The Case of Mistaken Identity, Part 2

My name is Joan don’t fuck with me boys Crawford.

I am a gender detective.

by Gordene MacKenzie & Nancy Nangeroni

Synopsis: (part 1)

In the last episode our drag queen transvestite gender detectives Joan don’t fuck with me boys Crawford and Norma Diva Dyke Desmond, specialists in investigating gender crimes, encountered a desperate young transwoman fleeing from a mental hospital and a family that did not accept hir. S/he begged Joan and Norma to help hir. They safely sequestered hir at a friend’s house and paid a visit to hir mother and father, Julia and Bestor Mamerika, hoping to educate them on trans issues and encourage them to stop trying to prevent Brenda from being hirself. The visit was a disaster. Ms. Mamerika threatened to have them arrested if their “son” was not returned. We left Joan and Norma back at the office, dumbfounded by a phone call from Bestor, asking if they could meet.

I’ve been working this gender beat my whole life, but sometimes it seems more like it’s working me. This case was starting to do just that. As I stood there recovering my senses, I again heard the voice of Bestor Mamerika on the phone I held to my ear.

“Ms. Crawford, are you still there? Ms. Crawford?”

I wondered for a moment if maybe I had taken a short trip into the twilight zone. Clutching the phone receiver tightly in my palm, everything else faded but the calm — or was it overmedicated? — voice of Brenda’s father.

“I’m here.” Years of experience had shown me how to sound a lot more in control than I felt.

“We could meet at the Interplanetary Café uptown on 4th and Copper Street,” he was saying, “it’s usually deserted and quiet.”

“OK, when?”

“Would it be possible to meet in 30 minutes?”

“Yeah, I can be there.”

“One more thing, Ms. Crawford. Since this is such a sensitive issue to me, would it be asking too much if you could please come alone?”

I paused for a beat. Mamerika sounded like a big man, but I’d handled big men before, and mean ones, to boot. Still, I felt a flush of irritation.

“OK, Interplanetary in 30.”

As I agreed – my fingers crossed, if not behind my back, then in my head — I heard a commotion on the other end of the phone. It sounded like a woman crying in the background.

“Mr. Mamerika, is everything alright?” Visions of too-familiar domestic strife played in my head as I waited for a response that never came. Instead, his phone slammed with a loud click that blasted my poor eardrum into outer space. I had more than just a hunch that something unsavory was hatching.

As I lowered the mobile phone in slow motion, my attention was momentarily distracted by my associate’s new make-up technique. Norma Diva Dyke Desmond’s arched eyebrows were penciled over in a stunning shade of fluorescent lavender. It took me a moment to regroup. Knowing how easy it is for me to fall into the soft lush garden of femininity, I summoned the stealth image I needed to navigate around in the outside world. But Norma knew my weakness, and I recognized that the steely gaze s/he now fixed on me meant s/he was divining my emotions, looking for clues.

“Where are we meeting him?” s/he asked.

“Not we. I’m supposed to meet Mr. Mamerika alone at the Interplanetary Café.”

Norma’s bright lavender brows furrowed. “You mean the cafe next to the Big Galaxy Fabric Store in the Black Hole Shopping Mall?” Norma leaped into the air like a drag queen cheerleader about to receive the homecoming queen crown, clearly excited by the prospect of such close proximity to a fabric store. I averted my eyes from hir expressive display, knowing that she would not be deterred from accompanying me, at least as far as the fabric store.

Worried about a possible set-up, I strapped on my shoulder holster, pulling my sharply tailored men’s black leather coat over it. Feeling like Joan ‘Steel Shoulder Pads’ Crawford, I began to stuff my leather briefcase with information for my meeting with Mr. Mamerika. Norma scurried to help and grabbed our file with information about PFLAG, a local group made up of parents, friends and lovers of gay, lesbian bisexual and trans people. I added to my bulging black leather briefcase a copy of “True Selves” by Mildred Brown and Chloe Rounsley, the authoritative work on transsexualism, as well as the new book called “Mom, I Need to be a Girl” by Just Evelyn, and our dog eared office copy of “Gender Shock” by Phyllis Burke, as well as other files critiquing the stigmatizing of transpersons. Despite my preoccupation with how to convince Mr. & Ms. Mamerika to accept Brenda, I noticed Norma tucking a small pearl handled pistol deep into hir purse.

