By all outward appearances, Shane Johnson had found a life of which many would be jealous. On top of being a husband and father, Johnson was an author in both the SciFi and Christian genres, appeared at SciFi conventions and had been nominated and won awards in the literary world. Johnson had become a recognized graphic designer, space flight historian and also served as a design consultant for the award-winning HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
Johnson first hit the book selves with “Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise” in 1986. That was followed by several other Trek volumes and books for the Star Wars universe including the “Star Wars Technical Manual” in 1995. In 1996 Johnson wrote, produced and directed Apollo 13: Flight for Survival which was a two-hour documentary on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
Johnson's skill within the literary world garnered being a finalist for a Christy Award, the highest award in the Christian literary community, for the book “The Last Guardian”. Being nominated for the award led to other novels, some of which received awards and a measure of notoriety.
But around 2005, Johnson fell out of the public eye and didn't publish another book. Many of Johnson's of fans have wondered in the time since what ever happened to the author. But all the success, all the awards, all the notoriety were only on the outside.
The internal turmoil and tremendous stress Johnson was experiencing was a far cry from what the world saw. Depression, bouts of tachycardia and irregular heart rhythms, streaming nosebleeds that refused to stop, blinding headaches and extremely high blood pressure were becoming the norm for Johnson. In August of 2005, Johnson's health became so severe that he was rushed by ambulance to the hospital were he remained for a week where doctors gave him a 50/50 chance of survival.
No one in Johnson's inner circle of friends or colleagues knew the secret he had hidden his whole life. “Anytime the real me peeked out and made her presence known through nuance, word, or behavior, I was slapped down! I was scorned, scolded, mocked, and punished. Other children can be very cruel, and to receive the same from my own parents was devastating. So, at some point in my childhood I decided I was tired of being hurt and humiliated. I decided to be the 'boy' everyone demanded of me. In order to stop the pain of their attacks, I shoved the girl I truly knew I was into the top of a tall tower, put on a self-imposed mask, and never once took it off as the decades passed.” It was only after Johnson's deteriorating health, when he made the life altering and saving decision to put the mask away and take the steps to transition.
“The stress of trying to live as someone I wasn't had begun to manifest physically and was threatening my life.”
Unfortunately, Johnson's decision was met by with abandonment and rejection. “With the exception of one very special man I'd known since high school, who sadly passed away last year, once I'd shared my lifelong secret, every one of my friends quickly abandoned me. I lost family as well.”
Though Johnson found acceptance and a continued friendship in one of her former editors upon disclosure of her pending transition, she felt there was not a future for her in Christian writing due to the overwhelming amount judgmental attitudes. “Though I never spoke to my Christian publishers, I did tell a few of the writers in my Christian authors group about my pending transition, and was disappointed to find the same lack of understanding and acceptance I'd found with my friends. Having no book under contract at that moment, I released my agent and left the authors group. My Christian writing career was over.
“Concerned for the legacy of my work, I chose not to let my readership at large know about my transition and instead just let myself fall off the radar. I closed the web site for my writing and dropped the email address I'd been using. For over eight years no one in my former circles heard from me and the general consensus, I recently learned, was that I had died.”
2008 was a year of change for Johnson. She began gender counseling and began hormone replacement therapy shortly there after. Johnson, choosing the new name of Lora, began living full time in March of 2009. It wasn't until 2015 though that all of her documentation would be changed to reflect the new life. It was also in 2015 in which she had her birth certificate corrected to reflect the proper gender.
Like many transgender people, life has not been easy for Johnson since her transition. Without the ability to call on former contacts, Johnson has been scraping by on what contract work she can find. She has primarily focused on local publications in and around her home in Texas, as well working on graphic-design and creating 3D virtual builds of movie and historic locations including an online exhibit of the Alamo for the University of Texas.
Recently she has been forced to deal with another set back and that is the lack of work and the loss of insurance due to her divorce in 2015. Without insurance, Johnson is in a life or death situation. Johnson was born with a very rare birth defect in her neck called a forth branchial cleft malformation. This birth defect affects muscles, nerves and arteries in the neck. If untreated, this defect can cause extremely life threatening issues.
Johnson has had over two dozen surgeries by various doctors throughout her life. Unfortunately, no one has been able to correct the damage done by a surgeon who worked on her in her childhood or alleviate any of the original problem. Due to the damage, Johnson endures chronic, serious and painful infections several times a year and swelling in her neck that can swell to the point of rupture.
Currently, Johnson has become resistant to antibiotics and due to a surgeon making the damage worse in 2013, infections can now travel through out her body. The danger is if the infections compromise her carotid artery, which they have in the past, she could die. “When I was younger, my body could fight off the repeated attacks. Now, as their intensity increases and they become an even greater threat, my life is in danger and my time to find a resolution is running out.” Adding to the crucial health state Johnson finds herself in, the mass infections have led to vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels.
Johnson has set up a GoFundMe page in an effort to help offset the medical costs that she will endure for a much needed surgery. “One specialist in Dallas believes she can correct the problem and save my life, but since I lost my medical insurance in the divorce and cannot yet pursue her care.”
Acceptance and understanding for the transgender community has come a long way with the help people like Lana and Lilly Wachowski, transgender sisters and the famed duo behind the scifi movies The Matrix and Cloud Atlas, have helped pave the way for other transgender women and men to have the confidence to come out. Johnson is hoping that finally taking the steps to come out, she can find the acceptance and support she didn't find years ago. “Time is critical for raising the funds for the specialist. My only chance for survival seems to lie in reestablishing connections in my former social circles, finding increased public exposure online and in social media, and praying that those who remember me or my work will be accepting, willing and in a position to help.”
One of the only things that has gotten Johnson through the pain and mounting obstacles is her faith in God. “What God has been telling me, as I begged again and again for change, was, 'you are the woman I made you to be, but I am bringing you along by a different and far more difficult path.' He knows my pain and walks with me every step of the way.”
Johnson asks that if you can help, she would be eternally grateful. Her GoFundMe page is linked here.
If you want to find any of her books, many are still available on Amazon here.
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