Reported in Douglas, Laramie, Cheyenne, Buffalo, Sheridan, Cody, Jackson, Rock Springs, Riverton and Casper, Wyoming
His cross-dressing had been a private matter when Larry and Vickie first married in 1968, and their lives from that point might have unfolded in the same way as many other families of their generation. After years as a housewife, Vickie went in search of a career, selling Tupperware before she joined an environmental nonprofit and, later, became involved in local Democratic politics. Larry, meanwhile, jumped between trades before working his way up at the power plant near Douglas, Wyo., where he and Vickie lived with their two children. They were intent on climbing into the middle class.
But in the early 1970s, Larry began to wear feminine clothing in public.
The threat of violence loomed over them from that point on, especially in small-town Wyoming, the Cowboy State. No matter that Larry was in many ways a conventional man from rural America: great at building things, gruff in voice and demeanor, traditionally manly in almost every other way down to his calloused hands. He wasn’t gay and he wasn’t transgender — he identified as male and was attracted to women. But to break any one rule of masculinity was to be excluded entirely, and Larry became a warning about what would happen if you did so.
He was punched, teased, dragged, jumped, pushed and kicked, sometimes in front of his family. He was harassed by police officers and arrested on several occasions for wearing women’s clothes in public — which was not a crime. He was bullied at work. Once, Vickie recalled, Larry had his teeth knocked in by a stranger on their front lawn, some tough guy, as their son watched helplessly.
Even with his self-esteem in tatters, Larry forged an identity out of defending his right to wear what he wanted. Defiant, he adopted the nickname Sissy in the 1990s.
The end was not what they expected.
It was a brain tumor that killed Sissy, in March 2020, just five weeks after his first doctor’s appointment about tremors and extreme fatigue. He was 73.
The suddenness of his illness left Vickie, now 74, with a vast collection of papers and photos of Sissy, including piles of old newspaper clippings.
That such a man was not only born and raised in Wyoming but also chose to stay in Wyoming — the conservative frontier playground of the American cowboy — made him a staple of human-interest stories since 1997, when a Washington Post reporter encountered him on the National Mall during a visit to the District. Profiles in the Los Angeles Times, countless interview requests and even a “Dateline” segment followed. He and Vickie indulged all this with good nature, and just a little bit of dread. They enjoyed the idea that it might provide comfort to others who felt similarly victimized for not conforming strictly to gender norms.
Sissy’s death prompted an outpouring of public support in Wyoming, especially from the state’s thin but vibrant community of LGBTQ activists. They had come to see Sissy as one of their own. Several glowing obituaries were written.
One thousand miles away, in Los Angeles, a writer named Gregory Hinton was putting the finishing touches on a sensitive note he hoped might lead to his next project: a play about Sissy Goodwin’s life. Gregory, a published novelist, had lived in the mountain West as a boy and fled after coming out as gay in college. He now made it his mission to compile true stories of LGBTQ individuals in rural America, which he referred to affectionately as “our community.” He learned about Sissy in the Los Angeles Times and was inspired by his resilience, by his decision to stay.
He saw in Sissy a hopeful symbol, especially amid persistent anti-LGBTQ posturing by right-wing political leaders and the growing threat of violent attacks by bigots and extremists.
“Please forgive me if I have fumbled this, but when the time is right, I hope we might say hello. God Bless Sissy,” Gregory wrote at the end of his email.
Vickie, stalled in her grief and clinging to Sissy’s clothes, read the message with curiosity.
“I am still struggling to come to grips with a whirlwind,” Vickie wrote back 90 minutes later. “I’ve written some stories about our life and someday hope to write a memoir when all my thoughts converge into something coherent. I think a play or production would be a wonderful tribute to Sissy.”
Maybe, she thought, this would be a way to use Sissy’s story to help others even in death.
