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Transgender activist starts LGBT group


Rendall talks about life as a transwoman



JODY_RENDALL
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Jody Rendall is a transwoman, who started LGBT of Walworth County, LLC. (click for larger version)
January 08, 2014 | 10:14 AM
"Some of my earliest childhood memories were that there was something wrong because I should have been born female," Jody Rendall said.

She was born David Rendall, grew up in West Chicago, Ill., and became a physics teacher at Big Foot High School. She said she was uncomfortable, racked with guilt from living as something she was not — a man.

After retiring in 2006, David became Jody.

"What I've done is called transitioning," she said. "I've transitioned from male to female, which basically means I've taken on my affirmed gender."

Rendall also has become an activist. Earlier this year, she started the LGBT of Walworth County LLC, possibly the area's first organization to offer services and support directly to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

She discussed bigger plans for LGBT of Walworth County, which started out as a website listing local resources.

Rendall said she wants the group to organize an ambitious event — a one-day anti-bullying workshop involving the county's public high schools.

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"We hope that, by the time that day is over, people will go back to their schools with an action plan (to stop) bullying," she said.

Through the group and her focus on transgender issues, Rendall has drawn several into the group, such as volunteer Chuck Dimick, of East Troy.

"I think she has courage," said Dimick. "Courage and smarts. Her focus, the way she's pulling together this anti-bullying campaign, this is somebody I can get behind."

Dimick said the bullying issue could help make LGBT of Walworth County more visible. Rendall and Dimick said it isn't just an LGBT issue — it affects everyone.

Take Dimick, for example. Although he came out as being gay in 1980, he said he was bullied "because I had acne and because I got straight As," not because of his sexuality.

Rendall was also bullied, and for years, lived in fear.

Today, she speaks to groups about her life, her struggles and her transformation to help people understand.

"With 99.7 percent of the population comfortable in their own body, they can't imagine what it's like to have that gender incongruity or misalignment," Rendall said. "When I speak to groups, there are a lot of ways I try to get them to imagine it. Imagine, if you're a man, you're comfortable being a man, waking up one morning and finding yourself a woman … but inside, you still feel like a male. That's gender incongruity. That's what it's like to be transgender."

Confusion

Rendall said growing up in the 1950s and 60s, there was no information on being transgender, no one she felt she could talk to. She went to "a little four-room schoolhouse out in the country," she said, before going to West Chicago Community High School. She had to adjust from going to a school with a two-digit population to one with about 1,500 students.

She was David back then, and her high school experience amplified her discomfort level.

"Frankly, I felt there was something very wrong with me," she said. "And so, I had to carry that secret with me for a very long time."

Others, however, figured it out, and Rendall said she was abused verbally and physically. In a food store where she worked while going to high school, a few employees would wait until no one was around, then punch her in the stomach.

"I couldn't turn to anybody," she said, "because the question would have been, 'Why are they doing this to you?'"

Rendall said when she went to what is now Carroll University, Waukesha, life improved, but "I was still playing that same game. I was pretending. I joined a fraternity … I knew it wasn't right and then I started feeling guilty about pretending to be something I wasn't."

Then, after a blind date, she became attracted to a woman, which added to her confusion.

"It actually made me think, for a while, that this thing about being female … maybe that was a phase I was going through," Rendall said.

But she said Beth was her "soulmate," and, when Jody was David, they married. Jody said she and Beth are still together.

Beth was the first person Rendall came out to about being transgender. Rendall said she told Beth about it after women's clothing was discovered in their bedroom.

Afterwards, they talked it through, and for the first time in Rendall's life, she could be Jody at home.

This led to her living two lives — David would teach during the weekdays at Big Foot, but Jody would be at home at night and on weekends.

Rendall said at first, she figured this would alleviate some of her stress, but her feelings about her gender identity only intensified.

So did "dark thoughts," she said, until she reached an important conclusion.

"It helped me realize what I had to do, and what I had to do is, whatever life I had left, I have to live it as a woman," Rendall said.

In 2007, Rendall underwent gender transformation.

"No two transgenders are the same," she said. "For me, I started on cross-hormones to feminize the body. I sent letters to people to them what was happening."

Rendall said the reactions surprised her. Most people were supportive. "I think the people who have stayed with us, I think we have better friendships now than we did before."

Rendall said was the greatest challenge was for Beth.

"She had to deal with loss," Rendall said. "She had to deal with the loss of her husband. Now, we have a different relationship, but we're still soul mates."

Epiphany

Living the life she always wanted seems to have done more for Rendall than she imagined.

She said a year and a half after her retirement from Big Foot, she was asked to return to teach yoga for a physical education class. Rendall said this return visit inspired her to resume substitute teaching.

"I was doing my best teaching at this time," she said. "I think it was because I didn't have to hide, and I could be comfortable with myself."

Now, it seems Rendall is trying to teach beyond the classroom.

She immersed herself in the world of information at her fingertips — data which, years ago, was not available. Rendall began online support groups. She learned more, she wanted to share that knowledge, and she saw how limited LGBT resources were in Walworth County.

For example, Jody said, there were no doctors or therapists who could help her in the county when she transitioned. She started a website, www.lgbtwalco.org.

Since then, LGBT of Walworth County has grown into a group with LLC status, working the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lakes, Elkhorn, which has welcomed the LGBT community, Rendall said.

On Dec. 21, LGBT of Walworth County hosted its first major public event — a yuletide holiday party at the church.

Rendall said there will be a youth leadership conference on bullying, and she said it may involve all the high schools in Walworth County. The event remains in the planning stage.

She said she hopes that all the county's public high schools participate in the one-day event.

"What we want to do is get the dialogue started," Rendall said.

She said helping young people is the top priority of LGBT of Walworth County, and that she wants to also provide services for loved ones of LGBT people, to help them better understand issues affecting this community.

Rendall said she feels that, to obtain equal rights, "the general public has to get to know" the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"I think that most people don't have the opportunity to get to know people who are transgender because they keep it in the closet," Rendall said.

But as people meet LGBT community members, she said, they realize "we're just people."

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