LGBTQIA HUMAN RIGHTS COALITION

 

Interviewed By Meghan Chavalier

 

 

 

I have known Jamie Gendron for almost 23 years. She is one of the most beautiful people you will ever know inside and out. When I moved to New Orleans in the early 1990's she was one of the first transgender women who actually made me understand what it was like to be a transgender woman. Her story inspires and her sheer will to overcome the obstacles she has been faced with in her life is the exact reason why I asked her to do this interview for the Stopping The Hate website.

Jamie Gendron is a forty year old transgender woman originally from Louisiana. She was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on May 11, 1970.

She had a very tumultuous childhood filled with a lot of instability and abuse. She left home early in her teen years and became a “street walker” prostitute to survive and provide for herself. She was taking massive doses of female hormones (acquired on the black market smuggled into Texas from Mexico) and was living full time as a female by her mid-teens.

She began stripping in New Orleans when she was about sixteen years old, while continuing to engage in prostitution. In her early twenties she stopped dancing and became a “call girl” by running ads in a local paper that catered to such things. She finally stopped “turning tricks” altogether right before her 33rd birthday. She met a wonderful, loving, and supportive man at that time that accepted her past and embraced her desire to move forward from that past.

She moved to Orange County, California at the end of the summer of 2003, she has been there and with that same man ever since. Her life since 2003 has been that of a happy suburbanite “housewife”. Her boyfriend has shown her a life that she never thought would have been allowed or possible for someone with her background, and yes especially being a trandsgender woman from the generation of other transgender women that she “came out” with.

 

 

What part of Louisiana did you grow up in?

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I would have to say that the greater part of my early childhood was spent there. My mother bounced back and forth between Houston, Texas and Louisiana alot, so I did also spend a fair amount of time in Houston too. For the last couple of years I lived at home, it was with my dad and stepmother in Destrehan, Louisiana which is about forty-five minutes outside of New Orleans. I also spent brief stints of time in the Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas with my mother. When I left home in my early teens, I was in Houston with my mother. She had discovered that I had a boyfriend and was wearing makeup in public and she gave me an ultimatum. She said “If you think you are grown and can do whatever you want, there’s the fucking door! Once you walk out of it, don’t think you will ever come back!”

What was it like growing up and being transgender in Louisiana?

I want to make it clear, that my experience growing up transgender in Louisiana may not be the typical experience. Even at a very early age, I was terribly stubborn and outspoken. I remember feeling like it wasn’t me that had the problem, it was everyone else around me (family, friends, and teachers mostly) that had the problem with the way I was. I was a very effeminate child from the beginning. I naturally had a swish in my walk. It was the seventies, so I had longer hair and was more than once mistaken for a little girl. I remember my dad trying to make me wear different kinds of shoes to “straighten” up my walk. I also remember him taking me out in the backyard and making me stand there to play catch with a football. I would stand there with my arms crossed and he would throw the ball at me. I would let it hit me and fall to the ground and he would run over pick it up and run back to throw it at me again. This would go on until he would finally give up and tell me to just go on back in the house. People would give me toys like Star Wars action figures and what not, but I would take my coloring markers and put makeup on all of them. FYI, C3PO with green eyeshadow, pink blush, and red lipstick… HYSTERICAL! I felt like I was looked upon with a degree of pity from my dad’s side of the family as “that poor kid with that crazy mother”. I was popular with other kids only because I learned early on to keep them laughing to avoid bullying. I was definitely more comfortable being friends with girls than boys. The boys that I would become friends with would nine times out of ten end up only being friends with me because they were attracted to me for being so feminine. I also learned how to fight really young because of the ones that would try to bully me. Yes I was bullied at times and called ugly names but I was not the type to just “lay there and take it”. I would fight and fight hard! As for growing up in Louisiana as a transgender child, you have to remember it was the seventies and I think most people back then just assumed I was going to grow up to be a gay man. Most people really had no clue in those days what a transsexual even was. It was the Deep South and was a very prejudiced environment to grow up in. The two ugliest things that were ever said to me were each from one of my parents. My dad told me when I was probably nine or ten that he felt like I was going to grow up to either marry a black woman or be gay, but that he knew I was going to be an embarrassment. My mother said the ugliest thing of all when I was only twelve and she found out that I had “messed around” with other boys. She grabbed me by my throat and slammed my head into the wall and looked into my eyes with pure hatred and fury and told me if there was a way for her to take every drop of her blood out of my body that she would!

Can you describe your upbringing?

