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She was born 63 years ago as Laurence Meeks.

“While I was growing up, my mom called me Laurie,” Meeks recalls. “I think she read Little Women too much! I didn’t want to be called Larry, like the character in Leave It to Beaver, and I had a female cousin named Laurie, so everybody shortened it to Laur. That stuck even when I was grown and in the Air Force.

“That is, until I became Laura.”

Born and raised in Wayzata, Minn., into a family with three brothers, “I was raised in a totally male environment,” Meeks says. “I was second oldest of two boys from my mom’s first marriage, which ended when I was quite young. Then, when she married my stepfather, they had two more boys.

“My mom and stepfather are both gone now, but my dad, who had been a stockbroker, is still alive at 90 and was always in my life as well.”

Meeks’ mom was an advertising executive who had studied in the Harvard program created for women; Harvard at that time was all-male. “My mom faced big-time discrimination, but she had perseverance. She taught me to never give up, no matter how bad a situation might be. She always did whatever it took to make it as a woman in a man’s world.”

As a child, Meeks would lie in the fields and look up at the sky. “I decided early on that I wanted to get out of Minnesota. Looking at the planes flying over from Minneapolis, I thought that if I could be up there, it would be my ticket out. I dreamed of being a pilot, so coming out of high school, I wanted a college that was co-educational, near skiing, and with an Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) program.”

Meeks settled on the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

“Originally, I was going to major in Spanish, but I found out the Air Force took any degree, regardless of major. I had read a book by Abraham Maslow, and found I loved the subject, so I decided to get my degree in psychology. Ultimately, for me, it was all just about being able to get into flight training school.”

Meeks’ first marriage was to Cathy.

“We began dating in college, and being a kid of a broken marriage, I was determined never to get divorced,” she says. “I knew if it were a choice between marriage and flight school, I would choose the training. We married after college, and I did go into flight-navigation school.

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, leaving little time for a life. It reached the point where Cathy wondered where she fit into the picture. We were in Sacramento by then, and it wasn’t really working for her, because between training and studying, I was just never there. I actually thought about quitting the program and called everybody I knew to get advice about what to do. My stepfather said, ‘What are you doing? This is your dream. You can do this. You’ll get through this.’”

The marriage survived for another seven years.

“Pilot training was even harder than navigator training, and Cathy felt as if she was raising our sons by herself. My goal put so much pressure on her. I passed at the top of my class, and we moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where we hoped all the work would finally pay off. Then I got the best assignment I could ever get: squadron officer school.”

At that point, they had two sons. “By then, she was so angry; we just couldn’t keep it together.”

Meeks has now been with her second wife, Annie, since 1986. They have called Rancho Mirage home since 2005.

“We met in the military,” she says. “She actually outranks me: I retired as a major; she as a lieutenant colonel. We know who the boss is!

“When we were still dating, stationed at different bases in the Pacific, we started writing lots of letters, making up stories and telling each other our sexual fantasies. Some of my stories were leaning toward me as a woman.

“I always knew I was somehow different. Growing up in a family of boys, I never wanted to be a ‘sissy.’ I was in an all-male high school, joined a frat and lived with guys at college, and was in the military with guys. In college, it became clear that I thought much differently from other guys. Their focus was on conquest and winning; mine was about feelings and bonding.”

Annie brought her daughter, Shellie, to the marriage, and Meeks adopted her. (I wrote about Shellie several months ago.) By then, they were in Guam, and Meeks had discovered internet chat rooms with frank discussions about gender issues.

“It hit me like a lightning bolt! I felt like a woman, and realized other people felt the same way,” she says. “I felt I was in the wrong gender, and now I could look up information and talk to others. It was like solving a puzzle. Now I knew why I felt different. I learned the term ‘transgender,’ which was exactly how I was feeling, and I realized I am one of them.

“Annie and I were able to make my transition together. We talked about it a lot. I said, ‘It’s about me, but I’m also married to you, and I love you. If this is a deal-breaker, I won’t go down this road.’ She wasn’t sure what it meant, but said we should go down the road together.

“Most male transgender stories are kept secret, but at some point, you can’t hold it inside anymore. For me, it was a secret for about 10 years, but when I retired from the service, I felt free to begin making some changes. The first was to stop getting haircuts. It got to where I felt comfortable dressing as a woman at home. I had to find time to practice being Laura.

“I learned that sexuality is about whom you go to bed with, while gender is whom you want to be while you’re in bed. Annie is a heterosexual female married to a transgender woman, and we’ve made it work. We both know it’s important not to lose our contact based on who we know we are inside. Our souls haven’t changed.”

Meeks now does professional coaching: “Fly High Living is where I’m taking everything I’ve learned and helping others.” Meeks is also writing a book with Annie, and has a show on iHub Radio (where I also have two shows).

