Letter to My California Dreamer: Discovering My True Self in Modesto

3 min
Toni Rodriguez on a hike to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park, 2018. (Courtesy of Toni Rodriguez)

For our series “Letter to My California Dreamer," we’re asking Californians from all walks of life to write a short letter to one of the first people in their family who came to the Golden State. The letter should explain:

What was their California Dream?
What happened to it?
Is that California Dream still alive for you?

Here's a letter from Toni Rodriguez to himself.

Dear Self,

You grew up in the “Boogie Down” Bronx of New York. Your childhood memories consist of steel, rubble, and moonlight over vacant lots. You dreamt a lot. Mostly about sunny skies, endless deserts, beautiful foliage, surfing with the Beach Boys, and hiking over something other than concrete. You listened to your favorite song “California Dreaming” by the Mamas and the Papas, especially during the harsh winters. But you never stopped dreaming about leaving your concrete jungle to go to the Golden State.

Toni (11 years old) gets a new football video game for Christmas. (Courtesy of Toni Rodriguez)

That day arrived when you became a truck driver. You started delivering from the East Coast to the West Coast. On your way to Fontana, California, you would often go off route to drive along the Mojave Desert.

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After a few years of trucking, you settled down and got married in the Midwest. You began driving regionally, leaving you nowhere near the West.

When you later enrolled in nursing school, you missed the smell of the desert and the excitement of a road trip adventure. Making ends meet in your new career became a challenge, but you found travel nursing as a lucrative option. So, you applied for your California nursing license and after receiving it, you decided on a travel contract in Modesto.

Toni's high school senior portrait, 18 years old. (Courtesy of Toni Rodriguez)

The cost of living there seemed reasonable and it was centrally located to all the places you wanted to see in California. You ended up loving Modesto, going so far as to apply for a permanent position.

The distance from Kentucky took a toll on your marriage. It led to a separation and ultimately a divorce. But it wasn't hard for you to leave the Blue Grass state. You spent years as a Kentucky taxpayer, unwittingly funding projects and decisions you did not agree with. From a Creationist museum to a law team hired to fight against gay marriage to the sponsoring of a “bathroom bill” against transgender people, the oppression had become stifling.

Meanwhile, in the Golden State, you were discovering yourself and the real you wanted to come out. With the unwavering support of your Modesto coworkers, you got the courage to be who you really are. When you announced your transition from female to male, no one batted an eyelid in your new office job.

Being a transgender male in such a supportive environment helped you gain confidence as both a quality assurance RN and a male. The office aspect of the job has given you plenty of opportunity to master the classic bow tie, a skill that hasn’t gone unnoticed among your male colleagues.

Toni, before, and after, two years later. He had gender reaffirming surgery for his chest in December 2018. (Courtesy of Toni Rodriguez.)

Thank you for never giving up on the California Dream. Now, I feel I’m finally home. I have my sunny skies, endless deserts, beautiful foliage, surfing at the beach (though not with the Beach Boys), and I can hike over something other than concrete.

Love,
Toni

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