A harder question to answer than one might think! My upbringing was frightening, chaotic, painful, confusing, depressing, and daunting with a smattering of occasional good memories. My parents were young when they had me and they were divorced shortly after my first birthday. My father was a good guy but my mother was a deeply troubled woman (she grew up in her own nightmare of abuse from my grandfather which profoundly affected the woman she became). My mother remarried when I was three. She married a man that to this day I call “my own private Michael Meyers”… the killer from the Halloween movies. My stepfather made our lives a living hell. She gave birth to my two sisters while with this man. All three of us lost our true sexual innocence to him. My father had to constantly bring my mother back into court for her ignoring his parental rights. I feel like my upbringing consisted of two facets. My father’s side of the family was the kind “normal” people but as much as I loved them, I always had a gnawing feeling in my gut of being an outsider when I was with them. My mother’s side of the family should be the photo in the dictionary next to the word dysfunctional. For the most part I was raised like an only child even though I had siblings. When my mother finally left my stepfather, he terrorized us everywhere we went until he drove my mother to the point of telling my dad that she was seriously considering killing herself and me and my sisters! My dad insisted that she give me to him and begged her to get help. She gave me up to my father and gave my sisters up to the State Of Louisiana and then disappeared back to Texas yet again. My dad tried keeping me with him at first but he kept catching me throwing these “little party’s” with the neighborhood boys while he was at work. He realized that I needed more supervision than he could provide so he sent me to live with my paternal grandmother. I lived with her from the age of eight until I was eleven. Those three years were probably the happiest of my entire childhood. Even though my mothers head games and drama continued to torment me at times throughout the whole three years. My mom finally got me back when I was eleven and moved me to Houston with her and her new boyfriend who was a hypocritical and very physically abusive Evangelist! By the time I was dumped back in the laps of my dad and then new stepmother, I was so full of rage, hate, and disgust that it would not have mattered how good their intentions were to help me get my life together. I didn’t care anymore at that point. I only wanted to give as much grief, pain, and despair as I had been given. In short, by the time I was twelve, any semblance of a sweet loving child that I may have been at some point was dead. I had become a hateful and deceitful child that didn’t care about others feelings or how anyone felt about me. I had simply turned off my internal “empathy button” as a defense mechanism.

We've discussed many situations in your childhood that deeply affected you. Can you share your story with our readers?

Of course I would have to say that the abuse and neglect I suffered at the hands of my mother and “fill in the blank” of whichever man she happened to be with at the time, affected me a great deal. It gave me a fierce sense of independence on the one hand, but made me very hard to truly get close to on the other. I learned to put up emotional walls and mentally detach myself from people and situations at a very young age. I also had this ability to be extremely outgoing and personable when I was thrust into social situations, even though I was much happier and more comfortable being alone in my bedroom reading or watching television. Despite my mother’s abuse and shortcomings as a person, being given away by her and taken back like some kind of revolving door also deeply affected me because I desperately wanted her to just love me and keep me with her. Being separated from my sisters was distinctly devastating for me as well. I cried myself to sleep almost every night for about the first year that we were all given up. I would have to assume just through common logic that I was very sexually aware and precocious at such an extremely young age because of the molestation from my stepfather, to be really super clear here, I have never and will never believe that his molesting me had anything at all to do with me turning out to be a transsexual. There has never even for a moment been a doubt in my mind that this IS who I was BORN to be! I do suspect however, that my being naturally soft and feminine had something to do with his targeting me sexually along with my sisters.
I feel like I am listing a lot of causes and effects instead of telling my story. The truth is that there is so much to say in order to get it all out. That is what moved me to start writing my autobiography. My hope is that when the book is finally finished and (fingers crossed) published, that my story may help even one other person who has experienced the kinds of abuse and horror that I have. So, I think I would like to share an excerpt from my manuscript in order to answer this question in a way that will give your readers a glimpse through the proverbial window into what my childhood was like.

Excerpt from Jamie Gendron's Autobiography “Alley Of The Dolls”

My maternal grandmother was never very happy about being a “grandma” so we were always told we had to call her Ma Ma Dolly. In all fairness to her, she was only thirty nine years old when I was born. She was a buxom Italian woman in her forties and had a penchant for grabbing our cheeks and squeezing them whenever she saw us.
Ma Ma Dolly lived in a trailer park on the edge of Baton Rouge in a small two-bedroom trailer. She did not have much but I will always be grateful that she took us in and shared what little she had.

