well we moved in with my grandmother (my father's mother) when I was 3 years old. She was my best friend. She passed away unfortunately when I was five. So we weren't best friends for very long. We stayed in the house. My parents still live there. They only recently gave up raising cattle as their secondary source of income, from dad working at the arsenal. I attended Floyd Elementary School and Floyd County 4:00High School. I graduated in 1988. I was tenth in my class, thank you very much. Let's see-- that's a brief overview, but I'll answer other questions.

JOHNSON: Thank you for that. As I mentioned, we're both in an oral history class, and so we've been through the literature, things about LGBTQ community, particularly in the 20th century in the South. Two things that have really emerged are both identity and community. Could you tell us how you identify?

SLUSHER: Well, that's changed throughout the years.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: As I was, you know, growing up in and past graduation from college I 5:00identified as a straight female.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: I got married right out of college and ended up getting divorced two years later and realized after that that I actually preferred dating women to men. So I identified as a lesbian for fifteen years. And then, six years ago I guess, no, three years ago I actually decided that I was transgendered; although I had known that I was transgender since I was four I just didn't have a word for it. And I started my transition three and a half years ago. So I still don't know quite how I identify on the sexuality scale but, on the gender scale, I'm 6:00now a transgender man.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: I feel really weird calling myself a straight transgender man because that really seems weird. But I also feel equally odd calling myself a lesbian still.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: Although, I still feel more kinship toward lesbians because there is much more shared history.

JOHNSON: Right. Could you maybe talk a little bit about--you said you've been transitioning for the past three and half years.

SLUSHER: Three and a half years.]

JOHNSON: Could you maybe talk about that, some of your experiences, what that's been like?

SLUSHER: [laughs] It's been a very interesting experience. Just well, I guess four years ago, I had met a woman after I moved back to Floyd. And, we'd started dating and things were going well and I had--well, she kind of 7:00recognized that I was transgender at that point and encouraged me to transition.

JOHNSON: Sure.

SLUSHER: And I chose instead to focus on our relationship and because of, you know, my issues with accepting myself as LGBT throughout the years, I've gone through several serious issues or several serious incidences of depression. And, this triggered another one.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: So I ended up actually in an in-patient facility.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: As my depression got, just that bad, that fast.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: And, she ended up leaving me because of that. Which was okay in the long run; in the short term that was not so good for me.

JOHNSON: Sure.

SLUSHER: And I came out of that experience realizing that I had been living my 8:00life trying to be what people expected me to be. And that I had, you know, really spent most of my life--I mean all of it, not just adult life, but all of my life, trying to be something that I wasn't in order to make other people happy.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: And, that-

JOHNSON: That's a lot of pressure.

SLUSHER: It is a lot of pressure. And, that many years of just completely living a fictitious existence had really took its toll on me; and who I was. And I knew that, you know, in the past, when I'd go through instances of depression; I would start ticking off things on my life that I could possibly change in order to maybe make it better. And I knew that every single time I would come up to one of these moments in time -- I was like, well, I know I 9:00really should have been born a boy.

JOHNSON: Um hmm.

SLUSHER: But, I can't change that, so that's just too big; we're going to leave that aside. So, toss that out; what can we change? Well, I've changed jobs, I changed relationships, I changed education institutions, I moved across county. I bought things that I shouldn't buy because I had no money to buy them. And all of that worked very very short term. And what I always came back to was, I'm still not happy. After this last depression, I realized that if I went through another one, or if it happened again, I wouldn't come out the other side. I knew that there wasn't, there would not be another depression for me that I would survive. And, that maybe, just maybe, I should consider changing the gender thing. And, so I went to see a therapist in Roanoke and he gave me 10:00some really good advice on my first visit. He said "everyone has different aspects of who they are and you have to embrace all of those, or the ones that you ignore will come back to haunt you." And, he said, "I realize that you're not embracing the masculine aspect of who you are. And, maybe you should consider some sort of transition." And I went "Oh my God, I don't know if I should, no, I don't know. Let me think about it." And so I went home and I thought about it and within about twenty-four hours, he got an email saying, "Yeah, I think you're right." And, so over the next couple of months, I looked into finding a doctor that could prescribe me hormones.

And so, I started hormone replacement therapy on April 15th of 2010, no, 2011. 11:00Sorry. And at that point in time I was taking classes here at Tech and doing some--well, I had that semester off because I, because of the whole hospitalization thing just rocked my world.

JOHNSON: Sure.

SLUSHER: But I was planning to go back in the fall, and so, you know I'm like okay, well, we're going to try this hormone transition and see what happens and what that does for me and just give it a shot. And, so I got involved telling lots of people and God. Coming out as transgender is so much harder than coming out as a lesbian. I'd also found, or a little later that year, like maybe three 12:00months later, I finally found a job, which was working in a convenience store in Floyd. So I knew that if I stayed at the convenience store my transition was going to be very, very public. Which was frightening.

JOHNSON: Of course.

SLUSHER: Because I had no idea what would happen. I had, you know, I informed management when I started. I'm like "Okay, I just want you to know that I've started my transition and things about me are going to change. You know my voice is going to drop, eventually I'll get facial hair and people will notice differences and I will probably change my name and, we'll have to work through that and is this going to be a problem for you?" And they were like, "No, it shouldn't be a problem." I'm like, okay, we'll see how this rolls and I had these terrible fears that somebody, you know, some customer, would figure it out 13:00and they'd stage a boycott and nobody would come to the convenience store anymore and I'd get fired and it would be really public and it would be on the news, and none of it happened, thank God. [Laughter]

And what I found that was that most people really didn't care. You know; in Floyd there's kind of that weird thing where people are really nice to you, to your face, at least. They may not be nice to you behind your back, but at least to your face in public they'll be nice to you, they don't care what they really think about you. And so, as far as being in the store, everything was fine. We'd occasionally get customers that would come in and would, you know, even after I had changed my name to Aaron and it was clearly on my name tag and you know I had started getting some facial hair and stuff; they would come in and say, 14:00ma'am [strong emphasis] to me and stuff it's like 'Oh [sighs] Really? You look really silly when you do that.' And I remember one time a husband and wife came in I don't remember which one--if it was the husband or the wife--but one of them was a regular.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: And the other one didn't come in very often. And the regular person was very insistent that I was a man. And the other one was like, "no, sir." And they're like "no, ma'am" [lowering voice to indicate conversation is private amongst two customers] "No, sir." And they're just arguing back and forth, while I'm making change at the cash register. And, finally, just was like [whispering] "which is it?" And, I said "its sir!" [Laughter] And they're like, "really?" "Yes!" "Oh, good, okay!" And so, that ended that and walked out and kept on going, and I about died laughing after they got out the front door.

