For many gays, lesbians and trans people, accepting who you are means chucking the standards of mainstream society. But retired nurse Gloria Allen doesn’t think that means young LGBTs have to sacrifice things like politeness, deportment and civility. Allen, a 66-year-old trans woman, is running an unconventional charm school out of Chicago’s Center on Halsted, where students learn how to speak like a gentleman and sit like a lady—whether they were born one or not.
“I may be sounding old-fashioned, but I would see these young people wearing negligee-type clothes on the street and I would say, ‘How could they leave the house looking like that?’” Allen, who often goes by “Mama Gloria,” tells the Chicago Tribune. “When you’re a part of a minority community, what you do reflects the whole,” she said. “It may not be fair, but that’s reality.”
Her class, which meets Thursday evenings at the center, offers lessons in makeup, dress, diet and exercise, proper dining etiquette and conversation skills. (No profanity, for example.)
Some might think Allen is setting the movement back by telling teens to cross their legs and wear conservative clothing. But she also offers practical, sometimes life-saving advice about safe sex, drug and alcohol abuse and transitioning. Allen cautioned one trans girl who was doubling up on her hormone treatments: “You’re putting your body, your liver and kidneys, at risk… You’ve been a boy for 19 years. You can’t turn into a girl overnight. Be patient. I don’t want you to hurt yourself.”
Mama Gloria sounds like a wonderful blend of Miss Manner, RuPaul and Auntie Mame. We kind of wish we had her in our lives when we were growing up. We might have avoided that whole sloppy bleach-blonde and flannel-shirt grunge look of the 1990s.