“Just for back up sweetie. You never know who you might run into at the Big Galaxy Fabric store.” S/he sounded casual, but s/he meant business. I knew that, while checking out the latest fabrics, s/he would also be covering me, in case my intuition about Bestor Mamerika proved right.

Before we could go anywhere, I needed to check in with Brenda to make certain s/he was safe. Hir welcome at the safe house, under Rita’s care, would be running out soon. I dialed Rita’s number. She picked it up on one ring, sounding out of breath and flustered. Definitely not this gal’s usual demeanor. I knew there was trouble.

“Brenda’s gone,” she gasped. “I just discovered hir missing a minute ago when I went to get hir for lunch. The last time I saw hir s/he was out back trying to make friends with some stray cats. Maybe s/he’s down by the creek, I’ve gotta go look there.”

That’s all we needed. Rita had never lost a person or creature we placed with her. I tried to calm her down and told her that Norma would stop by to help search for Brenda. I raced out the door, jumped in my car and gunned the engine, ready for a confrontation. I would have to swing by Rita’s place after my meeting with Bestor. In the meantime, I had to be careful not to let any of my anxiety over Brenda’s safety show. As I peeled out of the driveway I saw Norma’s silhouette piling hir flame red hair on top of hir head. It looked like she was applying lipstick. In my time off I can’t get enough of that “girl stuff.” I reached into my briefcase and pulled out my rusty coppery/orange lipstick and was off.

Getting through the traffic presented a challenge, but leaning on my horn proved to my advantage. I arrived at the Interplanetary with one minute to spare. The restaurant looked empty, except for a pair of lesbian lovers holding hands across the table and a large man with an egg shaped head staring daggers at them. I guessed that Mr. Eggo with the thin lips, bad dye job and expensive tan silk suit was my disgruntled homophobic luncheon companion. I was right.

My stomach growled as I slid into the slippery old red vinyl booth. I’d forgotten to eat breakfast again. Bestor Mamerika’s over-grooming made me feel self-conscious in my wrinkled black jeans and scuffed snakeskin boots. Men like him had a way of bringing out the aggressor in me. My hand cut through the air to introduce myself.

“Hi, I’m private investigator Crawford. You must be Bestor Mamerika.”

Bestor’s face radiated disdain across his Alfred Hitchcock features. He shook my hand with all the enthusiasm of someone terrified of contracting a fatal disease.

“I am a very busy man, Ms. Crawford, so let me get right to the point. You say you have been in contact with my son.”

I nodded, noting that his squinty black eyes penetrated uncomfortably close to a very private part of me. Gathering my senses I tried to sound fearless and honest. “I have had some communication with your daughter.”

That was enough to bring Mamerika out of his seat. Leaning toward me, his mammoth form hovered over me like the specter of all my fears. His face moved uncomfortably close as he hissed the words, “Then perhaps you would be so kind to inform me as to my son, Brian’s, whereabouts.”

His skill at intimidation was practiced. Here was a person used to pushing people around to get his way. I puffed myself up and replied, a bit too loudly, “I frankly don’t know. The only contact I have had with Brenda has been by phone.”

“Come on Ms. Crawford” he urged, growing even more agitated. “I am not a naïve man. I knew when you stopped by my home that you knew where our Brian was.” He slapped the table angrily, shouting, “Brian is a very sick boy and in need of care!”

My face flushed as I leaned aggressively forward, my eyes locked with his. “Excuse me, Mr. Mamerika, but your daughter Brenda would be quite healthy if s/he weren’t tortured by hir family and the clinicians who’ve decided they know better than hir who s/he is.”

