Gaming specialist, singer, and animal lover Winter Laurel Mullenix is a survivor of rape, harassment, and transphobia.
I was knifed and raped and told that if I wanted to be a woman I had to learn to bleed like one.
Mullenix was not even 10 years old when she first came face to face with transphobic violence.
"The event involved a man knifing me, using me, and leaving me for dead in a creek," she told Facebook followers last month. "Somehow, I made it home that night. I survived. But I am constantly plagued by memories of that night, the things he said, the sensations I felt, and glimpses of the creek bed covered in blood and mucky water."
"I have severe PTSD," the Dallas woman told The Advocate in a recent phone interview. The attack, which Mullenix said occurred when she was "an openly trans 9-year-old in the 1980s," was random. And that awful memory has stayed with her.
"I will tell you that victimization, once you're a victim of a crime, doesn't go away," she said.
In the years since, the New Hampshire native turned Texan has survived reparative therapy, twice turned down a recording career, given up a university scholarship, and battled other health problems in addition to her complex case of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But as hundreds of her social media followers know, this 38-year-old transgender woman isn't shrinking from challenges that come her way. Mullenix’s quest for acceptance is shared by thousands of trans Texans who are pushing forward, even as their government works to take their rights away.
“I'm a native Houstonian and fourth-generation Texan,” award-winning blogger and trans advocate Monica Roberts told The Advocate. “I'll be damned if I let some Connecticut carpetbagger named Dan Patrick attack my humanity and the human rights of Texas trans people for his and his party's political gain."
Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott are using scare tactics, demonizing trans people as dangerous predators, to pressure state senators to approve a so-called bathroom bill, which would restrict transgender people, in certain settings to using bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates.
“It is a shitty time, but it's also an exciting time,” trans man Lou Weaver told The Advocate. He, Roberts, and Mullenix are being intersectional in their efforts on behalf of their community: Weaver and Mullenix are white, and Roberts is African-American. They have gone head to head with bullies and bigots, racists and right-wing Christians, and faced their fears both in public and online.
Weaver, the statewide transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas, said what’s happening at the state capitol right now has had a chilling effect.
“Elected officials are saying that it's OK to bully and target trans folks, and we're seeing this played out in many different ways here in the state of Texas,” he said, citing the reported arrest of two men for kidnapping and robbing a transgender woman at gunpoint in Austin in mid-July. Weaver noted that Mullenix is not alone in that all too often trans people don’t dare report being victims of crime. “As you might know in real life, we get the microaggressions of being misgendered and not treated with respect, and then we confound people by not reporting crimes. And so I think that what we're seeing is a lot more bullying going on with people feeling free to use derogatory language and trying to harass others, like Winter.”
"This Is Our Park"
Mullenix was wearing this shirt during one of her frightening encounters with transphobes.
In one of the more disturbing confrontations she’s faced, Mullenix was walking her dogs last May in a public park in the neighborhood where she's lived for the past 20 years when two women questioned why whe would wear a T-shirt advocating for the rights of transgender students. Mullenix herself was once a trans student, but that was not apparent to this mom and her teenage daughter, who were familiar to her, but unaware of her history.
"I could not help but notice your shirt," one of them said, according to Mullenix's May 24 Facebook post.
"Oh, yes," Mullenix replied. "I feel everyone deserves equal protections and the right to use the bathroom."
"I didn't like it when there were trannies in my bathroom at school," the 19-year-old daughter said.
"Please don't use that word," interjected Mullenix. "It's quite offensive."
"Why?" she was asked. "You're not one of them."
"Actually," she said, without hesitation, "I am transgender."
"Wait." The women were clearly confused. "But you use the same pool and changing room as us."
"Yes," she told the pair. "I am a woman. so I..."
"But," and you can just imagine what they said next. "You look so 'normal!'"
"We are all just people with the same needs in the end, guys," Mullenix said casually. The mom's response was anything but casual.
"I have to tell the HOA [homeowners association] about this!" she declared. But Mullenix kept her cool.
"If you feel so inclined, that's your prerogative," she told them. And that's when the mother threatened her. "If I ever see you in the women's bathroom again, I will call the police."
