73 year-old, transgender queer women, and veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, Victoria Cruz. She sits in the lounge area of Brooklyn based GRIOT Circle, (@GRIOTcircle on Instagram) a community-based, multigenerational organization serving LGBTQ elders of color. Behind the scenes photography and video and assistant: Alison Lippy, Allison@allisonlippy.com, Phone +1 410 967 1096. Photography and video by Robin Hammond, pitures@robinhammond.co.uk. Editor: Mallory Benedict, Mallory.Benedict@natgeo.com, +1 202.791.1282. 04 February 2019

Victoria Cruz /

“My name is Victoria Cruz. Born male, in Guánica, Puerto Rico. Known as Boriquén, before the Europeans came to the Caribbean. My real name was Victor Cruz, one of 11 children. I found out that I was really female at an early age.
After the second World War, my father moved to Brooklyn, New York to make a better life for our family. He was a longshoreman, and then he was a janitor at a hospital. My mother was a housewife and a dressmaker. I went to school, and then to high school. I studied hairdresser and cosmetology when I was in high school, found out that I could transition into what I felt like, female, with hormones.
I went to doctor in Coney Island by the name of Leo Wollman, who was a pioneer in transsexual and hormones. Soon after that, I found out about the black market in hormones. I began to look more like I really wanted to: a woman.
During the ’60s, I was going out with this man called Frankie. Who emigrated from Canada, and worked at the Stonewall Bar. I was part of the Stonewall Uprising during that time for gay liberation freedom. After that, I worked as a hairdresser, and as a stripper in bars all over New York City, and made lots of friends in the field.
I also worked as a sex worker to make ends meet. Competition was very hard then. Most of the girls who were doing street work would throw bottles and rocks at me. I had to change venues and started working 47th Street, between Fifth and Sixth, which was the Diamond District.
There, I was doing sexual favors for the jewelers, but found out that they wanted to do sexual favors for me. They did not pay in cash; but paid in gold. So I took it.
Gold was a harder commodity to sell while I was in the bars. ‘Cause if I made money, I would spend it on drugs, and I would spend it on alcohol. I worked at the gay, the [GG] Knickerbocker, the Grapevine, and other bars during that time. I also did some modeling in the Catwalk until they found out that I was trans, and got booted out.
The word transgender did not exist at the time. You were either a butch queen, fem queen, drag queen, or transvestite. There I met a man and I decided to stop working as a sex worker because the gay cancer was coming around in the late ’70s, early ’80s.
I then began to go to Brooklyn College to get a further education, because my body was not going to last. And I wasn’t going to look beautiful. Or gorgeous, at that time. Beautiful or gorgeous at an older age. So education was a prime resource for my future.
I graduated from college with a diploma in theater and fine arts. While I met Kevin at the time, I did not know that he was a crack addict. And for eight years, I became crack addict with him. Until one day, I could not catch my breath. I thought I was going to die. I decided cold turkey that crack was no longer an option for me. And that’s when the abuse began. Because there was not enough money to go around for his crack habit.
I got him into a program and soon found out that the reason the program cut him off from me was because he was doing crack because I was a transgender person. And that was the last time I saw him.
So I went to a public assistance center, to make ends meet. But I was turned down ’cause my blood was dirty with cocaine. They asked me to get into a methadone program, but knowing what methadone had done to your body, also teeth and bones, I decided not to. I did not get into that program.
I waited six months, and to make ends meet, I did sex work again. After six months, I went to a different public assistance center, and I got accepted. But the only thing was that I had to get into the web program in order to get my grant. Well, for my grant, I was supposed to work in parks, but did not want to because a lot of trans women were being assaulted during that time.
So I decided to go and work for a nursing home named The Cobble Hill Nursing Home. There I worked for three years, and I was an exemplary worker. Until one day, four women decided to check and see if I was really trans or really a girl. And they sexually assaulted me. I wanted to hurt them back, but I know that I would get into trouble. So I decided to call the Anti-Violence Project.
The Anti-Violence Project supported me for a whole year. They went to court with me, I was never alone to face my demons. After that, I want to give back to the Anti-Violence Project, and I volunteered. Until one day, Christine Quinn offered me a position as an administrative assistant. This enabled me to help myself, my family, and my community.
While working at the Anti-Violence Project, I met some of the girls who used to throw stones and cans at me. And I was able to help them, because they were in a position of domestic violence in the streets, no place to live. And I was able to place them into shelter, and advocate with Safe Horizons at that time, to open up gay and lesbian shelters for people within my community.
I worked for the Anti-Violence Project for 18 years. While working at the Anti-Violence Project, I was able to be awarded many, many prizes and many accolades. There I met old friends like Sylvia Rivera, who told me about Marsha P. Johnson’s death. I was also awarded the Crimes Victims Board Award by the Obama administration by Attorney General Alexander Haig. I also got many awards from different organizations.
My 18 years at AVP I would never change for anything. I was able to help my community. I was able to help myself. I was able to bring light into darkness, because that’s where our community was, in darkness. And I was able to bring them into the light.
After I retired, I was home alone and I began to get calls from David France. I was retired and I didn’t want anything to do with work. But one day I got bored and decided to call David France, and he asked me to do a film, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, and I accepted it.
This was a rewarding experience because I was able to live my life all over again. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Now I’m able to relive my life. And keep the community together, because that’s one promise that I made to Sylvia Rivera on her deathbed. She asked me to try to keep the community together, because there’s power in numbers.
This particular t-shirt was made when Marsha P. Johnson was murdered back in 1992, and it still has a message for today. Hate crime. Stop the violence.”

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