Perez, Frankie Interview, 2018 November 5. OH-03508. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Standardized Rights Statement
AN INTERVIEW WITH FRANKIE PEREZ An Oral History Conducted by Elsa Lopez Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2018 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Maribel Estrada Calderón, Nathalie Martinez, Rodrigo Vazquez Editors and Project Assistants: Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez, Maribel Estrada Calderón, Elsa Lopez, Nathalie Martinez, Marcela Rodriquez-Campo, Rodrigo Vazquez iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iv PREFACE Frankie Perez (1986- ) is an individual that constantly found himself navigating two worlds, whether it was military versus civilian; female versus male; or being Latinx in the United States. As a result of this navigation, Perez has a unique perspective on our ever more complicated world that not many individuals possess. Perez served in the military during the Do Not Ask, Do Not Tell policy which made it difficult for someone dealing with gender identity, to seek out the proper support they need. Despite the policy, and other policies that were put in place afterwards to inhibit the transgender community in the military, Perez began his transition while still serving his country. In direct contradiction of popular opinion, Perez discovered that the military easily accommodated his transition. Outside of the military Perez is an active voice in the LGBTQ community. As a member of the LGBTQ, Latinx, and military community, Perez has a unique perspective that he uses to fight for both LGBTQ and Latinx rights. Currently, Perez is finishing his degree in gender and sexuality studies at UNLV. He hopes to use his education to help people have the difficult discussions and improve conditions for his communities. v TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Frankie Perez November 5th, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Elsa Lopez and Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez Preface…………………………………………………………………………………………..iv Perez describes his childhood; gives background information on parents; gives detail on grandparents immigration story; talks about grandmother’s involvement with LULAC; grandmother assists undocumented people in Yuma, Arizona………………………………..1 – 4 Discusses his high school career; speaks about the importance of sports in high school and softball coach that inspired him; talks about lack of Latinx representation in his teachers during high school; enters the military after high school; begins to explore the idea of gender; speaks on his transition while being in the military……………………………………………………...5 – 8 Is placed on a medical hold in the military; decides to end military contract early; explains how his transition affected his physical tests for the military; goes to commandant to ask to be referred to as “sir” instead of “ma’am”; speaks on other adjustments he made for himself after transition in military; speaks on how 2016 election may have impacted transgender people in the military; gives detail on how everyday military personal feel about transgender people serving in the military……….......………………………………………………………………………9 – 14 Shares other experiences from other transgender members of the military; shares opinion of the future for transgender community in the military under Trump administration; discusses how he came to the realization that he was transgender; talks about the Latinx transgender community in Las Vegas; speaks on the intersection of being both transgender and Latinx; discusses experiencing male privilege after transitioning…………………………………………….15 – 18 Speaks about the privilege he has by being a Latinx person born in the United States; explains the type of jobs his parents have held; discusses the LBGTQ scene in Las Vegas; talks about how culture impacts which clubs members of LBGTQ community would visit; speaks about intersectionality; goes in depth about his area of study at UNLV; notes who his role models are; explains his activism involvement in the Las Vegas community…………………………..19 – 25 The date is November fifth, 2018. My name is Elsa Lopez and I am here with... Laurents Banuelos-Benitez. Barbara Tabach. And Frankie Perez. We are in the OHRC room. Frankie Perez, if you could please spell and pronounce your first and last names. It's pronounced Frankie Perez and it's spelled F-R-A-N-K-I-E and Perez is P-E-R-E-Z. Actually, before we begin I'd like to know how you choose to identify. My pronouns? Yes. Whatever you would like to include. My pronouns are he, him. I identify as a trans Latinx man. I guess other labels...I'm a twin. I identify as a poet, a scholar. Those are pretty much the most important identifiers that I associate with. That's great. I'd like to begin with your family and your childhood. Could you tell us a bit about the two? I lived with my mom and grandma. I'm very close with them. I have a twin, so that's one sibling, and I have two older sisters and three older brothers. We're not all super close. I would say I'm closest to my twin. In general we get together on holidays and we see each other every so often. They live here in Vegas. Most of my siblings live here in Vegas