I’m Ann Brown and I’m from El Paso, Texas. So back in 1988, when I graduated University of Texas at Austin, I moved to New York. And that was a huge move for me, coming from the West Texas small town of El Paso. At the time I had some confusion. I‘d had one experience with a woman, but I still wasn’t sure where I was, where I landed, in that world.
This one day, after I’d been here about 6 months or so, I was on the weekend with a friend of mine, walking on the Upper West Side, on the street. And one day this man walked by me, about 6 foot 4, 6 foot 5, handsome Italian man looking like he was from Italy — he was American. And we started talking, struck up a conversation. He had a casserole dish in his hand, like a corning ware dish. I remember thinking that was odd, kind of, he was walking on the sidewalk. I happened to say something to him randomly, I said, “Who’d you cook lunch for?”
And he said, “Well this is for my girlfriend. What’s your name?” And I gave my name, and he said, “Can I get your phone number?” And I gave him my work number.
My friend and I went along and we thought that was a little strange, but interesting, and we laughed about it. And I got to work, and the next day I had a phone call from him. His name was Biagio, that’s what I’ll lead with on him.
He told me he was a painter on the Upper West Side, and so he told me to meet him up on 72nd. And we go to his apartment for lunch. I go to meet him, and he was finishing painting. He says, “Come on up to the apartment!”
And in the apartment, it was a walk up, we go up there and there’s paintings all over the walls. So he goes to get wine, he makes a little pasta, and he tells me about the paintings. He asks about them. He says, “What do you think about the difference between one side of the walls and the other side?”
I looked around and I said, “Well there’s a softer side on this one side.”
And he said, “That’s my feminine side. And the other side’s my masculine side.”
And I said, ‘Hmm, this is interesting’ to myself. I said to him, “Wow, that’s interesting, tell me more.”
And he said, “Well, I really feel more like a woman than a man.”
And again I said to myself, ‘This is interesting, and this is a little odd, but this is also interesting, and I’m intrigued.’ And I said, “Well, are you gay?”
And he said, “I’m not gay; I like women.”
I said, “So does it make you a lesbian?”
He said, “Well I guess it does!”
And I said, “Well I’m a lesbian! I like girls, and I haven’t been able to say that to anybody.”
We finished talking, and he said, “Well I’ll take you out some time, we’ll go to one of the lesbian bars because that’s where I go to meet women.”
And I said “Fantastic!”
So he took me to the Cubby Hole, which was the original Cubby Hole, which is now Henrietta Hudson’s. And so it’s like 1988-’89. He met me dressed as a man, as Biagio, and we go in.
And I remember I grabbed him and hugged him, and I kissed him and we danced, and I felt more comfortable with him in that moment, because I was getting comfortable with the scene.
And I see him again another time. He invites me over to his apartment for dinner, and he says, “Can I dress up for you as Gina? Gina is my woman persona.”
And he came out with his hair blown out, in full on makeup and lingerie, and he said “Call me Gina.”
And he sat there, we spoke, and then he wanted to kind of become intimate with me a little bit. When that started to happen, I think I accepted it for a minute, because I was wanting to accept him, as now her, or as now she, as now Gina. And then I kind of stopped her and said, “You know, I really like you as a person, but I’m not attracted to you this way. I’m more attracted to you as a man. I’d rather have an authentic woman, or a natural woman” — as I knew to call it at the time.
And so he was a little hurt at first, but he said “I understand.”
I said “Listen, I’m just getting used to this whole thing for myself. You’re the first person I met that has another side to themselves. Let’s be friends. And so he accepted that — now in this moment as she.
So he took me to a club one night called the Octagon Club, which was a big club near the Javitz Center at the time. And he took me out, and I was like, “That’ll be great, so we’ll go.”
And he said, “I’ll introduce you to somebody.”
So now he was on the other side. He wasn’t trying to hit on me anymore, he was trying really being my friend. And so we go to the club. I was nervous, it was a lot of beautiful women there that night. It was a lesbian night. And he loved lesbians, so this was his place to be, you know, too. He was a gorgeous, very handsome man, and a beautiful woman as well.
And so we were out at this night, and he pointed out a girl for me. He said, “She’s beautiful. Go talk to her.”
And I said, “I’m nervous!”
So he was pushing me on to go talk to her. And I did. I go up to meet her, and I just said, “What your story? Why are you here?”
And she said, “Well why are you here? What’s your story?”
And I said, “I ended up coming here with this random guy that I met recently who’s become my friend, and he brought me here. So maybe I’m supposed to meet you.
And she says, “That’s really random, because a strange girl I met…” Stranger — strange to her, meaning, a woman she met randomly on a bike trail out on Long Island crashed into her bike, they both crashed on the ground, and she said, ‘Why don’t you come with me to this club?’ And she apparently liked her, but she brought her as a friend too, so two people that night brought us somewhere so we could come out.
And so for me, after that moment, we meet and Biagio meets here and we connected, she and I, and she eventually became my first girlfriend.
And so he, as Biagio, and she as Gina, I guess combined for me, was a wonderful person that entre’d me into my life as I live now, which is the life I was meant to live. And I appreciate — I’m gonna get teary eyed because, he’s such a wonderful person. Like, if I didn’t meet her, y’know, I don’t know if I would have struggled a lot longer to find myself. And it was an interesting entre into the word for me that also gave me insight into transgender people. And that they should be accepted like anybody else. They’re beautiful people. We’re all the same. It was such an interesting way to come out, and I’m very proud of that.
And I wish I could find her now. I’ve looked recently. I did see her a few years after that. She was working at the Met — I thought it was the MoMA, but it was the Met — as security. Ensconced around artwork, because he was a painter, and an artist. And that was the last time I saw him. But one of those times before that, he had said he wanted to transition, and he was nervous and scared. And at that point I think I realized it wasn’t just for dress up, or crossdressing, at that point I knew it was very real for him, to become a woman.
So maybe, maybe Gina’s out there, and I just need to find Gina today.