We used to call them “female impersonators”. I think that’s still politically correct today although you almost never hear it anymore. Everyone wants to sound either indignantly hip, or clinical, as if they were wearing white lab coats when speaking of trans-genders and transsexuals.

I’ve always liked them.

For one, they never carried a chip on their shoulder, as male homosexuals do. I have an entirely different theory about lesbian women after having seen up-close the brutish sorts of men Asian and Middle Eastern women have to chose from, or be chosen by. Every drop of pleasure in their lives comes from their children and friends of their same sex.

Female impersonators always (or used to, it’s been awhile) had an extra lift in their step and a smile. When they were in drag they were happy. A smothering mother or absentee father had nothing to do with it. And this was a generation before girls got all the breaks in grades, scholarships, and jobs. Whatever drove them to want to put on the clothes of the opposite sex, and admiring themselves in the mirror, getting even wasn’t part of it. They simply liked dressing up, admiring themselves in the mirror. And showing off.

And most were not homosexual. Still aren’t, I’m told.

I forget the early Broadway producer’s name who said it was an outrage that the term “gay” would be used to describe the most morose group in existence. A horrible theft of a happy, beautiful word.

He was right.

In 1988 a doctor friend of mine, Dr Bob, drove from Kentucky to Lousiana to watch my son and his daughter compete in the regional swim championships at Baton Rouge. They were both seniors and would both go onto fine NCAA careers, saving their parents thousands in tuition costs. We would be chaperones of kids, aged from 11 to 18.

We met their bus in New Orleans for a walking tour of Bourbon Street. For a midweek excursion, the street was hopping, with all the saloons, gift shops, jazz joints, pretty busy. We escorted the 15-18 year old boys, and our job was to supervise the kids’ “education” along the strip, dash in, G-R-or X-rate a place, then allow the boys to go in.

We listened to a great Dixieland band over a beer, but the boys weren’t interested, so we moved on. The boys weren’t interested in culture, they wanted to buy stuff. So, about 2PM or so, with a couple of hours before they had to gather back at the bus rendezvous for the final leg to Baton Rouge, the boys found an indoor arcade with dozens of open door shops with games, and selling the kinds of trinkets common to Gatlinburg, so we cut the boys loose giving them two hours of free time, and we’d meet them back at the entrance then.

Bob and I stepped across the street to a little cabaret that was blaring 60’s music out onto the street, and inside was a stage where two what we called then go-go dancers, in scanty bikinis were going through their gyrations in front of a small crowd. You never see the A-team dancers at mid-afternoon.

Oh, I hadn’t mentioned it, but Dr Bob was one of those “men who loved women”. And in our town, he was a legend.

We sat down, ordered drinks and very quickly Bob’s focus was riveted to the pretty blond closest to us on the stage. He smiled at her and she smiled back, as he was a handsome man, mid-40s, like me. The dancer was taller than most dancers, and for Bob, at 6’3, that probably added to the attraction.

At the first break Melinda came down, introduced herself and sat with us, allowing Bob to buy her a drink. They chatted and giggled, and I just took in the passing show. I always wanted to see how a master worked.

But a couple of little things bothered me, things a trial lawyer might notice that an easily-smitten physician might overlook. First were the hands, not calloused but a little gnarly. Knuckles. And there were her feet, especially the heels as they fit into those dance shoes. But the clinchers was, since I had the better angle, was her bikini crotch, which protruded in the wrong direction when sitting down. It had a bulge.

Melinda returned to the stage, Bob ordered another round said, “Look I want you to cover for me with the boys. You can meet them at 5, and get them on the bus and I’ll meet you at the car before 6 and we’ll drive on over to Baton Rouge. OK?”

Matter-of-factly I asked Bob, “Does she have a room nearby?” he nods. “Couple of blocks.”

“Just curious, how much?” He held up two fingers.

I came back, “Well, to be on the safe side, leave me the rest of your cash, your jewelry and your keys.”

“Natch.”

