Thursday, September 15, 2005

A transgender evacuee's story

Arpollo Vicks was born male, but in January, the 20-year-old became, she says, "who I really am." She started living as a woman.

In New Orleans, this was no big deal.

Friends and family began calling her Sharli'e. She says that at L.B. Landry Middle School, where she worked as a substitute teacher, kids who had known her as Mr. Vicks simply began calling her Ms. Vicks.

Sharli'e's gender didn't play a part in the beginning of her Katrina miseries, either. After the levees broke, she and two cousins left their downtown neighborhood, looking for help and higher ground. Eighteen-year-old Rolanda Grisham was a plain-vanilla, born-that-way girl. Things were more complicated for Rolanda's 16-year-old sibling. Like Sharli'e, Leo had been born male but lived as a woman.

The three waded and swam a mile and half to the terrifying New Orleans Convention Center, where they spent two uncomfortable nights, one punctuated by gunfire. They then spent two hot, hungry days on an Interstate 10 overpass. At the Superdome, they finally found someone to rescue them.

A bus carried the three to Houston, but it was turned away at the Astrodome. Around 1 a.m. that Sunday, the three learned that they had arrived, instead, in College Station. They were shepherded into a shelter at Texas A&M University's Reed Arena.

Pansexual, live-and-let-live New Orleans had arrived in the heart of Aggieland, and there was bound to be trouble.

There's lots more trouble, but the story ends happily.

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