I really do not remember how long we had been staying there, but one night Jerry Lynn showed up. He was extremely drunk and obviously high. He stalked around outside yelling obscenities at the windows for a while. When none of his verbal rantings got a response from my mother or Ma Ma Dolly he reached a boiling point of no return. He began beating on the door screaming, “Open the door you fucking bitch!!! I know you’re in there. Did you really think I would ever let you fucking leave me!!! You’re not taking my fucking kids from me…. I’ll kill you dead before I let that happen!”
My sisters and I were all asleep on the fold out sofa bed when the commotion had begun. But by the time his beating on the door began we were wide-awake and crying in terror.
I kept asking my mother “what’s happening? Why is he doing this to us? Why won’t he just leave us alone?”
My mother said, “I don’t know baby. I need you to be my little man now…grab your sisters and take them in the back bedroom. No matter what do not open the bedroom door for him! Please do what I tell you!”
I was shaking and crying because I really thought this was it. This is what we had been waiting for him to do. He was going to kill us all!
I gathered my sisters in my arms as best I could and made my way to the back bedroom. Once inside I locked the door and hid on the floor next to Ma Ma Dolly’s bed holding my sisters tightly and trying to calm them as much as I could.
It did not take long before I heard a loud noise from the living room. Jerry Lynn had kicked in the door! I could not make out what was being said. I only knew my mother and Ma Ma Dolly were in real danger. I heard him yelling at them and I could hear them screaming and crying. I was petrified but even at six years old I knew I had to be strong for my sisters’ sake.
I later learned what really happened in the other room. Once Jerry had kicked in the door he immediately pounced on my mother punching her in the face and throwing her across the room. Ma Ma Dolly tried to make it to the phone to call for help but Jerry intercepted her before she could get to it. He slammed her against the wall by her throat and started choking her viciously.
When she sank to the floor in a quivering heap he said, “You bitches are not calling anybody!”
Then he ripped the phone out of the wall and threw it across the room at my mother. From that point the only details I know are that he hit Ma Ma Dolly several more times before turning on my mother. He beat my mother so badly that he left her with four fractured ribs and a fractured collarbone. Once he had them subdued he made his way down the narrow dark hallway past the utility room to the back bedroom door.
I remember feeling like my heart was going to explode when I heard the doorknob turning. My sisters started to cry louder and I could hear him calling to me through the door
“Come on Jimmy it’s going to be ok, just be a good boy and open the door.”
I was crying and clutching my sisters to me.
I begged him “Please daddy…please stop. Just leave us alone.”
Without any further warning he kicked in the flimsy bedroom door. My sisters’ and I all screamed at the same time. He walked around the edge of the bed to where we were hiding on the floor. Looking down at me panting with a glazed look on his face he told me
“Son I’m not going to hurt you. Be a good boy and give me your hand. Me, you, and your sisters’ are going home to our house now.”
I was shaking so bad I didn’t think I could speak or move. But I looked up at him through tear soaked eyes and asked,
“Where is momma?”
He just looked at me for a minute without saying anything. I asked him again
“Where is momma?”
Then he grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and said,
“I’m not fucking telling you again! We’re going home to our house! Now help me get your sisters’ and don’t give me any more fucking lip!”
I was terrified that if I didn’t do what he said that he would hurt me really badly or maybe even worse. So I reluctantly got to my feet and took hold of Daphne’s hand. She was trembling uncontrollably so I squeezed her hand tightly try to convey to her that I would protect her.
Jerry picked Deanne up in his arms and we made our way back out to the living room. All of the lights were out in the living room and I didn’t see any movement. I was too scared to stop so I went out the door and to his car with Daphne in tow. Whether I saw my grandmother and mother or not I could not honestly say.

The drive back to our old house was made in complete silence. I was in the front seat sitting next to him while the girls were huddled together in the back seat. We pulled into the carport of the house we had previously known as home. Jerry instructed me to help him get the girls in the house. He was acting freakily calm now.
Once inside he turned on a lamp in the living room and proceeded to set the girls up on the sofa with pillows and blankets. It was very late at night and they both went to sleep pretty quickly. I don’t know how but they did. I suppose they were just so young that all they knew was that they were back in their house.
Jerry had disappeared into the master bedroom at the back of the house for quite some time. I was sitting on the floor in the living room watching the girls sleep. My mind was reeling a mile a minute about everything that transpired that evening. I heard the bedroom door and looked up to see Jerry Lynn stalking down the dark hall, like every boogie man from every young child’s worst nightmares. He stopped at the entrance to the kitchen and turned his maniacally glazed eyes towards me.
“Jimmy come in here to the kitchen son I need to talk to you.”
I couldn’t have possibly known what was coming but I knew I felt dread deep down in my soul that something really bad was about to happen. I slowly got up from the floor and followed him into the kitchen.
Jerry was standing by the sink with his eyes cast down. When he looked up and turned to look into my eyes I didn’t know why but I felt my heart sink in my chest. He said in a voice so low I could barely hear him
“Jimmy I love your momma and you kids very much. There is no way I can give any of you up. I know if your momma gives me a chance I can make all of this up to her.”
I was just looking at him watching his lips move and wishing that I was anywhere but where I was. Then he reached behind him into the waistband of his jeans never taking his eyes off of mine. I automatically looked to see what he was reaching for. His hand came around and in it was a pistol.
I remember like it was yesterday. My mouth went dry and I felt totally frozen to the spot where I stood. Jerry Lynn held the gun up in front of him and looked at it for a long silent moment. Then he looked down at me and said in a voice as cold as ice,
“Your momma is my wife and those girls on that sofa are my daughters. I do love you but you are not really my son. You have to understand Jimmy I have to have them. So here’s what’s gonna happen. Your momma has five minutes to be here…”
With that he took the gun and put it to my lips. I was stunned! I remember thinking this can’t be really happening. He eased the gun into my mouth and continued.
“If she isn’t here in five minutes to tell me that she will take me back I am going to shoot you through the roof of your mouth. The bullet will go straight through your brain and you will not feel it. But Jimmy I can not and will not lose my family.”
There I was six years old standing in my old kitchen with a man I had called daddy most of my life holding a gun in my mouth. It was surreal.
He looked at me very strangely for a long moment. Then without a word he pulled the gun out of my mouth and walked out of the kitchen and down the hall back to the master bedroom again.
I just stood there frozen and in shock. The weirdest thing I remember is thinking that he hadn’t told me I could move so I thought I had to stand there and that he was going to come back in a few minutes to carry out his threat.
Time seemed to stand still so I really do not know how long I was standing there when I heard a noise. To this day I vividly remember thinking that it sounded like a child’s toy cap gun. I don’t know why but it was hearing that sound that broke the spell I had been under.
I turned and slowly walked out into the living room and then turned to walk down the hall. It was very dark and I had no idea what I was going to find. It was almost like my feet were thinking of their own accord.
As I got to the master bedroom at the end of the hall I could see that the door was cracked open slightly. I could hear moaning. I opened the door and I saw Jerry’s hand reaching, clutching at the air from beyond the foot of the bed. He must have heard me open the door because I heard him say
“Jimmy help me.”
I walked further into the room until I was standing at the foot of the bed where I could see him clearly. He was lying on the floor with his other hand held tightly over his chest. I could see red pooling out from between his fingers. I remember thinking how can he be shot by a cap gun. I know that sounds ridiculous but can any of us make sense out of what we feel when we are in shock?
He looked up at me and he was gasping to breathe. I could see the pool of blood growing by the second. He begged me in a weak voice
“Jimmy please help me. Call for help.”
I said, “Who do I call? Daddy I don’t know what to do!”
He said “please son go to the phone on the night stand and dial 0.”
I did as he asked and an operator came on the line. I didn’t know what to do.
I said “please help us my daddy is shot.”
The lady on the other end of the phone started asking me questions and honestly what they were are now a blur. All I do know is that before I was through on the phone I had been transferred to the fire department, the police department, and finally the emt’s having to retell all of them that my daddy had been shot and I didn’t know what to do and I needed help.
The last person I talked to said to calm down that I was a very brave little boy and that help was on the way. I hung up the phone and told Jerry that they were coming.
“Go make sure your sisters are ok Jimmy. They will be scared when the ambulance gets here” he said.
So I did as he said and went back to the living room. I felt so numb. I woke the girls up and together we all piled up under a blanket on the floor between the sofa and the coffee table.

