tv Oral Histories Vietnam War Veteran Charlotte Henry CSPAN May 6, 2021 11:26am-12:37pm EDT
charlotte henry was a dog handler in the vietnam war. she remembers some dogs she trained and nights patrolling the base perimeter. she also discusses her struggles with gender identity while serving in vietnam and the effect it's had on her mental health. this interview was conducted by the keenan research center. >> i was born at corporal vaughn medical center here in atlanta. when i was about a year and a half old, my family moved to marietta because my father was in the army air corps and he was an aircraft mechanic. he got a job at bell bomber that later became lockheed, and
marietta was like a boom town in the late '40s and early '50s, and there was such an influx of people to work at lockheed that they came up with -- they had to do some really quick housing projects to make room -- you know, make places for people to live. so that was how i wound up in marietta, and we lived in one of those housing projects, and i remember back when i was about three, my earliest memories, my mother was a hairdresser and she had tuesdays off, and so she always wanted to go to atlanta on tuesday, and she would take
me with her. we would take the greyhound bus downtown. and back then, you know, in the very early 1950s, if you went to atlanta, you got dressed up. you know, it was like you got dressed just as if you were going to church. so it was -- that was pretty cool. then we moved out by kennesaw mountain by the time i was in the eighth grade, and then i went to mckitchern high school in powder springs. a graduated in 1965, and in 1965, it was -- the vietnam war was really, you know, what was happening. >> was in the news.
>> but the mood was still kind of very positive, you know, for the conflict. except for everybody who had to register for the draft, and since i was transgender and in the closet at the time, i registered for the draft. it just so happened that one of my neighbors worked for the draft board, and she gave me a call and told me that, you know, that -- this was before they had the lottery type thing. so she called me and told me they were going to be giving me my draft notice, and so i just got off the phone with her and went down to the air force recruiter and signed up in the air force, mostly because my dad
was army air corps, so it was just kind of a family thing. yeah, so i was very aware when i was little of my gender dysphoria. i had no language for it, of course, but -- so when i went through my physical, you know, they were asking, you know, if anybody was homosexual and it just didn't seem to apply to me because my gender issues were not clear enough -- i mean, they were clear enough for me to know what was going on, but there just wasn't really enough language -- the word transgender had not been invented. and there was no -- you could look in encyclopedias and there was no kind of transgender,
transvestite, transsexual, anything like that. it ended at trans vol. anyway, i ended up going in, and i just happened to keep my secret the whole time, and i went through basic training at lackland air force base, and then i got assigned to security police, and so i went through security police school, and there toward the end of security police school, i got orders to go to turkey. and i was so concerned that -- because i knew i wasn't going to be able to keep my secret. it was just a matter of time, so i felt like i would be safer in
vietnam than turkey. >> when you were going through your training, were there any indications that there may have been other members of the class who were in the same situation you were? >> no. >> for everybody it was a secret? >> oh, yeah. i had a wall around me, and there was no way i could share that, you know. and it would have been devastating if i had, and it turned out to be somewhat devastating when i did. but, yeah, so the same day i got my orders for turkey, everyone got called into this building to listen to some guy -- this tech sergeant named cobb, and -- so,
anyway, he came up and the first thing he said -- there were 120 of us in the room, and he just said, gentlemen, we have a shortage of dog handlers in vietnam. and our barracks when we were in security police school was right next to the barracks for people going to dog school. so everybody knew all the dog handlers were going straight to vietnam, so everybody was told, whatever you do, don't even talk to the dog handlers because they're all going to vietnam and they're nuts, and they're crazy. and so i thought it was kind of funny, but, anyway, he said we need dog handlers, so he asked
if there were any volunteers, and i raised my hand because i had seen a war dog movie when i was a kid, and i thought it was just amazing, so after everybody else left, i went to sergeant cobb and i said, you know, i've got orders for turkey already, and he said, you're going to have to make up your mind. i said, i don't have any trouble making up my mind, i want to do canine. and he said, you're going to be in vietnam within a year, and i went, that's better than turkey. so -- and because i felt like if i got discovered in turkey outside of the military, my life could be at risk. so i went through dog school and had the most amazing experience in dog school.