* * *
Gregory fretted over the script for more than a year, using Sissy’s journal entries as source material alongside 22 hours of oral history that Vickie gave to the American Heritage Center at Gregory’s request. Their words became the basis of “A Sissy in Wyoming,” a verbatim play told from Sissy’s perspective.
Neither remembers whose idea it was exactly, but by early 2022, Gregory and Vickie agreed to a nine-stop road trip to bring the story of Wyoming’s most beloved cross-dresser to rural community centers. To do the show on a budget, Gregory would deliver the script as a “playwright’s reading” in lieu of a full production. But the first stop in late September would be at a proper theater, at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, a fact that made him weepy with pride.
A who’s who of Wyoming organizers and activists on the political left were in attendance at the first show. Even if it is still known nationally as the place where Matthew Shepard was beaten to death in 1998, Laramie is regarded by people in the state as a liberal-ish college town. Some in the audience got to know Sissy in 2017, after then-U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) ignited an international firestorm when he told a high school classroom: “I know a guy who wears a tutu and goes to bars on Friday night and is always surprised that he gets in fights. Well, he kind of asks for it a little bit.”
Sissy, who was navigating a bout of deep depression at the time, accepted the senator’s apology, which earned him even more goodwill among the state’s moderates.
Before the show started, Gregory stood anxiously in black slacks and a black sweater as people came by to congratulate him. “I’m not very popular back home, so when I want some respect, I come to Wyoming,” he joked.
Vickie, in a turquoise blouse touched at the shoulders by silver embroidery, stood outside the theater smiling nervously and greeting audience members, about 200 in total. On display nearby were some of Sissy’s clothes, hung gingerly like artifacts or museum objects.
“Are you having fun?” one person asked her.
“I think so,” Vickie responded.
During the reading, Gregory was emotional. His lips quivered. His eyes grew watery. His throat caught.
“My mother did nothing to prevent the abuse,” Gregory-as-Sissy read onstage. “Once at a family Thanksgiving, as a grown man, she reaches down my trousers and yanks up my underwear to humiliate me in front of the family. ‘Still wearing panties, are you?’”
“Years later, when my mom was dying, I visited her in hospice,” Gregory-as-Sissy continued. “And these were my mother’s parting words to me: ‘Don’t come back, Larry. I don’t want the staff to know you are my son.’”
Vickie watched near the front row. She frowned slightly in the dark of the second act but soon put on the smile she usually wore.
As the show built to its endpoint, a few people began to sob openly. The audience erupted in a standing ovation, which Gregory directed to Vickie, who scrunched her shoulders as if unsure what to do with so many eyes on her.
It was a success.
But Vickie was caught off guard during a question-and-answer session by how personal some of the inquiries were, she told Gregory later, particularly from transgender audience members.
“How was he able to be so strong? Did he ever just fall apart sometimes?” one person asked.
“Yes, he fell apart. He cried. There were times where we both sat there and cried together. It was so incredibly difficult,” Vickie said, carefully. “And we just stuck it out.”
“Were there times where you felt he needed to get sober?” another person asked.
“Um. Sissy did have challenges with alcohol. Um. He tried — I mean, I guess, he tried to cure his depression with alcohol. It never got, it never, you know, kind of tipped over the edge,” Vickie responded. “But alcohol was a real challenge.”
Vickie braced herself for what was next.
Already, some people in a northeastern Wyoming town called Sheridan were grousing on Facebook about having a show with LGBTQ themes at their public library.
* * *
The bickering began soon after they left Laramie.
It was good-natured, mostly. Vickie wanted to sightsee and then wanted to go back for her purse, which she had left behind. Gregory wanted to arrive early to the next venue. Each thought the other was a chatterbox. Both preferred to be behind the wheel.
“How are we?” a man asked when Vickie and Gregory arrived for the next reading in Cheyenne. It was several hours before call time.
“Well, Greg thinks I’m a ridiculous person, but we’re fine,” Vickie said, exasperated.
