the weirder they come

Leslie Cochran keeping it weird

This week, we lost one of our originals. If you’ve spent any time on the streets of Austin, Texas in the last two decades, you’ve very likely encountered Leslie. Here’s how the Austin American-Statesman reported on the death: Austin icon Leslie Cochran dies at age 60. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it got me to thinking about transvestites. To call Leslie only a transvestite would be immensely limiting. Running for mayor and enlivening the local flair in an already weird place, Cochran really shouldn’t be defined by the most flamboyant and difficult-to-overlook part of his personality. But that’s what people remember. Certainly on the surface, at least.

I don’t have many opinions about transvestites. It’s not as if I grew up in a place without any and then first saw them as an adult. There were always transvestites around when I was a child, and they were certainly different – but not overly so.

Suppose you could say the culture war was lost in my world at an early age (or won, depending on your perspective). Sometimes men dress as women (and vice versa – women dress as men) and some of these men do so in public. Have since found out that it doesn’t necessarily have to do with sexual orientation when someone’s a transvestite, but none of that was a concern for me when I was small.

When I was a child, I liked to talk to everyone…my mother says I stopped to listen to every single street musician and that she regularly had to pull me away from the Hare Krishnas standing outside of the zoo. They’d hand out flowers, and I’d ask them about their hair styles, or lack thereof.

Wait, maybe I’m confusing them with the Moonies at the aeroport. Now that I think of it, I can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter – that wasn’t my point anyway.

So, even though I didn’t have any such conversations with Leslie until many years later, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to have a bit of a chat with a transvestite. Just another person out in public. A bit more flamboyant, maybe.

But as I thought about Leslie’s life and our interactions and as I told the story to friends, I found myself hesitating when it came to which gender I’d refer to in my description. Maybe as a teenager, I might refer to Leslie as he/she, and even though the whole idea of transvestites weren’t new to me, I’d possibly be uncomfortable by the whole topic.

As it is, I settled on calling Leslieshe‘ and ‘her‘ when using the possessive. Seems only right, doesn’t it? She chose to identify as a woman. Why should I care anyway?

Well, does that mean that Leslie was a woman simply because she said she was? I don’t know. Neither wanting to dress up as a woman nor identifying as  a woman makes any sense to me. It’s just not in my realm of possibility when I think of my life. Not only no desire, but I can’t even comprehend the fascination/obsession.

But then I think to myself, ‘What if I really did want all of that? What if that’s what my heart desired?’

Again, the whole culture war thing is sort of lost on me. What if I had a child, and he grew up he insisted that he could only be happy dressing as a woman? I don’t know. Can’t fathom that scenario. It’s easy to say I’d respond in one way or another.

The thing that I felt upon hearing of Leslie’s death is the same thing I keep reading in the messages of the news articles I’ve found. She was a very personable and intelligent person. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the perspective of the members of the Austin Police Department with whom she was in an almost constant state of provocation and, dare I say, war.

The big issue was that she believed the homeless were mistreated and discriminated against. Is that going to change as a result of her death? Probably not. It’s also possible it wasn’t nearly the issue that she made it. After all, Austin was one of the few places I’ve been in the world that’d actually celebrate such a rare bird as Leslie.

And continues to do so. Can’t exactly see Leslie being forgotten.

8 thoughts on “the weirder they come

  1. I love that there was a parade, and that attendees were encouraged to wear boas and tiaras. Brill.

    I really miss living somewhere that differences are celebrated instead of condemned.

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    • Anyone who remembers Austin in the 70s is tempted to say it’s just not the same. Well, where is the same?

      For me, it’s an oasis in the middle of a very curious place. There’s nothing like driving back into Austin after being gone a while. Nothing.

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  2. OK, there’s a whole TOWN that embraces WEIRDNESS? And it’s in TEXAS? How am I just now hearing about this? This seems like something I should have known about sooner.

    Yep, this was sad. It was also beautifully written and well-worth the wait. It was the theoretical marzipan in a sugar shell after a meal. It was well worth the wait after all the work I had to do tonight.

    There’s a lot I took away from this post. Let’s make a numbered list, Amy! Sure, Amy. Let’s. Ken loves that.

    1. Apparently, you and I grew up with mirror-image childhoods. Yours was EXCITING! With TRANSVESTITES! And STREET MUSICIANS! And HARE KRISHNAS! Mine was QUIET! And LIFELESS! With…um…BOOKS! And COWS! I don’t know, I can’t even think of what mine had that would compare. Nothing like that. Yours seems preferable. Also, having yours would preclude a person going off to college at age 17 and finding out that GAY PEOPLE EXIST!?!?!? (Yes. This is a true story. A sadly true story. I thought they were only on television.) Young you and young me = the funniest sitcom EVER.

    2. If you had a child, you’d love that child ferociously, and you’d want that child to be happy. If I know anything about you, it’s that. I refuse to believe otherwise.

    3. This is not on-topic, exactly (what? no, not YOU, Amy) but I love how your mind works. It makes me happier than I can say where a post goes when you write it.

    4. This list wasn’t cuckoo-bananas long. I think I’m slipping. I could make more crap up but I’m totally tired and it’s like 10pm and I haven’t even had dessert yet.

    I love this, surprise, I know. But I do. Just beautiful.

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    • When I listen to the political discourse today, I think I must’ve certainly been indoctrinated by the left-wing liberal agenda. I don’t necessarily talk much about it here, as a matter of fact I tend to try being provocative and jostle even my firmly-held convictions, because I think this blog is more compelling if it says something challenging.

      That’s the goal, at least.

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      • You always do a good job. No question.

        But no, you never come across as biased either way. That’s commendable.

        More Austin stories someday, please? A whole town of weirdness sounds right up my alley. I’m very excited about this.

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  3. i love the idea of you being all friendly and your mum having to peel you off the people in the street. i think you may be secretly related to poppet.

    she is so much less judgmental than me, and i get to meet loads of interesting people because SHE INSISTS.

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