Death of a Maiden

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

Starting at fifteen Bowlegs began racking up arrests. In 1997 he was charged twice for battery and once for petty theft, all three times as a juvenile. In 1998 he was charged eight times for everything from trespassing to battery to grand theft. While in the juvenile detention center on NW 27th Avenue, he was twice charged with assaulting corrections officers. A maintenance worker at the detention center distinctly remembers Bowlegs. He'd be in and out a lot, recounts the worker, who asked that his name not be used. He liked to fight. He didn't take no bullshit. The kids there, they don't mess with him. They say, He's very low to the ground, but he don't play around.' In the cafeteria where he used to work, they call him Ducky because of the way he walk. I tell you, he was always swinging those little fists of his. It would take three or four workers to hold him down.

In April 2000 Bowlegs enrolled in Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center to learn a trade. He registered for math, language, and reading, but never attended classes, according to school administrators. Instead, say acquaintances, he hung out with a rough set in the projects.

At night Bowlegs found himself drawn to the same rugged stretch of street as Déj. And this was no coincidence. Lurking behind his macho persona, it seems, Bowlegs harbored a dark secret of his own: He appeared to be attracted to transsexual hookers.Northwest 79th Street west from Biscayne Boulevard is a hard-baked terrain of muffler shops, Caribbean grocery marts, botánicas, thrift stores, and the odd strip club. During the day traffic clogs the street, and the shops do brisk business. But at night, when the storefronts are shuttered and the traffic has dwindled, 79th Street becomes a marketplace for desire. Hookers, both females and transsexual males, dot the cracked sidewalks and alleyways. In between tricks some of the ladies cop from crack dealers who hawk rocks nearby. And every so often packs of young men, most from the projects to the west, prowl for whatever opportunity the night coughs up.This is where Déj worked, alongside colleagues like Precious, a dark-skin, doe-eyed, prostitute with a singsong voice, full breasts, and the sexual equipment of a man. Transsexuals and transvestites have congregated here for the better part of two decades, just down the street from the female prostitutes on Biscayne Boulevard. People such as Precious or Déj -- cops call them he-shes, they prefer the term girls -- exist in a kind of hermaphroditic netherworld. They are so convincingly feminine that many of their regular dates have no idea what gender they are, even after they've had sex. I've been doing this so long, I can do it from the front, or I can get on top, so you'd never know, Precious says matter-of-factly. (Precious and other transsexuals interviewed for this story requested that their street names not be used, expressly because they didn't want their regular clients to realize the deception.)

The corner where Déjà died
Steve Satterwhite
The corner where Déjà died
Detective Ford, standing near the scene of the crime, found an unlikely suspect collared by some unlikely vigilantes
Detective Ford, standing near the scene of the crime, found an unlikely suspect collared by some unlikely vigilantes

Yet other men seek them out specifically because they are both man and woman, though not quite either. Lately Precious has scaled back her dream of having a full sex-change operation because it might not be good for business. It means they would go to someone else, she says. And Precious is all business. At age 28 she has been on the street for more than a decade and has never known any other job. This life has been good to her, she claims. She saved enough money to buy a house (with some help from her brother), and now lives in a tidy, single-story stucco dwelling in Allapattah. Inside, enormous vases filled with silk roses overwhelm the living room, and an entertainment center, including a 57-inch television, dominates one wall of her bedroom. But lately she has begun to wonder if the risks outweigh the benefits.

Life on the street has always been dangerous for the girls. Precious has been held up so many times that she now carries her condoms in a clear plastic purse so robbers can see there is no money inside. Stephanie, who also works that stretch of road, sports a four-inch scar on her left arm where a trick slashed her during a theft. In 1996, she says, a robber shot her in the thigh on 79th Street. He asked for my purse and after I gave it to him, he shot me, she huffs.

Lately the street has become especially perilous. Back in December a robber shot and killed Pilar, whose given name was Anthony Streeter, on NW 80th Street off Seventh Avenue. Miami-Dade police, who are investigating the case, have not yet caught the killer. (Because it is an open investigation, detectives declined to discuss the murder.) Precious, Déj, and Stephanie all counted Pilar as a friend. They even printed Pilar's image on a memorial T-shirt. Déjà clipped out her pal's obituary and carried it in her purse.

But the murder did little to deter Déj and her friends. They continued their curbside vigil during the most dangerous hours, on the most dangerous streets, night after night. Precious and the others insist they work the street because they can't get regular jobs, given how they look. But it isn't just economic need that keeps them going. They might be in love with the thrill, the danger, says Miami Police Ofcr. Gregory Bavonese, who has worked the 79th Street/Biscayne Boulevard hooker detail for sixteen years. The reasons they are out there are varied. I've known people who were molested. I've known people who had drug habits and their self-esteem has dropped so far they'd do anything. I've known people who come from dysfunctional families and have never known love.

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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.


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 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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