except my twin. My twin actually lives on the East Coast, so I really miss her a lot. She's over there with her partner and the kids. In childhood...When I say "we" it's because I am a twin, so I'm used to saying we because we were obviously born on the exact—I'm two minutes older. We were born in Southern California and we lived there until we were about six and then we moved to Arizona; Yuma, Arizona, so it's right there by the border of Cali and Mexico. We lived there until we were about thirteen and then we moved here to Las Vegas and went to high school out here. I worked on the Strip here, Caesars, Harrah's. Then I joined the Air Force and left for a while and then I came back here. The cost of living is actually very reasonable here. That's pretty much my childhood up until now. Can you tell us a bit about your parents, how they met and a little bit of background on their story? 2 My mom is originally from Arizona and my dad is originally from Southern California. My mom was working for a cable company in, I think, Santa Ana or somewhere in the Southern California area. My dad was working for, I think, Galivisión or Univisión. He went into the cable company and my mom was the first person—I don't remember what her job title was called; I don't want to say secretary because I don't know exactly that was the job title, but she was basically the first person that people would see when they would come into this building. My dad said right when he saw my mom, he was like, "Oh, she's the one." They met there and he asked her out on a date—well, not that first time meeting—the second time meeting. What's interesting is my mom said, "I thought it was so interesting that your dad brought me two dozen red roses and I thought, oh, why two? Why not one?" But she said, "Oh, thank you. That was nice." It's funny because a few months later she finds out she's pregnant with twins. I thought that was really interesting. That's pretty cool. They met there at the cable company and then they pretty much got together and were together after that for twenty-seven years. Your parents, what ethnicity are they? Mexican. My dad identifies as Chicano and my mom identifies as Mexican American. Are they first generation? Both first generation—actually, I'm sorry. My dad is first generation, but my mom is second generation because her mom was born in Yuma, Arizona. Do you know anything about your grandparents' immigration story over to the U.S.? I do know actually, yes, both sides. My grandmother on my dad's side, my paternal grandmother, she's from Guanajuato. My dad told me the story about the town that they lived in and she went up to Brawley, California to settle there. My dad doesn't know much about his dad because he died when he was really young. But we do know that they both came from Guanajuato together as a couple up to Brawley, California, and then they pretty much settled there. I still have a lot of family there in Brawley and spread out through Southern California. My mother's, my great-grandma, because my grandmother was born in Yuma, Arizona, but her parents were from Sonora in Mexico. Pretty much the same thing with them as a couple—I'm sorry, not as a couple. My great-grandfather met my great-grandmother I think while he was working because he was an electrician and I believe he was working and he met my great-grandmother. They just settled there in Yuma. I don't remember the story of exactly when or how he came, but I just know that they had their kids there, which was my grandmother, and then my mother was born there in Yuma, Arizona. They pretty much settled right there in Yuma. That's pretty much all I know from my grandparents, that it's Guanajuato and then Sonora. Have they told you any stories in particular that you can remember or that stood out to you? 3 My grandparents? Yes. Or even your parents. My grandmother does tell me a lot of stories. I am very close to her and I'm very grateful. She's a little shorter than me. She went to ASU. She was a teacher for thirty years. She was a part of LULAC. Are you all familiar with LULAC? She was a part of LULAC and went all over the country. I think that's where I really get it from. She would go to different states and really fight for people's right to exist or to live; all that stuff. It's funny how when I was young, I didn't really know what was going on, but she would be like, "Come on, get your bag ready. We're going to D.C.; we're going to Phoenix. There's a LULAC convention; this is going on." All I remember is our family making tamales and tacos and stuff to sell to raise money to go to these conventions and stuff. Of course, as kids then, we're just happy to eat and enjoy other kids being around there, too, when the other people bring their kids and hang out and play. My grandma would tell me stories about that that I vaguely remember about going to the LULAC conventions. She even told me recently—I didn't know this. I'm like, "Why didn't you tell me this before? It's so important." Even though she was a teacher and she didn't technically have to, during the summer she would go to Northern California and work in the fields. She would pick strawberries. She told me she's picked...I'm sorry. I know for sure strawberries