See Tom Be Jane

The country's youngest transgender child is ready for school. But is school ready for her?

"Well, Maury," said Mark, seeing his chance, "I want viewers to know that being transgender is not a sin, a crime, or a deviant behavior. What it is, is a birth defect. We are human beings with feelings, and all we ask is the respect... "

And as the audience began applauding, Mark plowed right through, standing and raising his voice:

"I stand before you all and plead: Please stop hating and start understanding. Open up your hearts and minds and realize that we are God's children too. Amen."

Nicole has been insisting she's female since she could talk.
photo: Colby Katz
Nicole has been insisting she's female since she could talk.

Following this performance, the Andersons contacted Cummings, and immediately, without even meeting Nicole, Cummings made her a central part of his mission. Nicole, he believes, should become a poster child for childhood transsexuality and should be protected at all costs from scientists like Zucker, whom he compares to Hitler.

A 42-year-old Cuban American who wears his mastectomy scars and thatching of springy black body hair as hard-won trophies of his true self, Cummings has made acceptance of South Florida's transsexuals a crusade.

And apparently, the bilingual man is just what Spanish television has been waiting for.

In the past four months, since the January Povich appearance, Cummings and his wife have appeared on six different local, national, and international Spanish-language television shows, including Cristina, the Spanish-language Oprah. Each time, he has delivered a pitch-perfect performance, patiently explaining the gender-bending qualities of environmental toxins on local call-in show Quiéreme Descalzi on America Teve and fielding embarrassing questions about his wife's sexuality from polished interviewers on Sin Fronteras, Telemundo's answer to Dateline. On each, he's preached his fevered pitch for the "birth defect" that is transgenderism.

"They're all just grabbing for me," he says.

That's because Cummings may be the perfect spokesman to explain transsexualism to the Latino community, says Anagloria Mora, a Miami-based sexologist who specializes in Hispanic sex and gender issues. Mora appeared with Cummings on Cada Día, another Telemundo program, and featured him as a guest speaker in her Miami-Dade Community College class on human sexuality.

"Mark and Violeta spoke about his life, and he was very animated, very insightful," she says. "You can see he's not a freak, and you can empathize. It was the best workshop I've ever had, by far. My dream is to have Mark and me, side by side in a huge stadium full of Hispanics. To become public speakers throughout the nation to help Hispanic trannies."

After Cummings met the Andersons through the Internet, he launched the tactics that have worked so well on the Latino talk-show circuit at the Broward County School Superintendent's Office. He shot off two e-mails, exhorting Superintendent Frank Till to do everything necessary to accept Nicole as a girl, including allowing him to educate and train teachers and administrators himself.

The school system politely declined Cummings's offer. "They assured me that they are aware of how to treat disabilities of such a nature," he says. "But gender dysphoria? I doubt it."

Cummings keeps in close contact with the Andersons, advising Lauren to keep the heat on the school system. Impatient to create change, he has urged the family to help him advocate for transsexual issues and to make a documentary about Nicole. (It was Cummings who persuaded the Andersons to talk to a reporter.) They are grateful for his help but sometimes find him a bit overwhelming. "Mark is in a rush," Lauren says. "I just need to go at my own pace right now."

But Mark considers his work a matter of life and death. "Do you know how many people commit suicide that are transsexual because they just can't deal with it anymore?" he says. "If I could stop one life from being killed, then I've done my work."

Born in Havana in 1964, Maritza Perdomo was both severely cross-eyed and completely besotted with boys' toys, a double-whammy of challenges for her traditional Cuban family.

"I knew from the time I was three," Cummings says. "My relatives would all say, 'Oh, she's going to end up as a lesbian.' I was very butchy, very rough and tough, always had to have male things around. At five, I wanted to take my dress off."

Maritza's toilet training was especially problematic because she could never understand why she couldn't urinate standing up, like her father. She constantly ruined her frilly dresses with rough play. Every move was dominated by a controlling mother who refused to understand her desire to be a boy.

The teenaged Maritza fell in love with women and managed a full-blown addiction to crack cocaine while in the Army, a wild nightlife in the gay scene in Miami, and a slew of low-wage jobs. At 24, she made a last-ditch attempt to succeed at being a straight woman by marrying a 55-year-old Englishman in a frilly white ceremony. In the wedding video, a favorite prop on the talk shows, she looks young, lovely, and extremely nervous as she feeds cake into her new husband's mouth.

The marriage fell apart quickly, and Martiza quit crack cold turkey and then embarked on a series of lesbian relationships, including one woman with whom she planned to start a family. But Maritza, the one who would carry the baby, was never able to get pregnant, and eventually the partnership disintegrated.

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