“We’ve gotten to know each other and now we have nine more stops,” Gregory said in a deadpan. “No, no, it’s fine. We don’t want to talk about it because we finally made up.”
They were nearly perfect foils.
Heavy in frame and manner, Vickie could navigate the entire state of Wyoming without a map and wrote murder mysteries in her spare time. She seemed like she had never needed help with anything in her life. She relished working as a behind-the-scenes community organizer in rural Converse County for the library board and the local branch of the Democratic Party. She might begin telling a story about the time she went to Iraq with a charity on the sole condition that she could wear pants the entire time. Or about the sex workers she met once in D.C. Or the time she went to a lobbyist party and ran away when she realized several attendees were smoking pot. Inevitably, she would trail off abruptly: “So, but, anyhow.”
Gregory moved through the world with a gentle demeanor, the sort of curious softness that elicited the kindness and concern of complete strangers. His sentences were careful, complete and full of cultural references — subtle Joni Mitchell lyrics, or gag lines from old episodes of “I Love Lucy.” He had built a modest life over the decades as a writer in Southern California, but it was now, in his late 60s, that he felt he was truly hitting his stride.
Gregory had a way with words, and Vickie had countless stories to tell.
She knew the details of Sissy’s life, and he knew the audience that needed to hear them.
Before the reading in Cheyenne, two actors volunteering as stage hands sat with Gregory and Vickie ahead of the show. One of them, Jedediah, who revealed he was transgender, thanked Vickie for helping share Sissy’s story.
“You can keep the petticoats, if you want them,” Vickie told Jedediah suddenly.
“Are you sure?” Jedediah asked her. His eyes grew wide.
“It’s been really hard for me. It’s been sitting in my house for two years, but I didn’t just want to donate them. I want the petticoats to go with someone who wants them and will love them,” Vickie said. “So, anyhow, you just keep them.”
As they drove toward central Wyoming later that night, after the reading, lightning stretched across the sky. Vickie was unfazed as 40-mile winds pushed against the car. Rain poured down so violently that the road briefly disappeared.
“The response tonight was pretty awesome,” Gregory said. “I’m eager to see what kind of audiences we get at the next stops.”
“I don’t know about Cody, to be honest,” he added, referring to the town in north central Wyoming.
“Cody has had some issues. There was a lesbian couple there that was harassed. And there are all these ‘Don’t California-ize Wyoming’ signs everywhere. It’s all these people that aren’t even from here,” Vickie said.
“This is so fun,” Gregory said a few moments later. “I know it’s not the point, but I’m having so much fun.”
“No. It is the point, Greg,” Vickie told him, very seriously now. “What’s the point of life if you’re not having fun?”
* * *
Staff at the Sheridan Public Library seemed tense when Vickie and Gregory arrived. Angry comments about the play had flooded a local Facebook group.
“Crossdressing is immoral.”
“Actually real men aren’t sissies.”
In response, the library director had stressed the space “was available for anyone to rent.”
“I welcome some negativity,” Vickie said, defiantly. “That’s what this is about.”
Gregory seemed distraught when he heard there might be trouble. He looked down at his clothes.
Before they began driving that morning, he had decided to wear one of Sissy’s old petticoat skirts over his own trousers. It was large and ruffled and deep green. Gregory remarked that the skirt brought out his eyes, but it was a deflection; he felt self-conscious each time he stepped out of the car, even scared.
“I guess I never knew how Sissy felt the first time he stepped out in a dress. Until now,” Gregory had said at a rest stop as they pushed into northeast Wyoming.
The rhetoric against LGBTQ people was beginning to feel more dangerous than it had in a long time. Across the United States in 2022, people who lived in defiance of gender norms were singled out for public disdain by right-wing politicians who treated them as symbols of a changing country. This was especially true in conservative regions ahead of the November midterm elections, which were just weeks away. The playbook was an old one: accusations of depravity, “grooming” and contagion.