“Everybody has a dream. Maybe it’s repressed or avoided, but it’s in you, and my work is to help you find it and achieve it,” she says. “My mission is to help people bring their unique gift to the world.”

Laura Meeks is a formidable woman who has transformed her life, followed her dreams, and wants to share what she has learned.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I’m always pleasantly surprised when I realize that someone I thought I knew turns out to be so much more than I could ever have imagined.

Shellie Meeks is my technical producer and board operator at iHub Radio in Palm Springs. I always feel supported when her face is on the other side of the console. Shellie is pleasant, diligent and determined to work around an often-debilitating case of fibromyalgia.

I thought I knew her—and then one day, I was blown away. My subject was witches, and I was quoting statistics about how many (mostly) women were killed in just a year’s time in Salem, Mass., at the end of the 17th century. Off the top of her head, Shellie asked if I knew that 60,000 so-called witches were killed throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

Who knows something like that?

Shellie Meeks, 40, has lived in Joshua Tree with her husband, Cary, for about two years. She grew up in a military family, and her early years were spent mostly in the Pacific—in Okinawa, Japan, and Guam. Her mom, Annie, ended up at the Pentagon, and her dad (specifically, her stepdad who adopted her at age 8), a former B-52 pilot, settled the family, including Shellie and her two brothers, in Virginia.

After graduating from high school in 1995, Shellie had to work to be able to go to college.

“It took me 10 years to get my B.A.,” she says. “I attended George Mason University, and worked sometimes three jobs to pay for it. I was originally studying to be a photographer, but I had to take two art-history classes—and I got hooked. I switched my major to art history.

“I remember when I was about 11, in Guam, I had a teacher who showed us a film … that was set in ancient Egypt. I never forgot it. I also loved museums when I was a kid, and living for so long in the Far East, I really got into Japanese art and culture.”

A favorite professor contacted Shellie after she finished her degree, to let her know they were starting a master’s degree program for art history. She jumped back in. “It was hard and grueling, but awesome!”

A professor in the master’s program, whom Shellie describes as “one of my best friends ever,” exposed Shellie to East Indian art. “It was amazing to see such a different style than I’d ever seen before. He opened a world to me I could never have imagined.

“He was one of the first people who actually said how much he believed in me. It changed my life.”

Shellie’s work life has included a stint as a country-music DJ in Virginia while she was attending the Columbia School of Broadcasting, interning as part of her degree path. “I got part of my tuition paid by taking the placement. They told me it wouldn’t pay much, but would be good experience. The station was run by a guy named ‘Cousin Ray’ who had been in that industry since the 1930s and knew all the country stars from that period. It was interesting and educational, and I enjoyed it, but the pay was less than minimum wage. I was working two jobs just to survive.”

When her mom retired, Shellie’s parents started a business involved with government contracts, and Shellie worked with them for a time. While doing so, she met Cary Shaffner, to whom she has been married for 12 years. “We met in early 2006, and married that December.”

In addition to her work on my show, Shellie also appears on iHub Radio daily at 4 p.m. on The Laura Meeks Show, along with her dad—originally named Laurence, but now known as Laura.

“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” she recalls. “The day I found out about my dad was the same day I had just gotten fired. My brain was focused on that when I got home. I got to the top of the stairs and walked into the kitchen, and there was this blonde woman sitting at the table. I thought, ‘That’s my dad.’ I don’t know where it came from, but I said, ‘Blonde isn’t really your color. You should think about getting a different wig.’

“I had never heard of transgender, but it wasn’t like the world was ending. I just thought, ‘This is really interesting.’ It doesn’t really bother me. She’s still my dad. I found out what being transgender means, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, that’s a thing.’

“When I realized my parents weren’t getting a divorce—my mom’s been fine with it, and they’ve been married 35 years—I enjoyed that I could show Laura how to wear high heels and do makeup. It was actually fun. Dad was always very male, macho and military, and Laura allowed him to show his kindness and humor. It brought us closer together.”

Shellie finished her grad degree in 2013, and she and Cary moved to the desert area from Pennsylvania five years ago. She still plans to get her doctorate and wants to teach art history.

“They keep cutting humanities programs—art, philosophy, history—and I want to educate people about how important it is to study these disciplines. I value my ability to use my brain. We can’t progress and understand each other without exposure to the humanities.”

Shellie hopes to have the chance to see the art she has been studying for so long. “I want to see Europe and India, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Parthenon in Greece.

“We have ancient influences even in our current culture, from television to comic books, and we need to understand those influences and how they impact us, often without our even knowing it. We need to be able to see everything in a completely non-judgmental way. It’s so important.”

Shellie Meeks reminds me that we not only need to understand how the past has influenced the present, but also to be willing to expose ourselves to things we might not even know exist—and do it with acceptance and without judgment.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors