Allanah Starr is a pre-operative male-to-female transsexual, which means she looks like a woman from head to toe except for one very prominent thing. Like many other transsexuals, she works as an escort, and she also has a burgeoning adult-film career (Shemale Strokers #3 was her most recent) and a Website, shemaleexotica.com, that gets more than 3,000 hits a day. She lives alone in midtown, in a dimly lit minimalist apartment, and has a framed poster of Warhol’s Marilyn above her plush red couch. She is also unbelievably hot. Her boobs put mine to shame—36DD—and she has a tiny sculpted nose and wide eyes, all a result of the 30 surgeries she’s had in the past six years. She looks like a contemporary Raquel Welch—so hyperfeminine she makes me feel plain. As she tells me her story in her soft voice, wearing a snug Alexander McQueen jacket that highlights her cleavage, her legs curled up under her on the couch, I find myself thinking that maybe these days, the ideal woman doesn’t have to be a woman at all.
Allanah, who says she’s in her mid-twenties, was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami as a shy, effeminate boy, more interested in girls’ clothing than boys’. “I always saw myself as a girl in a way. I would play with my sister’s toys, but I had to stop playing with them when my father came home.”
She came out at 15, became involved in a gay-and-lesbian youth group, started taking drama, and got more confident, winning a school contest for her drag performance of Julie Brown’s “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun.” After high school, she attended a fashion college and began going to gay clubs at night. “I wasn’t going in drag,” she says, “but I was really androgynous—a lot of foundation that was the wrong color, mascara and lip gloss, my hair down to my shoulders. Most of the guys had no interest in me because I was so effeminate.”
But she was professionally driven and started dancing at clubs for money. “I was more interested in being shocking and bizarre than pretty,” Allanah says. When the club work started drying up, she got a job at tranny theme restaurant Lucky Cheng’s in Miami (in drag), where she met some transsexual waitresses. “I started thinking, When I get older, do I want to be a really effeminate old gay man, or do I want to be a girl and explore all these things that I always wanted to do?”
With help from a co-worker, she began taking hormones and getting electrolysis. She found a plastic surgeon and got a nose job, an ear pin, and breast implants. She assumed a female name, coming up with Allanah later, when she started doing porn.
Those first surgeries were funded by a friend, an older man she met at Lucky Cheng’s: “He was helping me out quite a bit. We didn’t have sex. He said he was impotent. Then Viagra came out and I stopped seeing him.” Eventually he disappeared and the restaurant closed down, so she turned to escorting. “I’d never had a regular job, and I just couldn’t see myself working somewhere for $10 an hour. It’s an expensive lifestyle,” she says.
She moved to New York four years ago to work for an agency, and now she works for herself. The men who like transsexuals are a diverse bunch, she says. Almost all are interested in the thing that makes Allanah so special. “A lot of them are submissive,” she says. Some guys are turned on by it, but “they can’t deal with touching it.”
“Are there a lot of guys like that?” I ask.
“Very few,” she says.
The most annoying thing about being a transsexual is that guys always want to dish with her about that annoying topic called What It All Means. “Of course they all think they’re gay. I avoid that conversation. I can’t deal with people who have issues.”
Part of the problem is, there’s no language yet to describe men who are drawn to trannies—or, as a friend of mine puts it, “transgressives.” My own guess is that they fall into four subcategories: closeted gay men who need the T&A so they don’t freak out about the D, bisexual men who can get both needs met at the same time, porn-addicted men who need to keep crossing new boundaries to get aroused, and straight guys who nonetheless have a narcissistic attraction to the penis.
Allanah’s sexuality is much more simple: She likes men and is okay with it. Though she’d like to be in a serious relationship, she doesn’t think it’s likely in the near future. For one thing, the guy would have to accept her work; for another, he’d have to accept his own attraction to her. For now she leads an independent lifestyle, doing movies to help with publicity and escorting to pay for her surgeries. “Surgery is kind of an obsession,” she says. “I’m totally addicted to altering my appearance, and I’m not really satisfied with anything. Transsexuals are very vain. Your whole life is your appearance.”
As for the surgical hole-y grail, she’s not sure. “There’s an assumption that a sex change is the final goal for everyone, and I don’t think it is,” she says. “If I do it, it’s going to be just for myself, not because I think it’s going to be a way of solving all the problems that I have now being pre-op.” And financially, as with any career, it helps to have a penis: In porn films, transsexuals start at about $1,000 to $1,500 per scene while women’s rates are about half that.
Still, sometimes she wishes she’d known more about her options earlier. “I think my life would have been different if I had started transitioning when I was younger and gotten a sex change. I could have had a regular career. And I probably would be able to find a serious relationship.” She pauses, and then we both grin, thinking the same thing. “I know,” she says. “I guess in New York, genetic women have a hard time finding relationships, too.”