Interview with Desirey Benavides

Palm Springs, California on May 17th, 2017 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: Okay, so this is Rebecca Scofield and I am here with Desirey. It's May 13th 2017 and we're at the hot rodeo outside Palm Springs. So can you tell what year you were born?
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Desirey Benevides: Yup, November 7th 1959.
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RS: And where did you grow up?
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D: Predominantly in Lakewood. I actually started off in Long Beach, and then around my 4th grade year is when we moved to Lakewood. That's where I went to school and graduated from Lakewood High.
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RS: Did you guys live sort of in town, did you own property?
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D: My Dad, we had a house in Lakewood and was there with my Mom, my Dad and then I have a younger brother, we're a year and a half apart, my younger brother.
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RS: What did your parents do, for a living for most of your childhood?
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D: My mom was a housewife and my dad worked for GTE, and then around my junior high years is when they got divorced after 20 years of marriage. Then my mom ended up having to, you know, go to work, so then she was a waitress.
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RS: Did you spend much time around animals when you were growing up?
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D: No, typically dogs, that type of stuff. My parents are from south Texas, which is in Kingsville which is is owned by the Kings ranch. I remember a couple times going out to King ranch because I think, my grandfather, on my mom's side, he used to work at the King ranch, so we used to go out there, but we didn't play with steers or any of that thing. Typically growing up was always like being a cowboy, dressing as Roy Rogers and Zorro or something like that.
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RS: That's nice. So, can you tell me how you identify in terms of gender and sexuality?
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D: Well I mean, I had my surgeries so I am a female, but I mean I still am part of the transgender community. So people ask, yes, I am transgender. Though I don't, I don't try to label myself as being transgender because you spend 35,000 plus to became a female, it's what you wanted to do so why I wanna tell people. Sometimes it happens and people, you know, "Well, how come your voice is so deep" or "How come you dress as a guy when you're at work?" I work at the postal service, I'm an area maintenance specialist, and I'm doing kinda guy work. They're like you kinda act like a guy sometimes and I'm like okay whatever, it's my, my job. But, no I, somebody says I'm female. Course kids, they're really hard to trick, adults are not too... you know it's usually pretty easy for adults unless I'm on the phone or something and they're like "Yes sir", and I'm like, "No, it's ma'am", but kids are always like, "You're a guy". *jokingly* I'm like "Shut up; go away, Where's your parents? Get away from me." But no, I typically try to identify as a female but when people ask, yes I'm part of the transgender community and I try to support it and help out in any way I can.
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RS: How did your relationship with your gender identity manifest as a child?
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D: Growing up... I always was, I guess there was just something that was a little bit different. I remember stealing some of my cousin's cloths, I was always jealous of her. Her name's Else. Anyways I was always jealous of her and so one time I stole some of her clothes. And then in my 4th grade year is when I almost got found out, because I had hid her clothes underneath my mattress. My mom used to flip mattresses every spring, you know, the flipping of the mattress, and found them and confronted me with it. I was like, I don't know how they got there, talk to Else. Else got in trouble for it, I told her later on in the years, "Sorry," for about those spankings you got. But... it's interesting because... once my parents got divorced and I really started dressing because my mom was never home, she was like I said a waitress, during the day she was a waitress at night she was a cocktail waitress, she had to do two jobs. So, mom was gone, my brother was a jock, so he was out, so I'd dress up in my mom's clothes and was like, "Oh yeah, this is great." But, it was... it was interesting cause later on in the years after my mom had passed, my mom passed about a month after I had my surgery, I was talking to one of my, Comadre -- my Mom's best friend, and her names Yolanda; she lives in south Texas. And I was talking about her and she goes, "Yeah, you and your mom and I we used to talk about you we knew something was different with you", and I was like, "Why didn't you tell me, why did you wait till I was 40 some years old before I find out, I have this, this certain part of me that needed to be expressed. Not 40 even early, I mean I was, I was way into it before that. Even, even to realize that they saw it... the way that I sat, the way that I acted, the way that I, I'm like "Okay, I'll come," but of course when you're growing up in a Hispanic type family, even though my dad forbid any kind of Mexican type stuff, it was predominantly machismo type things. I did all the boy stuff growing up: play sports, was a boy scout and did all that kind of stuff. Up until the time when my parents finally got divorced, I wasn't a jock. I did the sports like in the park league, I never got into the school league. I played in the band. I was a trumpet player, so did that kind of stuff. My brother was the jock of the family and that kind of stuff.
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RS: And after you graduated high school what did you do?
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D: Wow, after I graduated from high school I moved to Redding with my mom and the guy I call my step-Father, we opened up a Mexican restaurant, I played soccer in Redding. I met my first wife, knew we were getting serious, and had kept my dressing pretty well, under cover -- it was like closet type stuff. Went into the military, joined the Air Force in '79. Pretty much put my dressing on hold throughout that period of my life. Then shortly into my military career, she went somewhere, I don't know where she came and she came home early and caught me and oh god the shit hit the fan. And so anyways shortly thereafter we ended up getting a divorce ourselves.
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RS: Was your dressing the main reason for the divorce?
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D: I really don't know the exact reason, I think there was a lot of different stuff going on. She had mentioned, she wanted someone who was more... a guy, assertive, I'm not the type of person, now a little bit I am, I don't know why. But when she would say, where do you want to go to eat, I'm like, "I don't care, wherever you want to go, as long as it's not this, this, or this, I'm fine." I don't do Sushi, I don't do Thai, I don't do, but anything else is game. I get in and she said, well I want a man that says "We're going here," and I'm like "This is not it, I'm not the type of person". So I don't know if that was, partly and then of course with the catching me dressing. I went TDY, to get retrained in another job. And found out that she had somebody else, or was seeing somebody else, who knows?
