"Tracy, girl, I haven’t seen you since like last month! You look good! Where you staying at?" This is the kind of banter one might hear as girls bump into each other buying post-taco Slurpees at the 7-Eleven.
"Angel! I know, it’s been a long time -- that’s ’cause I’m not staying in Hollywood no more, chica. I got me a husband and we moved over to Culver City."
A husband is a stretch, but it’s a term kids commonly fling around in an attempt at permanence or stability. When Tracy asks Angel more questions about her man, Angel will likely demur unless the two are legitimately good friends. Teenagers are known for stealing one another’s boyfriends, especially when there’s a perceived scarcity, like there is in this community.
Standing on the corner of Highland and Santa Monica, you can feel positively cultured, as canned classical music is piped out of a loudspeaker and into the parking lot all night long. I heard that it was the Chinese restaurant that put this in, in an oddly misguided attempt to curb loitering. But teenagers like Vivaldi as much as anyone else, and they gather there, shouting over its trills, bobbing their heads in four-four time. Gossip speeds along the sidewalk, as kids swap secrets about crushes and losses, and dish about what no-good ho stole another girl’s man. Some kids, though certainly not all, climb in and out of cars -- hustling for cash. In this crowd there’s competition for men and money and good clothes and popularity just like at any high school in America, and on the Boulevard you can find out who’s winning. The Boulevard is also where you can hear about who just got her breasts pumped and looks damn good, and who went back home to live with her mother, becoming a boy again. It’s where you can learn from the older girls that not everyone has surgery and not everyone wants it, because a woman can have a and -- girl! -- no one can tell her she can’t. It’s where you can listen to the new Pink CD on your friend’s Walkman and play video games at the all-night Donut Time. It’s where you can feel normal, connected, hip. It’s where you can be a teenager.
Around the corner from Santa Monica and up the street, on Highland, is an unremarkable brown office building. It’s the kind of place that houses dozens of low-rent and high-turnaround businesses: limo services, temp agencies, computer repair places, accounting firms. Every weekday morning a handful of transgender kids stumble in with the rumpled brown suits and briefcased folks, because in the basement of this building is a high school, of sorts. Or was, when I became a teacher there.
I don’t even remember how I first heard about Eagles, the small, scrappy high school for gay and transgender teenagers. Probably just from a new acquaintance in a passing conversation. But it had piqued my interest; I was curious who would go there, since when I was a kid, there was no such thing as a gay school, and hardly any such thing as a gay student. Would these kids be harassed, troubled, in need? I wondered if I could help in any way. By then I had been living in Los Angeles for six months, and an itchy boredom with the town had begun to creep up my spine. Having moved from New York so my partner, Robin, could get a Ph.D., I was missing an urban edge and lonesome for community beyond my dining-room table. I worked at home as a freelance magazine writer, and I had extra time to volunteer, maybe once a week, maybe twice. So that winter (which didn’t really feel like a winter at all), I rang up the school.
"Eagles!" a gruff voice answered my call. And then, "Fiona! Put down that straighten iron! The outlet is for the coffee pot!" I heard a muffled crash. "I’m sorry. Eagles Academy. Can I help you?"
"Yes," I said. "My name is Cris Beam. I’m a writer who just moved into town, and I’m calling to find out about your school: what it’s about and whether you need --"
"Fiona!!" the person shouted, without covering the phone. The voice was masculine sounding, but without the deep tones of a man -- like an adolescent boy whose voice hadn’t changed, except this person was clearly an adult. I detected a slight German accent. "I’m sorry. I’m going to have to call you back."