It was not long before I heard sirens coming down our street. Then I could see the red and blue lights flashing through the living room window. It was all happening so fast. I just held onto the girls rocking them back and forth telling them
“Its ok I’m here we’re gonna be ok I promise.”
The next thing I knew there was beating on the door. My sisters both started crying and I felt like I had hit a brick wall. I froze, it was too much I had reached mental overload. The red and blue lights flashing across the room. Strange men beating on the door and yelling open up. But I couldn’t move. I had finally given myself over to the shock of everything I had been through that night.
Then out of nowhere an axe came through the front door. We all screamed and I pulled the girls to me as tightly as I could. The axe crashed through the door a couple of more times. When the hole was big enough a fireman looked in and said
“Are you kids ok?”
I shook my head and said “help please my daddy is in the back bedroom and he is bleeding really bad.”
The fireman reached in and unlocked the door. The next thing I knew there were firemen, cops, and emt’s with a gurney all passing through our living room like some kind of macabre parade. With my sisters and I watching like shell shock victims.
The next half hour or so was so chaotic that details have become blurred to me over the years. I do know there were policemen talking to us making sure we were ok.
Then I remember my step aunt [Jerry Lynn’s sister-in-law] coming in to get us. We were walking across the yard to her car apparently going to her house when my mother showed up.
Momma came running up to us and dropped to her knees throwing her arms around us. Years later she told me all I kept saying over and over was
“Its all my fault…it’s all my fault.”
My step aunt looked at my mother and said “ Deb its ok I’ll take the kids to my house for tonight.”
My mother stood up and in a voice full of fury said, “Not you or anyone else are taking my god damned kids anywhere!”
My step aunt recoiled and said “Debbie I’m only trying to help.”
My mother had tears streaming down her face and said “the last thing I need is help from anybody in your fucked up family!”
With that my mother gathered us into the car and drove away into the dark Louisiana night leaving my step aunt standing on the lawn in the glow of the red and blue flashing lights looking stunned.

How does your family feel about being a transgender woman?

My father was the first person in my family to come around and learn to accept and love me as his daughter instead of his son. I had a conversation with him on the phone shortly after I had started taking hormones in which he laid out how he felt about my decision to transition. He told me that if I was going to live my life as a gay male that played “dress up” on the weekends, that he would still love me, but as his son. He said that if I was serious about committing to transitioning into living as a woman for the rest of my life that he would learn to accept me as a daughter. Obviously my mother was not happy at all about it, but even she came around in time that I was Jamie and that was not going to change and it was not a phase. My sisters embraced me as their sister and not their brother without hesitation once we were all reunited as teenagers. My sister Deanne had come out as a lesbian when she was fourteen and I would have to say that the two of us shared a deeply special bond and understanding of one another that I have never shared with any other relative. In the earlier years of my transition as long as Deanne was by my side, I felt safe and fearless against any ridicule that any one of our relatives may have decided to try to dish out. I didn’t feel like the “lone freak” of the family because there were two of us that were different and together we felt like “You can try IT if you want to, but you’re NOT going to want it!!! Sadly Deanne was killed with her mother-in-law Miss Rose by a drunk driver in the middle of the night on September 29, 2001 while they were broken down on side of the highway and my sister was trying to flag down someone for help while standing at the rear of her vehicle. That experience changed my life forever. But like most other tragedies in my life, in time it made me even stronger as a person and as a trans woman. There was a point around the time I turned thirty that I received an invitation to my cousin Laurie’s wedding. Like the great and powerful O (meaning Oprah) would say, I had an AHA moment that I had chosen to banish myself from a large portion of my family for so many years because I assumed that they would reject me as a woman. I have to say shame on me for that assumption. Once I got over my fear and anxiety about what they would think of me as the adult woman I now was as opposed to the “little boy” they had last known, I found much to my surprise and relief that ninety-nine percent of them embraced me as Jamie without any hesitation whatsoever. I think there is an important lesson to be learned there for perhaps a lot of other transgender people living in fear of rejection from their families. At least be brave enough to give them the chance to know the REAL you and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s my advice.

