When Janel Diaz was a child, dressing like a boy and playing with action figures just weren't her thing. Instead, you could find her playing dress up with paper dolls.
“Me and my cousins would play and it would bring me joy,” she said. She also enjoyed creating pageants in her living room in the middle of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Janel lives as a woman using a woman’s name.
Diaz, 43, is an advocate for transitioning and transgender individuals at Big Bend Cares in Tallahassee. Diaz, who is transitioning herself, has been in Tallahassee for five years.
But as a child she hid that side of her, even after her family relocated to Fort Lauderdale when she was 13. She said she always knew deep down that being a man was not who she was.
“I tried to dress as feminine as I could. Mind you, I took the city bus to middle school, traveling from Brooklyn to Queens,” said Diaz. “Strangers would look at me and stare at me and I thought that was flirtatious. I thought that was what girls did.”
Diaz was taught growing up that acting like a girl when you were born a boy was wrong, but she still found herself dressing as feminine as possible when traveling back and forth to school.
Diaz’s childhood included some ugly moments.
“During that time I was molested. I still had a pretty good childhood because I was allotted the time to be in a imaginary world,” Diaz said. “I am a dreamer.”
In high school Diaz was elected student council president and found her pathway of transitioning into a man inside the four walls of a home away from home.
Three weeks before graduation she was contacted and told that she didn't turn in an assignment that was required in order to graduate. This meant that she had to attend summer school for half of a credit in order to receive her high school diploma.
“I was embarrassed and disappointed because my mom said I wasn't going to graduate and she was right.”
Diaz and her mother had some conflict and Diaz decided to leave home. She said she didn't know where to go.
While searching for a new place to stay Diaz made some new friends who were undercover drag queens at her school and that's where she met Derrick.
Soon after they met Diaz found herself living in an apartment with five other drag queens who introduced her to gay clubs, makeup and a different world she’d never seen before.
“I had never been to a gay club before,” said Diaz. “At that point, that's when I started to experience the boys and the drag world where I was totally mesmerized.”
She can remember it like yesterday.
“Honey, I went on to the club and put on the most shortest shorts that I could find,” said Diaz. “I had on this half mid-drift shirt and went to the club and it was like a whole new world.”
She made “Vashai Avionce,” her stage name for drag shows.
“I wanted to be able to live out loud and make a difference in the community with my drag,” said Diaz.
“Vashai is Tallahassee. Vashtai is the backbone of standing on the shoulders of the queens that used to be here and a lot of them have worked so hard to get where they are today and sometimes don’t have the resources.”
Today you can find Diaz working at the Big Bend Cares facility as a transgender community advocate.
She provides motivation and self-identification through a transgender support group that she rebuilt for people in the Tallahassee community.
“We don't bring anything but bright lights and good spirits,that’s all she brings,”
said Big Bend Cares medical billing clerk Felisa Castle.
Castle also is an independent consultant at Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry and says that Diaz purchases jewelry from her company all the time. Diaz brings light to any room she walks in, Castle said.
“You are looking for fun honey. She is a nice person to work with,” Castle added.