XX Marks the Spot

Christie Lee Littleton's chromosomes nullified her marriage, but paved the way for a groundbreaking one

Over the next two weeks, Christie Lee repeatedly took him to a hospital emergency room, insisting that he once again was threatened by blood clots, that she'd seen these symptoms before. Once, she waited in the hospital for eight hours, only to be told that his symptoms required nothing more than ibuprofen.

The next day, Mark died in her arms.

Christie Lee took his body back to Kentucky, to be buried in his family's mountaintop plot. Her mother-in-law urged her to sue the doctor for malpractice. Christie Lee did, sharing an attorney with her mother-in-law and the two kids from Mark's previous marriage.

Man and wife - but not in San Antonio: Christie Lee and Mark Littleton.
Courtesy of Christie Lee Littleton
Man and wife - but not in San Antonio: Christie Lee and Mark Littleton.
Brides-to-be: Jessica and Robin Wicks display their marriage license.
Lisa Gray
Brides-to-be: Jessica and Robin Wicks display their marriage license.

According to Christie Lee, the doctor's insurance company agreed to a settlement with Mark's mother and kids. But because Christie Lee had been born a man, the insurance company claimed that she had no standing in court. Her marriage, lawyers said, wasn't valid. And San Antonio's 288th District Court agreed.

This was the first time Mark's family had heard about Christie Lee's sex change, and the news wasn't welcome. Through their shared lawyer, Mark's mother ordered Christie Lee never to call or visit the family again, and not to visit Mark's grave. "The cemetery belongs to her," Christie Lee says mournfully. "She owns the mountain. They live in the holler, and own the mountains all around it. If I were to walk into the holler, they'd probably shoot me."

Christie Lee's San Antonio lawyer appealed the court's decision, but last fall, the Fourth Court of Appeals upheld it. Christie Lee's lawyers urged her to give up.

Christie Lee's lawyer urged her not to talk to the media, but the story made the papers anyway. Tere read about Christie Lee, and wrote an appeal in the newsletter of the San Antonio Equal Rights Political Caucus, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group: Did anyone know how to reach Christie Lee, who obviously needed help?

Christie Lee did need help. Besides her legal problems, she was too depressed to work, and her business was falling apart. She felt that she'd been exposed as a freak. And she felt that Mark, too, was being ridiculed. It had been his marriage too.

Someone forwarded a copy of the SAERPC newsletter to Christie Lee, but she wasn't sure what to think of it. She didn't have anything against gays and lesbians, but she didn't feel that she had anything in common with them, either. She had never heard of transgender activists. She asked a neighbor to drive her to a SAERPC meeting, but intentionally arrived an hour after the meeting's start. While everyone was paying attention to the speaker, Christie Lee sneaked in and sat in the back, observing the exotic creatures before deciding to risk contact.

Eventually SAERPC connected her to Phyllis Frye, who not only pursued the case vigorously but did everything she could to elevate it to a cause célèbre. And Christie Lee Littleton, who'd spent her entire life trying to be a heterosexual woman, became a gay-rights rallying cry.

Someone asked the restaurant to switch the TV to the five o'clock news, and the group flocked to the bar to watch themselves on KSAT-12. Their story came third, after reports on high school football and the heat wave. Phyllis laughed. This is Texas, after all; football always comes first.

The anchor slugged the story as a "controversial lesbian marriage," and the video footage showed Jessica and Robin kissing on the courthouse steps. "Go, Robin!" yelled a balding man at a nearby table. Robin looked embarrassed.

Christie Lee's face never appeared on the broadcast, nor did it appear later on other stations' reports. Newspaper stories sometimes mentioned the Littleton case in passing, to explain the loophole that allowed Robin and Jessica to be married, and the long version of the Associated Press wire story included a quote in which Jessica called attention to the hell Christie Lee has endured. But no story quoted Christie Lee herself or mentioned Mark's name.

Not that Christie Lee expected anyone to notice her. She had come to feel invisible. After the group returned to the table, the reporter from the San Antonio Current introduced herself; she'd been talking for the last hour to the Wickses. Christie Lee bristled: "Now you notice me?" But the reporter didn't have much to ask; her story was about a lesbian wedding, and Christie Lee wasn't one of the lesbians.

Around 6:30 p.m., the party broke up. Phyllis, Sarah, Jessica and Robin piled into a green Jeep for the long drive back to Houston. In the backseat, Jessica rested her head on Robin's shoulder.

Tere gave Christie Lee a ride home, and stayed with her a while. After Tere left, Christie Lee cried. Everyone else had forgotten Mark, she thought. It was her job to remember.

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