The Crying Game

Page 7 of 7

"We're operating on Indian time," he jokes with the audience.

The judges, including Navajo transgender Mattee Jim, who works for the Navajo AIDS Network in Gallup, and Louva Hartwell, the director of NativeOUT, a Native American GLBT nonprofit advocacy organization based in Phoenix, wait patiently for their votes to be tabulated.

Finally, the contestants gracefully appear onstage after a few local Native American drag queens lip-synching to J.Lo, Selena, and Madonna -- of course -- exit stage right.

Angel Manuel cradles a bouquet of flowers, blows kisses to her family, and tells a reporter that she's shocked she's the first Miss Native American Transgender.

Jackson stands offstage proudly, surveying the scene, as Dennis Huff and other NACHC administrators heap praise upon her for a job well done.

But Jackson is worried about the future of her program. She stresses about her own. Huff, she says, is trying to get her a job with the NACHC's anti-tobacco program in case the Native American Pathways Prevention Project is forced to shut down. But because of her criminal record, Jackson isn't optimistic.

As the audience exits, and the contestants fill duffle bags of makeup and wigs, Jackson wonders about Francessica, the teenager from the Navajo reservation, whom she met a few months ago at a "gay gathering" up in Fort Defiance, where Jackson tended a booth and passed out leaflets and brochures about safe sex.

"I really wish Francessica could have been here," she says.

And Francessica wanted to be here. She'd heard from Jackson a few weeks earlier, when Jackson called her parents' home, to check in.

Francessica hoped she'd be able to hitch a ride to Phoenix, but never got to Window Rock to find a trucker in time.

About a week before the pageant, Francessica contemplated her fate, standing at the banks of that nearly frozen pond near Frog Rock.

Francessica says she has uncommon instincts, that her grandmother told her once -- as a boy, still, in elementary school -- that she could someday be a medicine man if she so chose.

While Francessica seems to beam at the prospect of becoming a medicine man, she knows it's unlikely.

"I'd have to go back to being a man. I wouldn't be able to be out like this," she says, referring to the white pullover with the faux-fur hood she's wearing, and the heavy eyeliner and layers of foundation on her face.

"Right now, I have to decide if I'm going to be educated," Francessica says, "or if I'm going to be a whore.

"I'm somewhere in the middle."

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Joe Watson