Sunday, February 17, 2008

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Femininity

1950’s New England with the short drive from Boston to a small industrial city to the north Portland. When you travel Route 95 in 1950’s the lanes dropped to 4 and the bustling traffic with big finned Ford’s and Chevy’s .ruled the road. Perhaps you see a I like Ike sign off to the side of the road. AM radio playing Elvis and Little Richard. The Korean war was just ending and GI homes were being built along highway to budding small towns into the suburbs. Ted Williams was belting mammoth home runs and Bull Russell was key into building Boston’s first dynasty. Senator Joe McCarthy was beginning the Anti Red Crusade making his list from everyone in government and Hollywood of being communist. In the fishing port city of Portland Maine is where our story begins.

Diane was born into your average family and although she was born with the name Jimmy deep inside from a very early age she was different. There was always a part of her she had to keep concealed but as each passing year she knew what her destiny would be. By age 14 Diane was wearing her sisters clothes and the two of them loved to try on new things. The schools repeatedly tried to request she dress as a boy and after many attempts her parents relented. In High School Diane graduated and as the Police action on Vietnam progressed she thought of joining the Navy . In someway she attempted to contradict her inner self and be what the world thought she be. She left the Navy after being unable to pass the Naval swim tests and married a lesbian woman but the piece of the puzzle didn’t fit After her wife gave birth she soon fled as being a mother was to much for her. Diane was alone and with a child in tow the instincts that are inside every woman took over. She was a single mother providing for her child like any mother would do. She met a man whom she claims was gay and again she tried to find the right pieces to put together. Her biggest dilemma wasn’t that she was gay but the spirit of a woman always guided her and that possibility was just to much for her husband.

In 1965 Diane and another person named Stephanie a black transgendered person that was very similar in circumstances to her own. They had meetings at the Harvard Medical School with a young surgeon named Doctor Francis Woldort. There had been many that applied for this opportunity but Stephanie and Diane were the final 2 selected. The work was ground breaking and the Harvard Gender Identity Clinic was one of the first In the United States. Diane expressed a freedom she had been looking for all her life. She was working at a local dinner in back of the old Filenes department store in downtown Boston.

In 1960’s Boston the theatre district was booming along Boylston and Washington Streets. The area would be divided the off Broadway plays and musicals would inhabit Boylston St and Dance Clubs, Gay bars and strip clubs would form along Washington St and would become known as the Combat Zone. Single motherhood was still not the norm even in a metropolis like Boston working nights Diane would be a headliner at the Piccadilly a local strip club. Diane refused to allow them to reveal her identity and after a few years went on tour. She was never much interested in prostitution or escorting. The one thing that was paramount in her life was her daughter Deborah and providing her with a home and a education.
After Deborah was finished with college Diane decided to have a talk with her. Diane yielded to her history and in a state of shock she stormed out the door. Several hours had passed and when she returned the only demand was that this conversation never took place again. Diane tried to rekindle her daughters relationship with her natural mother but there was very little interest on either side. The one constant in Diane’s life was being a mother and grandmother.
In the Late 70s Dianne finally found love with a local roofer in Boston. Her daughter was settled and married and soon would give birth to her grandchildren. After much consideration Diane gave her husband her story and with out a flinch they were able to move on with what she called a whirlwind romance.
Diane enjoyed life as a grandmother her love for them was always provided her comfort. Diane had never been political or was much of a activist. She was more or less led to be a power of example to other transgendered woman . She would be quick to point out to other woman of the perils of street life and prostitution. She voiced her concern but deep down she never felt she was making any kind of statement. Her inner self always prevailed and she knew her path from of a very early age. Diane embraced the woman inside of her and her journey she felt was chosen for her. Many woman that have followed Diane’s path in life have felt many oppositions and obstacles in their way. She fondly embraces her childhood and is so grateful to her family. She feels that things were so much more simpler in the 50s when she began her transition and people just didn’t come out or if they did it was so rare that it was easily dismissed. Her journey has been met with some heartache and pain but through it all her life was worth living. Diane became divorced in the mid 90s and had remarried again but soon after her husband had passed away. She moved to Florida as many widows do to live out her life. Retirement lifestyle didn’t quit suit her and after being diagnosed with cancer she settle in to a small town in central Pennsylvania. It was such a privilege to have interviewed Diane it is so rare in life to meet someone so at peace with them selves and their life. She has no regrets and when she was sending her her photos I could feel her smile. Five decades behind her and a retiree in her 60s she only is looking forward to the next gift awaiting her around the next corner.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tragedy Hits Home

In Memory of James Imonti
When you measure a mans worth it should be beyond his accomplishments. When you look back on a mans life when you see all the obstacles he over came to get there that’s what is important. When I first met James I had been broken to the point of hopelessness. Doing drugs and living a nightmare of the lifestyle that addiction carries. with it. Everything that has happened to me the last 17 plus years is a direct result of the nurturing and unconditional love he gave me. I learned to be a father to my children. Under his mentoring all my fractured family relationships had been mended. He was the biggest force behind my writing. He encouraged me to write and go deep inside and be the inspiration to others that he was to me. We had spent countless hours traveling the country to speak to convicts and addicts. The greatest compliment I ever received was recently when I was in Chicago a man walked up to me and said he was at a treatment center James and I spoke at several years ago.. He said he was a single father raising his children and he been clean for 2 years. He said the message James delivered changed his life and he wanted to thank him. I was just like him in the last 8 years I was able to be a single parent and be responsible for my children. When I think of all the things that I have accomplished being a father to my kids is what means the most. He led me to my personal relationship with god. His encouraging and mentoring put me on a path I never dreamed of. There is no way I could ever thank him for the life I have. I just pray that I can keep his message alive and inspire others the way he inspired me

