by Brandon Wolf • Photo by Dalton DeHart
Jenifer Rene Pool is Houston’s 2012 Female Pride Marshal. She was born on October 1, 1948. “I was a New Year’s Eve baby,” she says with a sly grin. At the time of her birth, Pool was named “Ted.” But today she describes herself as “a proud transgender woman.”
Pool was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas, the third of four children born to a farming couple. She attended Beaumont public schools and graduated from the high school there.
As a child, she had to wear glasses with especially thick lenses. “School was a nightmare,” she recalls. “I was small and slight, and was bullied mercilessly. Classmates would grab my glasses and throw them to one another, while I tried in vain to retrieve them.”
Fortunately, Pool was a natural-born runner. Both of her parents had been track-and-field champions. By the eighth grade, she was a member of the football team, because she could run fast.
The summer of her ninth grade, Pool underwent a major metamorphosis. “I got contact lens and grew nine inches.” When she returned to school for the new year, no one recognized her.
Although Pool was the only male in the Home Economics class, that anomaly didn’t attract much attention until an assignment was given to prepare a “family budget.” She included contraception as a line item and provoked a noticeable stir.
Pool began to show her political instincts early on. In the ninth grade, she was vice-president of the student body of her middle school. During her senior year she ran for class president and lost by one vote.
A good student with a high grade-point average, Pool volunteered to be a teaching assistant for geometry and advanced math. At her high school commencement ceremony, she delivered the keynote address.
The Challenge of Gender Identity
Although Pool lived on a farm, her father was working in the construction field by the time she was born. He had been drafted into World War II and sent to Corpus Christi to help build the naval base there. Because he was familiar with farm equipment, he was put to work with road-construction equipment.
After the war, Pool’s father went to work for his brother who had started a construction company. Her father was the general superintendent for roadway projects.
Pool started tagging along with her father at a very young age. “Until the day he died in 1979, he always kept a picture of the two of us on his desk,” she says. “In the photo, I’m following along behind my father, proudly carrying toolboxes.”
But Pool was already hiding a secret—she was convinced that she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. “I got my first real inkling at age nine,” she recalls. “When I was alone in the house, I started playing with my mother’s lipstick and her shoes. It felt right for me.”
Built-in shelving and the box spring of her bed provided two hiding places for her small collection of female apparel. “I used to take out the trash, and whenever my sister would throw away underwear or other worn-out clothes, I’d sneak them back inside.”
At the age of 12, Pool faced the first resistance that would later become commonplace. “I came home and saw all the clothes hidden in the box spring laid out on my bed. My mother came into my bedroom and closed the door.”
Pool promised her mother that she would never dress in female clothing again. “But what I was really promising was never to get caught again,” she remembers.
Life Begins to Unravel
After high school, Pool enrolled at nearby McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, studying business administration with minors in finance and pre-law. She was president of her fraternity, and earned an All-American designation in track and field.
During college, she married for the first time and became the father of a baby boy. But the marriage fell apart, and her wife disappeared with the son. Pool has no idea where either person is today.
Pool continued to live in Beaumont and work for her father. She also earned a real-estate license, selling houses on weekends.
Weekend nights were often spent at The Copa bar in Beaumont. “I always had a date,” Pool says. “The Copa was the ‘in’ place for straights to go to. I remember TWT [This Week in Texas magazine] and The Fabulous Five drag troupe.”
In 1975, after Pool had a major falling out with her father, she started her own home-building company. By 1979 she had constructed more than 60 custom homes. But it was a time of high inflation and high interest rates. Her business evaporated, and she moved to Houston.
Life in Houston was a succession of jobs—construction project management, interior space build-outs, and savings and loan management. She also married a second time in 1983, and had another
son. That marriage dissolved into divorce as well.
By 1994, Pool’s life was “a train wreck.” “I had gone to a doctor for a physical, and was told I had a life-threatening heart disease,” she says. “I was given three to five years to live.”
Sorting It All Out
Back in 1973, Pool had made a trip to New Orleans with a female friend who was a psychotherapist. They ended up at the Gunga Din Bar, which advertised “All Our Girls Are Boys.”
Her friend invited the lead entertainer, Candy Cane, to their table, and asked her about her life. “Candy told me the story of my own life,” says Pool.
Shortly after, Pool returned alone to Gunga Din. The minute she walked through the door, Cane saw her and said over the microphone, “We knew you’d be back!”
After the show had concluded, Cane and several other entertainers came to Pool’s table, surrounding her and welcoming her into their “family.” It was Pool’s defining moment—“Finally, everything felt right, and I realized I was exactly where I belonged.”
But knowledge of her identity still didn’t prompt Pool to make any dramatic changes in her life. She did buy her first wig—a blond pageboy—at Foley’s. “I’ve still got it,” she says with a smile.
Pool also began shopping for clothes. She would tell the clerks she was buying something for her wife. Soon she realized the clerks knew what was really going on, and were glad to help. Their knowing question was, “Is she about your size?”
The diagnosis of a heart condition in 1994 finally pushed Pool to take action. “I flew to the Cayman Islands for 10 days,” she says. “Lying on the beach, I contemplated my life. And then the moment of clarity came. I had to stop living a lie.”
The lie stopped before she even returned home. Pool bought a two-piece bathing suit and wore it to the beach during the rest of her stay.
Returning home, Pool implemented lifestyle changes that reversed the health prognosis. She also gravitated into Houston’s transgender community, joined support groups, and learned how to become the woman she had always known herself to be.
Making a Difference
Pool was soon on a pathway to community involvement. After serving on the Houston GLBT Political Caucus board, she went on to become the organization’s first transgender president. Pool is now a regular member of KPFT’s Queer Voices radio show.
In 2006, Pool began a five-year lobbying effort with the Houston Independent School District, pressing them to revise their employment policy and student conduct code to protect LGBTs from discrimination. Refusing to give up, she finally convinced the HISD board in August 2011.
Last year, Pool ran for Houston City Council At-Large Position 2. Although she didn’t win the election, she’s glad she tried. “I learned a lot about the technical side of campaigning—and now I’m comfortable speaking out publicly about issues.” At the 2012 Houston Transgender Unity Banquet, Mayor Annise Parker commended Pool for her election bid, saying: “Jenifer was the only person running in that race who really knew how the city runs. She had a command of the facts, and she knew what she was doing.”
Reflecting back on her life, Pool says, “It’s been wonderful. How many people get to live two lives in one lifetime? My advice to anyone is to love your life and live it powerfully.”
Brandon Wolf is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.