Gregory walked to the back of the library, sat down and closed his eyes.
He began to run his hands along the skirt’s ruffles.
Suddenly, he smiled.
“I can’t get over how beautiful the drive was today,” he said to no one in particular.
During a question-and-answer session after the reading, a burly Army veteran with unruly hair raised his hand. His name was Jerry Moore, and he sat hooked up to an oxygen tank. He was wearing a blue plaid dress, a price tag still dangling from the armpit. He was one of six male audience members out of about 50.
Jerry told the room he had come here with his son, Charlie Falkis, a transgender man who served in the U.S. Air Force and felt unwelcome in Wyoming. Both men were upset to see the Facebook comments about the reading, so they decided to wear dresses to the event in solidarity with Sissy.
“Just a statement of gratitude,” he said. “I’ve never seen as much hate as I saw on that thread. It’s all about fear.”
On the other side of the room, an elderly man in a Marlboro-red shirt and a black cowboy hat decided to speak up. The room suddenly felt heavy.
“I guess I kinda got a comment,” he began. His giant white mustache bounced with each word.
“You know, on the surface, the Western culture says mind your own business. But that’s so far from the truth. A lot of people believe that everything is their business,” he said. “And, you know, I’m really grateful for the play you did and for Sissy, for reminding people that it’s the inside that counts, not the outside. What somebody is wearing is none of my damn business.”
* * *
Now they made the long drive across the Bighorn Mountain range, toward the town of Cody, where Gregory had lived as a boy. His father had been the editor of the Cody Enterprise, the local paper, and Gregory felt like he was going home.
“The cool thing is that Sissy’s is a happy story. Your family didn’t break up,” Gregory said to Vickie from the driver’s seat. “You two loved each other and supported each other. Though it is tragic that he died.”
“He always used to say, ‘When I die, I want to be shot in the back by a jealous husband,'” Vickie said, laughing. “Well, he didn’t get shot in the back by a jealous husband. But I don’t think he would have minded how he went. It was quick, but he got to say goodbye.”
When doctors discovered his brain cancer was terminal, Vickie asked Sissy the hardest question of their lives, in a life full of them: whether he wanted to take out the feeding tube that was keeping him alive. He did. She held his hand while he slowly starved. She played “Love is Blue” and Brahms’s Lullaby for him, to ease his way.
She didn’t say any of that to Gregory.
“This is what you call a Wyoming traffic jam,” Vickie said instead, as the car approached a herd of cattle crossing the road. “Watch out, you’ll have cows splattered all over. And those ranchers get real grumpy.”
“Wow. Just look at this,” Gregory said, scanning the landscape. “Why isn’t Wyoming simply overrun?”
“It’s hard! You’ve gotta be tough,” Vickie said.
Gregory’s father had a gentleness about him, he told Vickie, but he was prone to terrible flashes of anger, which Gregory admitted he experienced, too. Vickie’s father had been a trucker who hauled mud out for the drilling rigs on oil patches; he and Vickie were not especially close. She still sometimes referred to herself as someone from the wrong side of the tracks.
When they finally reached Cody, Gregory suddenly grew silent.
“Do you mind if we drive through town quietly just for a moment?” he asked.
Gregory left the Mountain West for California in the late 1970s after being outed as a gay man while attending college in Colorado, he recalled. His parents were accepting. But being gay was forbidden in his charismatic Christian community, and he began to receive violent threats at home, which, he noted now, was not very Christ-like.
He returned to Wyoming in the early 2010s on a research fellowship. During that time, he would visit the basement of the courthouse in Cody to sift through the old Enterprise newspaper archives.
Gregory was often compelled by the urge to memorialize the past. When he talked about the early years of the AIDS epidemic, Gregory, who is HIV positive, often spoke about all the lost diaries and mementos, thrown away after each premature death as if the young gay men who owned them had never existed at all. To hold on to the evidence of a life, he believed, was to insist that it had mattered, even if others didn’t agree.
