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Josie Faith had just settled in for a night of rest, a knit hat atop her head, when she heard what sounded like thunder.

“It’s not supposed to be raining,” she thought, dozing off. But her instincts told her to wake up. From that moment, late the night of Oct. 24, everything happened fast.

She smelled smoke. She saw flames in her kitchen at the front of her house. The ceiling began to “drip” on her.

Faith, a long-time volunteer at Clock Inc. LGBT Center, realized her house was on fire. She ran shoeless past the growing flames, which singed her nose and face, and  outside into the 40-degree night-time weather, wearing only a nightgown and a long coat.

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While her home and all of her possessions are now destroyed, Faith says “I was lucky, so lucky. If I was five seconds slower that night, I would have been stuck in the back of my house.”

GoFundMe page started to cope with losses

Adam Peters started a GoFundMe page for Faith the very next morning. Peters, operations director for Clock Inc., describes Faith as a “resilient” person who has already demonstrated her courage by sharing her journey as a transgender woman.

Faith volunteers for Clock Inc. almost daily and is often the last volunteer at the Rock Island nonprofit after events and gatherings. She also fills in regularly for other volunteers and is “always happy and willing to jump in,” Peters says.

Faith also speaks regularly at Clock Inc.’s public events, sharing her journey from an bullied child who grew into a young man trying to meet the traditional expectations of a strict Catholic family, to a transgender woman who is about to take the biggest step yet in her gender transition: surgery.

“Through the power of her story, (Josie) dismantles misconceptions, fostering empathy and understanding,” Peters says. “She’s truly a beacon of empowerment for those seeking to live as their authentic self.“

The GoFundMe page is intended to help Faith with costs that include replacing her entire wardrobe, which she’d carefully curated over years while gradually adjusting her declared gender.

Faith also lost all of her furniture, a home she’d paid off years ago, and supplies of medication related to not only her gender transition, but also anxiety and depression.

Some close friends have already stepped in to help with donated clothing and some furniture pieces. One of Faith’s best friends, Natasha Hoenig, combed through her closet to find gender-appropriate clothing that seemed to fit Faith’s style.

Josie Faith and Natasha Hoenig and friends

Josie Faith, left, smiles with friend Natasha Hoenig, head of Free Mom Hugs-Quad Cities, and Free Mom Hugs-Iowa, and other friends at a recent event.

“Josie is like a sister to me,” says Hoenig. “She deserves the world, and I just love her. I was able to give her many outfits. Knowing that she needed immediate support, I treated her to lunch, and we went shopping together. We’ve been chatting daily to keep her spirits high.”

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Though insurance and the Red Cross initially fronted emergency costs like housing in local hotels, and a meal stipend, that support has ended. Hardest of all, Faith has had to tap into a fund she’d built for about 15 years to manage her gender transition.

Though her gender transition surgery, happening at the end of this year, is covered by insurance, Faith had been planning on getting facial surgery, too. Faith has a scar on her chin from childhood that she has always covered with a beard.

“Even though I am comfortable, and maybe even enamored, by the idea of a bearded lady, at heart I am still a trans’ woman who would some day like to try to pass as a true lady,” Faith said. “I will never be able to see this dream to fruition unless I get the scar on my chin fixed! With every dollar I spend, I literally can feel that dream of passing slip away.”

Faith has emerged from a difficult past

After starting a gradual transition 15 years ago, Faith accepted her own status as a transgender woman about two years ago, though she still presents during her day job as male. She has chosen to identify as gender-fluid trans-feminine nonbinary now but says she sensed early on that she was “different.”

Among her most vivid memories is being examined as a young child by a urologist. Faith had struggled to control her bladder until about age 10, and her family thought a urologist could help.

But the exam was traumatizing, leaving Faith feeling as though her most private parts, which she later learned had caused her shame because of gender dysphoria, were on display.

While growing up in a small Pennsylvania town, the middle kid of four brothers in a strict Catholic family, Faith remembers being bullied daily while also fearing to even explore her sex or gender identity. The ongoing stream of fear-mongering about AIDS/HIV at the time left her feeling “propagandized” and driven by fear away from exploring her true self, she said.

So Faith tried to fit in to her town’s and family’s expectations, she says in a tape of a recent presentation she gave to Clock Inc. She grew her physique, became known for her strength, and went on to marry.

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She moved to the Quad Cities in 1997 when her family relocated to Eldridge. As she became more serious about transitioning her gender, Faith’s marriage ended.

Faith found Clock Inc. a few years ago and thought volunteering there might be a way to find friendships. But the group has come to mean much more to her. The group donated proceeds from a recent game night to Faith to help with the fire expenses.

Clock Inc. has provided Faith the support to pursue her gender transition. And she’s found some of those friendships she sought — including one with Hoenig.

“She is an incredible force of strength, love, and unwavering hope,” Hoenig says of Faith. “Just the kindest soul. And so funny! I can’t tell you how many times we’ve laughed out loud together til our sides split.

Faith also encourages the community to support the group, by helping to stock and make use of its transgender clothing pantry, and exploring its mentor program.

She’s seeking an LGBTQ+ contractor to work on her house. ” I cant stress enough that this is what I am in need of the most right now,” she said. “It would just chap my ass if I have to use some bigoted redneck contractor to rebuild my home. I want to keep the money in the family.”

In addition, Faith has a broader public service announcement: be careful during the winter season. Though space heaters were not a factor in Faith’s fire (she wasn’t using one), she encourages people to ensure their space heaters are plugged into surge protectors. She also encourages everyone to ensure their smoke alarm detectors are working.

“This is the season,” she says. “I hope my experience can help someone else.”

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Click here to donate through Faith’s GoFundMe page. You can also contact Clock inc. at info@clockinc.org to inquire about donating to the group’s trans’ clothing closet, donate clothing to Faith, or pass on information about an LGBTQ+ contractor.