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RS: What was it like to be in that military culture with this side of yourself?
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D: It was interesting because once we started getting our separation, I started dressing a lot more, and I was going out, dressed as Desirey. And it was interesting cause I met a lot of military personnel that were, at these bars that I was going to. I guess you could call them gay bars, but there was transgender in there, drag queens. I remember one time I was in there and somebody kept buying me beers and I'm like, this is cool, I like this part of it. And finally I asked the waitress, "Whose buying me these beers?" and she is like, "Oh that guy over there", and I recognized him. So I went up and I said, "Hello Staff Sergeant Adams," and he was like, "H-how do you know my name?" I go, "Staff Sergeant Benivides." I was actually the swing supervisor for structural repair, he was the swing shift supervisor for jet propulsion which was right, our bays were kind of connected. I was like, "Oh I didn't know it was you", well I know, that's kinda the point isn't it. So it was kinda interesting, being in the military and dressing. And then I lost a child, my second child. Then I ended up losing it in the military and throwing away an 8 and a half year career. But it is what it is, so you do what you gotta do. I look back on it, would of, could of, should of, but it happens.
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RS: So after you, left the military, what did you do next?
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D: Drank heavily. Then went to my dad and my brother and said I needed to get back into the workforce and so I ended up getting a job at the McDonald-Douglas. Still dressing pretty much on the side, just... back then though, I got out of the military in '87 and I remember contacting a few of the gay bars, and "Do you guys allow transgender?", and a lot of them were like "No, we don't want that kind in here." So it was kinda different trying to find a place to go that you could be comfortable and not worry about getting the shit beat out of you.
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RS: Did you ever sleep with men?
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D: No, I didn't want to have anything to do with guys, I like girls but I like to dress as a girl. I had girlfriends after I got out of the military, and for the most part it was like fun and games. A lot of them that I met were like, "This is fun", and then after 2 or 3 months, "Okay, I want you to stop" and it was like "Yeah, no". It ain't stopping, this is who I am and I'm gonna go all the way. But, I got out of the military went to went at Douglas, and just, did that until I got laid off from Douglas. That's what I did.
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RS: You mentioned that you had children?
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D: I had three children with my first wife, and lost two. First one was stillborn, and then had Rey the third -- he is my namesake, my old name. Then I had another son, and he died when he was three years old.
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D: And then I married a second time. This is when I was still working at Douglas, I think it was around '90. I had decided that I was gonna throw Desirey away. Got rid of all my female stuff everything, became a fat Mexican guy. Mustache, short hair, the whole shot. Met this girl at "The Hop," it's a 50's dance bar, and like 2 months later we ended up getting married. Stayed with her, she caught me dressing. She told my dad. That didn't go over too well, and we ended up getting an annulment 9 months later. The interesting part of that was, when I worked at Douglas, when I first started working at Douglas when I was still dressing, I had long hair, I had earrings, then I threw it all away and I became Rey. I got rid of all that, like I said mustache the whole shot. Then when I went back, I remember this one black supervisor -- I really liked her, she was a nice supervisor and she had come up to me and said, "I'm glad to see you're back". I never left, what the fuck you're talking about? She's like "No, that other person was a real asshole, I'm glad to see you're back." And that is when I came to the realization, you know what? I need to be who I'm meant to be. Trying to be something else is not who I am. Even when I started, I met Janet and, in '92, met Janet, and we were starting to get serous and finally figured, I gotta let her know. So we went to our usual place to walk, we would walk on the Seal Beach pier, and I said, "We need to talk." I asked her, where do you see this relationship going? She goes I'd like to see it go further, I said I need to be upfront with you I need to show you something. She thought I was gonna show her I was into bondage, S&M or something, and it was pictures of me dressed as a female. And she's was like "Okay", and I go no, this is not okay, I mean per say. I mean, I'm saying this is who I'm gonna be; I'm gonna go full time, so if you're not alright with this, let me know upfront, and we'll just be good friends. Because, I've dated too many women, and this is all just fun and games, and then after a few months, "I want you to stop, go back to being who your body tolds you to be." That's not happening, I'm gonna take my hormones, I'm gonna do all the stuff. She was alright with it, course she wanted to get married right away, and it was like, no, I'm gonna wait. So I moved in with her shortly thereafter but we didn't get married until '94. I think 2 years in, finally I said "Okay, I think you're in for the long haul". Not that it hasn't been easy, she has 2 older kids. I remember when we told, in '94, is when I told her kids. I was giving my son, the visitations I has for my namesake, I would get 30 days in the summer. I only thought it was fair that if I tell her kids I'd tell my son, and my son told his mom. And that was the last I saw of Rey the third until 2000 when he finally came back into my life. Now I think it was only so he could get his degree as a chef because, I haven't heard from him. I had my surgery February 2010. He left, well he's always been a mama's type of boy, but I haven't seen him since then he really hasn't been in contact with me. I'm like "Okay, it is what it is, you'll have to deal with it in your own way." As far as I'm concerned I'm still his father, can't change that.
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RS: What did you do for work after Douglas?
