Drag Racing or My Drag Body
Previously, our drag queen transvestite gender detectives Joan “don’t fuck with me boys” Crawford and Norma Diva Dyke Desmond encounter a desperate young transwoman, Brenda, fleeing from a mental hospital and a family that rejected hir. S/he begs Joan and Norma, specialists in investigating gender crimes, to help hir. They sequester hir at the house of a friend (Rita), and pay a visit to hir mother and father, Julia and Bestor Mamerika. Hoping to convince them Brenda needed to be hirself, Joan and Norma instead encounter disaster. Ms. Mamerika threatens to have them arrested if their “son” is not returned. Back at the office, Joan receives a phone call from Mr. Mamerika, asking for a meeting with Joan alone. She reluctantly agrees. Before leaving the office, Joan calls their friend Rita to check on the young transwoman, only to find that Brenda has disappeared. The meeting with Bestor Mamerika turns nearly disastrous when he pulls a gun, insisting on his “son’s” immediate return. Partner Norma, though, cleverly turns the tables, thoroughly disarming Mamerika. Bestor eventually agrees to read up on trans issues, and to speak with another parent of a trans child. We left Joan and Norma standing on the street, stunned to find that Joan’s car has been stolen. Norma finds, left behind by the mysterious thief, a note that raises more questions than answers.
I snatched the note frantically from Norma’s hand. My glazed eyes burned through the signature. “Brenda!” Norma and I shouted her name simultaneously in the sharp electronic pitch only drag queens can emit. As if to punctuate our screeching duet a bolt of lightning ignited the whole western sky revealing the sacred pink mountains. Awed by the sight, I, Joan “don’t fuck with me boys” Crawford, transvestite drag queen gender detective, dedicated to solving gender crimes, was struck by a personal lightning bolt. Was the missing clue in this Case of Mistaken Identity, that I had in fact failed to solve my own “mistaken identity?” Now thunderously vulnerable without my car, unanswered questions haunted me. Thinking of seventeen year old Brenda behind the wheel of MY CAR precipitated a flashback to myself at age seventeen. Sweat broke out across my forehead. My heart felt like it was pounding out of my body. I never remembered hitting the pavement. But I do remember the hallucinations induced by the bump on my head.
Suddenly I was reliving scenes from my undefeated drag racing days. At seventeen I had no fear only a wild desire to have my body travel as fast as it could in a hunk of metal. I heard the sounds of the guy’s engines, gunning, daring me as we peeled out of the city, our speedometers and heart rates pumping well over 120 mph. My ’57 Chevy rushed past their egos. Once while racing down Route 66 the captain of the football team, unable to concede he was losing to a “girl,” bumped me from behind, knocking my two wheels over the crest road. I remembered looking down maybe 1,000 feet – wondering if this was how it was all going to end. Was this it? My steel blue Chevy teetered. Afraid that opening the door would knock it over the cliff, I begrudgingly crawled out of the window. Vulnerable now without my armor, just as I lifted my right foot out, my car rolled down the cliff, bursting into flames. This is the story of my life. After watching my soul go up in flames too many times over the years I was very skilled in not letting anyone get too close.
When I regained consciousness I saw copper sequins, black lace, jaguar print, and black velvet and sheer magenta fabrics Norma had lain across my body like a cosmic shroud. Hir voice woke me from my reverie. This 6-foot tall gender detective had pierced my psychic membrane with her lavender eyebrows and exquisitely done Cleopatra eyes. ” Joan don’t fuck with me boys Crawford, Joan Steel Shoulder Pads Crawford.” Helping me to my feet, Norma suggested “Sweetie, you need a drink!” Still unsteady, S/he led me into the loud tavern directly behind us. I was a slave to the way s/he proudly wore hir bigger than life femininity. Norma yanked hir gold star and comet shawl out of hir fabric bag and flagged down the bartender. Hir throaty voice rose above the crowd. Familiar reality where have I seen you before?
