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Capt. James Irvin shuffles out of the District’s medium-security prison as if he has much better things to be doing on a steamy Saturday morning in July.
“Who’s here to see me?” he asks, spreading himself across the bench outside the visitor’s entrance as Earline Budd and her cousin, Patti Shaw, close in on him. Budd, dressed in a conservative tan ensemble and pumps, points to one of the big metal signs bolted to a nearby wall.
“No. 3 on your policy,” Budd says breathlessly, handing Irvin a D.C. driver’s license. “It says men in cross-dress with male ID cannot enter. Why is that?” The officer of the day coolly eyes the ID, issued under Budd’s legal name, Earl.
“Well, No. 1, it’s a bit confusing, right?” Irvin says of the rule that a few minutes earlier thwarted Budd and Shaw’s attempt to visit Budd’s nephew on the inside. “We must positively ID you to let you come visit. This does not look like you.”
“That is me,” the 38-year-old Budd says. “The ID is true. It’s Earl Budd. This is me, my hair done up and everything.”
“I can’t tell all of that,” Irvin responds with a smirk as he looks back and forth from Budd to the ID card. “I mean, you look very much like a man here.”
“Really?” asks Budd, visibly annoyed.
“I mean, not to insult you,” Irvin adds quickly. “But you do. But you see the problem you have here. I mean, you’ve got to understand, this is a bit confusingeven for us.” Budd has already pulled out another picture and jams it in front of Irvin’s face, saying, “You said it looks like a male picture or what have you. So, there’s another one. With earrings on it. It’s the same picture.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Irvin says. “This looks more like you here.” As Budd threatens to produce more IDSocial Security card, birth certificate, the worksIrvin tries to dodge the issue by turning toward Shaw and saying, “You haven’t had a problem, have you?” Shaw smiles and answers in a sultry voice: “Not yet. But I am a transgender. So it would be a problem for me, too.”
Budd is trying to make the transgender policy a problem for the D.C. Department of Corrections. As a former Lorton prisoner herself, Budd isn’t intimidated by her former stomping grounds and refuses to dress in conventional male attire for her appearances at the pen. The no-cross-dressing policy, she says, must go.
It’s a challenge that Budd, a career rebel, seems well equipped to handle. Her experience in defying authority began as a child, when she sneaked out of the house late at night dressed in drag. She schooled herself quickly in the ways of the street, a pursuit that eventually landed her in federal prison and Lorton for drug-related offenses. After her release last year, though, Budd turned the page completely, starting to work as an administrative assistant at the American Psychological Association. Now she’s got her sights set on the door policy at Lorton.
Now is an inconvenient time to challenge security procedures at the District’s prisons. Last year, corrections officials were embarrassed by revelations that members of the Moorish Science religion were smuggling drugs to prisoners and filming porn videos inside. The scandal triggered a systemwide review of prison security and an effort to keep unconvicted riffraff on the outside.
For now at least, cross-dressers constitute riffraff. Irvin insists that the prohibition on cross-dressing is essential in his medium-security facility, where inmates and visitors are allowed to mingle in a lightly supervised open area. “These people here are denied access to women,” says Irvin a few days after his run-in with Budd. “We don’t want anyone coming in here that might tempt someone.”
Actually, women are allowed into Irvin’s facility to visit with inmates. The problems arise when they’re men underneath. “You come in with wigs and a ton of makeupI don’t think I can positively say who you are,” says Irvin, who supervised Budd when she was an inmate at the prison. Irvin stresses that the cross-dressing rule doesn’t look so odd alongside bans on halter tops, Spandex, hot pants, and even braless get-ups.
Whatever the regulations, Irvin says Budd’s visit warranted a report to corrections chief Margaret Moore. But Irvin doubts that Moore will bend on the ban, which he claims applies in other prison systems as well. “I’m sure we’re not going to be pioneers here. I’m most sure she’s not going to give in on that point.”
D. Curry, president of Transgenders Against Discrimination in the District (TADD), wonders just how the cross-dressing ban shores up security at District prisons. “Because a person wears lipstick and pantyhose and a dress and heels, you consider them dangerous?” asks Curry, a transgender male.
Curry formed TADD last year with two other activists in large part to combat discrimination that they say transgenders confront. Curry recruited Budd to join earlier this year, and says TADD backs Budd’s official complaint on the cross-dressing ban, which she filed last week at the D.C. Department of Human Rights and Minority Business Development.
