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A transgender woman remembers her aunt who always made her feel comfortable

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Dee Westenhauser came out as a transgender woman at age 63. She grew up in El Paso, Texas, in the 1950s and recalls struggling to fit in. At StoryCorps, she sat with her friend Martha Gonzales to recall an aunt who made her feel comfortable.

DEE WESTENHAUSER: If you were to see Aunt Yaya back in the day the way I saw her, she was tall. She had a beautiful, angular face with high cheekbones, and she had brown eyes. They almost looked like owl eyes, scanning everything. One weekend, my mom and my dad, they decided that I was going to go to Aunt Yaya's house. I was 9 years old. And once the door closed, she says, how would you like to change into something that's really comfortable for you? And what was there were a blouse and a wig. I knew I was a girl, and so that weekend, I got to be me. We went shopping in my outfits. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Yaya. And she would introduce me as her niece.

MARTHA GONZALEZ: Would you go home and mention anything like that?

WESTENHAUSER: No. She said, when you go home, you have to be what they want because if you don't and they find you out, you will be hurt. She was the one who taught me early on that I have to play the game. Yaya, she had a lifelong friend. And it wasn't until years later that I finally figured out that her friend was her lover and her partner. And you never spoke of that back in the day. Yaya never got the love she was supposed to from the rest of the family, and Yaya wanted me to be everything that she wanted to be if she could live her life over again. I loved her. She loved me back. And behind that white door became my place to be the little girl that I needed to be.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "FILING AWAY")

INSKEEP: Dee Westenhauser with her friend, Martha Gonzalez. Their interview will be archived, along with hundreds of thousands of others, at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.