American Woman

First there was the Yugoslavian writer. Then came the Pakistani on a bicycle. Finally, there was the handsome Turk who proposed marriage and a move to Ankara.

"I got engaged. It was my first proposal... as a woman. Other times I made them," Kathryn McGuire explains.

Ah, the romantic adventures of an American woman abroad.
It was 1992 when McGuire left Houston for Prague, Czechoslovakia, hoping to meet a man and start a business on the developing capitalist frontier. But mostly, Kathryn McGuire wanted to go someplace where no one knew her name... or that she used to be a man.

Now, McGuire is back in Houston, renting a Montrose-area apartment and preparing for a new chapter in a life that's already had more than its share of interesting ones.

The father of two and onetime construction industry executive became a woman in 1991 after paying a London surgeon $10,000 to change him from Charles to Kathryn. At 6 feet tall, with a size 11 shoe and a husky laugh, McGuire made a formidable woman. And she was hard to miss around Houston, becoming a favorite on the social circuit and on talk radio and television shows, where she dished out details of her surgery. Prior to the transformation, Charles McGuire regularly appeared in the gossip columns after showing up at local galas and charity events in cocktail dresses.

You'd expect that switching genders might be enough excitement for one year. But McGuire says Prague offered anonymity and a chance to be accepted as a woman, without having to prove her sex. She quickly settled into the city, renting a flat about a mile from downtown. Ever the proud consumer, she arrived with 150 pairs of shoes, 43 boxes of clothes from her favorite Houston stores -- Tootsie's and Neiman Marcus -- and 12 well-coifed brunette wigs.

Her relocation initially had its rocky moments. Shortly after arriving, McGuire had to stop wearing her more expensive Donna Karan ensembles because they were getting covered in soot from the coal the Czechs use to heat their buildings. Her trademark high heels also went into seclusion. "I wore flats -- those darn cobblestones," McGuire grouses. To top it off, her 12 wigs fell apart after being washed in some bad Czech shampoo, so she had to send home for a dozen more.

But McGuire says she eventually fell into a daily routine of going to cafes, the library and open-air markets, where she would try out her Czech by inquiring, "Do you have any potatoes?"

"I got tired of not speaking the same language," she says. "I could speak Czech, but no one could understand me with my Texas accent."

Her original plans to start up a restaurant foundered. She did open an import/export business, although she admits she never imported or exported any goods.

"It took me nine months to get a green card," she explains.
On the bright side, McGuire says she met interesting men, and they never guessed her past. The high point was the marriage proposal from an attractive young Turk. That, too, foundered, however. He broke off the relationship when McGuire told him she didn't want to have children.

"Can you imagine getting dumped by a 24-year-old Turk?" McGuire sniffs.
Once she proved she could pass as a woman, McGuire says she was ready to come home to Houston.

"I missed the fried shri-i-i-i-mp," McGuire drawls. She also found herself with a hankering for the Astros, the Rockets and, of course, shopping for clothes.

"I went looking for turtlenecks in Prague and there were no tags on them," she says. "You can't even tell what materials are in things over there."

McGuire seems to be picking up where she left off. She recently had lunch with former Channel 13 personality Jan Glenn at their favorite haunt, Ruggles restaurant. They laughed, gossiped and cooked up a TV pilot for a sitcom about a transsexual psychiatrist who treats pets.

On a serious note, McGuire says she also is looking for a job. She's had one interview for a hostess position at Vargo's restaurant. But her real dream is to have her own talk show or anchor the news.

"They fired Connie Chung," McGuire notes. "Maybe I can replace her.

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