September 30, 1969 – March 11, 2013
It’s a special moment when your world is opened to a new possibility. When you see yourself reflected in another person, a positive reflection of yourself. You learn a new language to convey a long held truth, and, for a moment, you recognize something new within yourself. It’s as though someone has given you a skeleton key to unlock a central component of your own identity and open a new world of self discovery. In January of 2001, at 13, I had one of those turning key moments.
I was just getting use to my new school after having moved in with my grandmother and uncle Jerry over the winter break. I came into my room (the first time I ever had my own room) and kicked off the roller blades that I had gotten for Christmas. I plopped myself in front of my TV, turned on the set, and there she was. All 5’9” statuesque with her sun kissed tan and honey brown hair. Her name was Erica Andrews, a beautiful trans Latina in a brown one piece bathing suit and sarong tied at the waist. She sashayed onto the stage and I was mesmerized.
My 13 year old self didn’t see the objectification or bigger oppression systems at play as members of the audience hypothesized as to to whether or not she was a “man” or a woman. All I saw was a beautiful woman of her own creation. Although, in the following years I’d follow Erica’s career my memory of her is more defined by my idea of who she was and what she represented to me rather who she actually was, since I did not have an intimate relationship with her.
In that void I sanctified Erica and placed her on a Madonna-like pedestal. In my dreams we were girlfriends where she’d give me sisterly advice about boys, hair and makeup. It never occurred to me at 17 when I snuck into Southern Nights to see her perform with my bff Gia (my trans best friend from school), what would happen if she didn’t live up to my idea of her.
After watching her on stage do what she did best I ran up to Erica and in my youthful jubilee I told her “Erica my name is Jasmarie(don’t ask) I am such a big fan, I want to be just like you when I grow up”. What happened next has always stayed with me. With the back of her hand Erica graced my cheek and said “Baby fish, you’re going to be gorgeous, just gorgeous.”
It turns out that the Madonna-like figure that I had painted was not far off from who she was in real life. My girlfriends that knew Erica remember her as a witty, funny, professional performer; and as an extremely smart and savvy business woman. I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know these different parts of Erica. However, what I received from Erica was affirmation, love, possibility and the ability to dream. For a teenage trans Latina del barrio on her quest for self discovery, that was enough.
Happy Birthday Erica, You are missed