Randi Blocker: An Uncommon Life

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In a successful fulfilling life, we can claim a lot of roles as we grow older.  But few can have lived all the lives that Randi Blocker has experienced: Marine, father, law enforcement officer, Southern Belle, and Grandmother.  Oh there’s more, lots more.  She rides a motorcycle like a bat out of hell, just for fun.  She’s an experienced woodsman and owns guns.  She’s for women’s empowerment, and is a foul mouthed intellectual, -which I like.  What I’m most jealous about, though, is that she’s got a porch to sit on in the evening breeze, somewhere in rural Alabama, where she can sit watching the sun set and a sip a mint jullip like a proper lady.

OK, seriously, the last place on Earth I’d want to be as a transgender woman is in rural Alabama.  But Ms Randi has lived her entire life there, in dignity with the respect of everyone who knows her.  Its a good sign of  the fine character of the locals, but most importantly its a reflection of who she is and how she has lived and presented herself as a genuine person.

Randi is one of those people who has managed to make the best of every moment of her life and she’s still at it at the age of 51.  She’s lived her entire life in Alabama.  She had loving parents and siblings in a rather conservative church going family.  Her father was a deacon, and as a young man she herself was a Sunday School teacher.  Her parents were ordinarily intolerant of of gay and transgender people, among others; she said, “I learned very early in life, it was best to hide and try to conform or my life would be a living hell. So, I learned to be a little redneck kid who followed my older brother around and ignored my sisters.”  She stayed out of trouble, read books, delivered newspapers, and mostly kept to herself as a child.  Starting at the age of 10, she began quietly dressing up in her mother’s old cloths when everyone else was out of the house.  In those days in rural Alabama, she had no way of finding out what she was or what it was called, thinking she was the only one.  So, she began years of youth, keeping quit and finding brief moments to dress and feel fulfilled and real, never telling a soul.  “I only know that I wasn’t the boy everyone claimed I was and the only time I felt right in my skin was when I was dressed as a girl.” She said.  How brave and lonely she must have been!

While she was in high school, her older brother joined the Marines and everyone was appropriately proud and pleased.  In that time and place, it was only natural that she should do the same and so she signed up for a deferred enlistment at age 17.  It takes a certain kind of courage to sign up to be a Marine; Randi had it; she was never afraid, not even for a moment.  She sailed through boot camp, relishing every moment.  And later she was the only one in her class of rough tough boys to graduate high school in a Marine uniform, to the amazement and admiration of all assembled; proud as hell, chest out and square jawed.

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As someone who served ten years, first in the Navy and later as an Army Reserve Sgt First Class, I can well understand the oddity of loving every moment of one’s service while at the same time being an unwelcome queer who had to hide who you are every single day you served.

Randi Blocker was such a person.  She recalls, “It’s been 33 years now, and I tell everyone that I still miss the Marine Corps, and I mean it. The Marines were the best four years of my life. I had a MOS I loved, 2811, I went to some great places, 29 Palms, Camp Lejeune, Okinawa, and I even spent a year playing rugby for the 3rd FSSG. It was a blast. Those four years I was able to just let go of all my worries, fears, and confusion about my gender and just be. I was a Marine and nothing else mattered.”  Imagine that!  Its difficult to explain to those who never served.  But, for those of us who carry that pride, it makes perfect sense.

At the same time, she became more aware of who she was, at last finding information and being able to realize that she was entirely normal.  But, the heroics of her life had hardly begun.

She got married, left the USMC honorably and proudly, and began a successful 25 year career in law enforcement as an Alabama Game Warden.  That is an armed, rigorous, and dangerous solo job requiring resilience and self reliance out in the vast back woods of Alabama filled with wild animals and even more dangerous often drunk and belligerent armed red necked rebels.  Fortunately, she grew up with those good old boys, she spoke their language, she know how to be firm but fair with them.  In two and a half decades, she never once had to fire a weapon at anyone.  Firing in the air to get some serious attention may have been another matter.  They knew she was a Marine; nail polish or not, they knew not to mess with her.  At the same time, she became a single father raising two boys, due to circumstances that had nothing to do with who she was.

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Transitioning became a far off dream to be put off for decades while she heroically dealt with the life time tasks she faced.  I’d like to be able to say that she sailed through all that, just as she did as a Marine.  Well, she did, but it wasn’t all roses, it wasn’t easy, not at all.   There were no second choices, she said.  At times she suffered depression and anger and burn out dealing with her job, raising her sons, and finances.  “I had to get up and keep going every day,” she noted, saying that sometimes she had to go out into the woods, sit in her pickup, and cry.  But, we are talking about someone with courage here, she never asked anyone for help, even if there had been anyone to ask.

“I was the worst kept secret in the state of Alabama. Comments about the queer game warden, or the tranny game warden often led to complaints about me to my supervisors. I think as I never overtly acted or commented on any of it, they were happy to let sleeping dogs lie as long as I did my job.”  She told me.  Now retired, looking back, she notes that she loved her time as a Game Warden, she just kept going and never gave up.   I’ve tried to conceive of and explain her courage above, but really, I’m not sure there are words to describe it.

Her sons are grown, she recently retired and on the first day of retirement she threw out all her male clothing and began at long last “living my true life,” she told me.  “I had my name changed within the week and I haven’t looked back. I am truly having the time of my life.”  She’s begun the long and financially complex process of transition with the same determination and courage she’s had all her life.

In concluding her story to me she said, “I have had no problems with harassment or discrimination in my hometown, which is amazing considering I was a public official that people had known for so long. There is so much about being transgender that is negative for some.  I used to feel that way myself, but I have found my peace and I have come to see that once you achieve your inner peace, you can also see blessings in being able to experience life as one of these special people. As Sarah McBride said when she spoke at the DNC, “I am a proud transgender American.””

 

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Denny Meyer

Sgt. First Class Denny Meyer, the son of WWII Holocaust refugees, was reared bilingually in the mid 1940s postwar immigrant refugee community on New York City ‘s Upper West Side . His mother, he notes with pride, arrived at Ellis Island as an illegal alien fleeing Nazi persecution. She taught him that, “there is nothing more precious than American Freedom.”

He has been an activist for over 50 years, starting with his first march with the NAACP at the age of 13 in 1960, working for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights and transgender rights for our military service members and veterans.

In 1968 he volunteered, “To pay my country back for my family’s freedom.” He served for ten years in two services; in the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier, in a Huey helicopter squadron HQ, at NATO US headquarters; and in specialized Army Reserve units; and served as an inter-agency liaison and negotiator.

Sgt. Denny has spoken at universities and colleges including Brown, Columbia, Harvard, Hofstra, and Lehman (CUNY) among other venues; combining history, humor, pathos, and anger to tell his story.

In addition to serving as TAVA’s Media Director, he is the national Public Affairs and Veterans Affairs officer of AVER and edits GayMilitarySignal.com.