story by Selena Haynes | photo courtesy Candace Winter Johnson
Saving lives…that’s something that both Damien Connor and his mother Candace Winters Johnson agree is of great importance.
“I really, REALLY want to save lives. My greatest desire is for [the book] to help the families around trans/gender non-conforming kids. Just a little bit of education can save lots of emotional trauma caused out of ignorance. The homelessness these kids face is stunning. Plus, if I can reach educators, medical professionals, politicians…they will, in turn, change my child’s and future grandchildren’s world with just a little bit of understanding,” said Johnson. Damien, who began transitioning 3.5 years ago, wants people to know “what they’re going through is normal, and there are others out there just like us.”
When Damien approached his mother about being transgender, she couldn’t find any resources that “spoke to them.” While she supported Damien, her feelings had to be addressed. The experience left her feeling as if she were in mourning. That’s when she came up with the idea of writing a book and with Damien’s blessing and help, “Particular Peyton, Daring Damien / I Will Be Here” came to life.
The book is crafted to show two different perspectives about the journey of Damien’s transition — one side features Damien’s story and then you can flip it to the other side to read about Candace’s experience.
“Particular Peyton, Daring Damien” was written for children who may relate to the feelings Damien experienced in his younger years.
Do you ever feel like you just don’t fit… No, not in your clothes, well sometimes that too. But in your body, like how am I supposed to be a girl? My family tells me I am… but I don’t feel like my insides match my outside and people don’t seem to understand” — excerpt from Particular Peyton, Daring Damien
Candace’s story, “I Will Be Here” is named from a song she used to sing to Damien as a child. And, she intended on doing just that.
Candace watched Damien struggle his entire life with the social expectations for a gender he wasn’t comfortable portraying. As Damien aged, the ideology of transitioning began to take shape. Fortunately, Damien had Candace as a mother and throughout “I Will Be Here”, you see their relationship continually strengthen as they encounter delicate situations. Candace was truly living up to being there for her child. From not wanting to wear pink to liking a girl in class, Candace supported Damien and didn’t try to place him in a box that so many others, including his father, wanted him to fit in.
The success of their book has brought forth new opportunities for them. They’ve been keynote speakers for the recent MTSU LGBT+ College Conference, appeared at the Drag Queen Story Hour Middle Tennessee Chapter with other appearances scheduled, and shared their experiences and the book on the Transgender Day of Visibility with First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville. It hasn’t stopped there. Candace provided testimony to Tennessee State Legislature on House Bill 1274, which, if it became law, would allow for the state Attorney General to defend schools should they be sued for discriminatory bathroom policies.
As for their future, Candace is already working with her other son, Cory, to write his memoirs about being adopted. Damien is waiting until he turns 21 so he can become a police officer and serve his community.
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