15:00

And then, one other time these other two friends came in and-- once again, one of them called me 'ma'am' and the other one called me 'sir.' They just looked at each other like "you're nuts!" you know, and both walked out the door and I'm like 'Oh my God that was really weird.' And then the one that called me 'sir' had to come back in and get something else, and I went "by the way, you were right." And she went "oh I am so going to tell her!" And just ran right back out the door to go tell her. And then the one that called me 'ma'am' came back in and said "I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I didn't mean to offend you." and I'm like "don't worry about it. If the worst thing you're going to call me today, is ma'am, it's a good day." You know [laughs], 'cause I can't think of a worst insult than 'ma'am' or 'she.' If you're going to think of something to insult 16:00me, come up with something better.

So there were humorous moments over those three and a half years, and there were a couple that were, you know, a little bit like 'God really? We're going through this again?' But most of the time it's like okay, it's just a normal day. It's all good, and you know, I can't think of a better way to have done it. And nobody threatened to kill me. Nobody boycotted the store, as far as I know. Only in a few instances did people try to ask my co-workers if I was a boy or a girl. And one of my co-workers, she loves me so much, and she was trying to be so helpful, and she would try to go through my entire life story with them, whenever they asked. I'm like 'oh honey no. No, no no no no no. That's too much information for them' [laughs]. Correct answer is 'Aaron is a boy and if you 17:00have further questions you need to ask him.' And she went 'really? I can do that?' Yes. So you know, it was pretty good though. Anything else you want to know on there? Did I answer that question?

JOHNSON: You did. You did. And one thing you mentioned was that you realized when you were four years old that you were transgender.

SLUSHER: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Could you maybe talk about that? And at that time, or do you have any recollections of early in your life of other transgender people? Or people that you thought were maybe transgender? Or if you didn't, then what was that like? How did that affect you?

SLUSHER: I think the only transgender person I could ever remember from my childhood was Flip Wilson on television, when he would do the Geraldine skits.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: Um and, you know, I didn't have the verbiage of being transgender when I was four. I had no idea that existed. All I knew was that everything in me 18:00said 'you should have been a boy.'

JOHNSON: And you realized that at four?

SLUSHER: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Wow.

SLUSHER: You know, but it's like okay, I should have been a boy but obviously I'm not a boy and so I'm just going to have to fake it and hope it works out okay. So I tried to do all the things that little girls were supposed to do, and most of the time I looked really weird doing them, and felt really out of place. I had little boyfriends when I was in elementary school. But I think I just really wanted to be best friends with them and not my little boyfriend. I don't know. But you're in that age when you're trying imitate what you think you are supposed to be and figure your life path out. And so I was just trying to do 19:00what I thought was expected of me, and sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't, and most of the time it was just very awkward. I was much happier climbing trees and building forts in the woods and playing in the creek, and all those good things that little tomboy girls like to do. And quite adamant about the fact that dresses were the most evil things on the planet, and yeah-- you people are cruel to make me wear them.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: I was just doing the best I could to make it. It was hard. At the point I am now, looking back on things, when you start transition you talk to folks that are going through transition; they often times say that it's like entering 20:00your second puberty and you're going through all those things that you went through as a teenager. And I don't really feel that way. It felt more like if this is puberty, I never went through anything like that as a teenager. It was like I hit eleven or twelve and the mental development as far as social interactions and emotions and things like that, all of that just stopped. And I couldn't tell you what I really wanted to be when I grew up. And I think that's why I've been to seven colleges because I was always trying to figure out some path that would fix the things that never happened. And so I kept trying to take that next step in life and it never happened. All of those things that like the 21:00androgens that your body normally produces, all those changes that get triggered by them, never felt like they triggered in me. It was more of just trying to act the part and act the way things are supposed to be. Even though I didn't feel any of it.

It wasn't until I started taking testosterone that it's like 'Oh my God this is what puberty's like! It's the freakiest thing ever and I can't imagine doing this at thirteen years old!' You know, and, it's like 'oh!' suddenly the brain kicks in and it feels like 'okay, I can see where I'm supposed to be.' It's like taking blinders off. And it's like 'this is who I am, and this is where I want to go, and what I want to do, and what I want to be. Oh my God I can make a plan! And it works! Oh and people and wow!' And it was awesome! There was just 22:00none of that for between ten and forty, you know [laugh]. It was like being numb for thirty years.

JOHNSON: Wow that's really powerful.

SLUSHER: Anything that I have to deal with in order to have that--I can get over the crap that comes with it. But I'm alive, finally. Alright acne, I have no desire to continue with the acne. I admit that. That part of puberty sucks.

JOHNSON: [laughs]

SLUSHER: But everything else, I'll take it.

JOHNSON: Wow. So it sounds to me like a lot of your life you were just acting, you were just playing a socialized role, these are the kind of roles I'm supposed to play, and high school was some of the most difficult times.

23:00

SLUSHER: [chuckle]

JOHNSON: Could you maybe talk about what that was like, being in high school?

SLUSHER: [Sigh] high school was weird. Isn't it always, for everyone though?

JOHNSON: Yeah.

SLUSHER: Well first off, Floyd County High School is five years because we don't have a middle school in Floyd. So it goes from eighth grade to twelfth. And no twelve and a half year old is ever ready to walk down the halls of a high school.

JOHNSON: Yeah with seventeen and eighteen year olds.

