By: David Hariman
Her makeup was garishly overdone. There was too much eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara. Her lips glared in fire-engine red lip gloss. Her fingers were tipped in acrylic French nails. Her hair, well, her hair was to die for – blonde curls and waves.
Brada Van Melerault was dressed in a body-hugging sequined gown. She personified the greatest gender-specific diva in the modern world: Marilyn Monroe.
Except for that heavy dose of makeup the funeral director had performed an exquisite enhancement of what beauty my sister once possessed. There was no indication in viewing her body in the pink satin-lined casket she had shot herself in the left temple five days ago.
The artistic funeral director told me a nosy neighbor in my sister’s apartment building had called police the night of her death after a single loud gun blast was heard. The police broke down the apartment’s door to find my sister’s body sprawled on the living-room carpet. Her two cats were lying beside her as if sleeping – dead from rat poison. Her computer was still on, its screensaver showing a computer-generated image of a naked Marilyn Monroe. The radio was on, tuned to a classical music station. Police reported no foul play, just an everyday, by-the-book, self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
I made it to her funeral a few hours before the casket’s lid was closed, and before the whole “she-bang” was cremated – at her request of course.
Over the years I’ve had some mixed feelings about Brada, three years my junior. We were never close when growing up back in Canton, Ohio. Maybe it was because I was older, or as kids we ran around with different friends and acquaintances. Who knows? And we definitely had different interests – none of them fostered by our parents who insisted on sending us to Catholic schools. I was the one who studied hard – and she just got by. In fact, now that I think about it – and I have on occasion recently – I wasted a lot of my life studying. It certainly never prepared me for facing life as a woman. But I’ve digressed some.
The last time I saw Brada alive was some 20 years ago. So I really wasn’t shocked, or even grief-stricken, when I learned of her death. I hardly knew the girl. She was a stranger to me, and I’m sure I was a stranger to her. During those 20 odd years I made only one attempt to contact her. I took that step – a few years after she left home – merely on a hunch, a guess.
In my local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, I came across a wire-service photo of a woman who at the time was running a clothing boutique off Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was the facial features, the hair and the hands. The photo showed her hanging a blouse on a rack while she looked directly into the camera. The caption under the photo named her “Staara,” the owner of a shop catering to cross-dressers and male-to-female transsexuals. No name for the shop was published.
Staara was a beautiful transsexual, a gorgeous woman. She was my brother, born more than 40 years ago as Robert David.
After gazing at the photo for several minutes I said: “That sure does look like her. Yes, the face and everything. I can even detect that childhood scar on top of the knuckle on her left hand.” So I called up directory assistance in Chicago to find Staara had an unlisted phone number. I spoke at length with a long-distance operator, explaining my belief that Staara was my sister. The operator said she would call me back shortly after talking with her. About a half-hour later the operator called and said: “She doesn’t want to talk to you ever again.” I was shocked and speechless as I hung up the phone. I cried, later telling myself I probably would have done the same under similar circumstances. But I still could not answer why she left home back in Ohio without any warning, without word to our mother, who was alive at the time, or to any of our relatives.
More than a week ago I received an overnight delivery package that contained a letter from my sister Brada. It was her suicide note, signed and dated on the day she died.
By the time you receive this letter I shall be dead. And I don’t apologize for never contacting you over the years since I left Canton. Since I was 7 or 8 years old I wanted to be a girl. I envied so much the little girls I saw with their mommies, hand in hand, both dressed in nearly matching dresses. I even envied the nuns at that stupid grade school we went to. I wanted to wear their headgear and long dresses. I think I wanted to be a nun back then but quickly changed my mind after I went on to high school. Then I wanted the bouffant hair-dos, the makeup and lipstick and the tight sweaters over my boobs. Yes, I have boobs, beautiful ones and the envy of many women I know in Chicago and elsewhere. Have you looked at your boobs lately? Aren’t they just divine objects?
Anyway, enough on boobs and even vaginas, which I haven’t gotten to and probably won’t.
You’re probably wondering how in the hell you got this letter. You’re asking yourself how I knew where you lived, right? Well, here it is big sister. I hated you in high school, with all those hot babes you went out with. Did you get into their pants? I’m sure you did. I remember some hot number you brought home once from college. She was one little red-headed slut. I could see it all in her hips. They were gorgeous. And she had shapely boobs, too. I walked into the bathroom once intentionally while she was taking a bath just to get a glance at those knockers. So, how’d I know where you lived? I’ve been following your career. There was law school, then that big job in Cincinnati working for that judge. I lost track of you for a while but you showed up again in the movies, out in Hollywood land working for that big studio. Then you wrote a book under your former name, photo on the back cover and everything. After that it was easy tracking you.
As for our mother – I hated her. She could not understand why I wanted to be a woman. And she never talked to me, never held my hand, never hugged me and never said she loved me. When I first told her I was growing boobs, she got up from her chair and walked out of the house, got in her car and drove off. A half-hour later she returned, coming back with the parish priest who tried to talk me out of changing my gender. I told the bastard to fuck off! And I packed my things and left forever. I told myself I would never contact any family members. I kept my word, until now.
Now I’ll explain why I killed myself. You see I had/have AIDS. I contracted the dreaded disease from all the fucking around I did. A girl has to make a living, right? Anyway, I wanted to off myself before I went through all that pain and suffering. I could never scrounge enough money together for the proper drugs and food and rent. So I ended it all because I was too chicken about the suffering and pain part. Forty-seven ain’t a bad age to go. I done seen it all, sister dear. I know you understand. And make sure I’m cremated. Hate to take up more space. Ha! Ha!
Love & kisses,
Brada Van Melerault
October 10, 2000
Brada was the first of two in our family to seek womanhood. She did so in the early 1970s after our father died. Guess she thought she had a kindred spirit in our mother. Brada, though, must not have accounted for our mother’s strict Catholic upbringing and her attempts to turn us both into priests. I now believe Brada should have been more subtle in dealing with our mother. She should have finessed the gender question with a deep-felt discussion and without the interference of a staid and very conservative Catholic priest. So Brada split from home, probably scared to death of being “outed” by our own mother. In that regard, I always have felt sorry for her. I wish she would have at least contacted me.
On the other hand, I came to womanhood later in life, well after our mother died and well after a marriage went south, literally. My former wife left for New Orleans and moved in with her daughter from a previous marriage. I could never get up the courage to tell Maggie I wanted to be a sensitive, honest, emotional and trusting woman. In fact, and I found this out in a discussion with my psychotherapist, I even wanted to be a girl from birth. What a mistake for me, born with the wrong equipment. Yes, I wanted to wear frilly dresses as a ten-year-old, wear a training bra and even experience menstruation. Other women have told me, though, as far as having monthly menstrual cramps are concerned, I didn’t miss a thing.
My therapist also told me the desire to be a woman, at least for me, is based on a biological quirk of nature – not on the sexual gratification achieved by dressing and acting as a woman. I probably have some chromosomal imbalance. But who cares now; I am a woman, act like one and think like one. I got the boobs to prove it. And three years ago I underwent gender reassignment surgery. I finally got the nerve to do that after moving to West Hollywood, a very sexually diversified city in the heart of Los Angeles. Being a writer in the movie business also helped spur on the courage to take that big step to the operating table.
Now, here’s another quirk for you to chew on: I can’t stand men. They’re too macho, too tough, too ambitious, too ambivalent, too egotistical and too damn hairy. I prefer women. Female estrogen should rule the world, not male testosterone. That would cut down on the number of conflicts the world currently is experiencing.
Right on, sisters!