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During the '90s I wore a big Mohawk, high heels, and leather pants. I had a Latino drag show on television for 15 years called The Catherine Show Percent. On channel 53, "El Canal de Las Estrellas." I was lucky enough to present millions of documentaries brought for the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. I invited and filmed people. I recorded Esta Noche. All in Spanish. I was Catherine on a weekly show. At the end it was only me editing. Inventing, pulling things out of my butt.
I have made art because you have to do it and I've made it in Spanish. Because luckily or unluckily, however you wanna see it, I am not American. I am Caribbean, I'm from Cuba. And if I die and have to be born again I want to be born in Cuba!
"Catherine" is my woman name. And when Catherine arrives I say, "Por tu vida, She is here!" Sometimes people ask about her. She is on vacation, I say. She's too much. I love her, but sometimes she is too much. She does things I'd never do. She stops traffic, she talks to policemen: "Qué tal? How are you doing today? What's going on?" Makeup all over her face and a little drunk. With a huge bag, going around different bars. If I am not comfortable in the character, I'm not doing it. But if, let's say, I put on a big feathery hat and go out into the street I'd feel gorgeous. My friend tells me the other day: You don't do drag, you just dress as a rich woman. Adela sometimes tells me when I dress up too often, she tells me that I get transgender euphoria.
It's something really interesting: When a man gay or straight wears a wig and high heels there is a this spell around it and everyone wants to see it. It is all wonderful, amazing. It's like wow. Like a clown in the good sense of the word. It is an art. All my friends, we've always had women's names. I wanted to have a sex change until my early 20s, but then I discovered that wasn't my path, that I was an artist, a transformista, an illusionist. I'm a transsexual or... I don't even know what to call it. I don't have a name. I'm beyond names. I said several times that I wanted to get a sex change and just transition completely. And imagine that, in Cuba, it was crazy talk.
I think transformismo is a marvelous gift. Latin American transformismo is special because it has a certain passion, a tumbao. A different flavor. I'm not sure what it is. I've been so lucky in my life. I could die talking to you right now. I've had my glories and my tears and my obstacles. I believe in Buddhism and I think this is my last reincarnation. I don't think Catherine is going to reincarnate anymore. Life is wonderful, I've experienced so much in my life it is amazing. And it has cost me my entire life to be who I am, because I have high heels and boots. When do I wear the heels and when do I wear the boots? It has always been very ambiguous, but that's who I am. And if it has taken so much for me to understand it, I can only imagine for other people what an effort it must be.
I've had the privilege in this life of living and continuing to live both worlds. But when you dress as a woman, when you remove your pants you realize the power men have given to pants, which is incredible. Not even faggots want to drop their pants, because when you remove your pants you lose power. I wear skirts, panties and I have balls and a dick bigger than everyone. You need balls to put on a pair of high heels and a dress and go out into the streets!
Bayarmón, Puerto Rico
Year of Arrival: 1989
I arrived in San Francisco two days before the earthquake of 1989. I came looking for my father. My grandmother sent me to San Francisco on my own at 13 with $200. When I got here I remember telling the taxi driver in English, "Take me to downtown San Francisco!" He took me to Ninth and Mission.
After a few days I was running out of money. A woman living in my hotel dressed me up and said: "Honey, you wanna make money?"
I was introduced to prostitution. Frankly, I spent more time with Americans than with Latinos when I first got here. I worked the streets and really wasn't interested in community, but was only focused on making money to pay my rent and eat. I didn't think of much else and I didn't speak any English. At that time my rent was $40 per day.
I remember my first client paid me $50 and I was super excited about it. Fifty dollars! That's how I was able to make a living for myself. At 16 the police caught me sucking someone's dick in a car. They locked me up. And when I explained my situation to the police they found my father. He was a gay man. He wore women's clothes but didn't have any breasts or anything. He wasn't taking hormones. He enrolled me in high school and I quit prostitution. I only spend three years with him because, may he rest in peace, he died of HIV.
My father's death was very traumatic for me because he died in my arms. I remember that I kinda lost my head. I lost consciousness and was homeless for three years. Sleeping in the streets. I remember waking up one day, telling myself, "What am I doing here? This is not for me!" And I went to one of those bathrooms where you put a quarter in, took a shower, and out I went to whore it down. The first client gave me $5,000. I rented a hotel room. The Henry Hotel down in Sixth and Mission. I lived there for two years.