Post Transsexual Musings: Our Goal Was Assimilation not Living in San Francisco’s Tenderloin

This post is due to a friend, Jacob Hale posting a link to an article announcing the designation of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District as the “Transgender District”.

I shot back, “You mean Ghetto?”

I feel incredibly grumpy lately. I find many of the things being celebrated the polar opposite of the dreams and goals I had over 50 years ago.

Make no mistake about it. The Tenderloin was a Ghetto, a place the SFPD herded trans-women into. A dirty slum, dangerous and filled with hard drug abuse and crime.

In mid-March of 1969 I had in my possession a packet of red Diethylstilbestrol tablets that I had gotten from San Francisco’s Center for Special Problem which IIRC was on Van Ness at Geary. I was living in Berkeley at the time and they wrote an SF address on my charts so they could treat me. Of course I swallowed a tablet as soon as I got out the door.

I then caught a bus back to the Trans-Bay Terminal where I scooted back to the hippie safety of Berkeley and my loving community of anti-war activist hippie friends. We met at the Student Union and I popped a second pill in front of Morey, a boy I was seriously hung up on.

I was committed and had never really known any others like me outside of a few brief encounters.

One of the things Ron Lee, a social worker at the Center had warned me to avoid was the Tenderloin. That was because of the drugs, prostitution an police brutality. I had seen the area from the borders of the district and it scared the hell out of me. Truth be told I had most of my contact with other trans-folks in the queen tank of the Gray Stone Hotel on Bryant Street aka the San Francisco City Jail and some of the people there seemed far more dangerous than people I had dealt with in the Haight Ashbury. Our commune had left the Haight due to dangerous hostile living conditions.

My commune, the HADU collective was family even more so now we were on Grayson St. in West Berkeley, people who were protective of me.

Over the next few months I would be seen by Dr. Benjamin. All while I was getting Welfare and numerous suggestions from social workers in Berkeley. Dr. Leibman would suggest places like the Transsexual Counseling Center on Third St. at Mission. I would meet Police Community Relations Officer Elliott Blackstone there.

Almost all people I met who were helping me, warned me to stay away from the Tenderloin.

The Counseling Center was run in conjunction with the War on Poverty. The goal of the sisters there was getting sex reassignment surgery and assimilation into ordinary society. That meant getting ID, job training/education, straight jobs. Staying clean of hard drugs and avoiding prostitution. Most of all avoiding living in or playing in the Tenderloin.

We are called Transsexual Separatists now simply for wanting to continue to use the term transsexual as a point of reference. But back in those days we really were trying to separate from the Tenderloin. We wanted real jobs, SRS and assimilation into the bigger world outside the Ghetto.

I don’t remember hearing about the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot prior to hearing about it from Susan Stryker. I have no doubt it happened, but it was the 1960s and there were riots going on all the time. A couple of months after starting hormones I was caught up in the People’s Park riots in Berkeley that went on for several weeks. I went full time when they ended in early June.

When I was a counselor at the NTCU a couple of years later and went out with friends we went to The Stud on Folsom or Hamburger Mary’s or Polk St. With other friends to Winter Land or the Fillmore West. I went to clubs in Berkeley.

The idea of actually celebrating a place I worked so hard to avoid just seems really strange.

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