off the top of my head. She said she would go and do that work. I admire that a lot because that's something that as a teacher—I don't know. I don't know too many people that just go and do that that don't have to necessarily. I was like, "Oh, that's awesome." I kind of wish that I could go and experience that, too. I just don't know anybody in Northern California. BARBARA: Is this your maternal or paternal? Maternal. What is her name? Her name is Armida Vasquez. Did she ever give you an indication about the inspiration to do that? She didn't. I just know that she's always tried to help people. My mom even told me one time, and this was recent too—I think maybe the work that I've been involved in a lot lately, I don't know, maybe my mom felt more comfortable. Maybe it's still that stigma of talking about. But my mom recently said, "Oh, yes, I remember when I was young in our house in Yuma, Arizona, my grandmother used to help folks that are undocumented there at the house and help them get their paperwork started and settled and all that stuff." My mom said, "Yes, my mom did that. She wanted to help people like that." I'm like, "That's awesome." 4 I asked my grandma, I said, "So how did you feel?" I didn't ask why. I just said, "How did you feel?" She was like, "Oh," like it was nothing. I'm like, "That's awesome." She was just like, "Well, some people, if they didn't speak English, they didn't know where to go. They didn't know how to start. So I just helped them. I helped them start their paperwork or I helped them connect with their family somewhere else. But at least I gave them a place to sleep and something eat so they can go on their way." I'm like, "That's so awesome." But she never said—that's an excellent question that I need to ask her of why she felt like she could. Especially at this time in your life. Those roots are deep and sometimes we don't know about them until we get older and then we appreciate the foundation that we come from, which is what you're just learning. Yes, yes. That's great. There's no stopping her. You can't tell her nothing. How did she become involved with LULAC? Did she ever tell you? She never said. I just know that she was really about it, really serious about it. She was really big on education. She has had, I want to say, ten or eleven brothers and sisters. She was the first and only one to go to college and then she became a teacher. I just remember, when she was involved with LULAC, raising money for scholarships to give to young folks was a big thing to her; she was on it. I remember us doing car washes and making a lot of food. She made tortillas. I remember in the backyard we had a comal and she would make the tortillas there. I tried helping a few times, but she got mad because she said I was burning her tortillas. She was all mad. I just remember doing that and raising that money for scholarships. Thinking about it now, wow, that's a beautiful thing. What kind of teacher was she? She did fifth grade and then once she got older and just started substituting, she did different grades. She would do third grade, first grade, maybe sixth grade, but she didn't do anything higher than that. It was young students. I'd like to know a bit more about your high school years here in Vegas. My high school years were a blur because that's when—I didn't realize then; I just knew something was different—feeling like—not knowing—even having the word to say trans, being transgender, I didn't know what that was or the feelings I was feeling. I just know that in high school I just went to class, did what I had to do, and I wanted to hurry up and get out of there. I just always felt uncomfortable, not always and not to say—I had friends. In fact, my twin and I, we were really popular. I played sports. I stayed eligible just to play sports. That sounds terrible. 5 But because I couldn't ever describe this feeling that it was like, I don't know why can't I ever feel completely comfortable or okay wherever I was even though I had a lot of friends and played sports and all that stuff, a lot of coaches and teachers that supported my twin and I, whatever we wanted to do. So high school wasn't bad, but I just remember wanting to hurry up. I just wanted it to finish. I wanted to be able to be an adult to start living how I wanted to live and present and all that stuff. What high school did you attend? I went to Cheyenne. What years did you go there? What year did you graduate? I graduated in 2005. What would that be? From 2001 to 2002—yes, whatever. My math is off. But I graduated in 2005 and then right after that I went into the Air Force. You mentioned some coaches and teachers that were influential. Do any come to mind? Definitely my softball coach, Coach Simon. She was just amazing. She inspired me so much. She was a really good volleyball player. In fact, she went to college and played volleyball, but got into an accident and she was paralyzed, so she was in a wheelchair. She just inspired me so much. As much as you know these things, but when you have somebody right there and you see, she really showed me, yes, things can happen and it can really not be what you want on anybody especially yourself, but you can still do what you've got to