I paced the perimeter of the bar like a caged animal while Norma kept a close eye on me. A tall lanky queen dripping in red sequins, hugged me. “Relax honey.” she said. Outside I heard somebody gun their engine. The sound threw the gearshift of my mind back on my missing car. For me Drag racing had been a “safe” way to access desires forbidden to certain bodies in certain times. Just as I started losing myself in the memory of rounding a treacherous curve at 130-mph wearing only my Victoria’s Secret gold lace lingerie and silk lace top stockings, a loud knock on the window and a familiar voice calling “Joan” shook me from my car dreams. I pressed closer to the glass and saw Kate the transactivist transbabe (who had hired us to investigate horizontal hostility in the gender community. see “The Case of Horizontal Hostility”) on her roller-blades frantically motioning for me to come out.
As I opened the door and came face to face with the transbabe, cutting an impressive vision in her Transexual Menace Sweatshirt and purple velvet leggings, standing high atop her rollerblades, I felt my engine rev. She clearly understood all about drag racing and speed. But I’m not that easily impressed, or at least, that’s what I like to think.
“It’s happened again,” she gasped, out of breath. Our eyes locked for a moment, and for just an instant, an energy intense enough to blast us both into another galaxy surged between us. She put her hand gently on my shoulder. I felt a rush of high-speed exhilaration from her touch, but the steel shoulder pads held. It was hard to act stealth with my car gone.
Her voice trembled just a bit. She was clearly shaken. Something was happening, something serious. After fighting briefly for more air, she asked “Can we meet at your office in exactly two hours?”
I’m not accustomed to following other people around, and I certainly don’t like being kept in the dark. “What’s going on?” I asked.
I saw the transbabe’s face melt, and for just an instant, I thought she was going to cry.
The transbabe’s name was Kate. Picture a young Katherine Hepburn, her queenly plumage shining brightly from under a highly polished, pleasingly shaped veneer. Well educated but smart enough to recognize the pitfalls of book learning, she made a name for herself by putting her many skills in service to the trans community. Of course, she had issues of her own to deal with, and she wasn’t shy about facing them, when she could positively identify one. That was one of the secrets of her success: she was relentless in self-criticism and self-expansion. Kate made of herself a fast-moving, brilliant light of endlessly changing colors and patterns, fascinating to behold but difficult, if not impossible to catch.
Kate’s gender was somewhere between male and female. She looked very feminine, with a beautiful face and smile, slender figure and nice breasts. But she was also somewhat tall, with large hands and feet, and an ability, like mine and Norma’s, to drop her voice to manly registers that could be disconcerting to the unsuspecting.
Kate spent her first 35 years as a guy, but hated being a success object and even now, still fought with herself to value personal pleasure more and personal achievement less. Judging by the good she was doing on a variety of fronts, and the fact that someone so obviously capable still struggled alone, she was clearly still trying to wrestle her own soul off the achievement track.
Kate regained control of her emotions. “I just got a call from a reporter. There’s been another tranny murder. They found the body of a young male-to-female transperson in an alley last night. I just came from the police station. They still haven’t identified the body. I’m on my way to the coroner’s office, to see if I can identify her.”
Norma and I looked at each other, and instantly agreed, with a glance, that we were going with Kate. We had to know if it was Brenda. “Joan, not another murder!” Norma wailed, stomping her big heels into the floor. Fed up and ready to launch, I patted my shoulder holster. Familiar reality where have I seen you before?
To find a murdered transperson in an alley is, unfortunately, not unusual. In our city alone, there had been six such murders in the last seven years. Not one of them was solved. I guess that’s to be expected, from a police force that routinely takes condoms away from the tranny street girls, and performs their share of violence against transpeople. Just this last year in our fair city, nearly half of all incidents of violence against transpeople were perpetrated by cops. Some say such incidents are on the rise. Whatever direction things may be headed, one thing is clear: this stuff has got to stop, and someone has got to stop it. It isn’t just going to go away by itself. That’s where you and I come in. We need to focus our attention on this cruel situation. As long as we turn a blind eye, those whose gender is so charged and conflicted that they get relief by beating up on gender transgressors will continue their cowardly ways. If we could just shine a spotlight on our culture’s gender limited brain, maybe we could all see a little more clearly through our gender differences.
