Broken Nails

In October 2000 the Oklahoma City chapter of Exchange Clubs International declared me "Officer of the Year."

The United States Department of Justice gave me a Community Leadership award for helping the FBI investigate Asian Organized Crime, for volunteering to teach kids to say no to drugs at Camp DEFY (Drug Education for Youth), and for helping solve a cold case homicide.

I was on television, my picture in the Daily Oklahoman. Hailed a hero.

In November 2000, my colleagues declared me unfit to wear the uniform of a police officer.

I went from hero to zero in less than a month.

You see, I'd stumbled out of the closet, and suddenly, the whole world (or so it seemed) knew I was transgender. 

Thus began an odyssey of self discovery, months of psychiatric evaluations, a gender transition, and by November 2001, I was living as a woman, working the streets of Oklahoma City. 

The biggest police woman you'd ever seen. That was me, except I wasn't passing very well. People seemed confused. 

So I figured, I'd give them as many cues as possible, let them know who I am. I bought a wig. I wore makeup and earrings, trying to look as feminine as possible in a police uniform. But, honestly, I only had marginal success, half the time they called me sir, half the time ma'am. 

A friend of mine took me to a nail salon and bought me my first set of nails, two inches long and painted burgundy red. The next day on the street I stopped a woman in traffic. When she saw my hands she called me ma'am. I was delighted, and for the rest of the day, it was the same over and over again. 

I believe my finger nails got me through the next week without citizens complaining about my appearance, something the department anticipated, I'm sure. 

A month went by, and I was still working the street gaining more confidence every day. Though the public seemed to accept my new gender presentation, my peers at work were not convinced, voicing concerns about my safety, their safety. How would I react in a stressful situation? 

I wanted desperately to prove myself, wanting to get into a big arrest, a fight, a pursuit - everything short of a shooting - anything that would test my mettle and show my colleagues I could still do the job. 

I didn't have to wait long.

On a sunny afternoon in late November, I was looking for a stolen car in the Paseo, an artsy neighborhood north of downtown. I was talking to one of the residents at NW 26th and Dewey when I heard a drive-by shooting call come out over the police radio. The call described a blue Buick Regal, driven by a dark-skinned male wearing a white t-shirt. He'd driven by a business near NW 29th and Classen, only a half mile west, shooting a handgun. A man had been struck by one of the bullets.

I told dispatch I was enroute to the call, heading west on 26th where I saw a blue Buick Regal speeding south on the next cross street, Shartel Avenue, driven by a man matching the description of the drive-by shooter.

Before long, I was in pursuit, winding through the streets of the Paseo: east on 24th, north on Walker, west on 28th, back to going south on Shartel. From experience, I expected the driver to bail out of the car, run to the fences and disappear in the backyards, perhaps seeking a sympathetic friend who'd hide him. When he got back to 24th and Shartel he tried to make a turn down Guernsey Alley where he'd have a moment of obscurity, but he was going too fast and spun out of control, the car careening toward The Hippy Shop, an eclectic vintage goods store. 

I stopped my car, coming out of the driver's seat with my weapon drawn. We stood behind our car doors, face to face, only ten yards apart. He fumbled to bring out his gun but dropped it on the ground, choosing to run instead of fight. He took off, just like I'd expected, vaulting a rickety stockade fence like an Olympic athlete. I ran after him, gaining on him until I reached the fence. 

I grabbed the top and tried to lift myself over, but I broke a fingernail or two, maybe more. My whole hand hurt like I'd stuck my finger in a light socket. I belly-flopped over the fence, breaking the wood and falling on my face, a mouthful of dirt. As I got up, I saw the suspect disappear behind a garage half a block east. 

I lost him. 

Then, a funny thing happened. Well, not really funny. It's what should have happened. I heard at least half a dozen officers arriving in the area. All of them backing me. And I felt invigorated by the assurance of officer's who'd responded to my aid, people more concerned about professionalism than politics. 

A local resident had called 911 and told the dispatcher she saw a strange man running through her backyard a block east of my location. I sprinted down the street where I saw a woman pointing at a garage near 23rd and Lee. One of my coworkers and I entered the ramshackle building, weapons drawn. We found the suspect collapsed on the ground, coughing, covered with dust and debris. He offered no resistance while I handcuffed him and lifted him to his feet.

I marched the suspect around the corner, down the block and toward my abandoned patrol car. To be sure, I was loaded with adrenaline, beating my chest in triumph like a big silverback, no ounce of femininity left in me. If I'd had a football I would have spiked it in the end zone. 

Once I had the suspect safely locked in the back of my patrol car, I high-fived several officers. They patted me on the back, telling me I'd made a great catch. 

One of my female colleagues looked at me and gave me a wrinkled smile.

"Hon, your hair," she said. 

I panicked, looked at my reflection in the window of my patrol car. My wig had come loose, now sideways, looking like a dead raccoon had dropped on my head, languishing there. Worse than that, my makeup had melted, the water resistant mascara unable to resist my sweat, blackening my eyes, streaking down my cheeks. 

Mortified, my triumph forgotten, I tried to clean up my appearance, straightening my wig, wiping my face with Baby Wipes.

The officers who'd gathered around the scene became silent, whispering to one another. My lieutenant approached me.

"Good job," he said. "Are you okay?"

I nodded. I was better than okay. I'd done it. I'd proved myself in a stressful situation.

"Are you hurt."

My right hand hurting, I held it up, four of the five nails torn to bits, a shambles, cracked to the quicks.  

"I broke my nails."

My fellow officers did the best they could to smother their guffaws. The suspect in the back of my car sat there, shaking his head, glaring at me. 

My lieutenant smiled, stifling a laugh, "So, you're going to claim an injury on duty, are you?"