When I read these stories I’m reminded how briefly I was part of any sort of “Trans-Community”. I had different communities and a few friends who were trans and also tended to not be part of the “Trans-Community”.
In the 60s, activist and entertainer Felicia Elizondo was a regular at San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria, the site of a historic 1966 riot for trans rights, and the only place she felt free as a transgender woman.
by Zackary Drucker
Dec 12 2018
Coming of age as a Mexican-American “sissy” in 1950s Texas, a “hair fairy” in 1960s San Francisco, and finally as a transsexual woman in the 1970s, Felicia Elizondo’s memories are a vivid and spectacular rendering of trans life in the latter half of the 20th century. And as an activist, historian, entertainer, and long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS, her work in the decades-long movement for trans rights is a testament to our adaptability, fortitude, and industrious ability to build community in the margins.
Felicia was a regular patron of San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria, a refuge for queens and transgender people in the 60s, and the site of the historic 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, when patrons of the diner fought back against discrimination by police. She is also featured in Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, a 2005 documentary about the uprising co-directed and produced by Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman. Her stories of time spent there reveal a particular moment and place, where trans people were able to create chosen family and thrive in each other’s care, that is still not widely recognized—even as part of LGBTQ history.
Punctuated by moments of presenting as male in the first act of her life—to avoid arrest for cross-dressing, to satisfy a male benefactor, or to prove her manhood to her mother by joining the army and serving in the Vietnam War—the interludes of Felicia’s survival are well traversed terrain for trans folks. Her memories amount to a wild and explosive ride that proves the accuracy of her nickname, Felicia “Flames.”
ZACKARY DRUCKER: Tell me about when you first came to San Francisco.
FELICIA ELIZONDO: Let me tell you a little bit about my past life, okay? I was born Felipe Alvarado Alessandro in San Angelo, Texas. I’m Mexican American. My birth certificate says that I’m white. In those days, anything that was not “colored” was white, and Black people were colored. Those days, everybody had their own community. Whites had their own community, Blacks had their community, and Latinos had their own community.
I was raised a little sissy boy. Everybody called me “joto,” “queer,” “sissy,” and all that stuff. I was wondering, how come they’re calling [that]? I don’t even know the meaning of all these words, and they’re calling me all these names just because I’m feminine. We were raised in a place where queers, sissies, and jotos were in the closet—they were pushed back somewhere. But I was very flamboyant. I had these little hot pants on before hot pants was even in style. When I was around maybe seven or eight, I was wearing hot pants, girl.