Kim Winchester – Discrimination

“One less faggot prostitute.”

[Relatives] used to team up and pee on me, with me in the bed . . . and laugh about it. And then tell [my parents] that I’d peed the bed. My dad would take me and scrub me with a wire brush, squeaky clean with lye soap and all that, and make me wear my wet pajamas underneath my clean clothes and go to school. People couldn’t understand why I was so distant from everyone. That’s all I could see. I didn’t have many other options available to me. I was used to corporal punishment.

I remember, when I was about seven years old, I packed up all my bags. My parents used to say, “If you run away from home, we’ll give you a hundred dollars.” I packed up all my bags and I said, “I want my hundred dollars. I’m leaving.”

I remember my dad beat me so bad one time, calling me all kinds of ugly names—“queer,” “faggot,” “pansy”—and I called the police. The police came and they said, “Well, if you’d mind your parents, this wouldn’t happen.” This was in the late ‘50s. There’s been a lot of change. It’s pretty bad when a child reports their own abuse and they say “If you’d mind your parents, this wouldn’t happen.” That’s bullshit.

I was taught at an early age: don’t trust the system. I spent most of my life trying to unravel all that thinking, but it’s stuck. Still today. I find myself getting in my own way. [I think,] “You can’t succeed,” “You’re a piece of shit.” It’s been an ongoing challenge.

They say that parents are responsible for your behavior until you’re 18, and then you assume responsibility. I disagree with that to a point of: What happens if you’re so damn traumatized you just don’t believe anything or anybody?

***

They had a generation picture [taken] of all the family: my sister, my grandma, my mom, and my sister’s two girls. I says, “Well, can’t I be in it?” And they says, “No. You’re a boy.” It re-injured the wound.

***

[After] I left Ryther Child Center in 1971, I moved back with my mother temporarily, for about three months. Then the state deemed me disabled. So they gave me Social Security and I moved into my own place. My brothers moved with me, so they wouldn’t have to live with our mother. My brothers knew [about me], but as long as I didn’t force it on them, they didn’t care. But when [one relative] came home off leave, he molested me and said, “Don’t tell nobody or I’ll hurt you.” And he’s a lot stronger than I am.

***

[In the 1970s-80s,] I feared for my life. I deliberately lived with other people, as uncomfortable as that was, because I didn’t want to be alone, because I feared for my life. I would no more select these people to live with.

***

Back in the old days, if you were out after midnight on Sunday, it’s called vagrancy. I got arrested. [The police] put me [claps loudly] in a tank with a bunch of guys and say, “Here’s a ‘lady’ for you.” Then they would come, take me, and put me in a cell by myself. Some of the officers would say, “Why don’t you give us a little favor?” [I.e., perform oral sex.] Those are the kind of people that I met in Tacoma. Wow! No wonder I don’t trust the system!

[I started getting involved with alcohol, drugs and prostitution in] about 1973. [Disappointed:] I compromised my values. I said, “The hell with it. I’m not going to tell [my clients] I’m transgender. I’m just going to go ahead and say I’m gay.” That’s just for survival technique.

That’s where I learned how to do my makeup—and still, you had a lot of judgment of people. They were just vicious. Just vicious. So judgmental, cruel, and talked about everybody behind their back. I just got what I needed and left. That was part of me moving to Los Angeles. I didn’t want to be around the bullshit [in Tacoma].

When I first went to Los Angeles, for the first six months, I didn’t drink at all. I met a whole different crew of people. I met a couple of other transgenders. They were just flawless! I mean, it’s just a whole different world! We were all together. We weren’t drag queens. We were transgenders and . . . prostitutes, to pay for their surgery. That’s how they supported themselves.

Transgenders . . . A lot of us—me being myself included—didn’t have a lot of skills to keep a job. So we had to be prostitutes. We gave ourselves a double whammy. Transgender, prostitutes, low end of the Earth, you know. [Sighs: There’s] a lot of different rejection: rejection from peers. Peer rejection!

