Miss Gina La Divina

Farewell to Miss Gina LaDivina the one and only.

From Gina’s Instagram in 2016: “I will always love you.”

Gina was the first trans woman I ever really knew.

She made a great impression on me as an example that one could truly live a complete and healthy life this way. I know she had her challenges over the years but she really had herself together.

A savvy dame.

I got to know her as a regular at David Nemoyten’s Mad Magda’s Russian Tearoom in Hayes Valley and as a beloved fixture in that lovely close-knit neighborhood in the early 1990s. Everyone knew and loved her.
Gina had impeccable taste and style. She and I bonded over her love of beautifully made dolls, she appreciated my interest in them. Gina was naturally an expert in Barbie as I recall, but she lavished her attention and considerable talents on her Gene dolls, a tall and glamorous high end fashion doll for which she made custom outfits and rooted their hair by hand.

Gina La Divina and Jude Herrera at Mad Magda’s Russian Tea Room, Hayes Valley, San Francisco, 1992.
Gina La Divina at Mad Magda’s Russian Tea Room, Hayes Valley, San Francisco, 1992.

Antiques, fashion, and all things glamorous and refined, those were her hallmarks. She was extraordinary and she knew it and owned it, yet she was also very grounded and down to earth, warm and kind and fiercely intelligent. She was a fountain of wisdom and lived experience.

I sought her out when I began to transition in 2015. We sat in her classic San Francisco studio apartment crammed with treasures, wigs and glamour drag—she would smoke marijuana and tell me stories of her life and share her thoughts and strategies to survive and thrive in the world as a transwoman. She was neighbors with Veronica Klaus down the hall, it was incredible for me to be with them again after so many years. I recognized myself again in seeing them and I felt their welcome of me as I returned to the tribe.

I wish I had recorded her. I always wanted to go back and do an oral history with her, I hope someone did that. She was living trans history.
She had come to San Francisco in the very early 70s, maybe late 60s? Young. Under 18, leaving her family and escaping to fabulous and free San Francisco. Young Gina was a hopeless sissy from the get go, one of those who couldn’t hide who she was if she wanted to. Unlike those of us who can pass as a cis straight male for years, she was one who really had no choice but to live and present authentically. So she was educated in the streets and had a lot of hard life adventures.

I recall her stories about the girls in the 70s getting illicit hormones from a shady doctor and occasionally doing compromising things to get them.

I just went to Kaiser, you know?

I have such an appreciation for the access to transgender medicine I have, the relative ease of my transition. Women like Gina went to any length to be who they were in the world and their relentlessness and insistence made things happen for the rest of us later.

She wasn’t a performer or showgirl when I first knew her. She took it up late in life. It was as if after a lifetime of sitting through mediocre drag shows she just had to get up and show these bitches how it was done. So she performed for the last twenty years of her life as the most fabulous dame in the city.

Along the way she was a mentor to so many young queer people and drag performers. She made astonishing wigs for many of the great San Francisco queens of our time and I think she beautifully carried the legacy of old school glamour queens in this drag race pop culture era.

Gina was properly recognized as a trans elder and she was given all the flowers she deserved. She moved out of her studio and into brand new LGBT senior housing built by the City of San Francisco and she was so pleased at her good fortune. She was neighbors with Donna Personna and it made me happy to see them both living well in the city they had lived in for 5 decades.

I think a lot about things Gina told me. She was right about so much. Especially men. Everything she told me about cis men and trans women turned out to be pretty much true, alas. They all want to fuck you but they will never love you. She didn’t mind too much, she got what she wanted from them and then kicked them out and lived her life in her own damn terms.

The first time we hung out in 2015 I was in very early transition and uncertain whether I was doing the right thing. I’ve forgotten much that she told me, but I will always remember her looking me up and down at the end of the night, with a raised eyebrow and a nod of her head. “You’ll do, you’ll do.” She said. “You can get away with it, you have what you need.”

Her appraisal of me and her approval meant everything in the rocky days that followed.

It was a privilege to know her and I congratulate her on a life very well lived.
Farewell, Diva.

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