Tag Archives: Transgender

LOS ANGELES: A streetwalker’s murder & the Pronoun issue

Nathan "Cassidy" Vickers

On Monday, a story ran in the LAT that I wrote about Nathan Vickers, a prostitute who dressed as a woman on the streets of Hollywood and who was shot to death in November, 2011, in a case that is still unsolved.

The story generated huge and negative response from many transgender people, gay activists and others — most objecting to the use “he” as the pronoun in the story. This includes an online petition.

“Referring to her with male pronouns in her article is insulting at best and a gross misrepresentation at worst,” wrote one reader. “If you don’t know anything about trans people, you have done a bit of research before writing your article.”

I covered the crime when it happened, then spent several months researching the world of transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles, particularly around the area of Santa Monica and Highland, as well as Lexington, where Vickers was killed. I also interviewed long-time friends and Vickers’ mother in East Palo Alto.

As it happens, far from not doing enough research, I did a huge amount, and this convinced me that things weren’t so clear cut when it came to Nathan “Cassidy” Vickers.

What struck me most was, in fact, the ambiguity of what Nathan Vickers intended when he came down to Hollywood and worked as a prostitute dressed as a woman.

Friends on the street knew Vickers only as a woman named Cassidy. Mother and long-time friends in the Bay Area, including two women who were his recent roommates and referred to him as their brother, insisted Vickers was not a man transitioning to a woman, but an openly gay man – known to them as “Chase” — resorting to the only measure at his disposal to find work after a long period of unemployment: cross-dressing and working as a prostitute. One of these friends said she spoke to Vickers a half hour before he died.

They noted he had only recently been doing this and had no surgery, no breast implants, no hormone treatments. He was in East Palo Alto two months before, dressed as a man. But, again, the transgender women on the street told me they knew Cassidy only as a woman.

Faced with these complexities and the fact that Vickers was no longer around to tell me, I opted to use “he” when the story was describing the years he spent in East Palo Alto and looking for work, and “she” when Cassidy Vickers was working the streets of Hollywood.

The night before the story ran, the LAT copy desk called and said they could not use two pronouns for the same person in one story and changed them all to “he.” I was at a loss at what to do by then. I supported the change, and still do, though my own solution was the one I preferred.

In copyediting the story, at one point a pronoun “he” was added but the pronoun “she” was not deleted. It became “heshe” — a gross insult to transgender people and one that I’ve never written in my life. Another person called to say that I shouldn’t have said that the funeral was attended by “men in women’s breasts.” I explained that I used that when I was describing the mother’s point of view, reacting to the people she saw at her son’s funeral. To her, there were lots of men with women’s breasts at the ceremony.

Anyway, as you can see, reaction has been fierce.

As it happens, I believe no reporter in the mainstream media on the West Coast, maybe in the country, has done more to understand the transgender world than I have. My first book, True Tales from Another Mexico: The Lynch Mob, the Popsicle Kings, Chalino and the Bronx, includes a chapter on the two months I essentially lived with what amounted to a colony of transgender women (though the term didn’t exist then, or at least not in Mexico) in Mazatlan. You can see photos on my media page.

But landmines like these are all in the life of a reporter.






Filed under Los Angeles, Southern California, Streets

LOS ANGELES: Transgenders in jail

Wrote this story off a meeting Thursday night between transgender folks and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and his command staff.

Very interesting meeting, in part because of what didn’t happen. No heated exchanges, no accusations — as has happened often in previous meetings, I was told. The whole thing ended early — this in a meeting between two groups which have historically had many contentious dealings.

LAPD announced new a jail policy and a new officer training on dealing with transgenders on the street.

The comment to the story by DELTA5 is interesting, and well expressed — adding to the complexity of this story, seemed to me.

I think he has a point. The one thing transgender women — men dressing and identifying as women, even to the point of breast/buttock/cheek implants, but not a sex change —  cannot change is their hands. They remain large and do not get smaller with hormone treatments, and thus remain potential weapons in a jail setting.





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STREETS: More on transgender style and Latinas

I love my job. Yesterday I was talking with Brenda Gonzalez, a transgender woman from the state of Michoacan, who works in Hollywood. I’d gone to her nonprofit service agency because they host a meeting of Latina transgender women every Wednesday.

Anyway, we were talking more about the case of the transgender woman, Nathan Vickers (or Cassidy, or Chassidy), who was murdered in November and again the topic turned to how Latina immigrants, mostly from Mexico, had changed transgender culture.

As I’ve written here in an earlier post, Latinas dove into surgery in a big way. Part of it, Brenda told me, was due to the fact that they were illegal and had no work and street was all that was available and guys with large breasts, high cheeks, round buttocks made more money. It was also because many came looking for a transformation that was denied them in Mexico — much like other immigrants, from small, benighted villages.

“Part of the transition is transforming yourself emotionally, spiritually, and physically. You have to be beautiful, up to date, you have to look beautiful, sexy, voluptuous,” she told me.

But with so many girls in the same situation, all competing on the street, “part of the competition becomes obsession. You see some little Lupita on the corner with a new nose, then you want one. If she gets a nice bust, you want one, and now not just size 40, but 44dd.”

