Transgender Day of Remembrance
We all have friends. Some, of course, are closer than others. Some are close enough that we call them our chosen family.
I had a friend named Greg who was like that.
Greg was transgender. More accurately, Greg was bi-gender–the only person I’ve ever known to use that terminology. Ze (a gender-neutral pronoun often preferred by transgender people) was also Delia (deh-LIE-a) but the personal expression that I knew best was Greg.
[I know this sounds weird. That’s because I don’t have the right words, not because of the person I knew and loved. Greg/Delia wasn’t a multiple personality. Ze flowed freely back and forth, but was mostly integrated into one being. It’s hard for me to explain, but I never had a problem with it because of the human being who ze was. But since I knew Greg best, I’ll use Greg for this post.]
Greg lived in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Ze had a great old apartment at Geary and Leavenworth. The Tenderloin is a very rough-edged place with its obvious homeless people, substance users and sellers, and sex workers, but it’s also very real, with many charms (even if they’re a bit frayed). From the street, the building looked run-down and funky, but as soon as you crossed through the solid wood door you were in a beautiful place built in the 1930s. To get to Greg’s apartment you walked up two sweeping round staircases with thick carpeting and polished wooden bannisters. It was a world unto itself. (Go here for a fascinating look at the Tenderloin.)
We spent many hours in hir (gender-neutral possessive pronoun) apartment. This was in the mid-1980s. I lived in the Castro, but Greg wasn’t as comfortable there–and Delia definitely was uncomfortable there. We cooked and ate together, we laughed and told stories. We went to the movies. We often went to a bar on the corner of hir block–the Hob Nob Lounge.
The Hob Nob was a mostly male-to-female transgender bar but there were some older gay men who hung out there too. This was the kind of place that opened at 6:00a.m. and stayed open until 2:00a.m. There was a little bar with about five barstools, and about four tables: the capacity of the place had to be around 20 patrons. This was the epitome of a Tenderloin dive bar. The bartenders were all very protective. I’m not petite by any measure, but the one who was there most often when I went in absolutely dwarfed me. I certainly wouldn’t mess with hir! It was best to walk in with someone who was a regular customer–someone like my friend. Unlike in the Castro, drinks were cheap and they were strong. I mostly knew the daytime clientele, since I didn’t often stay in the Tenderloin after dark unless Greg and I were having a slumber party. I was busy living my wild lesbian life in those days, but I probably averaged a trip to the Tenderloin once or twice a week.
Greg had come to San Francisco from Dallas. He (and I use that intentionally here) had grown up in a small West Texas town that a queer kid can’t wait to get away from. Ze had a strong Texas accent and a great laugh and a twinkle in zir eye that made you want to know the story behind it.
But, as with all of us, there was baggage. The worst part for Greg was being estranged from family of origin. It was “bad enough” for them when Greg came out as a gay man, but when ze came out to them as transgender/bi-gender, they just couldn’t listen any longer, so ze left and they never talked again. Greg wanted to be a happy-go-lucky person, so that was what ze projected, but there was so much more that wasn’t let out that it led to self-medication. Not just the alcohol consumed at the Hob Nob, but ze also got into drugs–marijuana, then both speed and heroin. And then Greg got AIDS and quickly died.
I miss Greg. I miss Delia. I’m only reminiscing. There’s no lesson here. Well, I guess there is: people are people, and you never know how wonderful someone is until you take a risk and get to know them. This is true no matter what their worldly condition is. I’m just glad that I once had Greg in my life.
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Transgender Day of Remembrance is on November 20. For more information go to http://www.transgenderdor.org/.