do and still help others. I remember even one time—and her husband was there. He was cool, too. When he would get off work, he would come to the practices and stuff. There would be times where he would try to help her because sometimes on the softball field sand is kind of...She would be trying to wheel herself through the sand and he would try to go help her and she's like, "No, I can do it." I would just see her doing it. I was like, man, that's how I always want to be. She really set that example, like you can still do it; you can get through whatever obstacle happens. Coach Simon, yes. How important were sports to you in high school? Super important. If it wasn't for sports, I don't even know, honestly. I stayed more quiet and paid attention because I didn't want to disrespect my teachers, but not because I felt like I was really learning anything, not to say they weren't teaching anything. When I was young my mind was like, oh, I want a girlfriend; I want to go and shoot free throws; go listen to music. My mentality was so different. When I think about it now, I'm like...All I wanted to do was draw because I sketch. That's how it was in high school. What sports did you play? I played softball all four years. I was on varsity team all four years. I played volleyball. I was the center. 6 BARBARA: Really? Yes, I was the center. Yes, I was setting up all the six-feet-tall girls. How tall are you? Four eleven. But I was really good. I've always been really good at sports. You can tell me to...I don't know. With volleyball—and I didn't even want to play volleyball because I couldn't stand the uniform. I'm like, "I'm not wearing that." But we compromised; I compromised with my coach. I've always just had really good hand-eye coordination and getting something right where it needs to be. Volleyball was unexpected, but I was really good at it, so it was like, all right, I'll play this. Then basketball. I was a point guard and my twin was...What's the other guard called? *Forward? No, the forward is usually a taller person. She was a guard as well, but the one that if I'm bringing the ball down on point, I could just pass it to her on the side and we can shoot threes all day. I have a couple of questions about what high school was like back then. Do you feel that during that time there were teachers that were representative of you as a Latinx person? Did you see that very often? No. Not to say that there weren't Latinx teachers there. Honestly when I think back, I don't even remember having a Latinx teacher, honestly. They were either white or black or mixed. But honestly I don't remember having a Latinx teacher. Do you feel like that was something you were aware of back then? I definitely was aware of it. But back then, because my mind was on so many other things, I wasn't questioning it, like why don't I have a Latinx teacher? Which is one of the first things I will notice walking into any room now, especially when it comes to education. I don't remember any at all. You said that after high school you went and joined the military. Can you tell us a bit about your time in the military? That was a good learning experience. I did four years active duty; three of those years I was in the barracks and then my last year I was able to move off base. There was a good mix of people there, so actually there were quite a few Latinx folks there. Those years I was able to really start exploring my sexual identity and gender identity. That was when I was able to really start dressing how I wanted and presenting more, a little bit more how I wanted, because I still didn't realize. Something still didn't feel right. I still didn't realize that it was more than just the outer appearance. I still didn't know what trans was. I didn't even know it was possible to be able to what some call transition. Never in my wildest dreams would I even think that I could take any 7 type of hormone therapy or anything, just have facial hair. I just never thought it was possible. Being in the military because you have to shave anyways—well, you could technically have a mustache; you could, but most the guys shaved their face. It wasn't like that big of a deal then because I'm like, oh, they have to shave their face anyway. There was still a little bit of that pressure there because the military is very binary; it's categorized, male-female PT tests. We do a lot of things integrated. I'm not saying we're completely separate on a lot of stuff, but it can still be very binary. Even though I was able to because I was away from my family—and not to say that my family—my parents weren't like, oh, you're a girl, so you have to dress like this and you have to act like that. They weren't like that, but they weren't very open to other things. After a certain age, they never said, "Oh, you have to wear this," or, "You can't wear that." In fact, I was a tomboy. They saw me in hats and I even wore bandanas or do-rags, all that stuff, because I played sports, and they didn't say anything. I feel like when certain things are not said, when you're young I felt like it still wasn't okay; they didn't say I could, so maybe I shouldn't, as far as presenting exactly how I wanted to. Being in the military was like, oh, okay, I'm