New Orleans is a wild city, but what most people don't realize is that most of the girls that live there are really more of a big family. Can you explain to our readers what it means to be a transgender individual in New Orleans and how we are like a family?

I love that you asked this question Meghan. You are so right that being a transgender woman in New Orleans is a different experience than the “norm” in other cities that I have experienced. There is a feeling of freedom being a transgender woman in New Orleans for one thing. I think it comes from the girls there having the attitude of “screw you if you don’t like it!” (Laughs). The French Quarter is only nine by thirteen blocks so the transgender community for the most part is very intimate. We all tend to know who all of the other girls in town are and we don’t fall into the “lone wolf” pattern that so many other trangender people do. We stick together when it counts despite whatever petty quarrels may have transpired in the past. We don’t let other girls go homeless or hungry. We step up when we see a sister that is really in need and we are there for her no questions asked. We come together in the good times and party harder than most people could possibly fathom or survive! And when times are bad or one of us is seriously ill or dying, we come together and support and grieve as a fiercely devoted family unit. The friendships that TS girls make with other TS girls in New Orleans are nine times out of ten till death do you part. All of those reasons are why I miss home so much. I sincerely hope to return to that Grand Old City for good in the not too distant future!

Because we have so much history in New Orleans together, losing our friends happened quite often. What would you like to say to the girls who came before us that paved a path for the rest of us in New Orleans?

First and foremost from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU! So much of our history as a people is handed down by word of mouth. I am thankful that I was one of those girls that were keenly aware of that and I made it a point to listen to the older girls stories of how things were in their day and soaked it up like a sponge with ruptured interest. I tried very hard to learn as much about our history in New Orleans as I could, and still do. I also make it a point when I meet young girls in New Orleans that are just starting out, to tell them lots of stories from my own old days and about the stories I was told by the older girls that have since passed on. It is my own small way of trying to keep those courageous groundbreakers alive in the spirits and the hearts of the new generations and to make sure they know what cruelties and trials that their “ancestors” persevered in order for them to have it as relatively easy and good as they do by comparison. We may still have a long way to go, but the task would seem almost insurmountable if not for all of the beautiful, wonderful, colorful, determined, strong, outlandish, outspoken, fierce AND ferocious ladies that braved a world completely unreceptive and unprepared for our kind to freely live and prosper among them! Thank you to all of those sisters that made it possible for us to stand strong now!

Can you describe to our readers what it felt like the first time you ever stepped out of the front door as Jamie Gendron?

Do you realize how far back that is reaching?! (Laughs) I’ve lived “fulltime” for almost twenty-six years now. The truth is that I was stepping out of my front door as Jamie Gendron almost daily for about a year before I even realized that I was being Jamie. It was the early 1980’s and New Wave was super hot. I was wearing lots of eye makeup, bangle bracelets, earrings, and girl’s baggy blouses and leggings to school for quite some time without even thinking about it as “being dressed”. I was just being myself. However, there are two stories I can share that I believe encompass an answer to your question. When I was only eight years old and my mom had given me to my father during the summer, I would throw these little parties for the neighborhood boys while my dad was at work. I found my piggy bank hidden in my dad’s room that held several hundred dollars in change that he was saving for my college fund. So I would “dip” into it little by little over about six to eight weeks that I was there in order to treat the other boys to soda’s and snacks from the corner store while we hung out. There was one boy in the group that was thirteen and he was the oldest of my little clique. One day while we were all hanging out goofing off, he came across a nightgown in my dad’s room that had been left there by a girlfriend of his. This boy began to pressure and prod me to try it on and model it for all of them “just for laughs”. Well I caved in and put it on and something profound happened inside of me. I remember looking in the mirror and not understanding why it felt so right, but knowing instinctively that it was RIGHT! (and yes the thirteen year old did have a thing for me, but nothing beyond teasing and flirting happened between myself and any of those boys that summer)…. The other story happened when I was just about fourteen. I had already left home for the last time. I was hanging out nightly at this big nightclub in Houston called Visions and staying with the gay couple that managed it. Back then it was very popular for teenagers to go cruising on Westheimer Blvd. down in Montrose (basically Houston’s “gay ghetto”) So I found myself tagging along with a group of my friends from Vision’s one night to “cruise the strip”. We were getting towards the end of the evening when we stopped and went into a bar called The Booby Rock. There was a large sign in the front parking lot that advertised “Live Transsexual Strippers”. I had never been in a “queen bar” before then so I was understandably in awe of the girls when we went in. I was wearing all girls’ clothes and a face full of makeup but up until that night, the only name I had for it was that I was “New Wave”. I went to the ladies restroom at one point to check my makeup and saw a lovely big boned Mexican girl standing at the sinks. I nodded and smiled hello when she made eye contact with me in the mirror. She smiled back and said hello in a husky heavily accented voice. She introduced herself as Angel and asked my name. I said James and she said “No mami… what’s your drag name?” I looked at her kind of cockeyed and said “Um I’m not in drag.” She laughed and said “Trust me mija, you’re in drag!” then she told me that it was best if I kept it simple and went with the girls version of my name “Jamie” so that it would catch on easier with friends and family. In that moment it really clicked for me that I was home in this tacky seedy little hole in the wall of a bar and that my name was definitely going to be Jamie. It was a very pivotal experience for me because from that night on I never looked at myself as “New Wave” again. I knew that I had finally learned what and who I truly was. FYI Angel became one of my best friends in the world and remained such until her unfortunate passing in 1999. She named me and played a huge part in teaching me how to survive on the streets and about what it meant to be a transgender woman. I will miss her dearly forever!