In the meantime, yet another tranny girl was dead, a family was about to get some bad news, and a community was about to get a shock, one that would no doubt mobilize some to action, others to divisiveness.. It was time to get to work.
“We’re coming with you,” I told Kate. “We’ve been trying to catch up with a young runaway transwoman, Brenda.” I didn’t have to say any more. The look in Kate’s eye told me that she instantly understood the horror that now ate at the hearts of Norma and myself. She knew that the job of gender detective was unpaid, that Norma and I took cases on merit, not money. The babe worked the same way.
“OK,” said Kate, “let’s get moving.”
As if we were planning a picnic before starting, or something.
“I’ll call a taxi,” offered Norma. She turned to the babe. “Joan’s car is missing. We think Brenda took it.”
With that reminder, separation anxiety ripped through the fabric of myself. Now that my beloved car was missing my confidence was really starting to crack. Cars for me had always been big erotic machines, the husks that held my identity. A taxi? I’d simply have to manage.
Meanwhile Kate’s expression had become animated. “I think I might have seen her! Someone was parking your car over on Broadway near Queen’s Way. She looked like she might be a tranny. I figured it must be a friend of yours.”
Norma and I opened our eyes wide, hoping the news meant Brenda was still alive. Then Kate shouted “Come on, I’ve got a cab!” We ran for the open door.
We all but fainted when, outside the coroner’s office, I spied my car, looking as lovely and unscratched as ever. Momentarily distracted by the reemergence of my ego, I was taken aback to see Brenda emerging from the building, stumbling on the steps outside the door. I moved quickly and caught her in my arms as she dissolved in tears, sobbing “It’s not fair! It’s not fair! She was so young, so young and so smart! It’s not fair!”
After a few minutes spent awash in her grief, Brenda looked up and told us, “It was Corita. She was only 17, and she never hurt anyone! And…” she sobbed again, “…and, her face… I couldn’t even recognize her. And her body, they said nearly every bone was broken, she was beaten so hard and so many times with a baseball bat…” Again she broke down, and we took turns comforting her.
We took turns going inside, so that we could each bear witness to the hideous brutality done to our sister. Poor Corita’s body barely looked human, so misshapen was it for the brutal beating she had received prior to, as well as after, the multiple knife wounds that killed her. That horrible image emblazoned forever on our consciousness reminded me once again that this is not yet a free country and our work is far from done.
I felt small and vulnerable in my big leather coat, feelings I hate. I longed for the safety of my car. It wasn’t until later, after we said goodbye to Kate and Norma, Brenda and I climbed into my ’68 gold Chrysler Imperial that my senses started returning to normal. My car easily found her way back to familiar ground and we stumbled wearily back into our office. The coroner’s office had been a nightmare, but at least the nightmare didn’t include Brenda. The victim, Corita, was a young latina girl. No surprise there. It’s tough enough to be a tranny, but to also be of color in a country that reveres whiteness so much it keeps its leadership in white houses and identifies that color as synonymous with “virtue,” is to be held captive in a predatory and punishing horror show.
Norma noticed the message on the answering machine. All I could think about was catching the murderer. The message was from Brenda’s dad. He sounded tight as a drum, agitated and scared silly.
“Hello, this is Bestor Mamerika. Have you seen the news? Please, tell me it’s not our child. Please, oh god, please tell me it’s not our child! Please, if you know anything at all, please call us, we’ll pay you, anything, just tell me it’s not our child.”