Friends recall James Imonti as inspiring
01:00 AM EST on Monday, February 4, 2008

Friends of James K. Imonti Jr. — shot in the back, allegedly by his father-in-law, outside a Food Lion store in Carrboro, N.C. — said the former Rhode Islander had pulled himself from the depths of substance abuse and become a powerful, nationally known motivational speaker and counselor who helped many thousands deal with their substance abuse problems.
News accounts late last week noted only Imonti’s drug problems.
“He did countless, endless amounts of service to the community, service to the incarcerated, the homeless, those afflicted with addiction and alcoholism, people in general. He was the epitome of compassion and kindness,” said his friend Sean Garedo, who was so inspired by Imonti he asked him to be the godfather of his daughter. “He spoke with so much enthusiasm, passion and commitment, his message was heard by the deafest of ears.”
A Rhode Island School of Design graduate and Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, Imonte had a jewelry business, Imonti Designs, and served as his own distributor. He spent most of his life in Rhode Island, residing in Cranston, and moved to Carrboro, just west of Chapel Hill, in 2002. He died at the age of 59.
Friends say Imonti’s transformation came in 1989, after years of living on the edge, occasional trouble with the law, and, most important, the death of his 4-year-old daughter.
Once the change came, “he immediately made an impact on all the addicts in the Greater Providence area,” said Jerry Urso, who has traveled the conference circuit with Imonti. “He would go to detoxes and treatment centers and carry the message of hope to people in prison.”
“He was particularly proud that he was able to take the worst of the worst and change their lives forever. He would take homeless people into his [jewelry] business shop and help them get on their feet. There are so many people who are alive today because of him,” said Urso.
Garedo said Imonti became a familiar face in Rhode Island courtrooms, but this time giving judges advice about men and women in trouble with the law who had turned their lives around.
“James taught us to be fathers and husbands,” he said. “Getting people off drugs is the easy part, restoring them back into society is the hard part. Some of us have become basketball coaches, some have become other types of volunteers, we give back to society. One guy I know who James inspired has just become a radiologist.”
Known as “James I.” because people in 12-step programs don’t go by their full names, the Cranston resident chaired the state’s first major convention, in Warwick, for recovering addicts. He inspired convention groups, some as large as 10,000 people, around the country, said Urso, who spoke at Imonti’s memorial service Saturday at Holy Cross Church of God in Christ United, on Broad Street in Providence.
“I’ve been in Chicago and people would come to him and say, ‘You gave me such a hope, and I’ve been clean for two years,’ ” he recalled.
Garedo said he has traveled all over the United States and Canada. “No matter where I go, they ask if I know a guy named James I,” he said, explaining that recordings of Imonti’s talks have been repeatedly copied and passed around. “People tell me they heard him and he changed their lives forever.”
“He was the most passionate speaker I’ve ever heard,” said Urso. When he was before an audience, you could hear a pin drop “because you hung on every word. He’d take people on a roller-coaster ride that was his life. They would laugh with him, cry with him, and then he would wrap that all up in a bow and give people the gift of hope. And he did that for the last 19 years.”

Rhode Island news

Former Cranston man fatally shot in North Carolina
01:00 AM EST on Friday, February 1, 2008
By Timothy C. BarmannJournal Staff Writer
A former Cranston resident was shot and killed in a North Carolina grocery store parking lot on Monday, and the police arrested the man’s father-in-law for the crime.
James K. Imonti Jr., 59, was found face down, unconscious and unresponsive outside a Food Lion store in Carrboro, N.C., early Monday evening, according to the Carrboro police.
Imonti, a Carrboro resident, appeared to have been shot once in the upper back at close range, the police said. He was pronounced dead at the University of North Carolina Hospital. The police allege that Imonti’s father-in-law, Garland McRay King, 65, shot Imonti after the two argued in the parking lot near the Food Lion. The two had had a dispute for some time, the police said in a statement.
The police said King, a Chapel Hill resident, was found with a handgun at the scene and was arrested. King was charged with first-degree murder, according to a police report.
Jihan Ali, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, walked out of the grocery store and saw a man yelling at a man lying on the ground, the Daily Tarheel reported. Ali said the assailant tugged at the victim’s pants, as if to drag him, partially pulling off the pants.
Jihan said another man told the assailant to move away from the victim, and the assailant went to a nearby car, a sedan parked in a handicapped space, and waited until the police arrived, according to the newspaper account.
Imonti, a Providence native and a former resident of Edgewood, moved to North Carolina in 2002, according to an obituary in The Providence Journal.
He worked as a jewelry distributor for his own company, Imonti Designs, the obituary said. He studied jewelry design at the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated in 1978 from the Jewelry Institute in Providence. He worked as a model maker for Trifari, Marvella, Monet, Swarovski and other jewelry manufacturers before starting his own business. He was an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War and a member of Holy Cross Church of God in Christ United.
He is survived by his wife, Lovey King-Imonti, and five children. Emily L. Imonti, his daughter by a previous marriage, died in 1989 at age 4.