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D: I bounced around in jobs, was an office manager for a psych department for some psychologists, worked in geriatric psych, used to work in the adult daycares. Got tired of that cause, I get attached to people. I had these blonde moments where it's like, I'd go to pick up somebody and it's like, "They're no longer with us," and I'm like "Where did they go?" and they're like "They're no longer with us," and I'm like, "Okay so what facility are they at, I'll go pick them up there?" and they're like "Hello *knocks*, they're no longer with us." I'm like "Oh, they're no longer with us. Okay, now I get it. Lightbulb. Ding, ding, ding! It got too much so after that, I ended up being a, kind of a housewife. Went back to school. I got a degree as a recording engineer. I thought well that'll be a good degree because there's a lot of crazy people in the recording industry, you see all kinds. And when I told... the boss, this guy Wes Dooley, pretty well known in the audio industry. He was owner of audio engineering associates. I used to, refurbish ribbon microphones and build specialty audio equipment. When I told him I wanted to go full time he goes, "I don't understand why you want to be a second class citizen". And, I was like okay, I never thought of women as a second class citizen, but to each his own. And then when I had these done, my breasts done in, like 2001 I think. I told him I was getting my breasts done, well you know I only hire small breasted women, because big breasted women distract me from my work. Okay, I can see where this is going. So I ended up quitting that job, which I really did like. I ended up quitting and becoming a office manager, escrow officer, loan officer, notary for a loan company at hard money loans. This guy that I knew, he hired me and I ended up working there for a few years, something like 2002, somewhere around 2002, 2003 to like 2006 when the loans started crashing. Then after that, I tried to do some loans on the side. I told Janet that if I don't get anything that I'll look for other work. The post office was hiring and I never thought I'd get a job at the post office but they're really into diversity, which I didn't know. So I got hired on, but my driver's license had already been changed to Desirey, had it already set to where it said female, so I wouldn't get that clash about using the wrong bathroom, you know, back then, but my social security card still said M, because I hadn't had my full surgery yet. I remember going to work at the post office, and of course my supervisors had access to my records. So, in my records showed M, but I was working as a female. I remember a couple, well when I went to my orientation this one, ex-marine -- not that I had anything against marines, my father-in-law is a marine and my brother is a marine. But anyways we were in orientation and I kept on raising my hand cause I had questions, and he was like "Yes, sir?", and I said, "its ma'am", and he answer "Yes, sir." So I said, "Call me sir one more time, and we're going to take a walk over to HR, and we're going to explain to them why you want out me. How do you like that private?" Cause I could tell by his marine plaque, that he was a gunny, a gunny sergeant, and he looked at me and I go "Yeah." Some people, back then of course when I started at Douglas it was like '06, so you know the whole transgender thing hadn't progressed yet so there was still people that, liked to flex their power and show that they could try to out me or whatever. But, I didn't put up with it. So I ended up getting a job at the post office, which I enjoyed, quite a bit.
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D: I'm a past empress for the imperial court system. Once for Long Beach, I'm the "Bouncy Tigger Transgender Emerald Empress of the 29th Reign," I'm also past empress of orange county. I'm the "Country Western Yellow Rose (Don't Mess With Her), Transgender Emerald Empress of the 29th Reign." So, like when you were asking what do I identify with. Okay in my titles I have transgender and I think that with that I knew when I would walk, as an empress, and they would read off my title, other people would say, "Oh you're transgender, can I talk to you? I've got questions. How did you do this?" or "How did you do that? Can you help me with work?" That type of stuff, and so I ended up becoming like, the spokesperson for transgender. I mean I even spoke. I spoke twice at Cal State Long Beach for the human sexuality class. I spoke once over at the Santa Ana college at the human sexuality class, trying to educate the students of what it means to be transgender. Back at that time I hadn't had my surgery, and wasn't planning on getting my surgery. Didn't really have a desire to get it, until Janet's oldest, Kathleen had, Johnny our first grandson, and back then Janet was the night-night grandma and I was the play grandma. And Johnny and I would wrestle and that type of stuff, and of course he wanted to take a shower with me and so most of the time I would wear swimsuits, swimming trunks, and he was like, "Why do you wear swim trunks in the shower grandma?" Because we have to, let's put it like that. But we would wrestle, even in the pool, my inlaws had a pool. I was always afraid something would fall out. What happens if, and how would I explain it to him? Janet and I talked about it, and we're not really using it, per say, so we ended up taking, we have property out in the desert, we ended up taking a loan out on that property and had my surgery. When was that? 2010. February 16th 2010, is when I had my surgery. My final surgery, the big one. I had that done, and I had my Adam's apple shaved.
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RS: I think we should pause and check on steer decorating.
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RS: So I'm back here with Desirey, so you were just talking about going through the final surgery. What was that process like, emotionally, physically?
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D: Well the thing about it is, it was really. When I finally decided to do it, Doctor Bowers who was the one that did it, you have to have all these papers, you have to have this paper from the psychologist, you have to have this paper from the psychologist, the psychiatrist, or therapist and the psychiatrist. All this stuff, plus you had to have been taking the testosterone blockers. And the thing about it was, when I, when I first started my transition I was getting my pills from Mexico, because back then they weren't prescribing it. I have went to, I had Kaiser with Janet, cause Janet worked for the city, and so Kaiser wasn't doing it. I remember asking one of the doctors I said I need to go on hormones, and he said we don't believe in giving something to enhance one person's body. And I'm like, you're not enhancing my body, you're putting it where it's supposed to be.
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D: So, when I finally, this was in, finally I think in 2001, I had an appointment for an endocrinologist and Kaiser finally paid for my hormones, and also put me on testosterone blockers and that type of stuff. And so when I had to get these papers filled out from Kaiser, I went into the psych department I had to see the first person, the therapist they had to ask me a bunch of questions. I was like look, let's cut to the fucking chase, basic bottom line, I'm going to get my surgery, all I need you to do, that paper that's there in front of you, just sign it, that's it -- that's all I need you to do. They're like, well how come you never seen, I said cause I don't want to see you guys, I'm tired of talking to you guys, I don't like talking to you guys, just sign my paper, this is easy, I'll be gone, we're done. So they're like no, we need to talk, and I'm like, no we don't need to talk. And the same thing with the psychologist, the psychiatrist, they wanted to ask, I'm just here to sign the paper, that's all I need you to do is sign the paper. Basic bottom line I got the paper signed from them, and got my surgery date and everything. But because I didn't do it the way, that you're supposed to do it, I went around the system.
