A Day in the Life of a Transgender Vietnam Vet - OZY | A Modern Media Company
SourceAlex Washburn/OZY


Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

By Julia Scott

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?” 

Felicia Elizondo, aka Felicia Flames
San Francisco

It’s my day off today. I’ve been lying down and watching TV because I rarely get to lie down in the middle of the day and rest. I’m on the committee for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and we’ve been busy raising funds to hold this event at the LGBT Center. This year, City Hall will be lit up in trans colors, which are blue, white and pink.

I’ve been HIV positive since 1987, almost 28 years now. I sometimes wonder why I’ve lived this long. I sometimes think, “Why am I still here, since all my friends are gone within a year or two years that they were diagnosed?” So it’s kind of troubling, but anything after the first year is a bonus to me. I wake up and say, “God has extended me all of these years to educate the lesbian and gay community about our history and about being a survivor of AIDS.”

I am from San Angelo, Texas. I was raised in San Jose, California, and I knew I was different but I didn’t know how different I was. One day, I was going down Santa Clara Street in San Jose, and this guy picked me up, and we had sex, and he told me where the young kids hung around, the gay kids. I went to the park, and I met a whole bunch of kids there. That was the little gay mecca of San Jose.

Back then, the lesbian and gay communities stayed in the closet, got their education, made the money, where transgendered people could not stay in the closet, because if we would have stayed in the closet, we wouldn’t be who we are today.

The Navy took me. I was playing the role of my life, being a sissy, when, finally, I tried to act like a man.

We took a risk for our lives. We put our lives at risk to be who we were meant to be because we were kids. We were confused. We didn’t know why we were this way. Nobody ever explained it to us. People were calling us names before we even knew the meaning of all those words.

I am a Vietnam veteran. The Army wouldn’t take me because I was too small. The Navy took me, and I went to boot camp, and I was stationed at Coronado, and I was playing the role of my life, being a sissy, when, finally, I tried to act like a man. I followed people’s examples, and when they were getting volunteers to go to Vietnam, I volunteered to go to Vietnam because I figured if I got killed in Vietnam, all this pain and hurt and confusion would be gone.

Felicia at her home in San Francisco.

Felicia at her home in San Francisco, Calif.

Source Alex Washburn/OZY

And I did, I went through the military training with the guns and the rifles and all that stuff to go to Vietnam, and I went to Da Nang. I tried to change. I didn’t want to be this way anymore. Who would want to be a person that everybody makes fun of, always harasses them and is always getting hurt by people? But one day, I was unloading cargo in Da Nang, a big ship, way in the freezer, and I told myself, “Oh, no, sister. I’m gone.”

I went to my priest, told him that I was gay, and they got me out of there so fast. They interrogated me because it was time of war, of course. They didn’t want me to be guilty of treason.

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