By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
But Charlie knew that not everyone did, that in a very real way -- and in the 1950s, a potentially dangerous way -- he was the weird one. He kept his dress-up to himself.
"When I got older, I'd go out of town. It's bizarre, because what you do, you may spend, like, three hours getting made up back then and think you look just as pretty as can be, and man, you look like some scag out of a horror movie. You walk out that door and turn around and walk back in because you're scared to go out there. See, I was out of town a lot building highways, staying in motels. Get dressed up, walk down the hall and get some ice. That's as far as you'd get. Even in a place where no one knew you. It's against the law back then, a lot of places. Kind of hard to explain to someone you're working for -- 'hey, guess what I got arrested for last night?' For a long time I never even carried women's clothes with me. I'd go buy a nightgown or something and then just throw it away."
He kept it to himself when he got married at age 20, the same year he became the youngest superintendent ever hired at one of Corpus Christi's largest construction companies, a job he got on account of his extensive knowledge of asphalt. Charlie's wife, of course, found out early on, and there was tension, but it remained their secret through a move to Houston and the birth of a daughter in 1964, and a son, James, in 1967. He kept it largely to himself as he built his empire, M&C Consolidated, Inc., into the No. 1 seller of stabilized sand in Houston. McGuire's stabilized sand is part of Interstate 10, Interstate 45, Westheimer Road, Loop 610 and the Hardy Toll Road. Charles McGuire became a millionaire.
"I always said when I was young that if I had enough money, I could live my life like I want to live it."
And yet some days he would go to work and just cry. His secretary would see the sadness and tell him to take a few hours and go dress up, break his foul mood.
"That wasn't me. That was just a shell I was in, or an image I was projecting to make everybody happy."
And yet not everyone was happy. Charles's wife of 20 years divorced him in 1981, when James was a freshman in high school. Kathryn describes the split as amicable and says the two are still friends. He describes her as a born-again Christian. James describes her as "out there, definitely," and adds, "Mom is very religious." Both Kathryn and James asked that the former Mrs. McGuire not be contacted out of respect for her privacy. Ditto the sister.
Charles moved alone into a huge new house in the Memorial area and continued making money hand over fist.
Then his shell began to crack.
In 1987 the justice department began an investigation of three Houston companies suspected of price-fixing and racketeering related to state and local road projects. One of those companies was McGuire's, and as the feds dug, they uncovered Charlie's secret. He felt sure the feds would out him, use his fetish to taint him. He had already been taking female hormones for five years, had already been through an 18-month series of electrolysis treatments. His surgically restructured, more feminine nose was six years old.
"I was kind of told that if I didn't cooperate, they would. I never was one to like to be intimidated. So I just take it off the table. If it's not on the table they can't use it."
Charlie, not a man for small gestures, took his secret off the table and put it on the front page of the Houston Post, whose October 7, 1988, edition carried the headline "Transvestite Now Claims Probe Linked to Lifestyle" and a color photograph of McGuire in full drag.
Charles McGuire had spent 47 years being a man's man. A husband. A father. A provider. A successful businessman in a man's business. He had amassed a fortune so that he could live his life the way he wanted, and when he finally played his cards, it seemed easy enough to read them: What he wanted was out.
It would not be that easy.
James remembers the day his father told him. He was in Houston for the summer, and his mother was out of town, so he was staying with his dad.
"He's like, 'I just really want to tell you something. I want to tell you something before you hear it on the street.' I was like, 'what are you talking about?' And he said, you know, 'I like to wear women's clothes, and I'm a transvestite, and I've always considered myself a woman and blah blah blah.' I could deal with it. I knew, and he knew, and I don't think that he knew that I knew, but I could deal with it on that level. When it was in my face it was very uncomfortable. That evening, I guess he had to be someplace as his female self, and he's like, 'I'm sorry to have to do this to you,' and then he started painting his nails in front of me. I couldn't even look at him at that point. It was really awkward."