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D: So my surgery was a little bit... different I guess you could say, when I finally got Kaiser to get on board with everything. Like I was saying out there, because I had three kids it's like, they don't give you a manual on how this thing is supposed to work. I'm like, okay, after the surgery, you have to do the dilation, you have to do this, and you have to do that. I didn't know that, typically when you go to the bathroom you don't rub it clean, you pad it. I was like, how come this thing, is bleeding all over the place, well you're rubbing the stitches. Well nobody told me, you pat dry the darn thing. It was an experience for me. Dr. Bowers is cool, she was nice, it was done over in Trinidad, Colorado. Now I understand she moved to Santa Rosa, California or something, but I had it done in Trinidad Colorado, which is a really nice place, snowed, cause I had it done in February so it snowed. Janet does not drive very well in the snow, she doesn't drive very well period. She has a tendency of falling asleep. I remember when we were coming back, I wasn't supposed to drive for a couple weeks. So I'm sitting in the passenger seat and Janet's driving and I'm hearing *brbrbrbrbr* *brbrbrbrbr* I'm like, "Honey are you alright?", "I'm trying, I'm trying," I'm like okay, sitting there *brbrbrbr*, I'm like "Okay, at the next rest stop pull over," "Well you're not supposed to drive," "Just pull over, I'll figure something out." We had borrowed our daughter's forerunner, she had let us use her forerunner instead of taking our car. And it had cruise control so I told Janet, I says, I tell you what I do, once we get going, I'll just set the thing on cruise control, that way I won't put any pressure, I won't put any pressure down there, set the cruise control and I'll be fine. The thing about it was, I was supposed to dilate it, at that time it was 3 times a day for 10 to 15 minutes, so I'm pulling to rest areas, come on get a towel, trying to get some privacy so I can stick this thing inside of me for 15 minutes so I can get to driving again. So, we made it, we made it back.
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D: Then I was off from work. Like I said in the post office a lot, when I first started I was an automation clerk, and then I became a mechanic and... A female doing a guy's work, but some of the guys I had already known. There was another girl who had transistioned, she actually was a guy, become a girl in the post office, but I came in as a girl. But, this other person put, put a lot of them through hell, from what I understand, made them take diversity training, this training, that. So when I got into mechanics, everyone thought I was gonna be almost like Sara, I finally had to tell them, look I'm not fucking Sara, don't treat me like fucking Sara, all I want to do is be treated like a human being, and be treated like the person I was meant to be, period. If you can't do that, then don't work with me, I have no problem working by myself; I can get the job done. So, when I went for my surgery, I guess there was a lot of the guys in the mechanics who took up a collection, and they were gonna buy me flowers. Well, Sara caught wind of it, and was gonna file a grievance, she was gonna file an EOO, blah, blah, blah, because they didn't do shit for her when she went in for her surgery. So, the guys ended up not buying me flowers but when I came back, I finally came back to work, the guys presented me with this pink hard hat. I thought that was really cool that that was their way of accepting me into the group. And it got to the point where I had built up a good enough rapport, with my coworkers, that it got to the point where they would come up to me and ask me, "How did you fix this?" or "How did you do this?", "How did you get this done?", because I ended up knowing, cause I knew about working on equipment, or working on buildings. I'm a building mechanic so I have some experience behind doing that. So it got to the point where it was really good, they knew that, I just wasn't some... person that didn't know nothing, I actually do have a head on my shoulders when it comes to that kind of work, so that was kind of neat.
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RS: And, where were you in the adoption process with your children at this point?
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D: They were still part of the, part of the foster care system, they were still wards of DCFS. Like I said we had gotten Robert, and he has another sister, and Emariah, a black girl, we got them first, and then Ciara was on her way. So we got him in March, end of March. Ciara was due in June. We picked up Ciara, right out of a hospital, and then, Ciara's grandma, the father of her, who, he was in NORCO state prison. They wanted, Sierra, I mean and Emariah, I mean their side of the family, and I was like, I can understand their point, but I was kind of glad myself, because I did not know how to care for a little black girl. Her hair, I mean trying to figure out how to comb that, and they're whole, I remember the case worker well you know, we don't wash our hair every night. Excuse me? They're out playing, and you don't wash their hair? What kind of shit is that? So I was kind of glad when her side of the family wanted her, cause whenever she would go over and visit, her hair would come back all braided with the beads, the ribbons or whatever in her hair, and I thought, that's what she needs, she needs to be on that side of the family. And Emariah, shortly thereafter they took Emariah to her side of the family and they adopted her. And then we has Robert and Ciara, which Robert and Ciara are only 11 months apart, so I mean they're real real close, and then Christopher the baby was born in January in 2012. And like I said, at first I just did not want three kids, two's enough, there's no way I'm gonna. One of my supervisors at work was like, god's not gonna give you any more you can handle. So i'm like next time you talk to god, tell him that I'm done. This is too much. But I ended up spending the first 3 weeks of his life, with him. I remember, like I said, the case worker calling and saying, well I'm still trying to find someone to take him. I'm like "Yeah, fuck you," you knew what you were doing, my motherly instincts kicked in, and I said he's not going anywhere he's staying here. And he's actually, he's my baby, he's my little cuddlier, if I want someone to cuddle with, he's the one, though he can be a handful, he's a handful. But at night when he's telling you, mama, arm, so I put out my arm, and he puts his head there and then he takes my arm and moves it to where it wraps around him, I'm like, okay, Im done, I'm done.
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RS: So what motivated you to take on these three?
