‘If you think I can be harassed until I leave town, you’re wrong. I love Houston and I will stay.”
-Toni Mayes to Houston City Council,, October 1972,
Houston has a long, proud history of trans folks who have no problem standing up against anti- trans bigotry, harassment and oppression It is a proud part of our Houston trans history that has continued into this century. It’s something I have learned as I began my own transition just how deep and far back Houston trans history goes, and how i’m just past of the latest generation of trans people who speak truth to power while fighting for their humanity and their human rights.
One of my trans elders I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is Rachelle Annette ‘Toni’ Mayes, who also was known as Anne Mayes. Thanks to JD Doyle, I now know what happened with Anne Mayes, and I’m going to share her story with you so I have it down for the current and future generations of trans Houstonians.
Toni was born on December 13, 1947 and grew up here in Houston. From her earliest memories she knew she was a girl.. Her parents however disagreed, and she talked about in one interview how she was punished by her mother for wearing her younger sister’s panties.
She ran away from home at age 14 to California with a cousin, but when she started living with two gay men there, the cousin called her parents, who brought her back to Houston
Her family after the California trip was determined to in their words ‘make a real man out of her’, and her mother even signed papers in an attempt to enlist her in the Navy even though she was just 15 at the time. .
But that trip to California also convinced her that she wasn’t gay and something else was going on with her. She eventually joined the Navy in 1964, While she was as she said in an interview ’embarrassed’ to be showering with 75 guys’, Mayes’ time in the Navy led to her falling for a girl in Iowa, and she jumped ship in Florida to be with her.
She was arrested by the FBI for going AWOL and taken to a military jail in Illinois. During the investigation, she was given a questionnaire that asked the question if she had ever had gay sex. While she hadn’t, she saw this question as her ticket out of the Navy, so she answered the question affirmatively and got dishonorably discharged for homosexuality, as our military was doing at the time.. .
She returned to the girl in Iowa, married her and conceived a daughter with her in 1966, but her marriage broke up soon afterward and her ex-spouse retained custody of their daughter. Mayes got married again to another woman, but that marriage also broke up in large part to her gender identity issues.
Mayes returned to Houston, started working as a television repair person, and then through a newspaper article learned that transsexuals existed. The now 25 year old Mayes now had a name for the issue she was dealing with. She was now aware of thanks to that article it was possible for her to become the woman she wanted to be.
Mayes was also fortunate that at that time, the nation’s second full service gender identity clinic was getting started in the Houston area at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston She now had the place to go to help her become her true self, and the gender transition for her started on December 11, 1971.
Like many cities at that time, Houston had an anti-crossdressing law that had been on the books. Section 28-42.4 prohibited people from wearing the clothes of the opposite sex. Because the ordinance was vague and Council was worried about it being struck down in the courts because of that vague language, the Houston City Council in June 1972 strengthened the ordinance with this language:
‘It shall be unlawful for any person to appear on any public street, sidewalk, alley or public thoroughfare dressed with the design intent to disguise his or her true sex as that of the opposite sex’
That 1904 ordinance clashed with one of the HBIGDA/transition protocols of the time that required someone on the path for gender confirmation surgery to dress and live as their target gender for at least a year prior to doing so.
HPD, run at the time by the reviled police chief Herman Short, gleefully enforced Section 28-42.4 not only against the Houston trans community and drag queens, but also the Houston lesbian community.
While Mayes was happy that she’d begun her transition, she also found herself being frequently targeted by HPD vice squad officers. She was arrested eight times in 1972 by HPD for violations of the anti-crossdressing ordinance. As you probably guessed, when Mayes was arrested on that crossdressing charge, she was taken to the men’s side of the Houston city jail.
Four of those charges were dropped because they happened before the Houston City Council revised the ordinance on June 2, but there were some that stuck that she and her attorney appealed. There were two arrests that happened literally as she stepped onto the sidewalk outside the city municipal court building moments after she’d had those previous charges dismissed.
Tired of being harassed by HPD vice officers, she filed a federal lawsuit on December 20, 1972 seeking $200,000 in damages against HPD Chief Herman Short and five HPD officers. Mayes in addition to seeking to have the Houston crossdressing ordinance declared unconstitutional, was also seeking an injunction against further arrests
Interestingly enough the harassing arrests of her by HPD ceased after that federal suit was filed.
The federal lawsuit seeking to declare the Houston crossdressing ordinance unconstitutional eventually went all the way to the SCOTUS, who unfortunately rejected it without comment in April 1974. That law stayed in the Houston Code of Ordinances until Phyllis Fryegot it repealed in August 1980
While the court cases were percolating at the local and federal level, Toni’s transition continued to move forward. She eventually became on January 23, 1974 the fourth person to have gender confirmation surgery done via the UTMB gender program, and on March 11, 1974 her name change petition to Rachelle Annette Mayes was granted by a state district judge
An April 1978 Houston Post article that I had clipped and saved when my teen self was coming to grips with the fact I was transgender updated us about Toni’s life in the intervening years.
After an attempt to ironically join the Houston Police Department was rebuffed, she’d ended up as a successful sales rep for a local company. She was taking courses toward a business administration degree at the University of Houston, and from time to time would lecture college classes at UH and other local colleges in the Houston – Galveston area about gender identity issues.
But as far as trans activism, she’d felt she’d more than paid her dues and was just ready to live her life.
I sadly discovered thanks to JD’s research that Rachelle Annette Mayes died on November 6, 2007, just a few weeks short of her 60th birthday.
I wish I’d had a chance to meet and talk to her before that happened. I would have loved to have had a chance to tell her thank you for being willing to fight to make it easier for the trans people in the Houston area and beyond that came behind her like me.
Rest in power and peace, Anne. You earned it. Something else you’ve earned is also having your story preserved and told forever to every trans person and trans kid who lives in the Houston area and beyond.