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Torture of a Transsexual 

In a landmark case, Amanda DuValle, allegedly brutalized in Nicaragua because she is a transsexual, escaped deportation from the U.S. by invoking the U.N. Convention Against Torture. But if she won, why is she still in jail?

Wednesday, Jul 7 1999
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Soon, Amanda found a doctor who would prescribe hormone treatments. She developed breasts, her voice became softer, and her skin smoother. She began to live completely as a woman. But she still had male genitalia. Wanting a sex-change operation, but never having the money for one, Amanda settled for the hormones and figured the final procedure would come in time.

Amanda DuValle was a popular act at Esta Noche, where she lip-synced Latino songs during her Sunday night show. Amanda even won the crown as Miss 16th Street, a Latina drag queen beauty contest. Her childhood dreams were fast coming true. Especially when the boyfriend she met proposed.

Amanda was married in a commitment ceremony in a little pink church in the Castro. A three-tier cake sat on the bar at Esta Noche, waiting for the bride -- in her white wedding dress -- to arrive for the reception. "What a beautiful experience to fulfill your dreams," Amanda says. "I really felt like a princess."

But the relationship didn't work. Her new husband did not want Amanda to get the operation that would truly make her a woman. He liked the fact she still had a penis; Amanda had no desire to keep it.

After the breakup, life got harder for Amanda. She drifted in and out of homelessness. She still had her drag show, but the money wasn't great. She did sex work to survive and was eventually convicted on a prostitution charge, spending three months in the county jail.

Amanda also stole to support herself, selling items for cash. She has a long string of shoplifting charges, mostly small items from grocery stores, from vitamins to face cream. But she also stole higher-priced goods, including a $400 beaded evening gown from Nordstrom and $1,000 bronze Vanderveen figures from the upscale Gump's Department Store. Amanda was convicted on two separate grand larceny felonies, spending a year in the county jail and another 16 months in state prison.

"I don't really like to steal," says Amanda, who would often wear the dresses she stole in her drag show. "But I wanted something to make me look good."

After more than 10 years of living illegally in San Francisco, Amanda finally had to face the INS. With her number of arrests and jail terms, it was only a matter of time before the immigration service found her in the prison system. She was summarily deported to Nicaragua to face her family for the first time as Amanda.

Amanda's first visit home in a decade didn't last long. After the beating and rape at the Managua airport, Amanda went to see her family. Her youngest siblings, just 5 and 9 when she left, didn't recognize their lost brother, who had now become a woman. Her other full and half-siblings, her stepfather, and an array of cousins -- the ones who used to taunt and beat young Oscar for being different -- simply ignored Amanda. Oscar was nothing to them, and as far as they were concerned, Amanda didn't exist.

Amanda's mother hugged her son when he showed up bloody and bruised from the airport. But she still called her son Oscar, never mentioning that he was a woman, telling her son he should cut his long hair. "No," Amanda told her mother. "Look at what I am now."

But her mother was unable to do so.
The next day, the immigration lieutenant and his men visited Amanda's house to "remind" her she was not welcome in Nicaragua. They beat her up again, shoving her mother to the floor. The next night Amanda set out for the long trip back to the Texas border. For the second time, Amanda took a bus from Managua to the Honduran border, and traveled overland through Honduras, into Guatemala, and north through Mexico.

A wide expanse of citrus groves welcomed Amanda to the United States again at the Mexican border, near Brownsville, Texas. She crossed the Rio Grande River and was illegally back in the U.S., this time carrying a little backpack that contained a change of women's clothes, some beauty products, and her hormone pills.

After fixing herself up at a roadside restaurant near Brownsville, Amanda stood in front of the mirror and liked what she saw. She was convincing -- a pretty woman -- and on her trip to San Francisco this time, she could use her looks to help get her there.

On the interstate from Texas to California, Amanda befriended truck drivers, who then bought her meals and gave her rides. In return, she offered her services -- mainly in the form of fellatio. She didn't want some homophobic trucker to find out she was really a man, so she told them she was on her period.

Although it took Amanda two weeks to walk and hitch rides from Nicaragua to the Texas border, from there she reached San Francisco in just three days. But she lasted only six months in San Francisco before the INS picked her up again and put her on another plane to Nicaragua. She cried over how she had been beaten and raped by the officials at the airport just a few months earlier, pleading with the immigration officer to grant her asylum. Again, because of her criminal past, her claim was denied.

At the Managua airport, Amanda says, the same border patrol lieutenant recognized her, and this time, gave her 24 hours to get out of the country -- threatening to kill her if he ever saw her again. Amanda visited her mother for only a few hours, and early the next morning, she again headed for the Honduras border for yet another trip -- her third -- up the length of Mexico, to Texas and, finally, San Francisco.

About The Author

Joel P. Engardio

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