Interview with Eugene C. Hunt by Edmund L. Drago, August 28, 1980 and November 4, 1980, AMN 500.001.005.1980, in the Avery Normal Institute Oral History Project, of the Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston
In this interview Crystal Denise Helton (pronouns she, her, hers), a white program coordinator at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), speaks of growing up in West Virginia, her awakening to her sexual identity, her experiences with friends, family and lovers, her marriage and divorce, her conversion to Judaism, and her reflections on herself and society. An only child growing up in with parents who were divorced, but still living together, Helton had a solitary youth, taking refuge in reading, offering escape from an alcoholic father, and a sometimes-inattentive mother. Closeted in high school, she nevertheless had a girlfriend who lived nearby and she avoided the censure of disapproving peers while attending a series of different churches and denominations. Helton first realized she was lesbian when she had a crush on a Sunday school teacher, and evolved a healthy attitude to her sexuality without the guidance or advice of others. Leaving home, near Princeton, West Virginia, Helton attended Marshall University and later lived in Lexington, KY where she switched from a PhD program in history to a masters program in library science, and where she was in a relationship with the woman who eventually became her wife. While she understood prejudice against gay people, Helton never felt much of it directed at her, commenting that her conversion to Judaism, completed at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE), in Charleston, SC, has sparked more of a negative response from others than her sexuality. Her ex-wife joined her in the conversion experience and there was much resistance to this religious change in her spouse's family. The breakup and divorce (the couple had three varying marriage ceremonies, including a very positive experience at KKBE), was difficult for Helton, who did not instigate it. Calling her ex-wife the extrovert, and herself an introvert, Helton discusses her family of choice, including a long-time friend, and new ones made in a bocce league and among "murderinos", fans of the "My Favorite Murders" podcast. She speaks of learning patience in a romantic relationship, and discusses the greater ease with identity and gender fluidity she sees in people younger than she. She believes that being a member of the LGBTQ community has brought her insight into privilege, power, and prejudice in the larger society.
Vanity Reid Deterville (she, her, hers), discusses her upbringing in Charleston, SC, college years spent in Atlanta, GA, and the challenges she faced as accepting herself and being accepted in society as an African American trans woman. Growing up in an extended religious family, Deterville knew she was different from most of her friends and family as she heeded the warning of her grandmother to not share her concept of her gender identity with most other people. Attending Morehouse College in Atlanta opened up new ways of expressing gender identity and sexual orientation for her, but conflicts with her family over these and other issues led to an unstable period in her life, when she experienced homelessness or near homelessness, financial problems and battles with drugs and dependency. She describes the various stages of self-expression she went through at Morehouse and the issues presenting feminine triggered at the all-male school and how over the years, there have been family rifts and reconciliations. She addresses what it was like to come out in Charleston, mentions the role the LGBTQ youth organization We Are Family played in the process and speaks a bit about the bar scene, articulating a stratification she noticed along class and racial lines._Deterville also speaks about local transgender issues, the segregated nature of LGBTQ life, and how many of her friends are more eager to attend Black Gay Pride events out of town rather than local gay pride events. She also notes the irony that people in the white community seem more empathetic on, and attuned to, transgender issues, than many in the people of color community. Yet white gay men tend to want to label and define her only as a drag performer and not accept her for her true status. She refers to a play "Sugar in the Grits" she wrote and performed for the local MOJA festival, a rare event that linked Gullah-Geechee heritage and LGBTQ life._In response to the question of what being LGBTQ has meant to her, she answers that it has led to "trailblazing," being constantly open to questioning normalcy, learning to love oneself, despite what one is taught, and being able to look at life in an a more nuanced and even more spiritual manner._