Plus, their world is very small, she said. “I live in East LA but I hear when someone in Hollywood gets an operation. If I live in Hollywood, I hear when someone Long Beach gets operated or someone in Van Nuys gets a sex change.” So that adds to the demand for surgery.

Most important are breast implants. Breasts being the most obvious sign of being female, implants are the transgender’s American Dream, Brenda said.

“Part of the transition and acceptance and feeling happy and content with ourselves, what makes us feel even more secure and more like women, is when we have breast augmentation. It’s why most of us have our breast surgery. Some view it from the sex market: There’s more demand for those who have them, and then you can then get more surgery and send money home to mom and dad. It’s a fundamental part of the transition that make you feel secure are implants, breast surgery that gives you a large and beautiful bust. It’s part of your own feeling of security. It’s essential.”

Man, you just don’t hear this kind of stuff that often.

Sorry no photos from the interview. So here (above) are a few when I lived with the girls in Mazatlan as they prepared for what was then the oldest gay beauty contest in Mexico (from my first book), including one who is getting her breasts injected with baby oil, which was the only method they could afford on the money they made hooking down in Mazatlan.




Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Streets

STREETS: Latinas and transgender style

Luisa Rivera

As I wrote earlier, I’ve been doing a story on the murder of a transgender black woman named Nathan Vickers, who also went by the names Chassidy, Chase and Cassidy.

I believe homicide gives reporters an opportunity to write about how a person lived, and less about how she died. As part of that, I’m trying to write about the transgender prostitute subculture in Hollywood.

One person I talked to was Luisa Rivera, a transsexual who has lived here for many years and who comes from Guadalajara. Latina transgenders changed a lot about the culture, which was really about drag queens until they arrived. They began coming in large numbers in the 1980s, mostly from Mexico, she said. As it happened, this coincided with the emergence of plastic surgery, which kept dropping in price as the years passed.

Far more so than other groups, Latina transgenders went for plastic surgery in a big way, she said. Enormous breasts, cheek and buttock implants, lots of silicon and hair weaves. Rivera said. In Hollywood they had surgeons here and in Tijuana to choose from. (They also had a vast, monied john clientele here, who insisted that they remain “fully functional” men, as the back-of-the-book ads in Hollywood sex throw-aways relentlessly put it.)

As we spoke, it occurred to me that Mexican transgenders were very much like other Mexican immigrants, but with a twist.

Mexican immigrants, generally, have spent the first dollars they’ve earned here in establishing themselves back home, mainly by building large houses. So it’s not only a house; it’s a way of showing everyone else how the person has done, that he is no longer the humble, shoeless kid who left the village at 15, who was humiliated for simply being poor. His transformation is complete.

Mexican transgender women also come here for a transformation — wanting to live as women after years of beat-downs and humiliations. They, too, want to show success publicly and quickly. Instead of houses, they spend on their bodies, to show the world, and maybe themselves, that they are not who they were when they were run out of their hometowns and country. Their breasts especially are monuments (pardon the pun, if that’s what it is) to the person they have become and always wanted to be back in Mexico.

Very much enjoying this story. More interviews to come.



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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Streets

STREETS: Looking for Amber

Troy Erik

I’m doing a story now about a young fellow, Nathan Vickers, who was a drag queen or a transgender woman, and was shot to death on  a street known as a prostitute hangout in Hollywood in November.

Part of the story is exactly who Nathan Vickers – or “Chase,” or “Cassidy,” or “Chastity” – was, or intended to be. He’d come from the Bay Area and seemed to seeking a transformation of one kind or another.

Helping me figure out Nathan’s world is Troy Erik, a former queen and current activist. A woman named Amber, he told me, knew Nathan well in the days leading up to his death. We went looking for her, as we’d heard she was just out of jail.

We looked at Donut Time (Santa Monica and Highland) and at the adult bookstore  (no name) behind it, and in front of the $1 Chinese Express, whose prices didn’t keep it from going out of business.

We never did find Amber. But Andre, a sociable street fellow, said he’d known Chase or Cassidy. “She always dressed as a woman when I knew her,” he said.

We also happened upon “Grace” – a queen who enjoyed enormous renown in the 1980s because she looked, in drag, exactly like pop diva Grace Jones, and is now homeless. That’s next post.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Streets


Out on the story about Nathan Vickers, the transgender woman shot and killed in Hollywood in November, we came across Grace.

Grace says he’s from Ogden, Utah — where growing up black and gay in the 1960s must have been … a real story. He told me he had the pleasure that few in California have had of ice skating on a real frozen pond in Utah.

She was once legendary on the streets of Hollywood as a drag queen who looked remarkably like pop diva Grace Jones. Then it was parties, and a wild life, and nightclub shows where she was the center of attention.

“She was the queen of them all,” said my guide, Troy Erik. Then? “Well, drugs,” said Troy.

Now Grace lives in the back of a Hollywood Park, with a man he calls his husband, and a shopping cart full of stuff and can talk non-stop, like free-form jazz, of the stories of when she was beautiful and everyone wanted her.

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