Let's discuss how the transgender community is treated by the police in New Orleans. We've talked about it in bits and pieces but I would like you to share your thoughts with our readers about it.

In a word, their attitude and behavior towards us in general is ATROCIOUS!!! New Orleans police have notoriously been an unfortunate disadvantage to being a transgender woman or man there. What I don’t think a lot of people truly understand about New Orleans is just how steeped in injustice and corruption the city has always historically been. Yes, it is a wild and fun party town with great food, music, and warm welcoming people on the surface, but the underlying factions that run everything can be dishonest, treacherous, and in the most simplistic term SHADY! The city is currently garnishing a great deal of scrutiny and criticism especially concerning the corruption in the NOPD and in particular their treatment of transgender people. This is something that I feel is WAY overdue! It should be unheard of and unfathomable in this day and age and most certainly in America that you can be minding your own business walking down the street and be jacked up against a wall and arrested for no other reason than the fact that you are a transsexual. Not only do the police in New Orleans arrest transgender people at their whim, but once you are in lockup it can be extremely difficult for girls like us to get back out without spending possibly months in jail before ever having your case seen in court. The judges tend to be absolutely no better than the police in these matters. Transgender individuals are the only group of people in New Orleans jails that are routinely targeted to have their heads shaved under the guise of “protecting against lice infestations”. We are also the overwhelming targets of being charged with the Napoleonic Law called Crimes Against Nature, which requires the convicted to register as sex offenders. It is barbaric and despicable treatment that will hopefully now be addressed and changed so that you do not have to live in fear of the police just because you are transgender in New Orleans.

What do you think about the State of Louisiana finally being taken to court over the Crime Against Nature Law? Personally I think it's the best thing that's happened to Louisiana in years, what are your thoughts?

I couldn’t agree more! This is something that is long overdue. Just the name of the law is misleading and ridiculous. It makes it sound like you were molesting trees or raping the neighborhood pets or something. I feel as though it should have become a dead law as soon as sodomy was abolished. (Crimes Against Nature basically boils down to; any sexual act that is not male/female missionary position vaginal intercourse… by that definition every human being that is not a virgin is guilty of this crime which is a Louisiana State Felony). I was convicted of this crime when I was just seventeen years old and I cannot think of too many transsexuals in New Orleans that I have known for years who have not at least been arrested with this charge. So on a personal level, this court case to me feels like I would imagine a lot of Southern African Americans must have felt back in the 1960’s when the first steps of integration were being hesitantly taken. It makes me happy and hopeful for the future of transgender community in Louisiana but I still cannot help but reserve a grain of cynicism as to what the outcome will be. I mean I hope we’re “there”; I’m just not entirely convinced we are “there” yet.

Why do you think so many in the transgender community turn to prostitution to make a living?

Well for me and many of my friends it was a case of being castaways on the streets as young teenagers for refusing to conform to the expectations of our families. What else is a fourteen or fifteen year old transgender person living on the streets going to do to feed, clothe, and provide some kind of shelter for themselves? Other options are scarce and often even less palatable than resorting to turning tricks. I believe that many of the girls (whether teen or adult) initially become lured into the TS bar scene which is overwhelmingly riddled with prostitution. Speaking for myself, I can remember being amazed that men were so eager and willing to give me money in return for my “attentions” as Jamie. It started off feeling like easy money for little effort. The truth is that it was exactly that in the beginning because I was a kid and I was fresh meat for the sharks! What you do not realize first going in is that it’s a trap. You get sucked in by the attention and the money and being told how desirable and beautiful you are. Often times you end up with a drug habit or habits, which in turn require you to put yourself out there even further. It is a way of life with very grim odds. A large percentage never make it out alive. Only a very small percentage are able to truly escape it and go on to live healthier more productive lives. Because I know just how lucky I am I feel like that past gives me a much deeper appreciation and gratitude for the path my life is on now.

You currently live in California and have been in a long term relationship for many years, do you plan on moving back to New Orleans in the future?

Yes I do. I have been terribly homesick for several years now. I have often jokingly referred to New Orleans as “the elephant’s graveyard for old New Orleans queens!” (Laughs) It seems as though most of us make our way back there in the end. That city gets under your skin and into your blood in a way that once you have lived there you’re never quite the same. (quick sidebar… I know some readers will be offended by my use of the word “queen”… my generation of girls didn’t view the word as a slur so much as we did a sort of badge of accomplishment. Being called a boy or a man was what offended us. I did not use the word as a slur back then and do not use it that way now.) My other half Jim honestly has some mixed feelings about living in Louisiana. There are things about living there that he looks forward to and some things that he doesn’t. He understands how much New Orleans is a part of who I am and he always takes my happiness into consideration, so I am confident that I will eventually move back.

What are some of the major differences you notice between Louisiana and California?

