A Diva in the Making

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

"Sometimes," though, "I just lock myself in a room and call it a day."

Tuesday is support group night for a local transsexual organization. And the Tuesday after Chanel returned from taping The Jerry Springer Show, the group was not supportive. It disapproved of her TV appearance. Some members called her crazy.

With an arsenal of make up, Chanel gets ready for the evening.
Deron Neblett
With an arsenal of make up, Chanel gets ready for the evening.

"Going on The Jerry Springer Show and contributing to stereotypes of transsexuals, we feel she did more harm than good," says group founder Brenda Thomas. "When one of our own community does that, it really hurts me. And it hurts a lot of people in the community."

Chanel doesn't care what they think. She taped the episode when it aired on Monday, November 13. Since living in L.A., Chanel has called Jerry, Ricki, Jenny, Sally, Maury and Leeza. She has called them all, except Montel. ("They don't know how to put a good show together.") She wants to travel, so why not do it on someone else's tab? Springer's show had promised her and Titus $150 each, but Chanel says when they arrived, the associate producer said sorry. The show already paid for their airfare, limousine rides, hotel room and meals; she had offered them cash just to entice them, Chanel alleges the producer told her.

Chanel was mad. She had been counting on the money for a legal name change, which costs around $200, but "there's nothing to do about it." She used them, and they used her.

Springer publicist Linda Safron says the show never pays guests. "Our guests are real people, not actors. Once you start paying people, it encourages them not to tell the truth."

But Chanel says the show knew she wasn't entirely truthful and didn't care. She wore silver go-go boots, a black miniskirt, a backless black top and a brown wig. She smiled for Jerry Springer. This was where she belonged, on television.

"I'm here basically to let my man know that" -- and here her voice dropped low -- "I'm a man," she said. The audience hooted in approval. She spoke just as she had been coached. When they arrived at the studio that morning, Chanel and Titus signed papers declaring their story true. Then they rehearsed for half an hour. (Safron says the show is not scripted.)

"Are you romantically involved?" Springer continued, with a puzzled expression. What did they do in bed?

Oh, everything, Chanel said. But she liked to tie him up, and never let him touch her.

Springer was about to introduce "T.J." when Chanel cut him off. Wait, she said. She had a secret for Springer as well: She had a crush on Todd, the stage manager.

Then Chanel ran toward Todd; he fled into the audience. She slipped on some wedding cake left by the previous guests' food fight, but picked herself up and cornered him with a kiss on the neck and a pinch on the butt.

When she returned to the stage, Titus/T.J. came out swinging. He grabbed her wig, and security guards parted them.

"You had no clue?" Springer asked T.J.

Well, just look at her, T.J. said. The audience clapped, and this made Chanel happy.

"They thought I was a woman too," Chanel said afterward. That's how good she looked.

The truth was that she and Titus had sex only once when they first met. He had not known that she was physically a he, but Titus had not minded. They have been friends, just friends, ever since.

After the show, Titus said he wanted her to stay with him in Chicago. Chanel said maybe. Then she said no. When Titus saw her off at the airport, she didn't know where he was staying. She felt bad. But he called a few days later, saying he caught a Greyhound back to North Carolina and had a new proposal: Why don't they move to New York together? He had a little money saved and would pay the way. "He wants to be famous like me. And you can't get famous in the boonies," Chanel says.

Chanel said yes. She missed Titus. "And I want to be famous. And second of all, I'm not getting no job here." She had put in an application at every store and fast-food joint from Montrose to the Galleria. No one had called her back.

But then she thought she ought to save up some money and get her name changed first. How can she get famous without the right name or gender? Her current Texas ID says she's male. Previous Texas and California IDs said, "Jeff Loftin, female." She wants to end the confusion.

Chanel Diva Dita. Female.

For once, she's staying put. She called Titus back and said no.

Seated at a table in her home, Cristan Williams helped Chanel fill out the legal paperwork. Current name? Jeff Tex Loftin, Chanel carefully wrote. New name? Cristan stopped Chanel and asked her if she really wanted to stand in front of a judge and ask to legally go by Chanel Diva Dita. A judge may not take that seriously, she said.

Chanel agreed; the name had drag-queen connotations. And she no longer considered herself a boy in women's clothes, but a woman. She wanted breasts. She would go to the surgeon tomorrow if she could afford it. Names floated through her head. She settled on Janet for her first name, one she's always liked. She kept Dita as a middle name.

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