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D: Janet, Janet, I didn't want any. I did not want to raise, at 50 years old I wasn't anywhere near wanting to raise, raise babies again. I'm 57 now, I'll be 58 in November, and it's funny because some of the guys, when I came into the post office, I mean when I finally came back full time regular. You can buy back your military years, so I bought back my military years, I have 8 years, 2 months, 13 days I bought back through the post office which means I have that towards my retirement. So I think, 12, I'm done, we're hitting the road Janet, we're gonna see the sights. Now, some of the guys mess with me like, yeah Desirey, so how long you got in the postal service? I'm like "F you, I've got a 5 year old, I've got 13 at least, 13 more years until he gets out of high school before I can get out of the postal service." So I'm like fuck you, shut up, just shut up. There's, there's good days and there's bad days, I mean there's days when it's like, why do we even bother doing this, cause we do have some issues with the 2 boys. They got the brunt of the drugs in their system from their parents. Christopher had tested positive for opium and meth in his system. And Christopher was on AZT for about the first 4 months of his life, both parents were HIV positive and hep c, they took Christopher C-section so that none of the blood would be on him, but just to be on the safe side they put him on AZT. So I mean they've got some stuff, sometimes it manifests itself and you're just like, why did I do this, but then there's those moment where it's like okay, okay, it's good. Like going to the rodeo, they really love, we've been bringing them to the rodeo since they were babies. A lot of the people that's out there, they know my kids, and it's like a family reunion for them. So they get to come out here and see their uncle Red, or this other cowboy they know, or some of the cowboys that have horses when they're practicing will sometimes throw the kids on the horse and give them a ride. So they just love it, they love being a part of that, and it's fun for them.
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RS: And when did you first get involved with gay rodeo?
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D: In '99 is when I became a member. I didn't compete back then, I was still in the court system, pretty heavily in the court system. But I did volunteer, they'd look at me, and I'm kinda stout, to say the least, and I'm a kinda a... butch looking girl sometimes. So they used to put me as far security they would put me in these gates, and they'd say, we're gonna put you in security cause no one's gonna mess with you. I'm like I'm not that kind of girl, I'm not a fighter, my brother is the fighter of the family. I mean, I remember getting into fights and, I didn't back down from a fight, but people would be like, there was one time I was at a skating rink, this was junior high, and this guy wanted to fight me. We were going around the corner, and so he says, "Before I fight you, who are you?" And I said "I'm Rey Benivedes." He said "Stop, what did you say your name was?". And I said "Rey Benivedes." "Do you have a brother?" And I go "Ya." And he goes "What's your brother's name?" and I'm like "Rick Benivedes." "Oh, never mind," and I'm like, "What are we gonna do this or what?" "No never mind." So I remember going home that night, and like I said my brother and I are a year and a half apart so he's younger than me. So I'm getting ready to go to bed, my brother and I stay in the same room, and I said, "I was gonna get in a fight with this guy and, I tell him your name and he didn't want to fight me," and he goes, "I'll take care of it". And I'm like, "Don't take care of it, Rick, it's already done." So then I remember the next day at school, I heard my brother had got suspended, and I'm like "What did you do?", he goes, "Well remember that guy, well I took care of it he won't mess with you again." And I'm like, "Rick, he wasn't gonna mess with me in the first place once I mentioned your name." And he's like, "Well he won't mess with you now, and I'm only suspended for a day" So, yeah I'm not too much of a fighter. So anyways I would do security and stuff and then, when did I start competing? I don't know people say it was almost 2011, 2012. When I got the bug, somebody had asked me they needed a girl for wild drag. They said all you have to do is this, I could do that, I could do that, and after that I got the bug, and then I did that most of the time. And then some girls, in San Francisco's rodeo said, "Hey a friend of ours needs a person for Steer deco, you've got some guns on you." Well ya my arms are kind of big, but I've never done this, and they're like, "Aww you'll be fine." Got into steer deco, so yeah it kinda progressed. I've been laid out in the area, at Santa Fey Springs I was laid out for a few minutes, had the wind knocked out of me, from a steer stepping on me. My wife, my kids ran out, ohh mom are you alright, Ama, Ama, cause I go by Ama, I took on my mom's name when she passed, cause that's what I used to call my mother, Ama. So I took on Ama and Janet's mom. So Janet will ask me, "So how much longer are you gonna be doing this?" I'm like, "I don't know man, maybe when I hit 60 I'll stop." But, the guys that's my partner, he's 62 and he's still competing, so I don't know, I don't know. I know, I'm not getting any younger, things start breaking down, a lot easier, when you start hitting those ages.
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RS: And both in the court system and in rodeo did you do a lot of entertaining?
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D: Yes, oh ya.
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RS: What is your specialty?
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D: Well country western, cause I'm a country western girl at heart. So a lot of the music that I do is, country western. People say, "You'd be great doing this one". Well ya I've done Britney Spears and worn a school girl outfit, I've done all kinds. My first emperor, when I was in Long Beach cause I'm Benevides, and he says, "You ought to do something from your culture." Like, I didn't wanna do nothing, so I ended up doing, Linda Ronstadt when she did the music for her father, the mariachi music. I've done Paulina Rubio, so I've done some Hispanic stuff. I've done, but most of the time when I perform, even when I became royalty for the LA rodeo, before they folded. And then I was asked to be royalty in 2015, for Palm Springs, I do country western, thats just the kind of music I usually like to listen to.
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RS: And did you hear about the rodeo through the court system?
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D: I think so, I think in '99 I heard about it, and I went to my first rodeo and I liked it and I joined. Janet and I joined, and it was just Janet and I. Janet would work the ticket booth, or where they'd ban you for making sure you're old enough to drink, she's not much into... manual type labor, and I don't mind it, so, that's how we got into it. And then, one year, at the LA rodeo, they were honoring the royalty. I remember walking, me from Long Beach, the empress from LA, the Empress from Santa Monica, the empress from Ventura we all kind of, was on the grand entry. I think I heard from it, through the court system cause I mean, I was pretty, I stayed in the court system a pretty long time, I mean '99 till, 2003, cause after I got out of being empress I ended up being president of board of directors for both organizations. Then finally I got tired of sitting around looking pretty with a gown and a crown and I wanted to do something, I'm very hyper active. And so I thought, "Where can I go to, where I can still be a girl, still have fun, still move around? I'll go in the rodeo, start competing, I mean now I compete as a girl." So that's what I ended up doing.