“But to satisfy my curiosity and save you a wasted stiffie, pull a fifty from you wallet, then next break, get Melinda down here, slip the fifty in her hand then give her the old Crocodile Dundee crotch grab, smile and see what she does next. If she screams hit the door. If he smiles, smile back and give him a peck on the cheek, cause the joke’s on you. But trust me, she’s not a Sheila.”

Turns out her name was Bob, too, and she was a good sport. So we all left friends after another drink, and Dr Bob and I escorted the 15-18 year old Boys to their Bus, then I drove the final 80-mlile leg, with a couple of hours to reminisce of the interesting people we’d met that day.

Sheila-Bob was genuinely a likeable guy. And he had no intention of rolling Dr. Bob. Just a gag. He said he really liked dressing up, but only dressed up about half the time, since he was an EMS paramedic the other half. Four on three off allowed him to work the strip.

Nice guy.

Most are, and as people they’ve always interested me. Never yet saw one yet with a chip on their shoulder, although 1989 was the last time I got a first hand glimpse. In 1991 I began my near-20 year sojourn in the Russias. And while there may be dark alleys somewhere in Moscow where cross-dressers can show off, I think the Russians would string those people up if caught. As probably would the Balkan people.

But on my last trip to Hong Kong in ’89 I grabbed one of those roundtrip fares from Singapore Airlines (at the time the world’s classiest) and added on a leg to Singapore just so I could visit the old Raffles Hotel before they would tear it down and replace it with a “new” Raffles. Along with the Repulse Bay Hotel, which they replaced in 1982, the Raffles was the last of the great colonial hotels.

I just wanted to see it. I didn’t stay at the Raffles, and It had seen better days. But I did have a Gilbey’s and Schweppes in the hotel bar. But an old English colonial I knew in Hong Kong said I should see the nightly promenade of the cross-dressers on Boogey (Bugis) Street. He said there were sidewalk tables where patrons could sit and drink and salute the “girls” as they strutted up one side of the street, then down the other, gathering tips according to some ancient order of best-in-show haute couture. He described it as a real “happening” I didn’t want to miss.

Perhaps Nigel was talking about the great days of the Empire before World War II, because the fashion show I saw was not that impressive. You could pick the cross-dressers out of the crowd, but by the garishness of their costumes, and there was no real promenade. Most were Chinese, some Thais and Malays, but they were all dressed up gaudy, like that “Sheila” in the Crocodile Dundee clip. I guess it was an 80’s thing.

But they seemed comfortable inside their bodies, were happy, and smiled, They liked how they looked, and I guess that’s all that matters.

Next morning I was on my flight back to San Francisco.

What’s happened in the thirty years since I can’t rightly explain, although I’ve always been close to the homosexual experience since my brother and his partner have been together for close to 50 years, their “marriage” lasting longer than either of his big brothers, or his big sister. My baby brother turned 68 this month.

I was with him when the Navy booted him out in 1970, then when dad booted him out, and after he was almost killed cruising bars in LA. He escaped to northern Arizona, where he met Dave, where my wife, son and I saw them en route to Japan for three years. My dad retired and lived within a mile of them, probably to make amends, and I practiced law there three years, to be close to Dad, who’d had heart surgery that would eventually kill him.

We were all close, but all I ever heard from them was their victimhood as gay men, even as they professed it to be the most liberating thing in their lives. They’ve lived in a much less judgmental world the past 30 years, but still their sexual identity is their sole source of identification, and last time we spoke, still a source of grievance, not joy.

So I’m not a fan of LGBTQ…because there’s no joy in it. Just victimhood, and getting even.

But my great sadness, even more than my brother and “brother in-law” is how LGBTQ was able to snare those gentle beautiful people, the cross dressers, who only want to be pretty to themselves in the mirror and for the viewing pleasure of others. And write their own rules, like Melinda/Bob. They did that all alone. They weren’t directed that way by socially diseased parents or by zealous, over-woke school teachers.

So say a special prayer.