SLUSHER: No.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: And, this is going to sound somewhat prejudicial, but at least a good half of my high school was your typical redneck variety. I was not your typical redneck kid, despite growing up on a farm in rural Floyd County. I was much more in the geek zone of things. So there was half rednecks and like, almost half 24:00jocks and then there was this little portion of people that were the geeks. The freaks and the geeks, isn't that a TV show?

JOHNSON: It used to be. It was a good show.

SLUSHER: It was, wasn't it? And there was my little weird clique of friends that I kind of ran with. Not really ran with, because I didn't have a car in high school, and I didn't have transportation. So it wasn't like you could go and do anything. It's Floyd County--unless you live in the middle of town, you can't walk to anything. And so, for the most part, school was get up, go to school, come home, and that was it. As long as you can survive the classes everything's good. And I really liked most of my classes, and my teachers, they were awesome. 25:00And I enjoyed schoolwork and learning. There just wasn't an awful lot of the real--I mean nobody ever really wanted to beat me up, despite the one person that kicked a volleyball at me. I was kind of off the radar. I mean, I was somewhat invisible.

JOHNSON: Ok

SLUSHER: I did lots of stuff with academics. I did things with choir. So I participated in the High School musicals. We had this thing call Mountain Academic Competition Conference, which was kind of like Jeopardy, only you formed the answers as answers and not questions. And I did that. So I had friends in there. With musicals and things there would always be like a cast party afterwards, and I never got invited. I never got invited to any parties 26:00that I remember, maybe one, but mostly not. So in a lot of ways it was very lonely. But it was also fairly uneventful. I would go to things like football games, and sock hops, and stuff, and there would be enough friends that I wasn't totally alone. But it was still kind of like just walking, muddling through it and trying to get by.

JOHNSON: Now you said also that you married right after high school, is that correct?

SLUSHER: Right after college.

JOHNSON: I'm sorry, right after college. And you were married for two years.

SLUSHER: Mhmm

JOHNSON: Do you feel comfortable talking about that experience?

SLUSHER: Sure. Keith and I started dating the spring semester of senior year, so it was a very short courtship. I was kind of at that place in my life where it's like 'okay, I'm not finding a job. I'm about to graduate. I do not want to go 27:00home and deal with my parents. This guy is pretty great, he treats me well, and I think I love him,' so I decided--well when he asked me to marry him I said 'yes.' That was all fine and good until we set the date. And I can almost pin point the start of my first major multi-year depression as being the day we set the date for our wedding.

JOHNSON: Really.

SLUSHER: And after we set the date, I really stopped sleeping and just started that downward spiral. And after we got married, he got a job up in Delaware. So we relocated to Delaware in August, yes in August, because he finished his PhD 28:00in July. So we got married right after that. And I literally spent the entire two years at we were married, spending all of my time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, thinking about new and exciting ways that I could possibly die. And finally it got to the point that he just looked at me one day and said "you are either going to go see a therapist, and get help, or I'm going to have you committed. Because I can't keep living like this and neither can you." And I said "Okay. You make the appointment and I'll go."

So I went to therapy, and I didn't get an awful lot out of it because [laugh] we 29:00were really focusing on a lot of the wrong issues. We were thinking--focusing on things like bad thinking, and doing cognitive behavioral modification, and things like that, which will work for some people, but I over think it so it doesn't really work well for me. And none of it was about gender identity because I really had no clue that that was my issue at this point. I still didn't know there was a way to change that. So in the midst of therapy, as I started to get better, we started to sort of realize that our relationship was not what it needed to be to be a marriage. And we started doing marital counseling. And then marital counseling turned into divorce counseling, and then 30:00it turned back into marriage counseling, and then it went back to divorce counseling. And then unfortunately, our therapist was killed by a drunk driver. And so at that point we just kind of realized that maybe it was over and went ahead and got divorced. But we stayed really good friends for several years. Now he's happily married and has two lovely daughters and I'm really happy for him...but it was not a good time [laugh].

JOHNSON: Well you seem to be in a much better place now.

SLUSHER: Oh yeah! Things have gotten much better in the last three years.

JOHNSON: Good, good. So it seems--if we were to walk through this like a chronology of sorts--you were married at the time you were identifying as a heterosexual female--

SLUSHER: Yes.

JOHNSON: You were divorced. After your divorce, do you start to date women? Is 31:00that correct?

SLUSHER: Yes.

JOHNSON: So the experience of coming out--if I can use that--is often talked about in the readings and things that we've discussed in class. Can you talk about that? What that was like, and how that was received. I realize you're not at that place anymore. You're transgender. But at this point, could you maybe talk about that?

SLUSHER: Sure.

JOHNSON: Well you've always been transgender, I should say. Sorry.

SLUSHER: Yes but I wasn't telling everyone I was transgender.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: I wasn't visually presenting as transgender.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: Yeah. When I came out as a lesbian or started dating women, I probably came out to my ex-husband first, and he was fine with that. A long interesting 32:00story that I'm not going to go into. But he was fine with it and very supportive, and--'cause I kind of realized that that was--that I was a lesbian and then decided to start looking for women to date. So it wasn't I found someone to date and then went 'oh I'm a lesbian!' No. We did the decide we were lesbian first and then find people to date. Then started dating this girl. Another not so very good relationship, but it happens.

I came out at work. My decision to come out at work was to basically--'cause I 33:00worked in a manufacturing facility, I worked at Hewlett Packard at that point in time. So I was on the manufacturing line. And it's like 'Okay, I'm going to come out to at least one person that I work with, and I'm going to say it very loudly so everyone else can hear because I don't want anyone to have--to be speculating and let the rumor mills start. I'd rather they just hear it all from me and if there's repercussions, then so be it, I'll deal with the repercussions. But it is what it is and they just need to hear it and get over it. And if there's no room for rumor, then it's not going to be a big deal.' So it worked out fairly well, nobody seemed to care at all, which was good.

Let's see. I told my brother, and he was fine. He was like "yeah whatever. 34:00You're my sister"--at that point in time--"I love you. It's not a big deal. Whatever."

And I was like "But don't tell mom and dad." [laughs] "Don't mention a word of this to mom or dad."

He's like "okay."