i went for a week of classes with a veterinarian before we ever got taken to the kennel. and we went into the kennel after a week of classes, and there were 400 dogs there. of course, you know, some of them were already assigned and some of them weren't. and we're walking through this enormous kennel, and it just smells like dog poop, and i'm wondering if i'm going to be able to survive four years of that smell. as we're walking through, i'm looking at all these dogs, and all of a sudden there was one dog. i saw that dog and i just caught my breath. all of a sudden i was depressed because it's like, there are 400 dogs here. there's no way that i'm getting
that dog, so no matter what dog they give me, i'm going to be disappointed. so that was on a friday afternoon. and so on monday morning, we went back to the kennel when they assigned dogs to us, and that was my dog. and it was magical. and so my dog wouldn't let me in his kennel. the kennels were completely covered in pea gravel. the dog was playing with a rock. he dropped the rock in his water bucket, and he would stick his head in the bucket and get his rock and throw it out and run and get it. i sat there and just decided to throw rocks at him. he decided i was playing with him, and all of a sudden his tail is wagging, and we were fabulous. >> what kind of dog was it? >> german shepherd. he was black and cream, had a
black saddle mark, and he looked just like rin-tin-tin from the 1950s tv show. the most beautiful dog i ever laid my eyes on. and he was so smart. we finished dog school and went to homestead air force base down in florida. i had no money. i was making like $90 a month, and it was taking half of that $90 to take care of my uniforms because i was in strategic air command which was like mega military. it was crazy. so i spent all of my free time with my dog. i was working with my dog and i was relaxing with my dog. and i wasn't in my room, i was with my dog. >> were you allowed to bring the
dog to your room? >> no. the sentry dogs were -- at that time they hadn't made a switch over in the training process. the mentality was in -- in training was that the dog should bite on or off leash with or without command. the dogs were not just suitable for bringing to your room. so, anyway, i spent so much time with my dog that we could do more tricks than anyone else in the kennel, so whenever we would have congressmen or senators come down, we would put on a demo for them. we would all do a demo and go through, you know, tricks and obedience and stuff. and everybody would kind of drop off as they ran out of stuff, so fritz and i were the last ones
always, just simply because i had nothing else to do and there was nothing i wanted to do more than just spend time with him. so then somebody came up to me one day and said, some orders just came in without a name on them for tonsinate air base. the guy said he had been at tonsinate and i should go down there and put my name on it. so i did. i went down to personnel and said i know there are orders for a dog handler to tonsinate and i want it. it didn't occur to me that i was going to be losing my dog, so it's like i didn't get to take fritz with me, and that just -- i was devastated by that. so i went home for a month and then at the end of the month, i flew to san francisco, and then from san francisco i had to go
to edwards air force base to catch my flight to vietnam. and sitting there in the terminal at edwards, i'm sitting there and i'm looking around. everybody is military, and so it's like you're just one guy and he's got his face buried in a bible. he was so freaked out at the thought of going to vietnam, he was so consumed with the fear of dying that the bible was the only thing keeping him going. and i remember feeling a little bit of contempt for him over that. so we all flew over on a brannaff on brannaff airlines.
>> can i take you back? you indicated fritz couldn't go with you? why was that, because you had completed training together? why was he not allowed to go with you, do you know? >> that was just the way they did it back then. that was just the way that it was. they already had the dogs there in vietnam, so the dog stayed. and then the handlers rotated. and so the dogs -- you know, it was like fritz went to homestead. fritz didn't get -- he didn't get to go to vietnam, he got to stay at home instead. >> so the dogs had their own assignments. >> right. so i went to vietnam on a brannif, and when i got out of
the plane -- as soon as i stepped out of the door, i'm on the top of the steps that they roll up to the plane. and i looked to my right, and there was a forklift and i think a c-141 or c-130. i think it's c-141. it was a big cargo plane, and they were loading caskets. it was just unbelievably sobering. it wasn't like there were 20 or 30 caskets, there were -- there were a hundred caskets, at least, big aluminum caskets. >> when was this? >> that was january 1st, 1968. one month before the ted offensive. so i got in country, and it was
like it took them a couple of days to get me out to the kennel, and when i got there, there was kind of a general hostility from everybody. it's just like there was nobody that warmed up to you when you first got into vietnam -- >> the new guy. >> yeah, i was the new person there, and things were really hostile, and you had to go through some -- you know, you had to go through a couple weeks of kind of in-country training before they let you go out on your own. as a dog handler, an air force dog handler, we were sentry dog handlers. and so we were only out at
night. and so we would go to the kennel in the late afternoon while it was still light and we would hang out and just do whatever until it started getting dark, and then we would then go out on patrol. and everybody had a certain area that they had to cover. and so we were primarily perimeter guards, but we had some compounds occasionally that we had to -- usually like a weapons compound or a bomb dump or something like that that was high risk, you know. >> did you have a dog assigned to you? >> i did. as soon as i got to vietnam. >> how was that dog? >> he was great. he was great. it's funny, though, somebody really needed to be beaten because somebody named a german shepherd george. so my dog's name was george.