The Cody Enterprise, he pointed out now to Vickie, was founded in 1899 by William Cody, the town’s namesake, better known to history as Buffalo Bill. More than anyone, it was Buffalo Bill who transformed cowboys into icons of masculinity in America and across the world with his Wild West show.
In those old archived issues of the newspaper, Gregory even found a few photos of himself and his relatives, perks of being the editor’s son. Here, he saw a family album, one that asserted he belonged to Wyoming even after all that time away.
* * *
Gregory’s voice caught several times during his reading that evening in Cody, including in one section where Sissy-the-character remarks on the random acts of hate his family endured at home — broken windows, packages of human excrement, dead animals, slashed tires. The play builds toward an emotional scene when a honeylocust sapling was vandalized in the Goodwins’ front yard, a real-life event that devastated Vickie. She used tent stakes and rope to keep it upright.
“Can I ask you to give us that quote about the honeysuckle tree again?” one audience member asked Gregory after the reading.
“For two summers, just to humor my wife, I silently sparred with the tangle of lines and stakes as I mowed around the tree thinking it was certain to die,” Gregory-as-Sissy read, delighted. “Now, when the occasion arises, Vickie offers her lovely honeylocust, which is now taller than our old two-story house, as proof that anything can survive random acts of hate as long as it is loved.”
The audience burst into applause.
If anything, this was the thesis statement of Gregory’s work.
That LGBTQ people not only lived in rural America, but should be able to thrive there as well, unharmed. Even cherished.
But the next question went to Vickie. It was her perspective people wanted to hear.
“Vickie, what’s your tidbit of advice for people who have someone close to them that’s living an alternative lifestyle that they don’t understand?” a man asked her.
“I would think, ‘Talk to them.’ And do it in a way of asking questions but not judging,” she said from the stage.
“And sometimes it is hard not to say, ‘Well, that’s weird!’” she added, laughing. “I hope I’m answering your question. I hope that’s helping some.”
* * *
After a sparsely attended reading in Jackson, in the western part of Wyoming, a woman raised her hand to ask a question. She stopped several times to gather herself amid tears. Her partner, she said, was transgender and didn’t feel safe in Wyoming.
“I was just hoping you had experience, advice, on loving somebody, celebrating them, but being scared as well,” the young woman said to Vickie.
The truth was that the constant drumbeat of attacks and questions about Sissy’s manliness took a toll on him. And some of Vickie’s memories felt too exposed, too far off script to share.
Like when Sissy tried going to gay bars in search of friends, believing that perhaps the also-marginalized men there would accept him — only to be thrown out because the guys didn’t want to seem effeminate by association.
Or like when Sissy asked Vickie if he should pursue a sex-reassignment surgery, which prompted a serious and painful conversation about divorce. Vickie tolerated the cross-dressing and, after a long journey, supported his need to do so in public. But here was a firm line. Vickie was heterosexual. She did not want to be married to a woman. Vickie felt selfish thinking back on it now. In the end, Sissy told her he did not feel like a woman, and they stayed together.
“I was gone when this person stopped and beat him up in the front yard and kicked him in the kidneys and kicked his teeth in. I was off at a meeting and out of town,” Vickie told the young woman at the reading, stumbling a bit. “So. There were some words said between us about, well, protecting you — at one point he said, ‘You’re not my mother.’”
“And it is, it is, it was difficult,” she added. “My heart goes out to you. I know how hard it is.”
Among the things Sissy left behind was a journal he kept during one of his many bouts of depression, in the mid-2010s, in which he wondered whether his cross-dressing stemmed from the physical and emotional abuse he experienced as a child. He asked himself at times if subjecting his kids to the shame of having such a father was itself a kind of abuse because of the bullying they endured as a result. These were concerns he and Vickie kept to themselves. Now, she struggled with the right way to talk about such topics.