We tried to go to work in a regular place, and if we were lucky we got a job. I did hold a job in [at] a place outside of Los Angeles. I was a waitress. I kept that job until the place closed. I was the waitress and another guy took care of all the finances. All I did was wait on people, poured coffee, and give them a smile. I really enjoyed that. Then, after that [restaurant went out of business], I went back to brush-up classes for some sort of a training school for people, transgenders and stuff.

***

I tried to apply for a job. I was “under-qualified,” or “over-qualified.” It’s their polite way of saying, “We don’t hire gay people.”

***

I met gay guys. I was talking to them, trying to figure [things] out. But they said, “You’re not one of us.” This is the prejudice between gays and transgenders back then. Even in Seattle it was very brutal.

There is definitely a wall [between gays and transgender people]. I remember back in the ‘60s, the ‘70s, when I became more active, it’s like: lesbian, gay, bisexual. No transgender was mentioned. There was always that wall. Transgenders sometimes can pass it off as being an entertainer . . .

The gay, lesbian, and bisexual [flag] was the very first flag out. I’d say, “What about transgenders?” “Oh. Well, you’re freaks.” Wow! They’d say, “You’re lowest of lowest.” Oh my God! I was just devastated! God, I just felt like I was left to die.

It’s been my experience [that] once I started to assume my identity as a transgender, I became a freak. That’s never really completely diminished.

***

A lot of straight women are just really vicious towards transgenders. But you know what? That’s not my problem. I’ve had them come and say [angrily:] “Well, my man wants to be with you.” And I said, “Well, bitch, you better keep him happy.” You know? “Let me show your man what kind of a woman I am.” Oh yeah! Caused a lot of unnecessary problems. [Laughs.]

***

Boy! The experiences while I was in Los Angeles! They had these health clinics: one for the heterosexuals and one for the homosexuals. Well, I went to a clinic one time because my alleged man gave me [clap]. I went to the clinic and they said, “What are you doing here? You’re a woman, you belong over there.” Well, I went to the clinic on the women’s side and they says, “Oh no, you belong over [t]here.” Oh, my God! Talk about conflict of interest. It was really hard to get help.

***

[My regular physician in Spokane] referred me to other doctors for my hepatitis C, which I acquired throughout the years. I’ve had it since 1986 that I know of. And I’ve had to take INH for tuberculosis. [That] doctor didn’t read the files, and he says, “So, when was your last period?” I dropped my pants and I says, “Well, I don’t recall having one!” I was very angry about that. I walked out. I says, “You need to read your notes.”

In Spokane I was checking into some of the adult family homes, and I was refused because of who I was. What I was. Being transgender . . . No matter where you go, it’s who you are. It’s what you are.

***

One thing that really devastated me was back in [1977]. It was in July. I had come up [to Tacoma] from Los Angeles for a visit. Benderella, [another transwoman,] was my baby. She was a special child; she was disabled—alcohol syndrome, whatever it was. But she knew she was a woman and she lived it to the fullest every day.[1]

She was killed by two of our service[men], two people stationed at Fort Lewis, and because they were on government property, we couldn’t do nothing. When I read the articles it said, “Well, we didn’t deem to do too much investigation, because she/he/it was a prostitute.” The impact of the fact that she was killed devastated me for a long [time]. It changed every belief system that I had.

[Benderella’s body] was discovered in the briars by a six-year-old child and her family that were picking blackberries. The people that killed her had dismembered her and stuck it in her mouth. I was just devastated. Oh, my God! I was so angry. I was so afraid. I didn’t know what emotion to grab into.

A lot that bothered me was the way some of the other girls talked about it. “Well, this” and “Well, that . . . Well, she was so ugly anyway . . . Anyone could tell about her.” And I thought, “No! She was one of us. She’s gone. She’s gone forever. You’re talking about it, like it didn’t even happen.”

My theory in life has always been . . . I’ve been able to fine tune this over the years. If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. We all suffer. All of us suffer! I get so angry! When will people wake up and realize that?

***

I was [in Tacoma] when [Benderella] was killed. I had come in to visit my mom. I stopped in to visit Benderella [at the bar]. We were going to get together the following morning. She wasn’t [at her apartment]. There was no answer on the door. The police said, “Benderella is not home. Where were you last night?” I says, “What?!” And they says, “We found her. She’s dead.”