when you're doing attack training and you're getting ready to turn your dog loose on a guy in an attack suit, you're going, get him, george. i thought that was hilarious. it was kind of like whoever did that -- george. but he was a beautiful dog, and he was a perfect size. he weighed 72 pounds, and he was awesome. he was terrific, and so we got along splendidly until we got out and things started happening. it's like if my dog picked up a scent of somebody, george wanted to stand on his hind legs and
bark. and when we would be getting mortars or rocket attacks, he would agitate. he wanted to bite somebody or something. if you heard explosions going on and you can hear rockets and mortars coming in, and it's like the closer they land to you, the louder they are coming in, and so george would agitate just on the roar of the incoming rounds. and so, you know, we had a real close encounter with a 122-millimeter rocket one night that landed about ten or twelve yards from us, and so it was coming and it sounded like a freight train.
i jumped down in a ditch, and it wasn't much of a ditch but it was enough. george is jumping around and i'm trying to grab him and pull him down and he was just not cooperating at all. so i took my helmet off and smacked him to get his attention. and then grabbed him and laid down on him, and it all happened in just almost no time at all. so that 122 came in and it was quite impressive. but we got a lot. after we got hit in ted, there was a lot of -- we had a lot of days consecutively where it seems like it must have been fwo months where we were taking orders in rockets every day.
>> did you ever experience any ground threats? did you walk the wire? >> yeah. one night -- highway 1 ran real close to tonsinate air base. it's weird how ted happened at tonsinate. there had been fire coming from one end of the base. there was tracer rounds being shot across the base all evening, but just sporadic, so everyone spends their time looking over here. down here oy g051 gate on the other side of the base, as freedom birds start taking off, it's like vc and north vietnamese regulars start coming
out of tunnels, so they swarmed the 051 and the 055 gate, so we had -- if memory served me correctly, there were like three battalions of vietcong and five battalions of vietnamese and vice versa. luckily we had a heliport and we were getting hit so hard that they airdropped in some 25th infantry to help us out, and so i was on the north perimeter standing at the edge of a mine field right at the perimeter, and just outside on the other side of the mine field was -- you know, it was jungle.
and so all of a sudden a fire fight breaks out. it's close. and i'm so close to the fire fight that i can't see tracers, can see white, but i can't see the red or the green, so i don't know who is who. i'm standing there, you know, like a spectator and i'm thinking, i don't know what to do. i certainly can't go through the minefield, you know. i didn't realize it but there was a helicopter directly on top of me in silent mode, and he started firing anti-personnel rockets. the thing is the rockets would explode and then i would hear them travel.
it was, like, they were so fast it would go boom and then shwooo. i would look down and there was another firefight going on probably quarter of a mile away, and there was a helicopter down there. i could see tracers coming from the helicopter down to the ground and then the helicopter got shot down. it just did a spiral and crashed. it was just kind of an unreal kind of thing. but i had not really recovered from seeing that big sack of caskets, you know, when i was getting off the plane. my mind was just really functioning more like i was in a movie. >> surreal? >> yeah, it wasn't -- it was
like, when rockets would come -- because you can hear if they are going to be close or not. if they are not going to be close, then i want to see what is going on so i'm looking for them and i will climb up on something so i can see the big orange -- >> how long had you been in country at this time? >> a little over a month. so then, yeah -- so it just stayed -- there was -- we were able to get past the first couple of days, and we had 82nd airborne there and the 25th and
25th infantry, and my unit was 377th security police squad, century dog section. it was the same unit that the dog nimo was in, and in 1965 there was an infiltration into tonsinate by the squad that came in through an irrigation ditch, so nimo was one of the dogs at the kennel, and nimo got shot in the face and even after being shot in the face nimo killed the guy that shot him. so nimo was a good dog. he got retired from combat
duty -- >> he survived? >> yeah, they used him to go around and try and get people to donate dogs to the vietnam effort. so nimo was pretty good. you know, i'm like 20, and my gender issues were just beating me to death. i -- you know, i was normal and pretty much any other way, i suppose, which is kind of a ridiculous thing to say, i guess. but, you know, there was this place called 100 p alley, and it was like a red light district where prostitutes were.