away from everybody; nobody knows me here. So I actually want to wear this. I actually want to do this. I want to cut my hair. I don't want to have to wear this versus that. That's where being in the military I really got to explore that, the different types of styles, just all of that. I learned a lot. I really did learn a lot. I was grateful to be around people from other countries. I was grateful to be around people from other parts of country. It was a good learning experience. But I just also felt like after my four years on my enlistment that I needed to do something else. I didn't know what that was. When I did get out, I actually lived in New York for about six months. It was a good experience, too. I worked in Manhattan, took the train to work, so that was a good experience. But I was only there for six months and then I came back here. Then I started missing being in my uniform, so I joined the Reserves. I worked at Caesars Palace, so that was my civilian job when I was not on base. I did that for six years, worked at Caesars, the Air Force Reserves. You said that during this time you began to feel more comfortable exploring different genders or sexualities, for example. Was there a word for what you felt before then, so during high school or when you were younger? I was okay with identifying as what we would call a stud; it's a more masculine presenting woman. Some say butch, but I think that's more of an outdated term. I don't personally use it. I'm not hating on those who do. But I like the word stud. I was okay with that because I thought that's what it was. I thought that there was only two genders and you could only be one or the other and that was it. It's just crazy thinking back. Even though I've gone to so many gay clubs, even at seventeen, eighteen years old, and I met trans folks, but it still didn't click to me. I thought it was more of—and here is where capitalism comes in, I guess—I felt like I didn't have access to that; that's only for rich people or that's only for people that have money that can afford to do that type of stuff. I didn't think that I could. Not that my family was poor, but we are very 8 middle working class people and that would be a luxury. We have to pay these bills and do all this other stuff, so how could I even begin to think about affording to be able to look like what I really wanted to look like? I remember instead of getting upset or sad about it, I would just be like, oh well, it is what it is. What could I do? BARBARA: At what point did the military start opening up to the trans segment of their population? I've met people in the service who were transitioning. When did that occur? I know for me I came out to my unit at the end of 2015. I felt like I had to because I had already been taking testosterone and my voice was starting to get deep and they started asking me questions. They were like, "Are you sick, Perez?" I'm like, "Nope, I'm just getting better." Because what I would do when I would go on base—since I was in the Reserves, I only went one weekend a month. My base was in Cali. So my coworkers, I wouldn't see them until a month at a time. When I would go on base and put my uniform on, I would shave my face and everything, so I still kind of looked the same as before. But they could hear my voice getting deeper. They were like, "Oh, Perez, what's wrong?" Then I did feel bad because I felt like I am not telling them the truth and I had just gotten promoted so I felt even more bad that I have to tell them. That's when I told them. At that moment I did have one supervisor tell me, "Don't talk about it just yet to anyone else because we have to see what to do or how this is going to work." Oh, that's what it was where I felt like I was young again, back in my active duty years because I'm like, this is the BS of the don't ask, don't tell policy where I felt like I was trapped. I'm like, this is BS. At that time, during the don't ask, don't tell policy, I thought I had to identify as a woman. I thought because I like feminine energies, what most people call women, I felt like, oh, well, then that's considered a same-sex relationship, so I couldn't talk about it. I just felt like, you know what? I'm a grown person with another consenting adult. I felt like, this is BS. I'm not going to have a boss, I don't care if it is the United States military, I'm not going to have a boss that's going to tell me who I can and can't love. I was like, I will not do this. That's the real reason why I got out. When my supervisor told me that while I was sitting there—I had just got promoted—I was an E6—to technical sergeant. I made technical sergeant in nine years. That's a really good achievement. I remember sitting there. She was a senior master sergeant, so I had to be careful in how I responded. But still, I did have a pretty good rank. I looked at her and I immediately thought about that feeling I had under the don't ask, don't tell policy, and I thought, oh, no, I'm not going to go back into any type of closet or try to hide who I am; that's not what I'm going to do. Either we're going to figure this out, or I'm taking my uniform off and then you all can figure it out. But I promise you, you're going to want me to be here