LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 18, 2019) — Growing up is tough enough for any adolescent but for Tuesday Meadows, University of Kentucky alumna and Kentucky native, the challenges she faced as a child were much more complicated.
At an early age, she remembers asking a group of neighborhood girls if she could play with them. Their response was, "no, you're not a girl!" Without hesitation she replied, "well, I can pretend like I'm a girl." Quickly regretting her response, Meadows learned to bury those feelings deep inside.
She grew up with five siblings, three sisters and two brothers, and was the youngest of the three boys in her Louisville, Kentucky, family. Meadows says her brothers made it their life mission to beat the girl out of her. "Their favorite thing to do was taking my head and dunking it in the toilet. They would do that quite often," Meadows recalls.
"When I was around 15, I told my mom that I thought that I should have been a female. She wasn’t sure what to think, and I guess that she thought that I was gay," Meadows said. "I had known this since I was 5 but just could not articulate it."
In 1979, she first heard the term "transgender," and it struck a chord with her immediately.
It was not until the age of 59 and a half that Meadows came out as a transgender female — someone who is assigned male at birth but identifies as female — and legally changed her name to Tuesday Meadows, or better known as, "Tuesday Princess Warrior," a designation she's proud to hold in her fight for inclusivity.
In 2012, she began taking hormones and in 2013 she began her transition, a process that would take around a year and a half to complete.
"It was not without peril," Meadows said. "I was married at the time. I had a child, a family. It was challenging on a lot of different levels. I think the biggest thing was getting everyone to understand this is the real me."
Her hesitation, like many others, stems from the unfair treatment of trans people across the country. Transgender people experience family rejection, increased harassment, severe discrimination and systematic inequality.
“Sex” and “gender” once were understood as synonymous terms but are increasingly understood as two different identity components of all humans. Sex is assigned at birth and refers to a biological state, while gender is more self-perceived and may not match one’s sex. A transgender person is someone who has a gender identity that does not correspond to the sex the person was assigned, while a cisgender person is someone who has a gender identity that does correspond to the sex that person was assigned. As language about identity and labels change, a new language is quickly emerging.
"Certainly, there is more visibility for transgender individuals these days, which is both good and bad," Meadows said. "The good is that most people have heard about us, we have support from the larger LGBTQ community and many friends and allies have come forward to support us. Then the bad is those individuals who make up lies, those who try to use us for political fodder without regard to endangering our lives and those who will do just about anything to convert us. I work very hard to educate people so that they see that I just want to live my best life like everyone else."
Meadows works closely with ally groups around the state. After her transition in 2013, she realized how little trans representation she saw around her. She began to seek out a community that was similar to herself, and in September of 2013 she discovered TransKentucky, a support group in Lexington with a mission to provide a safe place for transgender individuals.
As she became more involved with the group, Meadows' involvement in activism grew.
"TransKentucky was key to my survival as they were both accepting and affirming," Meadows said. "I began writing for LinQ in 2014, a monthly magazine that focuses on the Kentucky LGBTQ community, and joined the board of the Pride Community Service Organization that year."
She said her biggest moment in activism came in early 2015 after the suicide of a transgender teen, Leelah Alcorn, which attracted international attention.
"With the help of some great individuals from the University of Kentucky and Lexington community members, we had a rally to end conversion therapy, which was attended by over 300 people and Dr. Eli Capilouto (UK's president) spoke," Meadows said. "I knew then that I wanted to be an activist for change."
Meadows, who earned her bachelor's degree in business administration from UK in 1977, is still actively involved with the university community and the LGBTQ* Resource Center. Recognized as a central hub for accessing information, groups and services related to diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, the office supports the Office for Institutional Diversity in making sure that the UK community is a welcoming, safe and supportive place for all students, faculty, staff and alumni.
"Today the University of Kentucky celebrates its diversity," Meadows said. "I believe that myself and others spent an inordinate amount of our energy and effort to hide rather than using all of our talents to reach our self-actualization. The resource center is not hidden and is prominently signed, which is so important. Every graduate should be proud of the new Student Center and the Dinkle-Mas LGBTQ Resource Suite."
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a riot in which members of the LGBTQ community fought back against harassment from police in Greenwich Village, New York, ultimately serving as a catalyst for a worldwide movement. Although America has come a long way, Meadows notes, we still have a long way to go.
"Too many parents get bad advice about supporting their children. Too many students are cut off from their family, religion and friends because of misinformation," Meadows said. "If you have a transgender person in your life, you will see that they become a better version of their self when they are able to be themselves. I will work on helping young people until the day I die because losing even one of them to self-harm is too many."
When asked where Tuesday Princess Warrior finds the courage to push forward, she responded, "In reality, I am just a grandmother, neighbor, volunteer and tax paying citizen. I think about myself growing up with no role models and I thank goodness I didn’t kill myself. I think about all of the hate that is thrown at our young people today, and I do not want a single one of them to lose their life because of hate, so I'm on a mission to save them."
A video interview with Meadows can be seen at https://nunncenter.net/outsouth/items/show/4, part of the OutSouth Oral History Project in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History in UK Libraries in conjunction with UK LGBTQ* Resources.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion two years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. The Chronicle of Higher Education judged us a “Great College to Work for," and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for three straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.