The story of my own life is absolutely incomprehensible to me so how can I make it understandable to anyone else?

I was born and raised in Cleveland Ohio. My father is a retired fire chief with an inexplicable love for Franz Schubert and Vincent Van Gogh. My mother is a lover of roses. My grandmother played the piano in silent movie houses and took in laundry. When I came of age I went to New York to study painting and became a harpist. My first real job was playing the harp in a bear costume in Central Park. I liked being a bear. I lived for a year in Paris as a bear/harpist. I got tired of being a bear.

I came back to New York and developed an unlikely obsession with Gregorian Chant and the Renaissance composer Palestrina. Somebody suggested that I learn to play the organ and get a job in a church. It seemed like a good idea at the time. A few weeks later I was playing gospel music at Willis Avenue Methodist in the South Bronx. There was a huge Catholic Church down the street that needed a music director and I got the gig. Actually it was a great gig. I got to play Bach and Palestrina and wonderfully obscure early music like the Glogaur Liederbuch. I taught babies how to sing and malevolent adolescents to play conga drums which led to another unlikely obsession — the ritual music of Santeria. In a neighborhood like Mott Haven a Catholic Church can be a wonderful place.

Having exposed myself to so much of the music of truth I finally reaped the consequences and was forced to face the truth about myself — that I was/am one of those strange and exotic creatures that the people of our time call transsexuals. It’s a thing that I don’t pretend to understand.

I financed the surgery by playing weddings and funerals. I got a job as a lifeguard at the YMCA and ran the gauntlet. Having arrived at the other end I was very happy, very poor, and very unemployable in the only thing I was really good at. I borrowed three thousand dollars from my Mom and had a high-rise tricycle built to carry my harp and myself in ostentatious style and made myself conspicuous, singing Shirley Temple songs on the streets of Lower Manhattan. New York was awful good to me. I worked in nightclubs like Jackie 60, danced topless on the bar at the Pyramid and got a job as the bilateral hermaphrodite at the Coney Island Sideshow. I wanted to travel so I had a collapsible high-rise tricycle made and bought a harp in France where street theater is a respectable enterprise. I went to Edinburgh and fell in love with a dwarf who lifts weights with his penis. Needless to say I was in no hurry to leave Scotland. I toured with the Kamikaze Freakshow and between tours went to Amsterdam to ply my trade.

Something strange happened in Amsterdam. I read Anne Frank and it broke my heart. I’d wake up every morning weeping and I’d put on my cat outfit and my Shirley Temple dress and ride out to Vondel Park and weave tragic accordion music with the wind and the singing of birds and the laughter of children and I’d cry my eyes out and the Dutch (wonderfully) found all this hilariously funny. Hooray! I thought, “This is great!” but then I had another thought. How could I ever leave this place in the heart without feeling in a very real way that in doing so I’d be leaving Anne alone in that dreadful camp? She had become a living metaphor for my conscience. A little window of hope…

Baby Dee/ Cleveland/ 2001


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