to help you figure this out. So I told her, I said, "Then let's see what we need to do." And she said, "Okay. Well, yes, let's see." Then I went to the AFI and I started looking at stuff and seeing what it said. Then I talked to my first sergeant and a few other people and nobody knew. In fact, one person was like, "So wait, what does that mean? I don't even know what transgender means." Then I realized, I'm like, I 9 think what needs to happen first is some education because a lot of people just don't even know what this is. Bad things can happen when people are uneducated about something that is the least important—it has nothing to do with how I do my job and how I show up. In fact, it would make me feel better because then I can finally show up to my job exactly who I really am and not trying to hide that little aspect of who I am like I had been doing. We figured it out and things were going pretty smooth for a while. But then they put me on a medical hold because then they said—in fact, a few months after I did come out to everybody that's at the time Secretary of Defense Ash Carter came out on TV and said that transgender people can serve openly. I remember I was like, "Oh, this is a beautiful thing," because he actually went out and said it even though I didn't see anything in the books that said we couldn't. Anyway, that was good. When they put me on this medical hold, I asked, "What's going on then?" Because everything else was fine as far as my PT and everything else. They said, "Well, we're still trying to figure out certain things." I said, "Well, is there anything I can help you with? Is there anything I can come in and we can discuss some options or make up some plans?" They said, "This is above us. It needs to come down from headquarters." That's when I thought, oh, now you all are wasting my time. When you're on a medical hold like that they don't take anything from you; it's kind of like you're in limbo. It's called no pay, no point status. I was just here and I thought, you know what? Maybe this is the time that...Plus I had just gotten married. I was trying to buy a house. It was just so many things going on. I knew I wanted to come here to UNLV, but I had put that on hold because I was trying to buy this house, and so I needed to be working full time in order to get this house. I said, "You know what? This is too much. I have to let go of something because this is becoming way too much emotionally and physically." That's when I said, "You know what? I have to make this decision to get out of the Air Force then because they have me just waiting and I don't like that." I felt like it was other things going on, but in that moment I said, "Well, what can I do?" I felt like it was out of my control. That's when I called up my commander and let him know that I want to focus on school and my new family and if there is any possible ways to end my contract early. There is a way. There's always a way. The military, there's always a way. We did; I had this discuss. And they were like, "Are you sure?" I'm like, "Are you sure? What's going on over here?" Aside from me being trans, I had to focus on getting everything situated here. When I say here, I mean in Las Vegas because my base was in California. That was even stressful. There would be times when I would work full-time at Caesars, have to drive the four hours to base, then be there for the weekend and drive back and go back to work the next day. I would be exhausted. I volunteered a lot at my base and that's how I got promoted really fast because I used to volunteer. I would be on base three months at a time, two weeks at a time. I was on base one 10 time for four and a half months, in lodging on base, four and a half months, because I volunteered to be a part of an exercise because I knew how all that ran and I thought, let me do this and get this going, get it smooth. We did really good on that exercise. Plus, it was good money, so that was good for me. It was good for everybody all the way around. Coming out as trans to everybody, I had people give me these looks. It was almost like I felt like they were looking as if they had these preconceived notions of what a trans person is or who a trans person is and now they have somebody that they've known that they see with this good work ethic and really trying to build camaraderie with the unit and volunteer for all these things. I'm just a regular person, whatever regular means, but just a person there. They're like, "Oh, you're one of them?" Not all, not everybody, but I could see it in a lot of people's faces. BARBARA: To go from a female to a male in the military, how did you compete physically? You're having the same standards or higher standards for men in physical performance? You know what I'm talking about? I think we talked about this once. Yes. As far as physical, males do have higher. First it's categorized by age group. You have to take a PT test, which stands for physical training. If you get ninety or above, you don't have to take it for another year. But if you get below a ninety, you have to take it every six months. Like I said, it goes age categories. Say it's like eighteen to twenty-five. I don't remember the exact ages. Or it might go