Flash forward like three years or so, and the relationship with girlfriend number one has--ok 'cause girlfriend number one was also girlfriend number three, we have to keep this in mind, 'cause I made the mistake of trying to fix something after it was gone. Bad idea. So relationship number three, which was with girlfriend number one, was on its way out. And I met this other girl at an alternative family Thanksgiving potluck thing at a Unitarian Church. So they 35:00just had a big old LGBT potluck for the family that you wish you had. So I met her there. We kind of started dating by like mid-December. So I'm like "Okay, I'm going to take you home with me for Christmas to meet the family."

And she's like "does your family know that you're a lesbian, and that we're a couple?"

And I said "No."

She said "Well unless they know I'm not going."

I'm like 'oh crap.' So--

JOHNSON: That's quite an ultimatum.

SLUSHER: Yeah [sighs]. I hate those. So I convinced her I would tell them, you know, during Christmas. She was like "ok I'll go with you." So, I don't remember what day it was, in relation to Christmas or anything, but I managed to get them 36:00sitting together, and informed my brother that this was going to happen, and he said he would be present, but he stayed way over on the other side of the room [laughs]. And I came out to mom and dad. And my mom and dad had very similar reactions that were qualitatively very different.

JOHNSON: Okay.

SLUSHER: My dad said "You're my daughter and I love you and nothing will change that." My mother said "I hate this, but I love you." To me, the difference in those two statements was my dad put my relationship with him first, my mother put my sexual orientation first. The fact that she couldn't stand that would 37:00always be more important than I was. No matter how much she loved me. And that was kind of always the case. So the other thing they did was to look at my brother and say "Did you know about this?"

And he was like "yeah."

"Well how do you feel about it?"

"Whatever. [laughs] It's all good."

So they're like "Who are you? And how did we raise you that you're going to just accept her for--for this."

But he's like "whatever."

So, you know, my parents never really changed the way they acted towards me after that. They were always welcoming to girlfriends that I brought home. Although it was somewhat easier when they didn't know we were dating because mom 38:00would just treat us like roommates sort of thing, and we could share a bed and everything was great. When we became 'dating' then we needed separate rooms. I don't understand but you know whatever.

So, that was the whole coming out story for being a lesbian. And it obviously still sits in my mind very clearly. Coming out as trans was much more of a comedy of errors [laughs].

JOHNSON: Can you talk about that?

SLUSHER: Yeah [laughs]. I made the mistake of posting on Facebook that I was going to start my transition.

JOHNSON: Why was that a mistake?

SLUSHER: Because there were enough people that were friends of mine that also knew my parents that were like "have you told your parents yet?"

"No."

"Well if you don't we will." Or "if you don't someone is going to so you need to 39:00tell them."

I'm like 'crap.'

So I made the plans to go over and talk to my parents. It happened to be Friday, April 13th; strike number one. I had a three page letter that I was going to read to them, that I basically went through my life history, and all the reasons why I was trans, and why transition was a good thing, and why it was important to me, and why I needed to do it, and why they needed to accept it, and blah, blah. Lots of stuff, three pages, I told you I talk a lot. And so I went over and I was going to read this to them. And my dad's a big Boston Red Sox fan. So when I got over there--

JOHNSON: It's April so they were still in season.

SLUSHER: Yes. So he was watching a Red Sox game, and they were losing. It's like 40:00crap. Then after the Red Sox game ended he switched it to a NASCAR race. And mom and dad both liked Jimmy Johnson at that time. He was losing.

JOHNSON: Cards are just not in your favor.

SLUSHER: No. They were not lining up very well at all. So the next step dad turned the TV at that point in time to like TCM, or Turner Classic Movies, or whatever, and it was Deliverance-- and I was just sitting there on the sofa thinking I can just see myself saying "mom, dad, I'm transgender. Da-da dee, dee, dee, dee [banjo tune from Deliverance]" It's like no, I can't do this. This is so not going to happen. So I just casually walked over to the kitchen table. My mom's daily devotionals were laying there. So I took the letter out of my back pocket and laid it on the daily devotionals and I'm like she'll see it tomorrow morning. And then I'll get disowned and it will all be over. So I very 41:00quickly departed and headed home with the 'I'm really tired I've got to go,' and snuck out.

The next day I'm expecting a very early morning phone call telling me that I've lost my mind, and 'don't ever darken our doorstep again, and by the way get the heck out of the house you live in because I don't want you living in that house anymore because it's still my house.' So I'm like ok I'm going to be living in my car with my dog and my parents are going to hate me. This is all bad. But there's no phone call. I'm like oh crap they're not even going to talk to me and tell me that they hate me and it's over.

Finally at like two or three in the afternoon the phone rings and it's mom. And she talks to me like nothing has happened, like nothing's changed whatsoever. And I'm like okay, this is really weird. Really, really weird. Well I'm not 42:00bring it up until she brings it up. Just not going to do it. So we get to kind of the end of the phone conversation and she goes "I found your note."

And I'm like "okay, and--?"

She says "and I don't like it. I don't like it at all. I don't think it's--I don't think you should do anything about that. I don't think that's what you should do."

And I was like "well it's really not your decision, and I will be doing something about it, because this is what I need to do."

And she's like "well I don't like it."

I don't remember what else she said but then she started crying, and then we got off the phone. Then she called back a few minutes later, still crying, and was like "please don't do this. Please don't do it."

And I'm like "mom I have to. I have to do this."

She's like "okay well I don't want to talk about it anymore."

43:00

And so we got off the phone. And nothing more was said for two or three weeks. She calls me up and she goes "[sighs] that thing you were thinking about doing, that you wrote in your letter--"

I'm like "yes?"

She's like "I still really don't think that you should do that."

I'm like "mom it's a little bit late because I've already started. You can't stop me."

Then she sighs really deeply, starts crying, and says "I knew I shouldn't have asked. I just knew I shouldn't have asked." Then we didn't talk about it anymore for a while.

I still have not heard anything from my father on this. He's not said one word. Even to this day has not said one word. We've had a few minor victories since then. Mostly we don't talk about it. Occasionally mom will bring something up. 44:00She will say "I just can't call you Aaron. I just can't call you by that name. That's not who you are to me." Most of the time I'm like "that's ok. It doesn't matter what name you call me. As long as you still love me, that's alright."

