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An Inconvenient Woman

In order to turn the murdered soldier Barry Winchell into a


martyr for gay rights, activists first had to turn his girlfriend,
Calpernia Addams, back into a man. By DAVID FRANCE

alpernia Sarah
Addams has
just rebuffed two
handsome men (and
a not-so-handsome
one) who offered
her compliments as
she hurried across
Union Street in
Nashville.
"Libertine
gentlemen," she
says, with a
sideways slice of
her green eyes.
Short braids
dangling on her
shoulders make her
look like Dorothy
Gale, only taller.
"We have a certain
decorum here in the Photograph by Jeff Riedel
South, so I just said
thank you and
turned away," she explains. Still, she can't help being buoyed by
their attentions. "I know I don't look my best. I've just been through
so much lately."
One morning last fall, thick in the worst of it, Addams twisted her
hair in a chignon, smoothed on a simple gray suit and made the
hourlong trip from Nashville to the Fort Campbell Army base on the
Tennessee-Kentucky border. There, two soldiers would stand
accused in the murder of the only man she has openly loved in her
29 years. Barry Winchell, a 21-year-old private first class, died in
what the base command at first labeled a "physical altercation," a
common fight. It became clear Winchell was killed for being gay.
His death and the ensuing trials have become the most celebrated

indictment of Congress's policy on gays in the military, known as


"don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, don't harass." Even the president
called "this last brutal beating death" proof that the measure he
signed into law in 1993 to protect lesbian and gay soldiers is a clear
failure. Of 71,570 soldiers surveyed, 80 percent said they have
witnessed derogatory remarks being made against gays, according
to a report released March 24.
Addams, among the first to arrive at the base, did not enter the small
courtroom, which was reserved for lawyers and immediate family.
She didn't feel comfortable declaring a place there. Instead she took
a seat in the media room across the street, where a reporter asked if
she could identify the dead soldier's boyfriend. Addams drew in her
breath and nearly whispered her reluctant response, knowing full
well it would thrust her into the complicated heart of this national
drama.
"That's me."
The fact is that Winchell, killed for being gay, wasn't gay, at least
not in the traditional Harvey Fierstein sense of the word. Barry
Winchell, who had only ever dated biological women before, was in
love with a pre-operative transsexual -- a transgendered woman," as
Addams prefers it -- part male and part female, a gentle being
without a clear portfolio in the black-and-white realm of the sexes.
In fact, as in the film "Boys Don't Cry," whose doomed
transgendered character generated an Academy Award this year,
almost every element of the Winchell case falls into the gray
in-between. The biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling, in her new book,
"Sexing the Body," says that this state of being "either/or,
neither/both" is increasingly common.
But the more that Winchell, like
Matthew Shepard before him, has been
held up as a martyr for gay equality, the
less room there has been for explaining
such sloppy complications. "A lot of people just don't get that this
woman -- tall, lovely, beautiful -- has male parts," explains Kathi
Westcott, a staff attorney for Servicemembers' Legal Defense
Network (S.L.D.N.), the gay soldiers' group based in Washington.
"It was a difficult connection to make for people, even in the gay
community."
David France is national affairs
editor at Glamour.

Westcott swept into Tennessee days after the killing determined to


investigate Winchell's murder and expose the antigay sentiment that
persists in the military. She and Rhonda White, co-director of the
Nashville-based Lesbian and Gay Coalition for Justice, paid
Addams a visit and made a proposal. "For the sake of clarity," White
recalls Westcott saying to Addams, they should tell reporters she is a
he. "Barry was dating an anatomical male," White says. "How can
you say he was gay-bashed if he was dating a woman, you know?"

