Death of a Maiden

Déjà was a survivor in Miami's perilous world of transsexual hookers -- that is, until she met a customer named Bowlegs

Obviously this was at odds with the straight world in which he worked during the day. His Winn-Dixie apron began to chafe more and more. Eventually, following his new friends' lead, he began hanging out on the street and going on “dates” with the male clients who cruised the area. The money he made -- two or three times what he could earn at his day job -- led him to abandon the straight world altogether.

Dondre began transforming himself into as much woman as he could afford, with the help of hormone pills and shots, about $60 for a month's worth. Then he had silicone injected, bit by bit, into his hips and buttocks, a process that costs about $400 to get started. His prostitution became the means to his metamorphosis.

“As far as I knew, I thought for a long time that Dondre was still working at Winn-Dixie, and I thought he was performing pageants at gay clubs,” Clara Duncan says. “But from time to time, when my other son would come home on leave from the service, he would visit mutual friends. Someone told him that Dondre had been arrested for prostitution.”

Jeffrey Flanders, called Bowlegs because of a genetic bone disease, graduated from fists to guns in Liberty City
Jeffrey Flanders, called Bowlegs because of a genetic bone disease, graduated from fists to guns in Liberty City
Precious at home: When the danger increased, she took matters into her own hands
Steve Satterwhite
Precious at home: When the danger increased, she took matters into her own hands

In October 1996 police charged him with grand theft auto, later reducing the count to trespass. By November police referred to him in reports as a “known male prostitute” and began charging him with the nuisance crimes meant to discourage prostitution: obstruction of a public walkway, loitering, and trespassing. In all, between 1996 and 2000, police would charge Dondre twenty times, a fact he kept concealed from his family.

“I really don't know where he went wrong,” his mother says. “He wasn't raised that way. He was raised to respect the law.”

In December 1997 one of Dondre's friends called the Duncans. Dondre was sick and needed some help. He was suffering from a botched breast implant. “Whoever did it did a very bad job; the fluid was leaking,” Clara Duncan recalls. On Christmas Eve Duncan drove her son, who now was nearly a woman, to a doctor's office on the outskirts of Naples, where the breast surgery had been performed. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics, pain medication, and exercises, and Dondre returned with his mother to Carol City to recuperate, his new breasts intact. As soon as he recovered, he left home. By now Dondre had the figure and curves to warrant his new name, Déjà.

His family struggled to make sense of his transformation. “I couldn't understand why he wanted to mutilate his body like that,” Cleveland Duncan says today. “I told him: “If you are homosexual, you can't help it, that's the way you are. But you can't change your DNA; you can't change your genes.' He'd just sit and listen. He never argued with me.”

Clara Duncan refuses to use female pronouns to refer to her son. “I didn't much care for it,” she says of the operation. “But that was my child, and I wasn't going to turn my back on him.”

Instead it was Déjà who turned her back on her family. She felt more comfortable with her new friends, who, like her, were trapped between two worlds. No doubt it must have been gratifying to have a never-ending parade of men coveting her new body -- and willing to pay for her company. One of them was a neighborhood boy called Bowlegs.There's a saying on the street that a gun makes a man feel ten feet tall and made of muscle. It's appropriate, then, that Jeffrey Trivanty Flanders carried two. At four feet two inches tall, Bowlegs, as he was called, needed to compensate. The eighteen-year-old suffered from rickets, a bone disease that stunted his growth and made his femurs arc out to the side. Both his mother and sister suffer from the disease as well. In the tough neighborhoods of Liberty City where he lived, Bowlegs learned to counterbalance his handicap by throwing the first punch. “He's like the little pit bull that fights the rottweilers,” says Jack, who went to school with Bowlegs and lived around the corner from him. “He fought all the time. All the boys were bigger than him, and he always won his fights.” Jack, wearing a sleeveless T-shirt (a “wife beater” in street parlance) and black nylon warm-up pants, is walking down NW 77th Street and Ninth Avenue, a basketball tucked under his arm. This is right around the corner from the low-slung duplex where Bowlegs lived with his mother and younger sister. “I guess him being a midget and all, he had to go the extreme, you know, to make up for it.”

It worked. He quickly earned a reputation as a fearsome fighter. Jack says he remembers Bowlegs getting kicked out of Drew Middle School in the eighth grade for toting a gun to class. “I think it was a .357 -- it was a big gun, especially for him.” Later, when Jack and his class graduated to Northwestern, Bowlegs showed up a year behind everybody. He didn't last long at Northwestern either. “He was kicked out of there too, for fighting, being disruptive, stuff like that,” Jack recalls.

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2 comments
francescamichaelson
francescamichaelson

If I may, my name is Francesca Michaelson. I knew Deja and now she is dead, murdered. I tried to post this to the Miami CBS affiliate but I do not know if they will print this. Please share this, let our outrage be heard.

I am sick, my heart and soul scream for justice for this woman, though born physically male, she was one of the many transgender individuals in this country. She was poor, yes, miserable even. But SHE was human. I knew her here in Brooklyn, NY where I live, an activist for AIDS testing and prevention, calling out to people explaining the need and urgency to protect themselves from this infirmity. She was friend to many and her absence in our lives will leave a hole that will take a long time to fill. In the web post you repeatedly refer to Deja as a “transvestite” and a “prostitute “with several references to her criminal past and questionable occupation; such a lack of professionalism I have not seen, ever! I dare use the antiquated term “yellow journalism” because instead of reporting her death with due consideration to her and her memory you went the way of the whore you accuse her to have been and now you would stand and inform the people, to communicate to them an incident that occurred with such a jejune attitude toward the victim as though she, and yes I say SHE, was not a valuable member of society. It is statistically evident that the majority of transsexuals are not given the same employment and educational opportunities that are available to the general public at large. Could it be that your callous disregard for Deja's person and memory and HER struggles merit nothing of consideration? Did you victimize her in death like she was victimized in life for no other reason than sensationalism and ratings? Sellers of dirty laundry you are! You should be ashamed, we owed HER better. I consider myself lucky because as a transsexual I am not the norm, the stereotype as it were. I am educated and presently returning to college for an advanced degree program and I have my family’s support of my decision to transition into a female, even though there are members of my family that do not agree with it. Life is hard enough for a transgender person with its struggles and pitfalls common to everyone and then again more so by the laissez-faire attitude with which her death was reported. It reminds me of another death many, many years ago, one Marilyn Monroe (nee Norma Jean Mortenson); found dead in her apartment of an apparent suicide and the press like rabid dogs fought each other to report first the fact she was found naked without regard to what may have drove her to suicide or if it even was. The bile is rising in my throat so I must stop writing. If it isn't too much trouble, next time this happens, and it probably will soon, have a care for those of us left behind. I carry the hope that she is in a better place now, easier to believe because I have had the first-hand experiences to know the Hell transgender people deal with quotidianly. May God have mercy on HER soul, and yours.

bnesp
bnesp

I just saw Bowlegs on MSNBC Lockup. He claims Deja was an innocent victim in the path of the bullet meant for another man, outside the.club. He did say the detectives and D.A painted a story that he hated the transsexual kind, but never once said he solicited them for sexual favors many times before the murder of Deja. Ofcoarse he wouldnt admit anything like that, he didn't wanna be looked at like that. Deja sounded like a wonderful person. Before and after her life working on the streets. May she rest in peace.

 
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