Despite his own reflections on gender, Sissy was taken aback when their oldest child came out as a transgender woman in adulthood. Sissy sometimes struggled with her pronouns, though he loved her deeply and accepted her transition.
“Are your kids involved in this process?” another person asked.
“In the play? They know it’s going on. Our son, well, our son is now our daughter. Both our kids live in Denver now. They didn’t participate a lot in the putting together of things. Both of them have busy lives,” Vickie said.
The truth was that Sissy hadn’t quite known where he fit into the LGBTQ movement either. He was cisgender. He was straight. Now, these young people were looking to Vickie as his delegate and also as an elder in the movement.
Vickie had just loved her husband.
She had just wanted him to be happy and to find peace.
“In the play, Sissy says, ‘I don’t choose to cross-dress, but I must.’ Is that fair?” Gregory asked Vickie the next morning as they were leaving Jackson. “We haven’t encountered somebody challenging Sissy’s cross-dressing in terms of what his motives were. My concern has been that there would be a trans person who would say: Trans people are not compulsive.”
“One thing I’ll tell you is that Sissy was looking for community. He was looking for a place to belong,” Vickie said. “And he struggled.”
* * *
The landscape was fading from forest to plains to desert when Vickie mentioned that a filmmaker reached out to her with an idea: a movie about Sissy. They were driving now into the southwest part of the state, where Utah was suddenly closer than Montana, where the greenery of the Tetons gave way to arid canyons. Gregory’s entire body tightened. His tone became terse.
“What would happen to the play and me? I would wonder what I’m doing here,” Gregory began. “I’ve also talked to some producers. It’s your right to do, but I’m just wondering where that leaves the play.”
“This is the thing I’m still working through,” Vickie said. “The man died and I was trying to figure out what to do with his clothes, for God’s sake.”
“I feel at risk here,” Gregory said, shaking now. “I’m branded now as Sissy as well.”
They pulled over to stretch their legs.
“I’ve been on this for two years now,” Gregory said. “Are you intending to include me on any of this?”
“I don’t know what I’m doing, Greg. I haven’t done anything. And I guess I was hoping for guidance from you,” Vickie said.
“You weren’t approaching it that way. You were telling me what was going to happen, and I just hope this hasn’t been a waste of precious time for me,” he said.
“I, I did not —” Vickie said, talking over him.
“I just think this is all gold. And you deserve the best for you and your daughters. It’s your husband and your life and you’re models for all of this. It’s your story,” Gregory said. “This conversation is the oldest thing in the books. We’re dividing money we don’t have.”
“But that’s what dreaming is,” he added.
Sometimes, when Sissy and Vickie would fight, he would accuse her of staying with him for financial security. Vickie would tell him that she would live in a tent in the forest with him if that’s what it took to be together. They would make up.
Now, as a widow on a fixed income, she hired out a lot of work Sissy used to do. She paid $12,000 to replace her furnace, and other projects were pending; about $4,000 to replace a hole in the sidewalk and about $3,800 to repair the sprinklers in the yard. Vickie could not maintain a pond Sissy proudly installed in the backyard, which would cost $8,000 to remove. It was adding up.
All the while, Vickie worried about her transgender daughter, who could not afford to transition fully. Vickie was anxious about the hormone pills her daughter took without medical supervision.
“Everybody is going to want a piece of it,” Gregory said. “But Sissy’s life story belongs to you.”
“I haven’t given away my story. I’ve shared my story. And I have no intention of giving away my story or giving away your story,” Vickie said.
“I’m just really exhausted,” Gregory said.
A long silence followed.
Everywhere now was desert, an expanse so desolate that one could see the curve of the earth in the distance. Few plants. No trees. Absolutely nowhere to hide: from the sun, from the wind, from oneself.
* * *
They were driving past a sign that said “Eden Valley Welcomes You,” surrounded by red rocks and dried out sagebrush, when they started talking again. Something between them had changed.