From a personal perspective I would have to say that “sense of family” among the TS community that we were discussing earlier. I feel very isolated from that out here. Thank goodness for cell phones and no long distance charges! I talk to all of my closest friends from back home on almost a daily basis. Jim often teases me for my cell bill showing that I talk an average of 4,000 minutes a month just to friends and family. The two states are complete opposites culturally for sure! California has a distinctive Latin feel to the culture that I am at ease in from living in Texas. Obviously I am much more adept and comfortable in a Cajun influenced culture because it’s my heritage. It has been my experience that you can get great food in California from practically every culture on Earth EXCEPT for great Cajun food! That was a real blow to me living here at first. Lucky for me, I know how to cook pretty much anything from Louisiana that I am craving. Acquiring the ingredients can be a bit tricky at times. Every year for my birthday Jim has a fifty pound sack of live crawfish flown in for me from Louisiana. He also orders my ELMER’S Easter candy from back home every year because he knows it’s a special treat from home. We’ve ordered Boudin from Lafayette, Louisiana. I’m guessing that it is becoming obvious that I am a BIG time “foody”. Cooking is a big passion of mine. I have to say that living in Orange County is downright alien to any other place I have lived. It is sort of like living in that movie “The Truman Show”! It’s all very “staged” and superficially beautiful. It is loaded with what I still call “Heathers”. You know, those girls that are always “Like oh my god!” (Laughs) I have developed really close relationships here with very few people to be honest with you. It’s just not the “Get ya’seff a drink cher’ and Laissez Le Bontemp Roulet!” attitude that is ingrained in me. There are a couple of upsides in my opinion to being a transgender woman living in Orange County however. Not one time in the eight years I have lived here has anyone ever made a rude or disparaging remark to me for being transgender. The people here have always been polite whether they have known or not. When you are “spotted” on Bourbon St. it can be quite a production as you well know Meghan. I have felt like a superficial and silly upside to living here is that so many women here are “Nipped, Tucked, Sliced, and Diced”, that even if you do look a “little done” you pretty much blend in. Something that surprised and disappointed me about California was the lack of political progress in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQIA Community. Californians always seem so tolerant and “PC” on the surface that the public voting records on LGBTQIA issues really took me aback. I’ve always kind of begrudgingly accepted the lack of equality in Louisiana for some reason. I mean when you grow up surrounded by self-proclaimed “rednecks”, you don’t really expect to see much progress in the rights for those who are different. It looks like that just may be finally beginning to change though. My fondest hope is that Louisiana is on the cusp of finally beginning to crawl out of those attitudes that are as old as the swamps themselves.


How do you think the government is handling gay issues in the country today?

To be honest, I often feel like they are occasionally “giving us a cookie and shooing us out of the kitchen”. Until the United States government finally gives ALL people the same rights as EVERYONE else, saying that this is the land where ALL men are created equal is hypocrisy and a pleasant tagline at best. I really don’t believe the argument that the government is simply uninformed about our concerns and issues as citizens of this country. It just doesn’t hold water with me. Everyone knows what we want. They are just dragging their heels kicking and screaming into the new century. Playing devil’s advocate for a moment, I understand that change and fear of the unknown is difficult for people. The arguments have been made and laid on the table. I feel like the real progress and change needs to begin with the hearts and minds of our fellow Americans. As long as they are voting against us the politicians are free to continue not granting us “Freedom And Liberty For ALL," and frankly I feel like this sentiment should go for all branches of government on every level.

What do you think our government needs to do to bring some understanding to the LGBTQIA Community from people who just don't seem to understand our fight for equal rights?

Frankly I believe that the majority of those people who don’t understand, accept, or even tolerate our community are deeply steeped in their religious upbringings. So from that perspective you have to question if there really is anything that the government can do about it? I mean who outranks the President in America? God! The separation of church and state is a fallacy in this country. It is shameful in my opinion for someone to seethe with and spread hatred, bigotry, and intolerance in the name of God, but it happens every day in every corner of the globe. It is indisputable that more people have died in the “name of God” than for any other reason period. So how does a government compete with that fierce loyalty to antiquated philosophies? I’m not sure they can. What I do think holds the real power to effect change in the perceptions and feelings of those who stand against us is for us to unequivocally and unabashedly stand proud, be kind, and be prepared to patiently educate those in our communities that we can. I know this is an odd reference, but there was a line in the film “Silence Of The Lambs” where Jody Foster says “The more he sees her as a human, the harder it is to rip her apart." That is our true task as the LGBTQIA Community, make them see us as human, so that it is harder to rip us apart.

What do you think of right wing conservatives?

Let me first start by saying that I am a believer in “the answers are usually found in the middle of the road.”... that being said, I am definitely not a fan of the right wing conservatives in the U.S. Once again it boils down for me to the simplistic fact that I have zero intention of throwing my support behind any organization that stands against who I am as a person. I’m just not into self-flagellation. The hard right in this country do scare me on many levels. They seem to have a lack of empathy for their fellow human beings especially in these difficult times. Their interests lie more in “big money” regardless of who it happens to belong to, and screw you if you’re the “little man." (Or if you are old, a woman, a child, a LGBT person, etc…) It baffles me that those strategies are taken as a legitimate platform in a so called “enlightened” world. You just know its all gone to Hell in a hand basket when you can turn on a “news” program (ahem FOX) and the “journalist/commentator” is more ridiculous and comical than watching “Family Guy”! and the frightening part is that they have a huge following just swallowing that fertilizer down like chocolate mousse!

You are currently writing your autobiography. When can readers expect to find your book on store shelves?