She is like "well I will always love you."

"Ok thank you mom."

Once or twice she's--I've had to go home and ask for money. It's a shameful thing but at 44 years old I still have to go home and ask for money. But she's written me checks and she's written them to Aaron. And I think once or twice she's slipped and called me Aaron. She's called me 'sir' once or twice.

But then there are times where we'll be out in public and she will insist to 45:00like a waiter or waitress, if we're at dinner, that 'she is my daughter.' And it's like mom really? Don't embarrass me like this. But then I just want to tell her someday 'mom you're in your eighties now. People are going to look at you like you have Alzheimer's and then they will lock you up. You need to think about how it looks for you because I don't look like your daughter anymore.' But I haven't done that yet because I don't want to piss her off.

I've given her a couple of books to read. I gave her a book for Mother's Day that was short stories written by mothers of transgender children. Part of them were for when adult children transitioned and part of them were for young kids 46:00and teenagers and their mothers wrote them. When I first gave it to her she was like "what's this?"

I'm like "well it's a book written by mothers who have children like me. I've read it and it's really good and I think you might like it and I think you might get something out of it."

And she's like "sphh." Acts like she's never going to read it. Just sets it down as far away from her as she could put it and blows it off. Then a couple of months later, she's like "I'm about half way finished with my book."

I'm like "that's good. Let me know when you're done."

So I was over one night and we were just out on the back patio talking, late evening. She's like "I finished my book."

I was like "really, so what did you think?"

She is like "well it's still really hard for me to understand but it makes more 47:00sense now. And you are definitely much more happier than you used to be. And all I really want is for you to be happy. And it's still really hard for me but [sigh] I guess I'll be okay." [laugh].

I'm like "Okay. We'll just keep working on it." So we just keep going a little bit at a time. We'll take two steps forward and then we'll take three steps back. But there's a little bit of progress.

JOHNSON: Yeah it sounds like there has been some progress. But what you didn't really mention was your father. Your father hasn't really talked about it. So that silence, that avoidance of it, how has that affected you? Could you maybe talk about that?

SLUSHER: Well, well before I transitioned, actually when I was living out in Seattle, they drove cross-country to come visit me. One morning my girlfriend 48:00and I hopped in the car with my dad because he wanted to go pick up a newspaper. I don't even know how the topic came up. I just remember it happening. We asked him somehow "what would you think if you'd had a second son?"

And dad was like "well that would be all right. I guess it really wouldn't matter."

I kind of took that to mean that he really didn't care what gender I was. He would love me anyway. At least with--he's never done anything negative towards me since my transition. And he's never said anything negative or acted 49:00differently towards me. There was one day a couple of months ago, my riding lawn mower was giving me issues and I was talking to him about it. He was like "you just need to lift--put it up on its end and take the blade off," because the blade was dull or something. He was like "bring the blade over and I'll sharpen it for you."

I'm like "I don't know if I can lift the lawn mower up on its end."

He goes "a strong g--person like you should be able to do that with no problem."

I'm like wait a minute. He got it. He got it. Right there he got it. He knows that I'm not his girl anymore. I can work with this. So even though there's not the verbal acknowledgement in most cases it's like okay he kind of gets it and it's okay.

JOHNSON: And you sensed that early on.

SLUSHER: Yeah. 'Cause he's always been, ever sense I was little--even though for 50:00most of my childhood I almost never saw him because he worked swing shifts at the arsenal. He's always been very 'you're mine and I love you, and it really doesn't matter. Now these are thing I would prefer to have from you like straight A's, and a good job, and stuff like that. But the rest of it really doesn't matter.' So it's always been that kind of relationship with dad.

JOHNSON: So, if we could maybe jump back a little bit.

SLUSHER: Sure.

JOHNSON: We talked about high school. Did you decide to come to Virginia Tech straight out of high school?

SLUSHER: Mmhmm

JOHNSON: Okay. What kind of led you to Tech?

SLUSHER: [laugh]

JOHNSON: I realize geographically it wasn't that far from Floyd. But where there 51:00other reasons that kind of lead you to come to this school?

SLUSHER: The guy I was dating at the time was going to Radford. Since as I mentioned I really had no clue what I wanted to do or be so I couldn't make those kind of plans. The only thing I really wanted to do in life, at that point, was to be either a singer or an actor. And that was totally off the table. My mom was like 'if you chose to do any of those things we wouldn't be paying for your education. So you might as well just forget it.'

So I decided that I wanted to go into engineering because my dad told me engineering was the way to go. I couldn't go to Radford and be an engineer because they don't have an engineering school. So I applied to Tech. And it was literally the only school I applied to even though for years I had talked about going to UCLA. But I think that was mostly because I wanted to be at the beach.

52:00

JOHNSON: That's a good reason.

SLUSHER: I think so but you know that just never happened.

JOHNSON: The mountains are nice.

SLUSHER: The mountains are nice and Tech is beautiful. And it was close to home and it was close to the boy I was dating. So that was all that really mattered, at that point anyway. And, you know, I loved it here. I really did. Which I guess is part of why I came back so many years later and did two more years, just because--mostly because I love learning but also because Tech's a great school. Admittedly it wasn't necessarily I came to Tech because I wanted to go to Tech. But it was just based on where Tech was in location--in relation to the other things I wanted in life. But I guess if I could go back in time I'd 53:00probably do it again.

JOHNSON: What year did you first come to Tech?

SLUSHER: 1988.

JOHNSON: Ok 1988, and you completed your degree in?

SLUSHER: I completed my degree in 92. I got a Bachelor's in Chemistry, I threw the engineering out the door after one semester and a few weeks of the second semester, and a minor in History.

JOHNSON: And you say you came back. You came back to Radford?

SLUSHER: No. I came back to Tech.

JOHNSON: For a second degree?

SLUSHER: Not for a second degree.

JOHNSON: To complete?

