Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers...
Here’s what you see when you drive down Los Angeles’s Santa Monica Boulevard just east of La Brea: a 7-Eleven, a Shakey’s Pizza, a low concrete building with fish painted on the side, and a taco stand. There’s a Chinese takeout place and a triple-X video rental shop, a filling station, and four lanes of traffic, two in each direction. Old people waiting for the bus. Young mothers dragging children in flip-flops. A discount dollar store, a Laundromat, and a bunch of teenagers standing around and smoking. If you stare for more than a minute, you may note that most of these teenagers are girls, and that they’re more ethnically varied than other cliques in this segregated town. But that’s it. Santa Monica Boulevard’s got the sun-bleached, chain-store feeling of most of L.A.
If you’re a transgender girl (meaning you were born male but live as a female), you might notice something extra along this stretch of Santa Monica. It’s here that you’ll find girls trading secrets about how to shoot up the black-market hormones purchased from the swap meets in East L.A. If the hormones don’t work fast enough to manifest your inner vision of wider hips and C cups, you can find out about "pumping parties" out in the Valley, where a former veterinarian or a "surgeon’s wife" from Florida will shoot free-floating industrial-grade silicone into hips, butts, breasts, knees -- even cheeks and foreheads. Of course, this is dangerous when the oils shift and form hard lumps in the armpits and thighs, but you’ll look good for a while.
On Santa Monica, you can learn which dance clubs, like Arena (with its crudely painted ocean mural on the outside), let in underage kids and have go-go boxes for dancing. You can learn which motels, one block up on Sunset, are safe and clean and have weekly rates. You can find out about the telemarketing company that hires transgender youth, no matter what they look like, to sell garbage bags and first-aid kits over the telephone. Of course, for the job you’ll have to memorize a script saying that you’re handicapped and that these household items are offered at higher prices because they provide employment to mentally handicapped people like yourself. And though it makes you sick to say it, this technically won’t be a lie; transgender people are still dubbed "mentally ill" by the medical community, the way gay people were in the seventies. This is how the telemarketing firm gets away with cheap labor.
On Santa Monica, you can walk with a friend to the Jeff Griffith Youth Center -- one of the few outreach agencies that knows about, and feeds, struggling transgender kids under twenty-four. It’s right on the corner of Sycamore; you’ll recognize it by the thick bars on the windows and the hand-drawn sign that says NO FIGHTING. Here you can sign up for a shower or get free bus tokens or a subsidized meal on a tray that looks just like the kind served in the high school cafeteria you ran from. There’s also a big TV and a pool table with no billiard balls, and you can hang out until the place closes at six o’clock, without cars stopping you on the street and asking, "How much?"
And when the center closes, you can traipse over to Benito’s, the twenty-four-hour clapboard outdoor food stand and "Home of the Rolled Taco," for yet another dinner. Teenagers can always eat.
At Benito’s, over the sizzle and pop of day-old grease, kids preen and throw insults and drink oversize sodas from waxy paper cups and look into cars for cute boys who might roll by. As the girls wait for night, when the dance clubs open, the Benito’s parking lot fills with them, laughing and squealing and running up to one another with halfway air-kissy hugs, like they haven’t seen each other in ages and yet don’t want to muss their clothes. Most look nothing like the drag queens or cross dressers that stereotypes dictate or outsiders expect. They’re young and soft faced and wear jeans and T-shirts or, if it’s a Saturday night, clingy dresses and big hoop earrings.