Budd has fought such bans before. Fifteen years ago, she won a discrimination case against a D.C. skating rink that refused to let her enter in women’s clothes. She came away with $400 and an apology from the management. A few years later, Budd got the corrections department to lift a previous cross-dressing ban for visitors, which was informal.
“I remember what I had on,” she says with a flourish, remembering being turned away from visiting an inmate at Lorton. “I had on a black leather skirt, a white blouse, and a black leather coat.” Budd had pushed her case through the human rights office on that occasion, and says the department of corrections backed off right away. Now, however, the policy is not only back, it’s posted prominently on the sign outside every District corrections facility.
“The bottom line is, I’m seeking to have that removed from that sign,” Budd says.
Budd says her struggle over her sexual identity began at age 9, when Earl Budd III began to fight with his sisters over clothes.
“At age 10 they took me to the children’s center psychological evaluation unit,” Budd recalls. “There I was given all the…checkups, and testing, and head things, and all of that that you wanna get.” The results, not surprisingly, found that the young Budd had a serious tilt toward his feminine side.
Budd expressed that preference without compunction, parading around town in his mother’s clothes and explaining to his suspicious father that he was impersonating comedian Flip Wilson, whose popular ’70s shtick included a character named Geraldine. Budd used to sneak out with those clothes, climbing out of his bedroom onto the roof, changing outside, and scampering down a ladder into the night.
No matter where Budd went, he ran into intolerance. At age 13, he was booted out of Francis Junior High for going to school in his mother’s clothes. He quickly graduated to higher mischief after his father put locks on Mrs. Budd’s dresser drawers. Police arrested Budd for attempting to steal women’s clothes from the Landsberg store on 7th Street NW. Instead of picking up his son at the police station, Budd’s father told the authorities to send him to the nearest reform school. A few months shy of his 14th birthday, Budd began a four-year tour at two District youth facilities, Maple Glen and Cedar Knoll.
“They actually locked me in a room with a girl one nightand that’s totally against the rules,” Budd says. “I’ll never forget. She was one of my best friends. [They] told her to have sex with me and make me straight….They came and got me the next morning. I said, ‘I’m still gaaaay.’”
After her release from Cedar Knoll in 1975, Budd made a beeline for the street life and became a “24-7” transgenderand a “she” in daily life. After her mother’s death in 1984, she spiraled into a pattern of reckless behavior, consuming and selling drugs and taking part in the violence that goes with it. The law caught up with her lifestyle very quicklyconvictions on drug and assault charges landed Budd in D.C. and federal prisons for most of the past 10 years. The confinement ended in May, when Budd left a federal halfway house. She will remain on parole for another three years.
Budd is unapologetic about her past, but she believes she’s on the right path with her APA job. She has mended fences with her father. And she replies forcefully to my question about whether she considers herself a man, a woman, or something in between.
“I know that I’m not a woman,” she says, trying not to laugh. “I would think that if you have to characterize me, I would say now I’m a gay, transgendered male.” The distinction she stresses is that she and Shaw are not “drag queens” or transvestites, who “just get in and they get out.” Budd says she has no interest in a sex change, or even getting female hormone injections, and has resisted changing her legal name, as has Shaw.
“I don’t know,” Budd says. “I guess I’m just old-fashioned.”
“I’m going to make my own box,” says Shaw as she and Budd fill out their complaint forms at the human rights office. Next to the tiny squares following the letters “M” and “F” Shaw adds a new one and writes “transgender” on the page. The two ladies chatter their way to the last page of the form, which asks for biographical information and details of the complaintin this case, being denied entry to Lorton the previous Saturday.
They will return to the human rights office for a formal legal filing of their complaint on Aug. 13, and then enter mandatory mediation proceedings with corrections officials. The last time Budd went into negotiations with the department, she got exactly what she asked for: unrestricted visitation rights.
This time, though, Budd will not settle for less than a reversal of department policy. She has already received an entreaty from another local activist, Gregory Ferrell, who offered to negotiate directly with the department of corrections to give Budd a waiver from the cross-dressing ban. But she said no way.
“That’s ridiculous,” Budd says, still scribbling away on the form. “I don’t want that. I want that sign down.”CP