Let me tell you about my friend Riki. (I recall she later changed her name to Rayna, the last time I saw her. I knew her as Riki). She was fantastic. Sharp as tack and gorgeous to boot. Legs like mad, bee-stung lips, flawless makeup. Mulatto, from where, I never knew, no trace of an accent I recognized but rather, a voice like expensive scotch dripped upon velvet. Loved to dance and was a star. I haven’t spoken to her in … jeez, more than twenty years. I have no idea where she is or even whether she’s alive anymore. Statistically speaking, she probably isn’t. You see, she was transgender.
I was in my mid twenties and running drunkenly and madly in all directions with a late-nite arty-style squad. It was a loose arrangement that happened with a weird kind of military precision. We’d go to places that didn’t have names, exactly. The night would start out pre-gaming as we watched the ladies get dressed and ready for an evening and morning on the town and then hook up with somebody at the Boom Boom Room or wherever to find out where to go later. It was like the 90s Parkdale version of Warhol’s Factory. Most of it is a bit of a blur, to be perfectly honest but hot damn, I remember Riki. I’ll never forget her.
She was FEARLESS, truly. She did as she liked and owned the night, every night. Honey, you have NO idea. She was sharp and obsidian and always on point. Impeccable comic timing, like, Genius Level, the kind you have to be born with but the kind that only gets better the more you use it.
She was a sexy brown Oscar Wilde in a fabulous-and-totally-not-tacky gown. And sure, she was born a dude but dude? She was a woman. Trust me. I’ve met women, I know what women are like, how they act, how they essentially, existentially ARE. Riki was all woman, as woman as any woman I ever met. I don’t mean she just looked like a woman or “acted” like a woman. She WAS a woman. From the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
I remember one time, we all went out late one night, well past the Witching Hour in the winter-time. We were happily strolling down a side-street somewhere downtown when a street-salting truck passed by slowly and blasted out rock salt at us, ballistic-style, like a machine-gun nest all of a sudden opening up on us. Riki caught it right in the bare ankles, while wearing crazy 90s-style Fuck-Me Fluevogs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the guys in the truck did it on purpose. Riki squealed in the onslaught, while the rest of us drunkenly cursed out the assholes in the truck. I asked if she was okay and she said “Honey, I’ve had worse than that.”
I believed her.
Riki was original. She was, quite literally, one of a kind. Sense of humour like a fucking whip-lash, which was kinda appropriate, because she did sex work, as a dominatrix. “You’d be surprised at how many perverts out there want to whipped by a tranny,” she said to me once. Again, I BELIEVED HER.
I was kinda-sorta “dating” Riki’s roommate at the time (it is at this point that I mention that Riki’s roommate was a cis female.) and I’m pretty sure she wanted to shock me, me being a hick from the sticks. To my credit, I didn’t ask any stupid questions or act nervous or scared, I just mainly went with the flow. I never acted nervous or scared around Riki, nor anybody else I met back then. (Well, there were a couple of drug dealers who were absolutely terrifying at the time but they turned out to be harmless.) Riki used to flirt with me and I’d flirt back, in a British accent. (I do a good British accent.) Riki liked my British accent.
Nowadays, we have Laverne Cox and (sigh) Caitlyn Jenner. 20 years ago, we didn’t have that. We barely had Ru Paul back then. Oh, sure, there were drag queens but that’s not what I’m talking about. And sure, transgender people (or trannys, as we used to call them but don’t anymore) had existed in every single culture on Earth since the Year Dot but role models and inspirational figures in and from within the trans community were thin on the ground. The trans community were treated as the butt of a joke, as less than actually human, like you and me. Damaged. Broken and deluded or something. (To too large an extent, they still are treated that way.) Riki was the first transgender woman I ever actually MET and shook hands with and broke bread with and got to know. And while she wasn’t exactly a role model, she certainly was one of the bravest, strongest, most amazing people I have ever met in my life.
People call Caitlyn Jenner “brave” and sure, without doubt, she is. She went from America’s Golden Boy to America’s Golden Girl, in a very public manner. But Caitlyn Jenner played dress-up and had millions of dollars. Riki didn’t have a closet full of designer gowns to hide in, nor a pile of money to hide behind. Riki lived it, all the time. She didn’t have a choice, nor an option.
Like I said, I haven’t talked to Riki in a long time. (She’d changed her name to Rayna the last time we got together. I never asked why.) And sadly, statistically, I’ll probably never get the chance, ever again. But I swear that I have never met anyone braver than her and I have met men who went to war.
I guess, the take-away from this should be ~ Don’t ever talk shit about transgender people around me. I won’t have it. And I might look like nothing at all to you but believe me, muthafucka, I am FIERCE. I learned from the best.