"And that's your prerogative as well," Mullenix retorted. "But for now I would like to request you ladies leave me be." It only got worse from there.
"But this is our park, you faggot," one of them said. Just moments earlier, the women were complimenting Mullenix on her "cute doggies." Now they were being ugly.
When Mullenix then pointed out that there were children within earshot, in hope that the women would stop their foul-mouthed tirade, the conversation went in an even more hateful direction.
"Kids! Stay away from this tranny!" they shouted. Then they told Mullenix to "keep walking" and reminded her, "This is our park."
Mullenix told us that before she posted a word to Facebook about this, she had to walk her dogs all around her neighborhood as the women followed her, hoping she'd lead them to her home. Eventually, they gave up, and Mullenix finally went home, to collapse.
"The day it happened, " she said, "I got home and my face broke out in hives from the stress. Very anxious. I felt hot. I felt shaky."
The Bathroom Bill
But did she wear that particular shirt in hopes of sparking exactly the confrontation that resulted?
"The topic of the bathroom bill has been really big here lately," Mullenix told The Advocate.
It's trending. It's everywhere. So, when they saw my shirt that [said] I stand for trans students, it just kind of clicked with them for some reason. The daughter had graduated high school fairly recently, so she was, I guess, attending classes in the last few years when the bathroom issue was kind of brewing. So, I think that was just kind of fresh on her mind.
I was not allowed to go to prom. I wasn't allowed to be myself publicly. And so I fought very hard over the past 20 years to make sure that trans people could be who they are, at any point in their life. And I think I really resonate with that shirt, because it reminds me of my high school experience and everything I've fought for.
It reminds me of schoolyard taunts, like a bully trying to get to you, to see you cry or see you get mad or to provoke action.
I wear it as a statement piece. I do not wear it to be confrontational. More like, "Hey, this is my stance on this."
“It is scary,” said Weaver, to be a trans Texan. “Now, as a transgender man, I will say that I walk through the world with a lot of privilege. I am perceived ‘white’ and I am perceived ‘male.’ So I have a lot of privilege and I know that I'm not necessarily the one being targeted; it’s my transgender sisters and my nonconforming siblings that are directly under attack right now. And that makes me fear for them and as they're navigating society, are they able to access public restrooms? Are they able to walk through the world without being targeted for whatever reason, whether it's a hate speech or a physical crime?”
Race Remains an Issue
“Since 2009, there are more nonwhite Texans than white ones,” Roberts told us in a message on Facebook.
It's why the GOP is running scared because they know the day is coming when their 20-year grip on power in the Lone Star State will come to an end, and we TBLGQ Texans are going to play a major role in making that day come to pass. The Texas GOP's propensity for using their legislative power to oppress people they don't like will also help speed up the day when they once again have minority party status in Texas.
I love Texas. I despise the Republicans who run it.
Roberts is a native Texan, a Houstonian, and a trailblazing leader in the transgender community in the Lone Star State.
In addition to blogging, Roberts writes and speaks on transgender issues. Her advocacy work has a special emphasis on not only getting African-American trans people and other voices of color more involved in empowering themselves but also to educate the LGBT community about its sisters, brothers and gender-nonconforming members in Africa, in Jamaica, and across the fiaspora.
Mullenix has been labeled a transgender activist and speaks at colleges about hate crimes. She’s written an op-ed for the Dallas Voice and talked with reporters on issues related to trans health. But lately, Mullenix's more public stance has manifested itself in an increasing variety of social media posts.
Just weeks after the incident in the park, she said she felt triggered yet again when a passing motorist stopped to warn her that "there's a transsexual in the neighborhood." She also shared the story of a young man who, apparently motivated by the confrontation in the park, assaulted her last month. He was marched to her home by his parents and forced to apologize. Mullenix wrote that she agreed to not press criminal charges provided he get professional psychological help and that the parents convince the homeowners association that she be allowed to speak at its next meeting on the subject of transgender issues.
And the transgender cause is not the only issue that has prompted Mullenix, Roberts, and Weaver to speak out.