Apparently the murder story had caught the attention of the press because of the number of stab wounds. Or maybe it was the fact that the murderer had tried to hide the evidence by starting a fire, the fire had damaged someone’s business, and the owner was making a fuss, complaining that trannies attract this kind of trouble. It’s funny how the media always reports things a certain way. It’s always about how someone else is such a hard-working, decent person, and the tranny victim is negatively stereotyped as someone caught up in a lifestyle of drugs and prostitution. Their life is not seen as comparable to the disruption of the life of a “decent, hard-working good citizen.” This insane logic makes me want to puke. As if the decent, hard-working citizenry never fired a tranny for not being “straight” enough, never laughed at a crossdresser, or never lusted after the tranny “sex toy.” It’s a sad fact that some folks prey on the lifeblood of others, taking advantage of the vulnerability the stigma produces in those they stigmatize. The streets of our cities are home for the poor discarded souls whose inner grace finds no accommodation in the narrowly righteous religious and moral fervor that wields such influence over so many. Their needless and terrible suffering, perpetuated by all who believe the lies, reveals the distance between truth and our so-called “freedom and justice for all.”
I watched Brenda as s/he listened to the tape of hir father, scared out of his wits over her. I have to say, for a kid who had been locked up and electroshocked, chased and chastened, s/he had a lot of compassion for the guy. Our eyes met.
“Can I make a phone call?” s/he asked, hir voice barely audible.
“Of course, hon. Do you want to be alone?”
“No, that’s OK,” s/he replied. Slowly and deliberately, s/he picked up the phone and dialed the phone number of hir parents, the people who had committed hir to a living hell. I could hear the faint ring signal from across the room. Norma and I froze listening to the drama unfolding in front of us. We heard a soft click, then Bestor Mamerica’s tinny voice.
“Hello, Dad?” Brenda spoke softly, but with a strong compassion.
“Is that you, Brian?” Mamerica sounded weak, on the verge of collapse.
“Yes dad, it’s me, I’m OK.”
“Oh Brian, Brian, thank God you’re all right.”
“My name’s Brenda, Dad, it’s Brenda. Can’t you please call me Brenda?” Brenda’s voice never wavered.
“OK, yes, I’m sorry, that’s right, it’s Brenda. Your mom and I talked about it, and we agreed it’s OK, anything is better than losing you. We met some other parents of kids like you, and maybe it’s not so bad once you get used to it, that’s what they said.”
Julia Mamerikas voice came on the line.
“Honey, we’re so relieved that you’re OK, please come home, please, BRENDA. We promise we’ll work things out, we won’t try to force you to act like a boy, we promise. We’re sorry about what’s happened. We didn’t know any better, we just did what the doctors told us to do.”
Bestor’s voice came back on the phone. “Honey, where are you? We’ll come right over and get you.”
“I don’t know,” Brenda whispered. “I don’t have any other place to go, and I don’t want to end up dead like Corita. She was a runaway too, we met at the clinic. Her parents hated her because they said she brought shame on their family. They tried putting her in the clinic but their insurance ran out and they wouldn’t take her back. She was staying with a friend who couldn’t get work as a woman, so she resorted to sex work and they had a big fight cause Corita hated the johns, and got herself thrown out. She hated sex work, and refused to do it. She felt it was demeaning and that the Johns were just out to get themselves off, and didn’t care if the girls lived or died. I just found out this morning, that’s why I left Rita’s and took Joan’s car. I was trying to find Corita so that I could help her. She was too young and too tranny to get straight work, and in need of a true friend. I thought I could bring her back to Rita’s because she was so accepting.” Brenda was sobbing again. The phone was silent for a long time. Then Julia Mamerika’s voice spoke up.
“Brenda, please believe us. I don’t know what we were thinking. I guess we just got too caught up in plans for the future and having the things that we want, and forgot about the present and the people we love. I promise you, this won’t happen again. From now on, you’re your own person, and we will respect that. Just let us help you, and maybe we can all learn to love one another a little better.”
This just made Brenda cry even harder, but there was a change, a cloud lifted, and Norma and I both sighed quietly. I was happy for Brenda but painfully reminded of my exile from my own family for my gender nonconformity. And only recently after numerous attempts, Norma’s mom had finally opened up to communication with hir. I was distracted from my reverie by Brenda, who was trying to hand me the phone. “It’s my Dad,” s/he said, “he wants to talk with you.” S/he was smiling faintly, and hir eyes were beginning to shine ever so slightly.
