In June Zoey phoned from the Bay Area, where she and Dana Vahle were helping a friend of theirs recuperate from gender reassignment surgery. Zoey was thrilled for the friend but wasn’t impressed about the level of postoperative care. She continued to review her own options, exchanging e-mails with the lawyer from the state’s Department of Managed Health Care, who had begun looking into her complaint against Blue Shield. She didn’t seem in any hurry to return to L.A.
Four days later I got another call from Zoey. She had flown home that afternoon, dashed to her apartment, stuffed a toothbrush, a few shirts and some underwear in her backpack, enjoyed a hasty farewell dinner with friends, and was on her way back to LAX, trying to make another flight, this time to Thailand.
As she reached her gate, she took a look at the Bangkok-bound airliner and burst out laughing. Its fuselage was covered in huge pink Hello Kitty logos—feline faces more than several feet tall. The flight attendants wore Hello Kitty aprons. There was Hello Kitty toilet paper in the bathroom; there would be Hello Kitty pancakes in the morning. “If this is not an omen,” Zoey remembered thinking, “I don’t know what is.” In Taipei for a brief layover, she texted me a photo of herself in the airport’s Hello Kitty store—a pink glow surrounding her and a vulnerable, hopeful look in her eyes.
Five days later, wheeled out into the ICU, Zoey texted me: “I’m a bouncing baby girl.”
The Saturday night before Thanksgiving, Zoey took me into the Sephora store in Santa Monica and explained the proper use of something called the Make Up For Ever HD Complexion Starter Kit.
“This kind of hydrates your skin,” she said, pressing a tacky substance out of a narrow plastic tube and massaging it between the fingers of her well-manicured hands. She then unscrewed a tiny jar of finishing powder, which she said gave one’s skin a more natural aspect—not caked on or too shiny. “This brand is one of the best,” she said. “Look at the quality of the brushes.”
Sephora had become her favorite place in the world, which was something, since after she returned from Thailand, it had taken lots of coaxing for her to set foot inside the store. The first time she dared to go in, she was still wearing Bob’s clothes. Now, dressed in a purple Rachel Zoe blouse and formfitting 7 for All Mankind jeans, she seemed at ease—giddy even. In no time she located a fresh bottle of her foundation, number 118, “for light skin with beige undertones.” She was wearing mascara. Her eyelids had a faint dusting of blue. She had begun developing a look for herself, and it felt good. No, she hadn’t been on a date yet, though men had asked. “It’s just about finding the right person,” she said. “You want to have some sort of connection.”
In late September Zoey’s daughter had called her and they’d spoken for quite a while. Though they were no longer estranged, they hadn’t seen each other face-to-face and weren’t likely to soon. Less than a week after they talked, NBC announced that it had appointed Katy as a foreign correspondent, and she relocated to London.
Zoey was still seeking a job in television news. She knew how risk-averse TV news directors could be. But there was a convincing case to be made that in today’s trans-friendly media landscape, putting a transgender newswoman on the air—especially one who formerly was America’s greatest helicopter newsman—could be a ratings coup. While Bob had been relentless in pursuing what he wanted, Zoey was merely dismayed when applications went unanswered. “Testosterone,” she said, “gives you a hyperinflated opinion of your opinion. Without this jet fuel, you lose a lot of your confidence.”
The macho helicopter pilot still makes a spectral appearance now and then. One morning as Zoey was walking out of a neighborhood Starbucks, someone yelled out Bob’s name. She turned around, and coming at her was a guy in his midsixties—trim, gray hair, nice clothes—who gave her a big hug. The man didn’t think Bob would remember him, but in the ’90s they had met at Santa Monica Airport, and Bob had taken him on the most amazing helicopter ride of his life. What an unforgettable experience! By the way, the man continued, what was Bob up to nowadays? “Can’t you see I’m wearing a dress?” Zoey asked him. Truth was, he hadn’t noticed.
Ed Leibowitz is a writer-at-large for Los Angeles. His interview with actor George Takei appeared in the November 2014 issue.
This featured originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Los Angeles magazine.