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RS: Have you ever experienced any of that, you talked a little bit about the transphobia that you has seen in the gay bars, have you ever experienced that at the rodeo at all?
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D: No, no, not at all. Everyone's been, and even... even when I started competing as a female nobody really questioned, I mean I did carry the letter around, and I think I sent it in, one time, just so that they'll know, yeah I am official. They never really, questioned are you, you know, actually a female can you compete as a female instead of competing as a male they never really questioned that? So it was... it was never, an issue, as far as the rodeo, they just always treated me as a female. So yeah, it's been, my rodeo experience has always been really good, everybody has been really friendly. Even to my kids, I mean they get rambunctious and they have to scold them every now and then, you know climbing the fence or whatever, but for the most part my rodeo experience has always been good.
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RS: What do you think it is about country western that draws you to it, that you love to perform it?
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D: I don't know, like I said growing up as a kid I remember, for Halloween dressing up as Roy Rogers. Didn't get to be Dale Evans but hey whatever. I dressed up as Zorro... and I don't know why I had this thing for, I remember watching Sheriff John, which was a, kinda like the Hobo Kelly, the romper room back in the day, captain kangaroo, back in the day, watching that. But I don't know, I've always had an infatuation for western, my dad wasn't, my dad was not western, my mom was not western. My grandparents on my dad's side, my grandfather on my mom's side like I said I think he worked in the Kings Ranch for a while, he was a jack of all trades, he was a really smart man, too bad I couldn't speak Spanish so I can understand what he knew, because he knew a lot of stuff. But my dad forbid Spanish speaking in the house, so my brother and I didn't get to learn it, my parents are bilingual.
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RS: Can I ask why your dad did that?
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D: My dad grew up in a small town, Kingsville, at that time it was a small town. And my dad wanted to be like a white man, he wanted to have the two cars, two houses, a wife and a mistress, so he forbid any Spanish speaking in the house. The only Spanish speaking my brother and I heard was when my parents were arguing and they didn't want us to know what they were arguing about. All Mexican food was forbidden, except for the American type, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, cause my mom, knew how to cook all that, she knew how to make homemade tortillas, you know the whole shot. So, he didn't want to have, nothing to do with them, I mean, even to do this day people kid around with me, some of the people that know you know I'm Hispanic, they'll say, you aren't Hispanic you're a coconut, and I'm like that's right, I'm brown on the outside white on the inside. I didn't grow up in a predominantly Hispanic, type culture. I grew up in Lakewood, Lakewood High, right around the corner was Lakewood country club, all my friends that I knew were, white. That's all I knew, didn't speak any Spanish, none of that stuff. I could understand some Spanish because, my grandma on my dad’s side didn't speak any English, and my grandfather on my mom's side didn't speak any English, so my grandma Alaniz even though she spoke some English, she would speak in Spanish. And of course, when grandma speaks you better know that she's saying, so if she says, "ben para ka" you better come cause you know, something's up. I knew enough to get me, to keep me out of trouble but that was about it, I didn't speak. And I remember taking Spanish in junior high and ended up getting kicked out of the class, because my mom helped me with my homework, and my mom speaks tex-mex, which is kind of a slang Spanish, and the Spanish teacher had said something about my mom. And I went off on her, and I got called to my principal's office, and then when my mom came by to pick me up and I told her my mom what this lady done, and then my mom went off on this Spanish lady, and I didn't have to go Spanish class anymore so ended up only had 6 periods instead of 7 so I got to take off early every day. I didn't get to, sometimes people say, "Don't you ever want to learn Spanish?" No, I have no desire, when I had my surgery, my step daughter said, "That would be a good time for you to learn a second language, you get one of those Rosetta Stone, I'm not gonna learn any damn language." If I'm gonna learn anything its sign language, so I bought some books, I knew how to do A B C, so I started learning that type of stuff, how to spell my name in sign, that type of stuff. And I, because I work with, Handicapable Adults, these are adults with Down syndrome or mental disability. I'm a Square Dance Caller, I learned how to be a square dance caller back in '93. I started working with these kids, they're adults a lot of them, but mentally their kids. And some of them, they communicate with sign because their vocabulary is not very good. They can understand me, and I have one girl that, she's not dancing as much anymore, they get to the point to where sometimes they don't. She's deaf, but she knows what I'm saying by watching the other dancers, so I thought that would be kind of cool if I could learn sign language, but I just never did. It's one of those things where if you don't use it all the time you can't communicate, you have to be able to sign, to do it enough, and I just don't do it enough to be able to do that.
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RS: And do you square dance and 2-step?
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D: I do square dancing, I don't 2-step. I do western themed parties where I'll teach some easy line dancing. People are like I want to learn slap and leather, no I won't teach you that. Something that's easy that everyone can get up and do, that's the stuff I do for western parties. And I teach square dancing, and of course when I did do my transition I lost a lot of my bookings, when I finally became Desirey. So I don't call anymore for the... normal, if you wanna call it that, the normal group, I don't call anymore for that, I typically just call for my Handicapable dancers. There was an article done by a writer, KCET... on how, because of who I am and cause who my kids, I call them my kids, who they are, how we kinda connect and they are misunderstood for who they are and sometimes they get ridiculed, how I was misunderstood how I get, used to get ridiculed. Some of these kids, they still do know me as Rey, and they'll still say he, and sometimes some of them will call me Rey, but I don't, I don't get mad at them, cause I know who they are. But there are other callers, other people that still remember me and they call me Rey, they'll call me he, and I'm like, "Hello?", and they're like, "Well I just remember you from back then," and I'm like, "Been a female for, since, hello, you know, 2000, when I started my transition, come on, get with the program."
