By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
Kathryn remembers that day, too.
"I told James. He said, 'Are you gay?' I said no. He says, 'well I am.' "
"The psychiatrist," says Kathryn, "says there are no family secrets. They know. You just don't know that they know."
And if James had harbored suspicions about his dad's secret life, Kathryn had also suspected James's homosexuality.
"I just figured I might as well get it all out while this was all happening," James remembers. "He said he wasn't surprised at that moment, but then that night he was like, 'Where did I go wrong? Oh, my God, I can't believe you're gay!' He kind of freaked out, which was really kind of surprising.
"But then of course he had to accept it. He's, like, running around in women's clothes. It's like he had no choice but to accept it. I think that's why it was pretty easy for me to come out. In that sense we connected I think at that point. He was sort of like this transvestite, and I was gay, so it was like there was a connection then."
"Yes, it was hard," Kathryn remembers. "What was hard is that gays live a harder life than normal people. I lived a harder life than a normal person, so I know; I am the one that can make that argument, because I have lived the harder life. That was what worried me most, was him having a harder life than if he had just been straight."
"I didn't really get to know my dad," says James, "until I got to know Kathryn."
Kathryn, out for good, threw herself into the social whirl of Houston with a vengeance. Reporters beat a path to her door, and the unavoidably clumsy name tag "Charles/ Kathryn" attached itself to the newly minted celebrity like a tick. The Chronicle ran feature stories. The Post ran feature stories. The inaugural issue of this paper carried a long interview. Charles/Kathryn became a staple of the society pages and the gossip columns, and even TV reviewers had to weigh in on the phenomenon after Jan Glenn spent two graphic hours interviewing Houston's most famous transvestite.
Charles/Kathryn didn't fit the standard transvestite image. She was successful, high profile, outspoken, unembarrassed. If she ever felt like God had dealt her a lousy hand, she never let on. She was a born performer, and she would open her fabulous closet full of dresses and heels to anyone who asked, and she was as entertaining telling stories about her hard-drinking, gun-toting days as a man as she was modeling the Ungaro suit she wore to George Bush's presidential inauguration.
Houston loved her for it.
In 1989 she decided to run for City Council district C against incumbent Vince Ryan. Inside Edition and A Current Affair both aired profiles. She came in second place with 8.2 percent of the vote. In March 1991 the price-fixing probe was dropped without charges.
On Father's Day of that same year, Charles/Kathryn boarded a plane to London, where doctors would surgically change his genitals from male to female. The British surgeons, perhaps unknowingly, chose an oddly fitting date for the five-hour operation: Juneteenth, the day Texas slaves found out that they were free at last.
Kathryn took Houston filmmaker Brian Huberman along for the ride, paying the bills for a documentary titled The Last Days of Charles/Kathryn.
The duality had gotten to be too much.
"I got to where I just wanted to just go live and just be Kathryn. [The celebrity] got to where quite frankly it took on a life of its own. It kind of got away from me. It's like I'm standing there watching this thing, you know?"
There's a moment in Huberman's film when Charles/Kathryn recounts the pressures of the investigation and the pressures of his very public lifestyle.
"One of my private investigators that worked for me said one time, he said, 'you know, most people in this situation would have committed suicide or left town. You just start dressing more and more every day.' I said, 'That's right, I'm not running.' "
And yet the running theme of the documentary is Charles/Kathryn's countdown to the day that "Charles" dies.
Huberman's camera is trained on Kathryn as she wakes up in her hospital bed the morning after the surgery. Kathryn wakes up looking frightful, glances around the room and asks Huberman: "Am I through?"
Yes, you're through.
Then Kathryn restarts her groggy narration without skipping a beat.
"This is my first day in the hospital. Today is my first sex-change operation catheter. I never had a catheter in me in my life. This is my first day without my you-know-what."
And then, smiling: "I'm a steer."
Kathryn recovered, flew back to Houston, gave one more interview and left town. Charlie hasn't been seen since.
Kathryn McGuire is waiting on the sidewalk outside a mid-Manhattan eatery called O'Flaherty's. She's wearing black jeans, a red blouse, black cowboy boots and large-framed glasses with gold rims that set off her reddish hair and make her look just a bit like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.