From your lips to….well you know the rest. (Laughs) Writing my manuscript has proven to be one of the most challenging tasks that I have taken on. Don’t get me wrong, it is also satisfying, rewarding, and cathartic many times. The book is up to about eighty-five thousand words and roughly two-hundred and seventy-five pages as of now so alot of work has been done, but I would have to say it is at about the halfway point of completion. I’m sure you know from your own experience that writing is something that just doesn’t work when it is forced. Believe me, I wish it was! I have received a lot of positive feedback from numerous sources about what I have written so far. My hope is that it will be ready to be sent to a publisher by the end of this Summer. From what I have heard through the process, it can take up to a year to be on shelves after the completed work is submitted. I intend to work very hard to make the process as timely as I can. And on a personal note, thank you Meghan for your support, feedback, and encouragement concerning me writing it.

What do you do in your down time?

Hmm, how to answer without seeming like a big slug? (Laughs) I am an admitted television junkie for one thing. It was always kind of a babysitter and escape for me growing up and the habit has held hard. I am also a HUGE horror fan! Love scary movies and don’t even always mind if they are cheesy as long as they are cheesy and funny. As I mentioned earlier, I also have a real passion for cooking. I didn’t grow up like kids today on a steady diet of chicken nuggets and mac & cheese! My family believed in cooking the old school ways and whatever was set down on your plate in front of you was eaten or you were basically told “Well then go hungry because that is what there is to eat!” I am incredibly grateful for at least that part of my upbringing. I have a very broad palate where food is concerned. So cooking is down time for me because it is a love not a chore. I also love to read. I can remember joining RIF (reading is fundamental) when I was in the third grade. I have pretty much kept a book going on my nightstand ever since. I LOVE amusement parks and fairs! It feels good after the long road I have hauled to be able to indulge that inner child in some play time when I can. I enjoy going to the beaches here, but I am not big on actually getting out in the water. You cannot be bitten by a shark if you’re not in the shark’s house! Just sayin’. (Laughs) I also enjoy spending time in the mountains out here. I love going up to Oak Glen, Lake Arrowhead, or Big Bear for the day to poke around and do a little shopping and noshing.

If you could sum up your life in one sentence what would that be?

"I may carry the scars from the journey, but oh my God it has been one hell of a ride!"

What advice do you have for younger transgender males and females who may be at a crossroads in their life?

Run Forrest… Ruuuunn!!! Kidding! The first two pieces of advice that I would offer them will be my answer to your next question. But after those two things I would say that you must be strong. Know that you are walking in the footsteps of a long line of people that embodied the very definition of internal fortitude and strength. Draw your strength from theirs as you brave facing your own truth and destiny. In the end, it is disastrous and futile to fight that truth about yourself. Know that you are not alone in the world! When you hear stories from the old days and you want to roll your eyes because you’re young and you think us older girls just don’t “get it”, know that we do get it and you should really pay attention to the morals and warnings of pitfalls in those old stories. They just might save your life some day. Try to learn the history of those who came before you because lessons not learned from the past are doomed to be repeated. Always try to “pay it forward” with other sisters and brothers within your community. I would definitely say that you can have a family that has nothing to do with lineage. Doing the “stealth” “lone wolf” thing will not provide you a certain intangible nourishment that you receive when you have true and deep bonds with others that know first hand just how you feel and what you are going through. Learn to love and embrace yourself for who you are, not who you are supposed to be. Your biological families may very well react badly when you “come out”, but you have to know that it is their issue to come to terms with. The hard cold truth is that some families come around and some do not. That is why I will say again that you can create a family for yourself that you will find is every bit as real and meaningful to you as your blood relatives are or were. Don’t waste your time investing your energy into people that “chew you but don’t swallow you!”

What was the best advice you ever received in your life?

I have to choose two pieces of advice as tied for being the best. My mother used to tell me when I was little that if I truly knew deep down in my heart of hearts that something was right, that I should stand up for and defend that thing to my last breathe. The other piece of advice was from my best friend Terri who was killed by her boyfriend many years ago at the age of twenty-one. When I was just beginning to really develop as Jamie, she told me one day when we were getting ready to go out “If you are not strong enough to deal with the reality that every time you step outside of your front door for the rest of your life, you are taking the risk of being ridiculed, harassed, and discriminated against just because of who you are, then you have no business even starting!”. A harsh but very accurate statement that has always stuck with me and given me strength to be secure in myself and my skin and not take in the negative energy that ignorant people may project my way.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Hopefully alive and in good health for starters! I would like to be living somewhere in Bayou Country in a decent home with the people I love and care about the most being an integral part of my daily life. I’ve even entertained the idea of maybe eventually opening a little Gumbo/Po’Boy shack or something. I just want to be happy, healthy, and comfortable like everyone else does. I don’t feed into delusions of grandeur. But I am very conscious of the fact that the clock doesn’t stop ticking for anyone and it is up to me to situate myself in such a way that I can live out my days surrounded by family and friends and trying my best to just live in contentment. Once we are past a certain age, we are responsible for our own circumstances whether good or bad. We take the steps that lead us down our individual paths. Mine started off as an overgrown jungle trail of trips and falls, but I’ll be damned if that path has not led to a paved street with minimal potholes! (Laughs) It is my responsibility to make the choices that keep it that way!

Thank you Jamie.

Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview Meghan. I have enjoyed the experience and I hope that maybe sharing some of my story will be of help to someone else.

Email Jamie Gendron

Jamie Gendron's Official Facebook Page