Damon J. Shearer
Standing in Defiance: The Legacy of Lucy Hicks Anderson
Transgender people have existed since time immemorial. Some cultures gave them a name, some let them live in peace without labels, and some have attempted to oppress, control and erase them. Long before the term transgender was used or understood in the United States, Lucy Hicks Anderson defied all odds in her pursuit of a life lived authentically.
Lucy was born in Waddy, Kentucky, in 1886. Born into an African American family, Lucy insisted that she was a girl from an early age. I was surprised to read that her doctors told her parents to let her live as a girl, and they did! Like so many Black women at the turn of the century, Lucy began working as a domestic at the age of 15, and eventually moved west. There she met her first husband, Clarence Hicks, and the two moved to Oxnard, California.
Their marriage was short lived, but during this time, Lucy saved enough money to buy property in Oxnard and opened a boarding house. During the days of prohibition, the boarding house became a front for the brothel and speakeasy Lucy successfully managed, and her reputation as a prominent socialite, and her connections to powerful people kept her out of jail and in business long after prohibition came to an end.
Her second marriage was in 1944 to a solider named Rueben Anderson. A year later, Lucy was arrested and tried for "perjury" and "impersonating a woman" when it was discovered that she was transgender. She was found guilty, her marriage was dissolved, but Lucy stood her ground. She is famously quoted as saying, “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman.”
Because of her influence, she was sentenced to 10 years of probation instead of jail time. However, the US government tried her, and both her former and current husbands, for fraud due to the financial supports given to the wives of military personnel. They were all found guilty and were forced to serve jail time.
Through it all, Lucy never stopped living her authentic life. After her release from federal prison, Lucy and Rueben moved to Los Angeles, where they lived together until her death in 1954. Lucy Hick Anderson is one of the earliest documented Trans Black Women in the USA. Today, Trans Black Women are still under attack. Every other day we hear of another murder. In those moments, despair, fear, and rage can sometimes feel like it will consume us all. But then I remember Lucy, and like Lucy, we can not back down. We defy ANYONE who would dare tell us who we are!