A Diva in the Making

Chanel Dita wants to champion transgender rights. But first, she's got a date with Jerry Springer.

Patricia, who had four false front teeth made for the show, started to cry. Peggy called her "sick" and "disgusting." Ricki Lake pleaded, "If you stop escorting, I'll help you find a job." Moodonna replied that she'd love to take Lake up on her offer.

If you're going to come out, Chanel says, you might as well have some fun with it.

Though she had intended to stay in New York, Chanel didn't know anyone there except for an unreliable sugar daddy whom she had met over the Internet. When all was said and done, after insults were hurled on national TV, she returned home with her family to Pasadena.

Covenant House officials say they discharged Chanel for refusing to take a physical, not for wearing dresses.
Covenant House officials say they discharged Chanel for refusing to take a physical, not for wearing dresses.

The family, who had accepted Jeff as gay, was a little stunned, though not completely shocked. Chanel says she thought her mother knew. "I wore a lot of makeup at home, but she thought I was just a big Michael Jackson fan."

Shortly after the show, on Chanel's 18th birthday, Patricia screamed at her to get the fuck out right then and there. Patricia claims that she never kicked her youngest child out of the house, that it was her common-law husband who felt uncomfortable living with a transsexual. But when asked if Chanel could live with them now, the answer was no.

Chanel stayed with a Pasadena friend for a while, then checked into Covenant House's residential program as Jeff Loftin. The program had its stipulations: a curfew, no drugs and no violence.

She dropped out of the program when Patricia said she could come home as Jeff. For a week Chanel tried to convince herself that she was just going through a phase, that she really liked being a boy. But she soon returned to the shelter, serving refreshments as a girl at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

With her scant belongings in one suitcase and a backpack, Chanel thought she might as well travel. She visited New York City, Fort Lauderdale and New Orleans, sleeping in Covenant House intake buildings when she couldn't turn enough tricks to get a hotel room.

She had started working the streets because at the time she thought prostituting was the only way someone like her could make money. (She says she no longer engages in prostitution, though she still runs personal ads, looking for suit-wearing men to take her out for romantic dinners and kinky hotel stays. Chanel likes to tie men up.) In spite of that, she enjoyed her work, she says. Price depended on how cute a man was. The more he turned her on, the less she charged. Hell, she'd even sleep with a man for free if he was hot enough.

Usually, though, she earned anywhere from $90 to $400, depending on the requested sex acts and how good-looking the man was. Once, a wealthy client paid her $900 "and I didn't hardly have to do anything." Chanel says she never worried about her safety, yet she carried pepper spray. Sometimes she worked with her friend Kat, who brought a pistol with her. She would rather not work with Kat, though; Kat had a habit of robbing her clients at gunpoint.

In New Orleans, Chanel met other "trannies," who told her the Los Angeles Covenant House was so transgender-friendly it even hired transsexuals. She took a Greyhound to L.A. and stayed there for several months, receiving free hormone treatments from a pediatrician.

During a talent show at an L.A. gay and lesbian center (she sang some Brandy), Chanel met Titus, a bisexual man who sometimes dressed as a woman named Diamond. Chanel and Titus became best friends. Together the pair tried prostitution in L.A. and shoplifting in San Francisco. Both ended in their arrests. Chanel was walking out of a store in brand-new pink tennis shoes when an officer stopped her. Titus ran fast, even in stolen high heels, but was caught as well.

"I'll try just about anything once," Chanel says. And so she appeared in a porno movie, for which she earned $1,500. Chanel and Titus dreamed of moving to New York together. But first they wanted to stop in a city where one of them knew the area. They arrived in Houston in September. Titus, now 21, was too old to stay in Covenant House and crashed with some "tricks," Chanel says. One day he walked into a police station and threatened to kill himself. He was hospitalized, then returned home to North Carolina.

Chanel was on her own again.

At ten minutes till five on September 27, Chanel was discharged from Covenant House Texas for violating its policy. She had not undergone the physical required within 48 to 72 hours of arrival. Chanel had been there 12 days.

But Chanel believes the real reason she was told to leave is because she was born Jeff Loftin. And though she now went by Chanel Diva Dita, and behaved with all the flamboyance and cattiness that one would expect of someone with that name, legally she remained Jeff. And Covenant House staff insisted on talking to him.

"Jeff," she says they would say, "you know you can't wear that wig in here." "Jeff, no fingernail polish."

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