A Star in Reborn, Again

Former Houstonian Charles Kathryn McGuire has been a millionaire, a transvestite, a socialite, a political candidate and a woman. Now, with son James's first play on stage in New York City, she's Daddy Kathryn.

The father and the son share memories. Like those of many fathers and sons, the memories are attached to shared times, and as with many fathers and sons of a certain age who grew up in Texas, those shared times were spent hunting. Deer, duck, goose, dove, quail. At least hauling guns around in the cold and drinking beer outside.

The father and son both lived their most formative years in Houston, but they had a place in Orange Grove, near Corpus Christi, and on that place they kept a pig named Queenie and a calf named Calfie and assorted sheep and goats and a Jeep for getting from one blind to another. They also had a wife and a sister, respectively, but while those two surely have memories of their own, this is not their story, because they have chosen to stop telling it.

The father and the son keep telling their story. Like the telling will explain, as they say art sometimes can. As if repetition could make it real. As if an agreed-upon plot could synchronize the details. Because explanation is hard to come by. Because even now the story hardly seems credible. And because the details do indeed diverge.

James McGuire, for instance, remembers his dad, Charlie McGuire, a larger-than-life man of fierce drives and masculine appetites.

Kathryn McGuire, who used to be Charlie McGuire, hardly remembers that at all.

That's because Charlie is a woman now. Has been lo these past eight years. Days spent largely in the pursuit of a "normal" life that was denied her during the 49 years she spent trapped in a wildly successful man's body. A normal life, as a normal woman, that remains threatened by the bald existence of the fact that Charlie McGuire, known at the time as Charles/Kathryn, titillated, amazed and appalled Houston's political, business and society communities by, among other outrageous acts, spending close to $100,000 to remove his body hair, smooth his skin, soften his shape, grow breasts, cut off his balls, fillet his dick and shove it inside out into what the doctors call a neovagina.

And James, once the boy, is a man now, aged 31, gay, a playwright launching his off-off-Broadway career with Daddy Kathryn.

It's an exceedingly odd slice of Texana receiving a high-profile New York airing, and anyone familiar with the elite provincialism of New York City might reasonably suspect that its grittier details have been fictionalized to raise eyebrows in the jaded land of a thousand theaters.

Not so.
The play is advertised as an "autobiographical, highly neurotic semi-theatre piece, about Kathryn McGuire, a millionaire transvestite that runs for city council in Houston, Texas."

That summation isn't complete -- the McGuire story defies summary -- but the melding of characters is telling. Autobiography is, by definition, about one's self. But when your life is so tangled in another man's life, your story can end up being his, even if he ends up being a she.

It's easy enough to imagine that story could tear you apart. Now imagine that it ties you together.

Charlie McGuire was born near Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1941, the first and only son of a construction worker.

"What's so strange about my life," Charles has said, "is that I grew up doing construction work since I was nine years old. All those relatives of mine say, 'God, you were always such a little man.' I can remember them just drumming this into my head, what a man was."

Problem is, Charlie had already started figuring out what a man wasn't. The way Kathryn remembers it now, he was five years old when he visited his grandmother's house in Corpus and told her that he was cold.

"She put her robe on me, and I could feel the difference. She said, 'here, put your grandfather's coat on,' and I said, 'no, I don't want to put Grandfather's coat on. I want your robe.' "

On one such occasion young Charlie's parents walked in, found him wearing the robe and "blew up." That's how Charlie learned that wearing women's clothes was not something that little men did. He did not, however, stop wearing women's clothes. He simply became a bigger man.

He worked for his father's construction company. He played four years of grade-school football, quit, then came back to letter in his senior year, earning an invitation to try out for the Texas A&M team. All the while, dressing as a girl in private moments.

"I actually wondered if everybody else did it. There's nothing wrong with me. They must be doing it, right? If I'm in high school and a football player and a big sports fan and working construction in the summers since I was nine years old, had my own car when I was 14, go hunting every weekend, play basketball, softball, hey ... everybody else must be doing the same thing I'm doing. I'm not the weird one.

"I didn't understand why guys didn't want to dress up. I mean, it makes a complete picture. You know, go out and hunt, come home and put the pantyhose on. So I did."

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