SLUSHER: Well, ok, after I moved back to Floyd I was working as a veterinary technician. And when the economy tanked, the folks in Floyd didn't take their pets to the veterinarian as much because they couldn't afford it. It was much 54:00more important to put food on the table and take care of the children than it was to take care of the dogs. So unfortunately, since I was the last one hired, I was the first one laid off.

But luckily--there is a bright side to this--she laid me off in December of 2009, so the census was just kicking up. So I got a position working at the clerk's office for the census. So I was in Christiansburg. I was able to stay there and do census work from January through August, which was really good, but the job situation was still crap at the late part of 2010. And I really didn't know what I wanted to do at that point. So I was like 'hmm maybe I want to go to vet school and become a veterinarian because I loved being a vet tech but 55:00wrestling big dogs for low pay is not necessarily the thing you want to pin your later adulthood on because it can be painful, and I have scars to prove it. So I was like well maybe I should try to get into vet school. I could do this.

So I called up--actually I sent an email to someone at Tech and said "what do I have to do in order to take more classes?"

They were like "You're an alum. You can come back and take classes anytime you want to. You just have to pay for them. Or do student loans."

And I'm like "can I do student loans?"

They are like "Fill out your financial aid form. We'll see what we can do."

And so I filled it out. Literally I applied like--tried to get everything together--August 10th and I think classes started the 21st, and I was in class.

56:00

JOHNSON: Wow.

SLUSHER: I only took--I think I took two classes, two or three classes the first semester. The second semester was when my world fell apart, so I took that semester off. And then I kind of decided after I started my transition that I really wanted to go into social work. Because I started looking back at my life and thinking alright, who are the people who have helped me most in my life because I really want to be able to give back to people. So who has helped me the most? And I realized that clinicians that have helped me the most were social workers. It's like ok I think I want to be in social work. What do I have to do to do that? It was too late to apply and I didn't have biology course of all things and I had to have that to apply to Radford's social work school. So I 57:00talked to them and decided to stay at Tech for one more year. There was a brief period of time when I contemplated turning my minor in History into a Bachelor's. But then decided I didn't want to do that either [laugh]. So I took my biology course and I took some psychology courses. Then applied to Radford and got in for the next fall.

JOHNSON: You just completed your degree.

SLUSHER: I just completed my degree.

JOHNSON: Congratulations.

SLUSHER: Thank you.

JOHNSON: So while you were at Tech, from 2009 to 2011 maybe--

SLUSHER: No, 2010 to May in 2012.

JOHNSON: Ok great. So while you were here at Tech did you notice--or could you 58:00sense--was there--was Tech in anyway welcoming to LGBT community? Or did you notice that while you were here at Tech? And possibly were you involved with any of the organizations?

SLUSHER: When I first started back, I really didn't pay much attention to it. That just wasn't where my head was at the time.

JOHNSON: Yeah you were probably thinking about courses.

SLUSHER: I was thinking about courses and stuff.

JOHNSON: Yeah sure.

SLUSHER: After I started my transition though, because my transition started the second semester that I was back, I met up with Catherine Cortrupi who was--who is no longer here but--I met up with her. She actually got me involved in doing some of the LGBT panels that they do in human sexuality courses and humanities 59:00classes, and sociology classes, and stuff. So I did quite a few of those. I got to meet some people that way and be a little bit a part of the community. For the most part as far as LGB goes, everything felt very welcoming and open.

I'll tell you another story in just a second. But as I transitioned, I was a little skeptical that things were going to be as easy. I was actually taking an LGBTQ issues course that Minjeong Kim used to teach, in the Sociology Department. And that was awesome. I had a great class for that. Everyone in it was awesome, accept for the TA, who was kind of a jerk. I asked them to call me 60:00Aaron, and I came out as trans in one of the first days of class. So everyone there was just really welcoming and opening to me--that didn't come out right. Anyway, like I said the TA was kind of a jerk. He insisted that I was a she because my name on the roster was still Ellen. It didn't matter, anything else matter, I was still she. And one day my whole class just called him on it. I didn't have to do a thing. They were all like "that is Aaron and he is a boy and you need to catch on." [laughs]

JOHNSON: Good for them.

SLUSHER: I'm like 'thank you' [laugh]. That was great. I took a graduate level 61:00human sexuality course with Dr. April Few-Demo. There were only four of us in the class. It was very small. It was me and three girls. We talked about trans issues. We talked about LGBT. So it was really cool. I kind of got to be the voice for part of that. One of the girls in the class, she was actually--well her PhD work was going to be on gay fathers. So gay couples that had adopted and raised children and things like that. It was good to get to meet other people in the field, and see things from some different perspectives.

On the last day of class we got to--Dr. Few-Demo asked us "bring in a movie if 62:00you guys want to watch it, but it has to be something that would be pertinent to the class." I think I was the only one who accidently happened to have a movie in my bag at the time. I think it was called Self Made Men. No-- I don't remember what it was called. It was a book--or a movie on transgender men and it was all biography and stuff. So we watched it. The reactions were a lot different than I'd expected. For the most part I expected my classmates to just sort of go 'wow--ok' and maybe be a little taken aback. Maybe feel a little bit more awareness, and maybe a little more compassion. One girl was just like "I 63:00don't understand how any woman could--would ever be willing to cut off her breasts and want a penis. Why would they ever want to do that?" And I'm like "because they're not women." She could not get it. I don't know if she was able to kind of move past that later, but she was like "I just couldn't imagine myself doing that." Well of course you couldn't, you're a girl! [laugh] So it was--you know there's always a little bit of shock and amazement when you come out to folks, and you get different reactions than you expect from--. Well, from what you expect.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: One of the trans or LGBT panels I was on, it was actually for an 64:00undergrad human sexuality class. And one of the gay men on the panel asked the class "how many of you actually know someone that's gay?" and probably 75-80% of the class raised their hands. And this was a big class of like three hundred, four hundred, people. I said "well how many of you know someone who's trans?" No one raised their hands. So, you know, LGB gets lots of press, and people are becoming more welcoming and open to that, but there's still that trans-phobia piece of it that's like 'Uh, no we're not touching that. We're not going to embrace it, we're not going to talk about it because--no, too sensitive.'

