This piece was written by Maureen Dowd for the New York Times.
April is the cruelest month for Chrissy Lee Polis.
The 22-year-old stopped by the Rosedale, Md., McDonald’s, just east of Baltimore, last week.
Two patrons, an 18-year-old woman named Teonna Monae Brown and a 14-year-old girl, seemed to come out of nowhere and began ferally assaulting Polis.
The savage pair may have been disturbed at the prospect that Polis was transgender. “They said, ‘That’s a dude. That’s a dude. And she’s in the female bathroom,’ ” Polis told The Baltimore Sun.
The attackers spit on her, threw her on the floor, kicked her in the face and back, punched her in the nose, ripped her earrings out of her earlobes, dragged her by her hair across the restaurant and only stopped when she began to have an epileptic seizure and an older woman in a white track suit intervened.
A McDonald’s employee, who captured it all on his cellphone, was fired after his video went viral on YouTube.
“They all sat there and watched,” Polis told The Sun in a poignant video interview. “I think it’s a shame that people of my preference, I don’t care if you dress like a guy or a girl or anything, I feel like people should not have to be afraid to go out of their house.”
With long brown hair, a slender frame, a feminine manner and a Baltimore accent, Polis said her family had told her that she did not need to explain herself, that she should “be who you are and go as you are.”
But people at parties sometimes want to fight her. “I have been raped before, too, because of who I am,” she said, adding: “It’s bringing me down, slowly but surely down.”
The suspects have been charged with assault and the Baltimore County state’s attorney office is determining whether it classifies as a hate crime.
A week before the attack, Maryland’s Senate shelved a measure extending anti-discrimination protections to people who openly change their gender identity even though, as The Sun editorialized, “It would have sent a powerful signal that transgender people are not fair game for bigots.”
A rally against transgender violence at the Rosedale McDonald’s on Monday night featured Polis’s mother, grandmother and a crowd of 300, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Chrissy, no doubt afraid, stayed home. Her mother, Renee Carr, told The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, that she supported her daughter “100 percent” and added: “I even carried her pocketbook on the way to the bus stop as a kid.”
Renée Richards’s father never talked to her about her sex change, but he did once chase after her in his car to bring her a purse she’d forgotten.
An early icon for the transgender community, Richards is the subject of Eric Drath’s ESPN documentary playing at the Tribeca Film Festival.
“Renée” recounts the painful transformation of Dr. Richard Raskind, a Yale-educated ophthalmologist who married a beautiful model and had a son, to Renée Richards, a competitor on the women’s professional tennis circuit.
In the mid-1970s, when I covered tennis, Renée Richards was a supremely strange phenomenon as the pro tennis and legal worlds hotly debated the fairness of a “he/she” competing against the likes of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. (Richards later coached Navratilova, helping with a couple of her Wimbledon championships.)
As John McEnroe notes in the film: “I was weirded out just watching her from a distance.”
David Israel, a sports columnist on The Washington Star with me, wrote mordantly at the time: “Renée Richards proves that in sports the legs don’t always go first.”
The tall and muscular yet girly Richards — she once wrote that she swaggered and jiggled — won her fight to compete. But because she was in her 40s and softened with estrogen, she did not mow down all the younger competition.
Now 76, still practicing at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and living in Carmel in upstate New York, Richards has traded tennis for golf because it’s easier on her creaky knees.
The wraithlike doctor now surprisingly contends that it’s not fair for transsexuals to play professional sports “because it’s not a level playing field.”
“Maybe in the last analysis,” she said, “maybe not even I should have been allowed to play on the women’s tour.”
(She also told The Times’s Joyce Wadler in 2007 that marriage should be between a man and a woman, noting: “It’s like a female plug and an electrical outlet.”)
In the documentary, her scarred son, Nick, describes Richards, who found great loves with women as a man but not men as a woman, as being “at a place in between torment and happiness.”
As Richards herself describes her melancholy odyssey through limbo: “I wanted to be a man or I wanted to be a woman. I didn’t want to be a trans in the middle of something, a third sex or something that’s crazy and freakish and not real.”