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 Leslie ‘she‘ 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.