The other story I was going to tell you: When I was an undergrad, the first time 65:00through, those first four years, my spring semester of my senior year I actually took the undergrad human sexuality class.

JOHNSON: So this was 92, right?

SLUSHER: This was 92, yes. It was the giant five-hundred person class. We were meeting in Squires colonnade room--or I think colonial room. And I was sitting towards the back. I don't remember exactly what was going on, but folks were standing up and giving--maybe we had a guest speaker in, folks were asking questions or something. A girl on the opposite side of the auditorium from me stood up and announced that she was a lesbian. And I remember sitting in my seat far across on the other side thinking 'oh my God, how brave that person must be 66:00and that's--wow' and then thinking what does the person sitting next to her think? And how are they affected by it? And do they want to move? Is anybody going to sit next to her again? What happens when she leaves the class? How will people talk about her? You know, kind of secretly to myself going 'I'm so glad that I don't have to do that.' Then realizing a few years later that 'oh shoot, yeah I do.'

Of all my memories of those four years of undergrad that stand out, that one stands out more in my mind than any other memory. Because it's like wow if I had 67:00been a little more self aware or a little less afraid, that could have been me, and how hard would that have been? So-- Tech's come a long way since then-- a very long way. I was just happy as a transgender student here that there were occasionally a single-sex bathroom [laugh]. The library is a lovely place [laugh].

JOHNSON: I mean 1992, I mean today, by today's standards, you know, coming out, 92 this is a completely different context. So you are so right, this was a brave thing for this person to do. So more recently in your experience at Tech it 68:00sounds like you had quite a few allies.

SLUSHER: Oh yeah.

JOHNSON: But you also had quite a few challenges, because you mentioned at one point you said LGB but I think you kind of intentionally left off the T. So can you talk about that a little bit more?

SLUSHER: Um well it's not just Tech.

JOHNSON: Ok.

SLUSHER: You know, it's not just Tech. That's kind of a pervasive attitude or has been until very recently that the T is silent, and we don't talk about the T. Even in things like legislation, if it might pass for LGB but the T kind of makes it a little iffy, well we're just going to forget about the T people and this applies to all LGB folk but not the transgenders. That can be seen with 69:00things like gay marriage. It's important that gay people can get married but trans people still have some issues around being able to get married with things like weirdness with birth certificates and such. Gay folks have job protections in a lot of places. Trans people don't. So it's not just Tech. I'm really happy that Tech has recently included transgender in their protected statuses, which--that's an amazing step. I mean that's something that a lot of people have been fighting for for a very long time. And there's still--it's still hard. It doesn't make it any easier.

A friend of mine who is--he's a gay man. And he's like okay so now that you can 70:00get gay married in Virginia, which is cool and you can get spousal benefits if you are gay married, what happens if your employer doesn't want to hire gay people now that they have to provide you with insurance, but if you come out and say that you want insurance for your gay spouse, they now decide to fire you because it's still not a protected class in Virginia for job requirements. So what happens there? Trans is just as iffy. I've got friends who live and work in Roanoke that no one knows they're trans and they are terrified of what will 71:00happen if their employers find out. And that's a scary thing.

For as progressive as Virginia Tech is now, and is continuing to become, Radford is just as backwards. They aren't interested in doing things for LGBT. They are more worried about race and socioeconomic status. They want to make sure they are inclusive enough of rural students but if you're LGBT, phff, you can make it on your own, or go some place else. Or at least that's how it felt. Although my cohort was great, and the social work department was great, but there was still that feeling that outside of here it's better that no one knows. So, you know, 72:00Tech is a marvelous place.

JOHNSON: Yeah there's been a lot of progress--

SLUSHER: A lot of progress.

JOHNSON: So if you were thinking about Tech in the future, where would you like to see Tech go?

SLUSHER: Um--[laughs]

JOHNSON: Given there's been a lot of recent progress. What would you--

SLUSHER: Absolutely

JOHNSON: How would you like to continue to see the progressions grow?

SLUSHER: Gosh. I don't even know. Um-- I really don't know.

JOHNSON: Ok.

SLUSHER: That's part of the future that is still is kind of like 'wow what can I imagine?' I don't even know what I can imagine because what is here now is so far beyond what I thought I would see for a while. So just seeing things continue. Making sure that there are gender-neutral bathrooms. Easily accessible 73:00gender-neutral bathrooms so you don't have to run three buildings down and up four flights of stairs to get to it.

JOHNSON: Right.

SLUSHER: Making sure that--well just more awareness. I think it would be good if every major, not just courses in human sexuality and sociology, but every major at some point in time do something like have a panel where folks can hear the stories of LGBT. Even if it's one hour, one hour out of your lifetime you hear stories from three or four people. Because it's been proven if you know someone 74:00that's LGBT, you're much less likely to be afraid of them or to want legislation against them. Suddenly it's not a big scary thing anymore. Being able to make or have LGBT people be accessible to folks that aren't, just even for a little bit.

Encouraging professors that are LGBT to come out so that there are role models. And I know that's a scary thing too. Trying to force someone out of the closet is not a nice thing. Just making it known that you're not going to have bad repercussions if you do come out, you know, that sort of thing. Ah that would be fun, if Virginia Tech had a pride parade, or just a pride celebration. And it's 75:00not like that would be a huge thing, but it would give everyone a chance to be just a little bit more proud of who they are and show their rainbow hokie colors [laugh]. Just things like that, little things. We've got some of the big things taken care of now, so being able to celebrate some of the little things would be good.

JOHNSON: That's awesome. You mentioned early on that your mother, or your family, really, you were at the Church of the Brethren, right?

SLUSHER: Yes

JOHNSON: Does faith factor into your life at this point? Could you maybe talk about that if it does--or if it doesn't?