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RS: Do you think, you said you lost some bookings, was that simply because you were recovering-
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D: No, I think it was a lot of from my transition, a lot of, a lot of people couldn't quite. But it's weird because I called one dance as Desirey, and I remember there was this one older couple, I knew them from this club that Janet and I went to, and... oh first call... ... and I remember them dancing that night and they came up later on and they said "Wow," and I'd go, "What?" And they go, "Your calling has gotten 10 times better, you're happier, your voice," and I'm like thank you, so, I guess for me to be me, it showed even in my square dance calling.
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RS: So I was just wondering, over the, time that you've been here, what almost 20 years, in gay rodeo, what are the biggest changes you've seen?
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D: More families, more kids, I have noticed that, first coming out to the rodeos it wasn't as many kids, and one of the things that, as royalty, that I was bringing up as the fact that we are getting more gay couples that are having kids, and they're coming to the rodeo, and we need to start doing more, family oriented stuff. San Francisco did some really neat thing, they had a play area, but it was filled with corn kernels, and my kids had a blast in there. I mean they were just digging in there and coming out of all of these corn kernels they had in there, kind of like a big sandbox but out of corn kernels. But I think with more gay couples getting children, adopting or however, however we have them, or get them, I think we should start doing more family oriented stuff. And I mean I understand that, where the rodeo came from, and a lot of it is still the drag queens, and there is still a lot of drinking, but we need to start gearing, looking our focus, we have that, that's good, it keeps our major, the majority of people who come to the gay rodeo, keep them happy, but at the same time, for the parents, the couples that do bring out their kids, I think we ought to do something for them. And that's one thing that Red, the guy I compete with, and my kids, they end up calling him uncle Red, and he does things with the kids: teaches them how to rope, or plays bulls with them, or whatever. He's just a big kid at heart, he'll get the squirt guns out or whatever. So I think that's kind of neat, there's someone like him, to keep the kids busy.
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RS: And as someone who does, camp events, what do you think the sort of value of having those types of events at the gay rodeo is?
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D: Well, I mean, I think mostly our camp events is geared for us, and it does, I think a lot of the spectators get a lot out of it. It's something they chuckle about, they have fun watching, weather its putting underwear on a goat or watching a guy in drag trying to get up on a steer and cross the 70 foot line. But that's our draw, that's our draw, that's why everybody comes. I mean I'm not saying everyone comes just to see the camp events, but they do have a tendency to stay in for that. That's why you notice the wild drag is at the end, because they're trying to keep the people in the seats, that’s what makes us unique, I think. When I talk about rodeo and I talk about it to people that might do the straight rodeo... they just don't understand. It was funny talking about straight rodeo, I took the kids, because my kids have gone to gay rodeos all the time, and as you can see they're running up and down the bleachers, they're running around with Red, just all over the place. So I took them to a straight rodeo, and Janet and I were sitting there, and the events, not all the same but there's a few, but my kids were running up and down the bleachers, and a lot of the people there -- not giving me the evil eye, but like why aren't you controlling your kids? And I was like, "Sorry, my kids are used to a different rodeo," a rodeo that's more like a big family reunion than it is a rodeo for them, because I've been competing for so many years that, for them, they get to see all these. Just like today, half a dozen people coming up to me saying, "I haven't seen your kids in so long, they've grown, they've gotten bigger." A lot of them have seen them when I first brought them out and they were babies, Ciara was in a baby thing. Christopher, all of them, so, not only for this rodeo, they watch the kids, grow, in the rodeo. Like, when they have the community goat dressing, my kids usually compete in it, and they help them out. There's always some cowboy that's gonna help them out, and they get a kick out of it. So then when I talk about putting them into a junior rodeo, and they say, I want to do what you do, I want to do goat dressing and steer deco, I'm like, "They don't do that in those rodeo's, I'm sorry you're gonna have to do the stuff they do in their rodeo." That's kinda where it’s at, the camp events, that's what makes us a gay rodeo, that's what makes us fun. And you know, girls get to compete at some of the same stuff guys get to compete in, steer riding... bull riding, chute dogging, you don't ever see a girl competing in throwing down a steer, you don't see it. But, in our rodeo, whatever the guys do, the girls can do it. Have at it, if you want, if you're game to do it then do it. So that's one thing that's nice about our rodeo is that we don't have that gender thing of saying, "No, I'm sorry you're a girl, all you can do, like in those other rodeos, is barrel racing, you can't do bronc riding you can't do, some of these other events, all you got is barrel racing, that's it." Whereas in our rodeo, and even for our guys, the guys do barrel racing, the guys do pole bending, the guys do some of the events that, in a straight rodeo would be predominantly a female type sport.
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RS: So, a couple of other people have mentioned to me that, rough stock events aren't as popular as they once were in the association, that bronc riding for instance, isn't offered today, why do you think that would be?