so i went down to 100 p alley and i got a prostitute and something about her just hit me. she was not particularly pretty, and something just -- you know, i needed companionship. you know, i was needing -- i was needing something else, you know. so i just -- something about her -- i looked at her as a human and not as a prostitute so rather than try to get pleasure myself i tried to comfort her for what she was having to live through and how she was having to live her life because i just held her and gave her some compassion.
we became friends. she was the first person i came out to, and she helped me buy my first dress. i bought my first dress in vietnam. i was telling a friend of mine about, you know, that, and it's kind of unusual, you know, and it's like being transgendered and buying your first dress in a combat zone, that's a little over the top so my friend says, so you went to vietnam for the shopping, and i went, yeah, i never thought about it like that but i guess so. yeah, so she took me to her apartment and let me put my dress on, and she had a balcony, she lived on the second floor of a two-story building, and she
had a balcony, and it's like -- i didn't want to dress up and hide, you know, and it was like i didn't just want to wear a dress, i wanted to be a girl. so when i put that dress on, it's like that balcony -- it was like i wanted to step out on the balcony, so i did, and she just lunged at me and grabbed me and pulled me back inside, and when she did that, i was, like, what was i thinking? so yeah, so it was -- it was something. by the time i had -- i got to vietnam january 1st, and by early november i was pretty
unhinged. >> okay. >> i was nuts. in k-9, there was a special kind of camaraderie in k-9, and it doesn't matter if you liked the other dog handler or not, you always had his back. you never -- everybody knew that i was fried. i mean, i was toast. so you know, it's like all the other dog handlers, they just took care of me. they knew how dysfunctional i was and they kept me from -- they kept me from getting in trouble. i was not nice, and i was pretty dangerous so they were putting me places where i couldn't get
into any trouble. >> so the stress of, number one, being in vietnam -- >> and being trans in vietnam was -- yeah, ten months of that and i was pretty toasted. plus i was in the hospital twice, once for acute bronchitis and the second time with pneumonia. >> did the other dog handlers know why you were fried? did they know why it was so tough for you? >> no. >> they just knew? >> i couldn't function anymore. they knew me before i fell apart, so they knew it wasn't something that i had control of. i was able to get out of
vietnam. i came back and i got stationed at eggland, and when i got there there was no room for a dog handler at that point, so i got put on regular security police, so sometimes i would be, you know, at the gates, and i was at the flight line and i got to guard the sr-70 -- whatever it was, i stood guard on that plane. it was really pretty interesting. then in june of '69, an opening came in the k-9 section, so i had been there since -- i had
been there since around february, it took until june for an opening to become available at the kennel, and so in june i get to go and be in k-9 again, and so from february, when i got to eggland until i left there, i had a sleep disorder and i couldn't wake up if i went to sleep, i couldn't wake up and people couldn't wake me up. so i was always late for everything -- every place i was supposed to be. i was in trouble all the time. i never had a day off because i was always having to work my days off as punishment for being late all the time.
and so i was just -- i wanted -- i was so miserable that i volunteered -- i went to personnel and tried to go back to vietnam and they would not let me go back to vietnam and i had no idea what to do, and so -- in august i went down to the base hospital and made an appointment with the psychiatrists and i made an appointment with the psychiatrists and i had to -- >> how long had you been in the air force at this time? how many years had you been in? >> two years and eight months. >> how long an enlistment, three, four -- >> four. >> four years? okay. >> so i get an appointment with
this psychiatrist there at the base hospital and so i was so petrified, you know, and at the time, you know, i was raised as a southern baptist, so it's like, i thought surely this is something that, you know, it's like -- if there's not a pill for it there's some treatment or something, and so i go in and i'm telling the psychiatrist i'm having with all my sleep, and i told them as well as i could about my gender issues, and he was very kind, so i got a
medical discharge, and i had anxiety disorder. >> so you did about three years? >> yeah. >> how quickly did you get your medical discharge? >> was in august, and he relieved me of duty that very day, you know, so i never went -- after -- when i left his office i never went back to the kennel. >> okay. >> so it was like they processed me out of the base, and then i went home pending discharge, so i was -- i was home in august, but my discharge didn't take place until late october. so my actual time in service was two years, ten months and 22 days.