SLUSHER: It does. I mean, at this point, I'm not really a non-practicing but 76:00just a--I've always had issues with organized religion because I've always felt that they try to take the place of what I think is--well, they try to do things that aren't supposed to be in their purview. The judgment things. I've always believed that that belongs solely with God and Jesus, you know, in my verbiage, and doesn't belong among the realm of men. The Church of the Brethren's stance on LGBT--I guess it's T as well, but at least on the LGB portion of the spectrum has been to 'love the sinner, hate the sin.' So when I came out as lesbian, there was the 'you can come to church, you can bring your girlfriend, but we 77:00really don't think that you should be together, and you really shouldn't be practicing that, that shouldn't happen. We'll welcome you as people but, that's a sin and you'll go to hell.'

When I came out as trans, I called up my pastor, because I had been going to church, because that's what my mother wants and I was trying to keep mom happy. I called up my pastor and was like 'we need to talk.' She's like 'ok.' So we had a little pastoral conference and talked for a couple of hours. One of the things she asked me was 'what do you think God thinks about you being trans?' And I said 'well, I believe that God created me to be the person that I am. Me being 78:00male with a female body is just one of those things that he created in order for me to have more experiences, and learn more about the world. And just another trial that I needed to overcome on my way to being who I am. And I think God is sitting in heaven right now saying 'it's about time. It's about time you figured it out and moved on.' She looked at me and went 'I can work with that.'

The few times that I've been back to church since then have been--there's folks that are very supportive. And I know that people in the congregation love me. 79:00They've known me my whole life and they love me because they've known me. But it's hard to go back and not fall into the role of who I think I'm supposed to be in order to be there. And being called Ellen, and being called she, and being called Betty's daughter and things like that, it just makes it uncomfortable to be there. But sometimes I miss it.

JOHNSON: Is that what draws you back?

SLUSHER: Yeah sometimes. I've tried going to a few different churches and I've found some that are good and I enjoy going there but it's that getting up early on Sunday morning thing. That's just no. So I keep trying to find jobs where I have to work on Sundays, and then it's not an issue. [laughs] It's like 'I can't 80:00go, I have to work.'

Part of me would like to be able to just stand up in front of the church that I've gone to my entire life and say 'okay everyone, I know this is confusing for you but my name is Aaron. I'm a boy and I would appreciate it if you would respect that.' And I know my mother would be mortified. And I know there would probably be a few people in the congregation who would run me out, right out the front door, and say 'go away and don't come back.' So I don't feel that that part of my life should become that big of an issue for everybody else. I don't want to divide an otherwise wonderful church just because of who I am, if that makes sense. I don't want to cause anybody more problems than they already have. 81:00I can just be me and it's okay. Maybe that's still more of me doing the trying to please everybody thing but--Oh God I hadn't thought of it before now. Thanks [laugh]. But I don't need to force it on anybody. So it's okay.

JOHNSON: So we really believe this is a very needed and very valuable project. Having this voice heard and being a part of Virginia Tech. So, having said that; why do you think this history--why do you think it needs to be told? Why do we need to preserve it?

SLUSHER: [laugh] I think it needs to be preserved and told the same as any 82:00another person's history. Because it's not the popular version of what happened. And generally only the popular version of what happened gets told and remembered. And there have been LGBT people for all history of time.

JOHNSON: Forever.

SLUSHER: In every country across the planet, you know, but you don't find them in the history books. Or you very rarely find them in the history books and people don't know who they are or what they did or what wonderful things they brought to the world. So when you're a poor little LGBT kid, and you're trying to find a reason to live, you don't have a role model. So history needs to be preserved so that people can have role models. It needs to be preserved because 83:00there needs to be a memory of the amazing things and accomplishments that individuals do against all odds and all oppression. Me being the weird person that I am and having lots of different interests that I have, I would love to find or work on a transgender history for the folks of Russia. You know how hard it would be to find that information?

JOHNSON: Yeah.

SLUSHER: At least it's a little more free in the United States. And even though the voices have been silenced for so many years, projects like this do exist. And there are verbal passing down of histories through friends and friends and family that you create so there's memories. We at least have memories back to 84:00Stonewall. The Stonewall Riot or Harvey Milk, and all that wonderful stuff that allowed us to get to where we are now. But so much of what happened before that is still lost. Right now we're in a pivotal period of history where things are changing. But if we lose what we went through to get to this point, then there is not as much appreciation for where we will go. That's what history is to me, all history, not just LGBT history but all history; being able to hold on to the roots that keep us grounded and feed the tree that reaches to the clouds. It's 85:00important to have a voice.

JOHNSON: And you're a very, very valuable voice and we thank you so much.

SLUSHER: Thank you.

JOHNSON: There is one question I do what to ask. My last question for you--I ask too many questions: Is there a question that I didn't ask you that kind of surprises you? Or a question that maybe you wished I would have asked?

SLUSHER: I don't think so. Mind is muddled now [laugh].

JOHNSON: This is a really rich experience and we want to thank you. You talked about preserving the history so people have role models. Well you're a role model because you're contributing to this and we want to thank you so much for that. This is really an honor for us to put your voice with this collection, so these stories are told.

SLUSHER: Thank you I've enjoyed being a part of it. This is what I like to do. Because part of what I want to do and how I want to live is to be a role model and to be able to share my experiences and help others in that process. Either 86:00by helping non-LGBT people understand and learn that we're just human. We're not the swinging from the chandeliers and molesting children and all that crazy stuff. You know, stupid stereotypes that are so not true.

But also to reach out to the LGBT community and say, you know, coming forward and sharing your story is what makes the world an easier place for us all to live in. Throughout the last three and a half years, being able to talk to classes, being part of classes, and giving classmates that chance to say 'I sat 87:00by somebody who was LGBT and they weren't scary at all, you know, and I learned a lot from them. And wow, now I can go out and I can talk to folks who are LGBT and struggling and say 'I don't know personally what you're going through, but I understand.' So just being able to open up that world for folks, that's what I do. That's what I like to do, and what I hope to do much more of.

JOHNSON: And you're going to be very successful.

SLUSHER: Well thank you. I hope so [laugh].

JOHNSON: I feel very sure about that.

SLUSHER: I hope so.

JOHNSON: I'm sure you will. So this is sort of wrapping things up. So thank you again for contributing. We really, really appreciate it.

SLUSHER: You're very welcome thanks for having me.

88:00

JOHNSON: Thank you.