“We’ve got these great stories that are so meaningful and worth it,” Gregory said now. “And we’ve both agreed that what’s meaningful is people hearing the play.”
Maybe it was spin.
But, in truth, Vickie felt immense gratitude to Gregory. He had arranged for her oral history to be preserved at the American Heritage Center. For free, he had sifted through her words and Sissy’s words to write something beautiful.
“In some ways it’s scary to have Sissy as an ideal and bigger than life,” Vickie said, earnestly now. “I wait for the person that comes along and says, ‘Well, he was too gay, he hit on me.’ Or, ‘He was down in Denver at the gay clubs.’ Or the nasty remarks he made to somebody in a bad mood because he was being a son of a b----. Sissy was not perfect. He was not a saint.”
“Did you feel blindsided?” Gregory asked now. He was talking about Sissy’s cross-dressing. His tone seemed conciliatory.
“I did feel like it later, when he kept coming out more and more. Because in my mind it wasn’t going to be a public display,” Vickie said. “And I didn’t know any better. God, I was so damn naive.”
“You lent Sissy credibility for people who didn’t understand the lifestyle he was living,” Gregory said.
“I think he felt that way,” she said.
“This is such a different landscape now,” Gregory observed after a pause. “In the spring, does this all just come to life?”
To drive across Wyoming is to see endless contradictions manifested in terrain. Plains and peaks, deserts and forests, despair and exaltation. There are sheer cliffs that come out of prairies as if in a hallucination. There are flat highways that appear nestled within valleys but sit at elevations of 7,000 feet, so that the sky feels like it’s pressing down on the Earth. Wyoming is where the West becomes the Midwest. Where the North bleeds into the South, though it isn’t either of those, really. It is old ideas and new ideas. Myth repeated so many times it becomes indistinguishable from truth. Proof that no place and no body can be any one thing. It is all of America, at all its extremes.
“When the rain comes, it is beautiful,” Vickie said. “I just keep thinking about how it must have looked to people coming West for the first time. There was just more of it. And more of it. And more of it.”
“Can you imagine?” she added.
* * *
The play begins with a spotlight on a burly man in a flowered skirt and a ruffled blouse. He is wearing work boots and a tool belt, too, but what stands out first is the feminine clothing. Second is the blood running down his face.
He has just been beaten.
“I am a good person. I am a good person,” the man tells himself. “I am a good person. I am a good person. I am a good person. I am a good person.”
It ends with the same refrain — the real-life words Sissy would tell himself in the mirror to assert his dignity and self-worth.
But not before turning one last time to Vickie.
“I wish I could be like Vickie,” Gregory-as-Sissy was reading now in Rock Springs. “No matter what she is doing, there is invariably a smile on her face. She gets so much pleasure in life. For me, to live, it’s always been a matter of self-survival. To pretend otherwise was death.”
As the audience clapped, Gregory held his hand out to Vickie, directing the adulation to her. Now they were embracing, and even as Gregory began to cry, Vickie continued to smile.
Afterward, a few audience members asked Gregory if they could buy the play somewhere. It was unpublished, he said, but he could email them a free copy.
Three more stops to go.
“What would you say to someone who is going through the same process as before he started being Sissy?” a woman asked Vickie after another reading, in Casper.
Sissy had been a “real man” in all senses of that term, but Vickie settled now on sharing a version of him that could help people most.
“What I hope happens from this is people understand they’re not alone. It’s really important that you realize you’re not alone,” she said.
Soon, Vickie would return home to Douglas, to the house she had shared with Sissy.
There were signs of him everywhere there.
The cabinets he had stained, the dining table he had refinished, the tile he had laid. His pond was in the backyard. His tools in the garage. The three honeylocust trees he planted in the front yard.
Proof that their life together had been so much more than the clothes he wore.
Proof that he had been a real man and not just a character in a play.
Proof that, through love, Sissy had found where he belonged.