so i come back and it's -- you know, it's late 1969 and i had -- i had gotten involved in martial arts back in the -- in 1964, you know, mostly just to protect myself because, you know, i was fearful, you know? i wasn't -- you know, i wasn't terribly masculine to begin with, so i just didn't have that kind of male -- >> aggressiveness. >> yeah, so i had -- i had done
that and another thing that i did when i was in vietnam, so i hooked up with some korean -- the korean army and i trained with the koreans in tae kwon do, and they were there training the vietnamese territory, and i saw them teaching out at the air force compound, and i got off the truck that was taking us back to our barics one morning just so i could watch, and at the end of their class i asked the -- you know, the koreans there if they would teach me, and they said, no. i went, oh, okay, and i was okay with that. every morning i would get them to let me off and i would just go and watch class.
so i had been watching class for over a week and all of a sudden they got done with their class and they put their fatigues back on and got in the jeep and then they told me to get in the jeep with them. i went, oh, great, they're going to give me a ride back so i don't have to walk all the way back to the compound where my barracks are. they took me to their compound, which fortunately was very close to mine, and they asked me what i did and i told them. they asked me if i could show up, you know, in the morning, for a class, and then in the afternoon for a class. so they gave me private lessons twice a day, six days a week,
and just beat me to death, you know, the whole time. so when i came back, you know, between what i had done before when i went in the service, i came back and i had my black belt and in 1972 i was georgia state black belt champion. it's still in the closet. then about three months after i won the georgia state title i decided i needed to go shopping, so i went shopping as charlotte, you know, and i my way home there was a freeway intersection and i had a stop sign, and it was so easy to see, and i didn't come to a complete stop. i get pulled over by a policeman
and give him my driver's license and the next thing i know there's a van that comes up and four other police cars and i get my -- my car gets impounded and i got arrested for impersonating a female. then they took me to the atlanta police station and i was strip searched in front of at least a dozen male and female officers, and then after i was finished being booked they paraded me around every floor in the jail so everybody could have a good look, then after they got through with their little show they took me to my particular floor, whatever it was, and
they -- somehow or other i don't remember how i did it, but i wound up getting bail so i could get out, and i had to get a taxi home and so i got a lawyer, you know, and the lawyer wanted me to sue the city of atlanta for a violation of my civil rights because for one thing, there was no law -- there was no law that i had actually broken, other than not coming to a complete stop. >> but your car was impounded? >> yeah, my car was impounded. as a matter of fact, i never got a ticket for running the stop sign. it wasn't really a running the
stop sign, it was just a rolling stop, you know. so yeah, so i get out and he's talking about a civil rights trial, and i'm thinking when i was in vietnam my mother had sent me the clipping from the marietta journal, and there was a doctor in marietta who was arrested for cross-dressing in public, and it made the front page and my mom knew, you know, because there are not secrets in families and she sends me this, and all i could think of is that, you know, this is just too juicy, you know. it's like martial arts and this,
and it would be too newsworthy, and i knew i couldn't deal with it so i just plead no low, and i just stayed in the closet and somehow i got through that arrest and i was the number two rated karate fighter in the southeast by "professional karate magazine", and i was chief instructor for the joe coraly studios here in town, and so i taught all of the instructor classes, and all the teachers had to take class under me, and i was brutal. why those koreans in vietnam, they really tainted me.