Thankfully, our shouting match was interrupted by the waitress who, clearly trying to help calm things, asked for our orders. I was blowing this one badly. Mamerika’s intimidation struck too close to home for me to be objective, but I needed to try harder. I reminded myself that I was here to make things better for Brenda. As we ordered, I gave thanks for the momentary break in the tension. It didn’t last long.

“Listen here, Ms. — or whatever you are — Crawford, I don’t think you realize the suffering Brian, or as you so stupidly call him, ‘Brenda,’ has caused my wife and me. My wife has had to be sedated and may very likely end up hospitalized again if our son is not returned to us immediately.” The heat of Bestor’s anger singed me across the table. His voice rose even further as he continued, “And frankly I’ve had it with this transsexual bullshit. I’ve had the best psychiatrists in the country tell me that if my wife hadn’t contaminated Brian with femininity and too much attention, he would be a boy I could be proud of. Why God has cursed me with a sissy I don’t know.”

Suddenly he leapt up and seated himself next to me. Before I could protest, I felt something hard press into my ribs. “I will tell you this Ms. Crawford. You are not leaving here today until my boy is found.”

Feeling trapped and nervous, I tried to stand, but Bestor grabbed my wrist and sat me back down, hard. I looked around the café. The eyes of both of the women seated nearby were riveted on us, and they looked like they were ready to jump to my side. They couldn’t see the gun, though, which meant that they might just also end up getting hurt, and badly. Waving a hand at them dismissively, I put on my best fake reassurance and told them, “Don’t worry, we’re old friends. This happens all the time.”

“Maybe you should get yourself some new friends,” one of them said.

“Thanks, I couldn’t agree more.”

Turning back to Bestor, I could see he was as determined as ever. We sat there for what seemed an eternity, seething at each other. Our mutual admiration was interrupted by an elderly lady with her hair up in French twist falling against our table. Such was our concentration on each other, neither of us had seen her coming. Her face distorted as if she was suffering great pain, and she gasped, “Excuse me, I seem to be losing my balance.”

As she fell towards Bestor, I noticed tracings of lavender eyebrows, and realized my back-up Norma Diva Dyke Desmond had arrived — complete with a shopping bag from the fabric store next door. Next thing I knew, she had pulled the surprised Mamerika’s hand out of his pocket, pinning it on the table with the .38 special safely pointed towards the nearby wall. I quickly plucked the gun from Mamerika’s weakened grasp, and deposited it in my handbag. Mamerika wore a look of astonishment turning to horror against a now-crimson face that had probably never before been one-upped so cleanly by two women. For a moment I thought we might have an all-out fight on our hands, but his control was better than that. I glanced over at the lesbians, who watched warily, but with an obvious gleam of approval in their eyes.

“Who the hell are you?” he shot at Norma.

Before Norma could say anything, I spoke. “Allow me to introduce my partner, Norma Desmond.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Mamerika,” purred Norma.

“The pleasure’s all yours,” growled Mamerika through clenched teeth. “Why don’t you run along home and play with your dolls. In fact, you can both leave,” he added, turning to me, “I’m clearly wasting my time with you two.”

Our eyes locked once again, as I tried frantically to think of a way out of this situation. If we simply left now, Mamerika would be even further from our reach, and we might never be able to help Brenda.

“Mr. Mamerika, we’re all here for the same reason. We all want to help your child.” “Yeah, right. How much are you getting out of all this? It can’t be that much. Whatever it is, I’ll double it if you’ll drop the case. Just think of it, all that money for doing nothing.”

“This is not about money,” Norma’s voice whispered. “It’s about what’s best for a very unhappy child.”

Mamerika paused a beat, but then countered strongly, “What do you know about what’s best? I’ve raised my son from the day he was born, and I think I know what’s good for him a hell of a lot better than you two.”

“Pardon me, but if that were really true, none of us would be here. We’re not questioning your love for your child, your parenting or your intentions. But sometimes things just don’t go the way we’ve been taught they would.” I could tell by the look in his eyes that I’d connected on that one. “We want you to have your child back. But having your son back is simply not an option. She’s becoming your daughter, and you can’t prevent that from happening. I know it’s hard, but you need to find in your heart some way to accept her.