“Uh, hello?” I ventured. The voice on the other end of the line was barely recognizable as the one belonging to the guy who just hours earlier had stuck a gun in my ribcage.
“I just want you to know how grateful we are to have our daughter back,” said Mamerika.
“He said daughter!” I tossed at Norma, who beamed in reply, jumped out of hir chair, came over to where I was sprawled and pressed her ear against the phone.
“I don’t know how to ever thank you and Norma, but Julia and I are changing our thinking on these things. Maybe we have been a little too hung up on our own ideas of how things ought to be, and have not listened carefully enough to our daughter and you two. Do you think maybe you and Norma could spare a few minutes from your busy schedule and join us all for dinner sometime soon?”
A huge smile raced across Norma’s face.
“Well, thanks, Bestor, we’d love to be there and will make it if we can, but we’re gender detectives investigating gender crimes. We long for the day when we don’t have such a heavy workload.”
“I understand,” he replied, and, after a few more gratuities and plans for them to come get Brenda, we hung up.
Later, with our case finally wrapped up, and Brenda safely home with newly loving parents, Norma and I peeled out for the Big Galaxy Fabric Store in the Black Hole Shopping Center. Once inside we became lost among the bolts of lush fabric. Norma and I filled our carts with the threads of life, the DNA, the strings we are all made from. We moved from fabric to fabric, touching the gorgeous cloths that had the power to transport us into another dimension, free from worry. “Joan, Joan” Norma hollered excitedly, clutching her chest and arching her lavender eyebrows in ecstasy. S/he handed me a pomegranate red fabric that looked and felt so magical, like the fractal chaos of life itself, woven with spirals, embroidered crows, and wild colors. As I touched it a part of me woke up. I looked at Norma and we both sighed at the beauty around us. Moving in a slower cadence through the Big Galaxy Fabric Store, our hearts resynchronized with the soothing galaxy of chaos.
I spied an Orion Nebula cloth with star nurseries bursting across thick black velvet. Reaching my hand out to touch the inviting material, I instead found another hand caressing the cloth. Our fingers met across the stars, or was it the stars that leapt the gap between our fingers? I looked up and saw the shyly smiling face of Kate, the transbabe on blades. “Um, I was hoping I might find you here” she said. I was dazzled. Her smile was more beautiful than any of the cloth. For a moment I was lost in her solar system. “…there’s something about your eyes,” she was saying, “that makes me think of an ancient wisdom.”
I felt weak at the ankles, as if she tapped something deep within me that I had never shared until now. “You do good work,” I whispered, “we couldn’t have solved the case without you.”
“Joan,” her hand brushed my long wavy red/gold hair, “Corita’s murderer committed suicide.” I was shocked back into reality. “He left a note saying he was so sorry, but his gender and sexuality were so messed up he took it out on Corita. He said he hated himself and could not live with what he had done. He pleaded for help for people like him.” Our tears rained down together onto the Orion Nebula cloth, and we bonded in our common grief over the state of our culture that produces such victimizers and victims.
Early the next morning Kate and I dropped off Norma, clad in a topaz and emerald metallic paisley dress highlighted by topaz eyebrows, at the airport, where she was headed for a visit with her mother. Then we walked through the pink mountains for a whole day. That night, for the first time in my life, I, Joan “don’t fuck with me boys” Crawford, left some of my armor locked safely in my car and climbed into the arms of the transbabe, as she climbed into my arms. I dressed her and she in turn dressed me, in the colors of the sky, the sea, the desert, and all the galaxies. As the new day dawned with a spectacular color show of pink, gold, orange and blue, I came to the realization that my identity as a female, transvestite drag queen was not a mistake. Finally, I had met someone who saw deeply into my charred soul and liked me for who I was. The feeling was mutual. We breakfasted at a cozy little hole in the wall, then I reluctantly dropped Kate off at her place, where her cats noisily scolded her for their late feeding. We parted with many tender assurances, and I drove my car real slow back to the office where I knew another gender case was surely waiting. But for now, my mind remained with our recent pleasures that had taken the shape of 50 billion galaxies of gender.