yeah, i was the most physical teacher in atlanta, and it was important to me because it just was, i was naturally good at it and more pretty at it than anything else. >> your style? >> i had the right body type to make it look good. so i was always the star student in class and that kind of thing, so that was -- so by 1975 i had gotten a job offer to teach in upstate new york, and so i went to new york and after i get to
new york i go, wait a minute, christine jorganstan's doctor was in new york city, and so i wrote them a letter and they wrote me back and they made a special appointment for me on a saturday to meet me, and i went there and started to hormones in 1975. >> did you move? did you take the position in new york? >> yeah, i was living in new york, and i was teaching in the capital area in albany. so i actually taught at two
different schools, one in albany and one in sunsettive tea. a couple years i was home sick for atlanta so i moved back and when i got back here there was -- i didn't know a doctor that i could get my perspective for, so i am calling everybody in town i can think of, and what i'm doing is looking through the phone book and calling every obgyn, you know, and so somebody told me about a research program and i got enrolled in the research program where they had trans people, and they were giving them hormones and placebos in a double blind study
and trying to find out whether or not it was an efficacious treatment, you know. so the payoff was that, you know, if you went through this they were going to be your doctor and you could get a prescription afterwards, and for two years i went every two weeks and they would give me a shot and a bottle of pills and then i would come back and i would have to be interviewed by social workers, and i had to do written personality profile tests and see a nurse and get my next shot and batch of pills. sometimes i got oestrogen at this level and sometimes it was this level and sometimes it was
a placebo. at the end of two years they said that i, you know, was more functional on oestrogen and when they gave me a higher level of oestrogen, my psychological profile got more normal. so that was pretty much the end of my martial arts career, you know, with the oestrogen, you don't -- the contact actually hurts a lot more than you are used to. >> did it do anything to your strength? >> yeah, but i was not worried about that. it's like -- yeah, i mean, it's like -- i didn't value my
strength except in competition, so -- but then, yeah, as i was training, it's like your body responds to that and puts out more testosterone and that's just taking me in a direction i'm not comfortable with, so it didn't -- it's like the harder i trained the worse i got mentally, so yeah, so -- then i got -- yeah, i went for a couple years and i was -- i got pretty lonely. i found out when you are trans, even if you are not living full
time as the gender you wish you were, people would be attracted to you but they would be embarrassed by you at the same time. so i would be in relationships with people that would wind up saying, you know, i really love you but there's just no way i can let my family know that i'm involved with you. so i wound up in a relationship that turned really abusive and i got pressured out of taking
hormones. luckily, i guess luckily i was in a wreck and i was in intensive care for about six weeks and so my face was really messed up and so i had to have a lot of reconstructive surgery and my relationship was able to, you know, conceive a child during that recovery time. it took me a couple years, really, to get over that wreck so it's just like 1986, and i wound up with a daughter and my daughter is just like the light of my life. she's the one thing that has just been miraculous. you know, the trans thing is
always there. i had gotten rid of any facial hair long before that so it didn't matter that i was going in someplace wearing a t-shirt and jeans, i was still getting called ma'am, you know, and yet i'm trying to come off as a guy, and i'm coming off as a woman trying to come across as a man. it got to the point where i was, like, i was so disappointed in myself that i had regressed back into the closet that i got suicidal and i -- i felt like i had let myself down so much that
i just wanted to die. so i found a doctor here in town, and i -- she was an endocrinologist, so i -- my first appointment with her, i just broke down into tears and she hugged me. i was so starved for physical touch, i couldn't -- i had not been touched in so long. i got back on hormones with her, and then i was going to try and
go that way, because when i came back from vietnam, i went down to the va hospital and right after i got arrested, you know, i had a therapists that was wanting me to go through a version therapy where they wanted me to come in and bring clothes, and then i would take -- i would get dressed and they would take pictures of me while i was getting dressed and then they would play those pictures back for me and induce vomiting while i would be watching the pictures of me getting dressed so that when they made that suggestion to me i stormed out and i didn't go back to the va for a long time after that. so the va has come a long way. they are really in spite of that
bad situation -- if it wasn't for the va i wouldn't be here today. they really saved me. i can't say enough about how much they have helped me in spite of a few bad things. >> so this add version therapy was in the '80s? >> no, that was in 1972. that was right after i got arrested. >> okay. okay. >> so -- so -- >> not a happy time. >> no, and it never is, and it's just a matter of going through a cycle, you know. it's like once i had my -- once i -- i guess it's kind of like, you know, they say if you suffer
sunstroke or heat exhaustion, it makes it easier for you to have it again. that's kind of like -- it's kind of the meltdown that i had at the end of my tour in vietnam. until i got discharged, i periodically go through that. i'm just coming off of a -- i'm just coming off of a depressive episode, i hope i'm coming off of it now. so i'm -- i'm -- you know, right now i work on pianos, so i have a very small world and as much as i am telling you here, nobody that i work with really knows anything about my private life.