Calling Out Injustice
Earlier this month, Mullenix posted that she couldn't help but overhear a family at a restaurant openly mock a Thai waitress. She called them out, and when the so-called adults at the table complained she was bothering them, the manager kicked them out, not Mullenix, and even comped her meal.
Roberts is just back from San Diego Comic-Con, where she and bisexuality activist Faith Cheltenham were stunned to come face to face with cosplayers in blackface.
“And yeah, we called them out for it,” Roberts blogged. She is not a wallflower, and she uses her platform to shame those who stand in the way of equality or persist in their transphobic, homophobic, and racist ways.
“I have not seen any media outlet,” Roberts wrote in her most recent entry of her blog, TransGriot, “attempt to talk to Texas Black trans people, the Dallas based Black Trans Advocacy or even Black legislators in Austin concerning their thoughts about this unjust legislation,” to force transgender people to use bathrooms that don’t correspond with their gender identity.
And why is thatm Texas media? Have you bought into the myth that the only time mine or the opinions of Black trans people are valid is when we are murdered, and that only white TBLGQ people or leaders of white-led organizations are qualified to talk about pending legislation?
“I’m glad you’re talking to Monica,” Weaver said. “We do see that more trans folks are being targeted, and obviously with racism, sexism, and misogyny, all rolled into that. Obviously our transgender sisters of color, especially those that identify as black or African-American, are suffering.”
We are seven months into 2017 and at least 14 trans people have been reported murdered; the actual number may be much higher. Most were trans women of color. And despite the violence, Mullenix, Roberts, and Weaver remain optimistic about the future for transgender Americans. “You know, this is not something that I could have created on my own, that anybody could have created,” he said.
This is a gift, that the Texas legislative body is handing us, because we are coming together. Trans folks, our parents, our allies, our advocates, people who don't know anybody who’s trans, saying this is just the right thing to do. And it's an amazing thing. …
This is our moment, and more and more people are getting educated, more folks are willing to speak up and to come out, and that is what is going to reshape the narrative on who trans folks are. So we are no longer the dirty little secret.
The Trans Good Samaritan
Mullenix is the person with whom it pays to spend time standing in line. She has told many a tale of how she paid it forward, by picking up the tab for strangers who've crossed her path: coffees for a mother who just learned her son has cancer; a meal for a man who was a victim of identity theft; groceries for a mother who didn't have enough money to buy her own, and more.
Although Mullenix has no children, she is mom to two adorable doggies: 14-year-old Kelly Jelly Belly Bear Mullenix and a pup named Izzy Baby Bella Floofcaboose von Carpetmoose, or Izzy for short. Both were abused, she said. "I purchased [Kelly] off the abuser on the spot, and reported him."
Many of her posts relate to her mourning for Dinky, a Chihuahua who died in January. "I lost my son," she said, explaining they shared a special bond just like mother and child.
For four and a half years, Mullenix has been the girlfriend of a cisgender (meaning not transgender) man who not only declared himself an LGBTQ ally on social media but announced he'd wear it on his body too, in the form of a tattoo.
When asked what his reaction had been to the confrontation in the park, she quoted him: "They were lucky I was not there," he said.
Mullenix has been living authentically for decades now and is a rising star in the gaming industry, moving from player support at one company to community specialist at another, just in the last week.
"I am amazed at how many of us are in the gamer community, and not just the players, but in the art, the architecture," Mullenix said. "I think if gamers had an even a clue how many of their games are touched by trans women before they even get their hands on them..." Her voice trailed off as she explained that gaming is "a happy second to my musical aspirations."
She has stayed active in the recording industry since 2002, thanks in large part to her tremendous range. Her hope, she said, is to someday relaunch her professional music career, which ended before it began when she turned down what she said were two major label deals, "to avoid being an exploitation piece for the community."
Thirteen years ago, they really wanted to control me and make me into Marilyn Manson with the Spice Girls.
Well, I just felt it would be more detrimental to the community than it would be like Lady Gaga. Now Lady Gaga gets away with it.
But even though Winter Laurel Mullenix isn't Lady Gaga, what she is, is remarkable, all on her own.
You can hear samples of Mullenix's vocals on Soundcloud.