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D: I think for us, a lot of us still have jobs, we still have to get up and go to work. We still have to get up on Monday morning and be able to do our job. We're not, a lot of us are not 100% rodeo that's all we do, where as you see in some of these other rodeos, that's their job, they go from rodeo to rodeo. Ours is, the basic bottom line is ours is for fun, you're coming out you're having fun. So there's not many people that are... probably fluent in that event to provide it. if you only got maybe one person, what's the use in having the event, that person is gonna win, but at the same time you only got one person. If there was enough people that were interested in it, then maybe it would be something that was beneficial, but there isn't, and at the same time, even though we do provide bull riding, I think everybody associates rodeo with bull riding. The first thing people say about rodeo is, even for me, they're like so you ride a steer, or bull, no, I just wrestle them around a couple times, and they find that, kinda hard to believe, ya I don't do chute dogging, I'm not gonna throw them on its back, there's no way my body strength can do it, I don't think, because I had back surgery, I have 2 screws holding my right foot together, there's just, I mean I would love to try it, just to say I did it, just the same thing with steer riding. I wouldn't mind trying it once, although Janet would probably shoot me, if I did. When I was with my first wife, I was stationed at Edwards Air Force base, they had a rodeo team, I wanted to join, because prior to going into the military, me and this guy I knew, in Redding, we were gonna go into team roping, and I was training to do heeling, get into heels. But I ended up going into the air force so we didn't get to compete. But they were actually looking for someone to ride bulls, "Well we're gonna train you on a baby bull," and I'm like "yeeaaahhhh, I've got 2 kids, I don't know if I should be -- ." And that's the thing a lot of us, we have to think about that. Hey, I've gotta get up on Monday morning and go back to work, and my job, I don't sit behind a desk or something like that, so I have to be able to do what I have to do, the next day. But for rough stock, the ones that we have are the ones that people want to watch: throwing a steer on its back, steer deco is somewhat rough stock cause the fact that you're wrestling that. But it's also somewhat camp because who ties a ribbon on a steers tail, not that we're tying it. But in a roundabout way, that's what we're doing. So I think what we do as far as rough stock, it's enough, it brings in the people and they get to stay and they get to watch, it's just like in Nascar, people say you don't go to Nascar to watch the cars go around the track, you actually watch it so you can see if there's gonna be an accident, a crash, I think it's the same thing. It's good to watch, but after a while you wanna see that F-ing train wreck, it's not funny but we do play with 1,000 pound animals and anything can happen. Like I said, I've been laid out on the arena, it's not fun, I've had my foot stepped on, that's not fun, butted heads with a steer on wild drag. It's part of the adrenaline rush that we get, even my boss, when I was leaving today, leaving yesterday, he was like, "You better be careful, you better come back to work," I'm like, "I'll be careful, don't worry."
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RS: And as someone who has really brought up your kids around this, what would you hope for the future of the association?
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D: For me... I don't really have a whole lot as far as where do I see myself, as far as the association. I just continue to support it, whatever way I can. In 2015 when they asked me to be royalty and I was like "Ahhh, been there done that, it's a lot of work." You try to, as... you know even as empress you try to travel, cause that's the way you promote your organization you gotta travel, you spend money because you don't get a travel fund, it comes out of your pocket. And then representing, looking nice, your outfits, whatever. So I try to support the rodeo, and I just want to see it continue to thrive. What I wouldn't mind seeing is, a little on down the line, if my kids were able to compete, not that they had to be gay, or even Ciara be a lesbian, but just that if they get to that point that they would like to, to compete, that would be kinda neat. I don't, I haven't really looked at the bylaws, I would think they would have to be at least 18 to compete. But that would be neat. if they were to follow someone in their footsteps, and compete in some of these events that I do, but if they find interest in it that's fine, if they decide no, they just wanna keep continue go with momma just to watch it that's fine too.
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RS: Well they are trying to put underwear on dogs, so
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D: Yes, they are putting underwear on dogs or trying to ride Lance in the backyard which is kinda funny, but who knows? For me I just try to give them every opportunity to try everything that's out there, I'm not gonna sit there and say no you can't do that it's too dangerous. There's danger in everything. We have property out in the desert, and they ride motorcycles, they ride quads, I have BB guns, I have a bow and arrows. So, I just try to teach them to be safe, and teach them to be, got to know your equipment, whether it’s a motorcycle, a quad, or a thousand pound animal, that you're trying to put a ribbon on its frickin tail, so it's one of those things.
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RS: As a cowgirl, what does it mean to you to be able to compete as a cowgirl in these rodeos?
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D: Oh, it's the ultimate -- I mean for me, I had put on Facebook prior to coming out here that I was real nervous, because I had started my recovery last year. Spent a few years in Kaiser, addiction medicine. Last year's rodeo, I was only like 14 days sober, which was still new, and this year, I'm over a 100 and some odd days, or over a year sober. So for me, it's the adrenaline rush. I mean, it's knowing that I get to do something that I've always dreamed about doing is competing in a rodeo, I may not be doing team roping, I mean I don't own a horse. First thing everyone asks me, "So you own a horse?" "No." I keep on joking with my wife I want a horse, but they're expensive and I think my RV costs us enough. But, for me it's just fun and it's the comradery , I get to see a lot of people that I've seen in the circuit since I've started. And then to just, some of the I look up as being the pros, the ones that really, always seem to get the buckles, always seem to get the number one ribbon tell me, "Good luck, you'll do good." Like when I posted on Facebook, that I was nervous about coming out here, how many responses I got saying "Girl you got this, it’s like riding a bike don't worry, you'll get it done." So that was nice, people encouraging me and saying, "You can do this, you got this, don't worry about it." Getting out there for the first time, in steer deco, I was a little nervous, and a little apprehensive about getting behind the steer and putting a ribbon on them, but once I did it felt good, felt good. Same thing with goat dressing, I'm sure I'll have the same jitters for wild drag, but once I've got that thousand pound animal coming at me, it'll all go out the window.
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RS: Well is there anything else you wanted to say?
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D: No, this has been real interesting. Glad I could help out, if there's anything else you need to ask, you got my email.
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RS: Thank you so much.
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D: Just give me a call, or send me an email, I'll answer whatever questions you felt didn't get answered.
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RS: Amazing, thank you.
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D: You're welcome.