so i'm pretty much a mystery to most people. >> i appreciate your frankness with us. at the very end we like to give the interviewee an opportunity to just talk about you would like to talk about, just anything, your service -- you don't have to. >> yeah, i don't know that i would have anything to editorialize. you know, i think -- you know, i think, you know, being transgender has -- it's really had one really profound benefit
for me and that is it made it crystal clear how completely full of shit most people are, about their opinions about, you know, anybody who is gay or lesbian or transgender and thinking that it's a choice. it's like, i was 11 years old when my depression started, because when i was smaller than that, i was just, you know, playing dress up and playing with my mother's makeup and jewelry and wearing her shoes and stuff, and when you're small enough you just do it and it's just fun, but then by the time you're about ten or 11, all of a sudden it will hit you and you realize what your social status
is going to be, and it just devastated me. i dependant -- i knew i was going to be a poriah, and nobody wants that. so it's like growing up in church, and i was, like, god will fix anything. it's, like, yeah, right, yeah. >> over the course of your life, have you seen any change in the culture toward transgender? >> it was great when we were off the radar. so now things were rolling back. i am surprised at how far things have come but then after caitlyn jenner came out, you know, it's like all of a sudden now everybody knows what transgender is kind of, but so many people,
you know, think that they can think about it for 15 minutes and then they have an opinion about it. it's like, well, i can think about leukemia for 15 minutes but my opinion is not really worth anything, so these people, you know, i have seen people on podcast or talking about, well, trans people are 45% suicide rate, and it doesn't matter if they transition or not, and wait, it's not that simple, it's just anecdotal. you get a transgender child and let them grow up and be who they are and be treated like everybody else, and i don't think you're going to have a suicide rate that is going to be
any different than the rest of the population. but when you are so shunned, an important thing that happened in my life that was really traumatic and i didn't really realize how much damage it caused until a little over a year ago, and i woke up when i was about nine years old, i guess, and i woke up one saturday morning and my dad said, come on, you need to get dressed, and i said, okay, so i got my clothes on and got in the car with him and he takes me to little league tryouts. well, i had nothing -- you know, i had no idea that's what we were going to do, so anyway, they were lobbing balls at you, and i hit the ball twice and fly
balls and i didn't think it was anything spectacular, and they wound up putting me on a team. my parents come to my first game and i'm kind of intimidated by the lights, you know, because it's at night and there are bleachers there and there's a bunch of people and stuff, so i go up to bat three times and strikeout all three times. and my parents never ever went to see me do anything else after that. that was the last time they ever went to see me do anything. so i was on "today in georgia" with ruth kent, and they didn't even turn the tv on to see that. so it's like i had embarrassed them because i was a feminine
boy and so it's like it was painful for them. i just glossed over that and so then, you know, it's about a year ago i was in therapy, and i had to confront that really for the first time and it was amazingly devastating, you know, even after 60 years, because i just turn off, and i was not old enough to process it. because you realize, you know, very early on that, you know, it's like if your parents have a little girl and their little girl is a tom boy, well that's bragging rights, but if you have a little boy and the boy is feminine or sissy, then that's -- there's nothing to brag about there.
that's shaming territory, and i even got called a sissy by my fourth grade teacher in front of the class, and so it was an ongoing thing for me. but here i am. >> do you have any questions? >> why piano? how did piano come into your life? >> my nephew is a steinway hardest, he was the co-conductor for a boys choir, and my nephew will be the new conductor for the atlanta boys choir and he's on the faculty, and he won more
piano competitions than anybody in history, so my nephew being a steinway artist, i got introduced to somebody from the dealer here in town when he had won one of his competitions that i was able to attend and so i was doing furniture repair at the time. so when i told this person i did furniture repair, they said can you please come by the store, and i went by the steinway dealer a couple weeks after that and they asked me to do a repair on a baldwin, and they liked the repair so the next day i was doing a service call for them and a month later i was an employee. it was a great move. and it was actually the first really good job i ever had. >> good. >> yeah.
>> did you have anything? >> i think we're good. >> charlotte, thank you for sharing with us. we appreciate your telling your story, and we appreciate your service, so thank you. >> thank you. weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what is available every weekend on c-span 3. tonight we look at general eisenhower and the holocaust. his granddaughter, susan eisenhower, talks about what led him to this decision. she's the author of "how ike led." the museum hosted this conversation. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern, and watch american history tv every weekend on c-span 3.