I had just seen her the night before, and she introduced me to the guy that killed her. I wasn’t paying much attention. I was lost in other things and I didn’t really focus. I didn’t pay much attention. I’m sorry that I didn’t, because I could’ve been more of assistance to the police. [The person who killed her] was a soldier from Fort Lewis. Him and two other guys. They found Benderella’s blood in the soldier’s car. Him and a couple of buddies picked Benderella up and took her out to the briars. Off of 64th there’s just berry bushes there. She worked the streets, so she was going to turn dates. When they were done, they shot her in the head, dismembered her penis, stuck it in her mouth, and threw her in the briars. She was found by a six-year-old child, the following day. It was very, very hot in July of that year.

Her family wouldn’t let none of us come to the funeral. None of the other transgenders, and none of the gays and lesbians. They didn’t want none of Benderella’s friends to come to the funeral. [The funeral was] very private. I went to where the body was. There was no viewing. They said it was that bad. They wouldn’t let me see.

What’s so unique about Benderella is Benderella’s parents were alcoholics when she was born. The reason that I’m saying this is because she had a high forehead, which is one of the characteristics of a Down Syndrome—usually brought on by alcoholism. She was challenged. She had a heart of gold, but she wasn’t all there. She was prone to having seizures. She spent most of her life at Rainier State School. I just sort of adopted her, you know, because she was a special child.

My mother liked her. Benderella was really unique. She wore purple pants, red tennis shoes, and a hot pink blouse. [Laughs.] We had fun. We enjoyed her. We let her be herself. I enjoyed her. I think that’s what I admired about her, is that she was Benderella. She didn’t care what you thought. She was about 6’ 2”. I used to have pictures of her, but they got stolen throughout the years. She had killer legs. That was her thing! She had killer legs and always wore heels. Always wore a cute little short skirt. Very elegant when she came out. She was just like a mother. [She] wanted to help all the girls—the transgenders . . . But they all laughed at her behind her back. Nobody would take time to take her shopping. And she just loved being around people. She didn’t like being alone.

***

The impact of the way [Benderella] died was very crucial on a lot of the girls. It affected everybody because, you know, anytime anybody’s killed, it was really a scary thing.

I went to go to the hearing and it was a closed court case. Public was not allowed to go in to the case. A policeman was overheard saying, “Well, it’s one less faggot prostitute we have to worry about.” Nobody was allowed in there. It was closed cased—which was very abnormal. Should’ve been open to anybody that wanted to go, but it was shut, because it involved Uncle Sam’s men! The government does what they want. I tried to get in for the arraignment, so I could hear. And he said, “I’m sorry. No one’s allowed in.”

Back then, the gays, lesbians, and the transgenders didn’t have rights. We were talked down to. We were talked to like we were freaks. [People would say,] “No wonder people are beating your ass,” you know? There’s a lot of assaulting on transgenders and gays and lesbians going on.

The guys in Puyallup seemed to be the roughest towards the transgenders. They were just . . . lame. I think that’s the best way to describe the men from Puyallup right now. Lame! They were lame. They lacked education.

Fort Lewis—because it was government men that [murdered Benderella], it’s a whole different tribe. It’s a whole different ballgame. Nobody was allowed to go into the hearing. Which only added to the rage . . . and the scariness of it. God! “If you’re in the service, you can go around killing anybody and get away with it!” so we thought. Rumor has it that these guys were discharged with a dishonorable [discharge]. As for whether or not they did time for murder, I can never tell you, because that was not made public information. I’d have to go back into time and get the paper clipping to tell you who the guys that assaulted her were.

It was a wakeup call. You just really have to pay attention to what you’re doing if you’re to be out there on the streets. And being transgender, you know, people don’t take kindly to it. They’ll take what they want and then they’ll kill you. And they don’t care. But these are people with no conscience. They’re sick.

It’s also really important to remember that Marla drowned that year. So there was a lot of people dying. Marla was my roommate. She was transgender as well. Her family didn’t want to pay for her funeral, so they had her in storage. We tried to raise money, [through] shows and stuff, for Marla’s funeral. [One] of the bartenders stole the money, because he wanted to buy drugs. We had [raised] enough to pay for the funeral. I mean, it was just a horrible, bad time. There was a lot going on.

