The Transgender Menace Next Door

She's here. She's queer. The neighbors are used to it.

The marriage couldn't be saved. In August Phillip slashed his wrists. But when he saw the blood flow, he realized that he wanted to live.

He began to put his life back together. He became a born-again Christian. He saw a psychiatrist. And he married Trish, who loved dogs and singing as much as he did. More important, she loved him, cross-dressing and all. "If that's all that's wrong with you," she told him, "I think I've got a bargain."

Phillip as an Eagle Scout…
Phillip as an Eagle Scout…
…and as an Aggie: "I was the world's best actress," says Phyllis.
…and as an Aggie: "I was the world's best actress," says Phyllis.

They moved to Houston and bought a '50s ranch-style tract house in Westbury, the kind of neighborhood where people take Little League seriously. Phillip worked as a civil engineer. To the neighbors, he and Trish seemed like any other pleasant couple.

But the neighbors didn't see Phillip at night, sneaking out in the dark, dressed as Phyllis. He had begun to "transition." It was a fragile, ugly, in-between state. He shaved off his beard, plucked his eyebrows and grew his nails long. But even in a dress and makeup, he looked like a man. He was tall and broad-shouldered. He still had a man's butt, flat and muscular, and a man's broad jaw and hard chin. A man's voice, and a man's stubbly face.

When he told his employer, S&B Engineers, that he planned to become Phyllis full-time, he was fired. S&B brought up bathrooms, an issue that bedevils transgenders. If Phillip be-came Phyllis, the firm said, she'd have no place to pee -- not the men's room, and not the women's, either.

The firing was perfectly legal. In fact, it was Phillip who was breaking the law, not S&B. Section 28-42.4 of Houston's Code of Ordinances made it illegal to dress in clothing associated with the opposite sex. S&B didn't fight unemployment benefits, but the company didn't have to. A homophobic referee at the Texas Employment Commission blocked them.

It was the third engineering job Phillip had lost when his cross-dressing was discovered. He and Trish agreed that from now on, he'd tell future employers about it during the job interview. He sent out hundreds of résumés, and over the next few months, was called for at least 50 interviews. None of the potential employers called back.

Trish was furious that no one would hire Phillip. "You might as well be yourself," she told him. He decided to become Phyllis full-time.

As Phyllis, she took voice lessons to raise her pitch, and she began electrolysis. Getting rid of her beard took four years of weekly or biweekly sessions. Each one left her face feeling like hamburger.

She stayed in therapy. Now, in-stead of fear of rejection, she dealt with actual rejection itself, and lots of it. Her more feminine appearance puzzled her son, and when her ex-wife objected, Phyllis agreed to stop visiting. But she continued to pay child support, and every month she wrote the boy a letter.

A month before she went full-time as Phyllis, she and Trish broke the news to their parents. Trish's family pressed her to divorce Phyllis, and when she didn't, all but her mother cut her off. Phyllis's father said he never wanted to see her again. He said that his child was dead.

Around the same time, Phyllis wrote a letter explaining that from now on, she'd be a woman, and distributed it to 30 houses in the neighborhood. Some families were supportive, but most grew standoffish. One woman, who'd been friendly to Phillip, said she'd have to find out whether her church would allow her to continue the friendship. The neighbor then stopped speaking, so Phyllis assumed that the answer was no.

But the nastiest responses were anonymous. In the middle of the night, kids rang the doorbell and banged on the windows. The house was egged. The cars' tires were slashed. Graffiti covered the driveway, and before religious holidays, obscene calls clogged the phone. Once somebody burned a dirty diaper on the porch.

Phyllis and Trish developed survival skills that bordered on paranoia. They stopped giving candy to trick-or-treaters because they were afraid that if a neighborhood kid were poisoned, Phyllis would automatically be blamed. When one of their dogs died, they asked a friendly neighbor to watch them bury it. Without a witness, they were afraid if a child disappeared, cops would dig up the backyard, looking for a corpse.

Phyllis continued to look for an engineering job. She went to a weekly lunch for Aggie alumni, hoping to network. She told herself that she could wear down the other Aggies' resistance, and that once they got to know her, she could dispel their stereotypes. But nobody would even talk with her. Every week she came home and cried.

Trish still worked, but Trish's salary amounted to only half of Phillip's old one, and their savings were leaching away. Phyllis appealed the Texas Employment Commission's decision. The unemployment benefits would amount to a piddling $42 a week, but still that would be something. (After a year of appeals, she won.)

Phyllis and Trish drew up a budget. First came the mortgage and taxes; food, clothing, child support and electricity came second. They depended on a garden for their vegetables, and Phyllis learned to sew their clothes. They bought powdered milk because it was cheaper by 30 cents a gallon. During the brutal Houston summers, they didn't air-condition. Phyllis applied her makeup first thing in the morning. If she waited until the sun was up, her face would be too sweaty, and the foundation would slide right off.

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