As I gave that one time to sink in, he gave me a long, hard look.

Norma interrupted gently. “Mr. Mamerika, do you love your child?”

“Of course I do.”

“And do you want what’s best for your child?”

“Of course. What do you think I am? I’m a good father, I love him very much.”

I took the handoff from Norma. “Then give us a chance to show you how and why this is what’s best for your child.” I realized that using the feminine pronouns was just making things worse. “There are many others like your child, and this kind of thing is becoming more and more commonplace. There’s no reason why your child can’t lead a happy, healthy life, why you can’t be completely proud of them.”

Norma added, “You know, it takes real courage for a young person to stand up for themselves the way your child has. You should be proud of them for daring to step forward and acknowledge what is, to them, the truth, despite all opposition. You have raised a remarkably strong person.”

There was another long silence. Finally, Mr. Mamerika spoke, his voice low. “All right, I’ll let you show me what you’ve got. But if I don’t like what I see,” his voice began to rise again, “if you two and your cronies turn out to be just a bunch of scam artists or cultists, I won’t stop until I’ve put you out of business.”

“No problem,” I replied smoothly, “we’ve been through this before. We’re reasonable people, just trying to help. We’ve got good information from a wide variety of reputable sources. And you can even meet other parents like yourself, who have gone through what you’re going through. You don’t have to trust us. Just give us a chance to show you a different way of thinking about all this. Once you’ve seen it, the choice is yours to think as you will.”

I handed Mamerika the books. “Read these in whatever order works for you. If you’d like, we’ll have someone from the local parents group call you. Would that be OK?

He tightened defensively. “You expect me to talk to some complete stranger about my kid?” Norma took this one. “You might be surprised to know that people from all walks of life encounter these issues. You look like a professional man. How about if we have another professional call you?”

“Really?” He reflected for a moment, then relaxed just a bit. “Yeah, that’d be good. Can you do that?”

“Sure,” Norma said with confidence, “leave it to us. You’ll get a call very soon. In the meantime, why don’t you go home and do some reading. Maybe your wife would like to read some, too. We’ll see if we can find out where your child is, and set up a phone call. Would that be OK?”

Despite his ironclad control, I could sense the relief. “That would be good. I will expect to hear from you within the next 24 hours – that is, if you can manage it.” He just couldn’t resist the goad.

I chuckled inwardly at his attempt to turn his disadvantage into a challenge, and get us to make an unnecessary commitment. Norma and I had long since learned to avoid such simple traps. Besides, we’d just lost Brenda, and couldn’t say how long it would take to find her. So I countered, “We’ll see what we can do, but this will probably take a few days. We’ll get back to you by the end of the week. In the meantime, you can best help your child by doing some reading.”

As we walked out of the Interplanetary, Norma and I exchanged satisfied glances. We’d made some real progress here, though we hadn’t known beforehand just how much work needed to be done. But, given the circumstances, we had guessed at something of the sort. Norma cheerily accompanied me back to my car, which seemed to be further away then I remembered. In fact, the further we walked, the more uneasy I felt.

“So Joan, what’s the deal with remembering where you parked?” asked Norma.

“I could have sworn I parked it across the street and down two blocks from the café. Let’s backtrack. It’s gotta be there, we must have just missed it.”

As we reached mid-block, the place where I seemed to recall parking my favorite little rocket, Norma suddenly let out a yelp.

“Oh no! Oh Joan, I’m so sorry.”

Turning towards her, I saw that she was holding a scrap of paper. Handing it to me and pointing to a parking meter, she said “I found it on this meter.”

I took the scrap from her, and regarded the barely legible pencil scrawl, which read, “I’m sorry, it was an emergency. I’ll try to return your car.”

“What? Try to return it!!!?? How dare they!! If I get my hands on whoever did this…”

“It’s signed,” Norma said gently.

I looked at the paper again, and read the signature. Suddenly I felt dizzy, lightheaded. I stood there stunned. Finally, Norma broke the silence.

“This changes everything.”