[Marla] drowned. But I had a feeling in my heart that I was very unsettled with that. Because she drowned in Las Vegas. Lake Meade. There’s a lake you can walk out to the middle . . . I don’t know what lake. I think it’s Lake Meade. I just thought it was really odd that she drowned when all she had to do was stand up. You know? What can I say? Very unsubstantiated. I never forgave the people that took her from me. I felt like they robbed me. It had little or nothing to do with me, but you couldn’t tell me that at the time.

Just as we was getting ready to do everything, [Marla’s] family all of a sudden came forth, took the money, and moved her body to Seattle. There again, [the family] wouldn’t let none of us attend the funeral. Betty Orrick gave us the money for Marla’s funeral, and she’s now passed on. But she had her own business playing bingo. Bingo parlor in Lakewood—or wherever it was, I don’t know.

[Benderella’s death] put a wall between all of us. I believe that [for] a lot of the people that I met, and myself included, there was no real closure to it. There was no real closure, I think, because we couldn’t attend the funeral. We couldn’t go to the court case. Very little was mentioned about it after the body was found. There was little or no closure.

***

[In 1980], my mom invited my brothers, sisters, and everybody to their company party for Christmas. But they didn’t invite me. I was just devastated! My sister tried to compensate, “Well, I need you to babysit the kids.” I was hurt!

***

There’s a mentality about the bar scene. It’s not at all healthy in my opinion. It’s about, “I’m better than you are,” and “You’re a piece of shit.”

One of the most devastating things I ran across here in Spokane . . . I used to go down and visit one of the [trans] girls who went [to the bar]. We used to chit-chat because we had an understanding of each other. Well, she died. I came back to the bar and when they told me they says, “Oh, she was just a piece of shit anyway.” Oh, my God! They were very lovey, lovey to her face. I looked at them and I says, “I’ll remind you not to come to my funeral.”

Nothing’s changed. You know, you get in a bar mentality: it’s a whole different segment of life! It’s a more brutal. It’s more competitive. You don’t dare get old, unless you’ve got a lot of money. That’s my perception of it. [In bar culture, there’s an emphasis on] youthfulness and beauty. And talent. If you’re just an off-the-wall transgender that just wants to live a normal life, you’re nothing but a piece of shit.

Your more healthy gays, lesbians, and transgenders won’t be seen in the bar. They visit, but then they get out and stay out. It’s a lot of professional people that are transgenders and gay people.

***

I’ve applied [for jobs] different places. [They say,] “Well, we’re not quite sure how to handle you. We’re not sure we want you on our team.” And I said, “Why? You have gay guys on your team. What’s the difference between that and me?” Different insight, maybe.

I think I scare a lot of guys. I scare a lot of people. There’s other transgenders out there that have PhD, or instructors and stuff that [are] in the substance abuse field here in this little local area. I scare the hell out of people. There’s nothing to be afraid of. You can only get scared by something you are uncomfortable with. Once you greet your fear, then you’re no longer afraid of it. It becomes a part of your life.

My instructor keeps pushing me. She says, “You just keep going. You are going to make a difference.” She says, “and I know it. You affected a lot of people already.” She says, “because you will not tolerate things.” I’m not afraid to vocally say, “Hey, that’s not right. What’s so funny about that?” [Sigh.] [People tell me,] “You’re no fun to be around, Kim!” “Why? Because you can’t laugh at people?” That’s not fun. That’s a sign of being bored. You’re boring. They have to resort to such measures. I have better things to do. I refuse to quit. [If I were a quitter], I’d have been dead [a long time ago].

[1]More information about the life and death of Benderella will be published as Laura S. Hodgman , “No Cinderella Story: Friends Remember Ben Scott “Benderella” Rae,” Oral History Review, forthcoming. The article, which relies on a wide variety of source material, sometimes departs from the story as it is told here, but it could not have been written at all without Kim Winchester’s collaboration and willingness to share her memories.

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Sources: Interviews with Laura S. Hodgman on 22 February 2013 and August 28, 2013.