Addams, a nightclub performer, agreed -- I was really worried I


would lend some sort of Jerry Springer element to this awful crime,"
she says -- even though she found it "devastating" to be called a
man, after her long journey away from manhood. In news accounts,
she was Winchell's "boyfriend" or his "cross-dressing friend,"
always he and him. Each qualification carried the story away from
its truth. By superimposing a rigid grid of sexual identity over the
lives of Calpernia Addams and Barry Winchell, the activists
effectively severed the soldier from the love for which he died.
"Each of these little words was erasing my existence," she says. "It
was like our relationship -- the basis of our relationship -- was all a
dream."
Over coffee at a sidewalk cafe one evening in Nashville, she tells
me, "If I had been a really attractive blond buzz-cut guy who
worked out all the time, they probably would have taken me around
everywhere to speak on this. I don't think anybody said, 'Let's
hammer Calpernia down during this horrible time.' Their hearts
were probably in the right place. It just all turned out wrong as far as
my part of it was concerned."
Since then, organizers of the April 30 national gay rally -- officially
called the Millennium March on Washington for Equality, a sign
that at least in principle people like Calpernia are embraced by the
movement -- invited Barry Winchell's mother to speak. But nobody
even thought to ask Addams if she was going. "We don't have a
vocabulary for dealing with these issues," says Bill Turner, a
Nashville activist who is the author of "A Genealogy of Queer
Theory," to be published in July. "Calpernia Addams has really
fallen victim to our limitations."
y all outward appearances, Calpernia Addams is a very
beautiful and painfully shy, slightly awkward woman who
measures, thanks to recent medical interventions, 36-30-38,
understated proportions for her nearly 6-foot frame. She has a
woman's hands, a woman's comportment, a woman's slender
etherealness. Only her wispy voice and broad shoulders belie the
merest hint of manhood. She says she appropriated the name
Calpernia Addams from a distant relative in the Addams Family
movies who, fingered as a witch, was made to dance naked in the
town square. She added the middle name, Sarah, from "The
Crucible," and found it gave her an easier moniker "to shout to a
handsome man over the din of a sports bar." (She will not reveal her
birth name, which she legally changed, and, estranged from her
parents, she would not put me in contact with them.)
Legally she is a man. By accident of finances, she says, she remains
genitally male. Sexual reassignment surgery can cost $15,000 or
more.

Barry Winchell,

In Barry Winchell's boyish vastness (he

killed for being


gay, wasn't really
gay -- at least not
in the traditional
Harvey Fierstein
sense of the
word. He was in
love with a
pre-operative
transsexual, part
male and part
female, falling
into the gray
in-between.

stood 6-foot-2), quaint chivalry and


Midwestern ebullience, Addams found the
closest thing to happiness she has ever
known: "He never was ashamed to go
anywhere with me. And he treated me just
like a normal girl, and that was the most
wonderful feeling, to have an attractive,
masculine, nice man treat me like a
woman, like I wanted to be treated. It put
me at peace and gave me a feeling of
self-confidence that I have never had."

Just as Addams is not yet female and no


longer purely male, as a couple they were
not wholly straight or acceptably gay.
Rather they occupied a rare middle ground
encompassing both, and neither: socially
heterosexual, sexually homosexual, uncomfortably on the margins
of all worlds. Theirs was a secret minority. While one in 30,000 men
and one in 100,000 women eventually initiate treatment for
sex-change operations, even more say they are just as happy to be
neither male nor female. At the University of Minnesota's Program
in Human Sexuality, one of the largest transsexual centers in the
country, administrators now routinely admit patients who take only
half the journey from one sex to the other, choosing hormones
without surgery, or surgery without hormones, says Bean Robinson,
Ph.D., the associate director. "We see there's a lot more complexity
to the world," she says.
For Addams, though, like many people preparing to undergo sex
reassignment, she is hypersensitive to the differences between male
and female. "For me I choose to cling to the thought that I am a
woman," she says. "That's what I want to be. And that's my goal. I
know I wasn't born that way, but I think I have to have some kind of
guiding light to move toward. If I personally were to embrace a
theory that gender were meaningless or fluid, then I would just be
lost at sea."
Barry Winchell didn't seem to care either way.
eing a dead-on marksman and a favorite of his sergeant's,
Winchell gave off a certain all-soldier impression even among
the 23,000 macho recruits at Fort Campbell, headquarters for the
famed "Screaming Eagles," the elite 101st Airborne strike force.
Tall and muscled, he earned the respect of other Delta Company
soldiers, who gave him the nickname Top Gun because of his
facility with the .50-caliber machine gun. By the time of his death,
he had been nominated for Soldier of the Month, his mother says.
Still, he did not immediately fit in. He had trouble putting up with
his roommate, a volatile drinker with emotional problems from
Lincoln, Neb., named Justin Fisher, 27, who liked to bully Winchell

with impunity. Nevertheless, it was Fisher


who took Winchell to his first gay bar in
March of last year. The Connection, in the
pure show-biz tradition of Nashville, bills
itself as the largest gay bar in North
America. It is mammoth, encompassing a
discotheque, a two-stepping room, a gift
shop, a restaurant and a cavernous
performance arena for over-the-top,
lip-synching drag spectaculars.
Justin Fisher had been there before. On
weekend nights, clutches of soldiers and
straight couples mix in easily with the
show's pansexual audiences, which can
swell to 2,000. Back on base afterward,
Fisher had extolled the realness of one of
the Connection's drag queens, whose
towering beauty, according to testimony, he
found so unbelievably stunning. So he
returned with Winchell and several other
soldiers to show them his discovery.
The indelible performer was Calpernia
Addams. Her act, a kind of Elvirameets-Joan Jett extravaganza, involves
loud rock 'n' roll, a great deal of strutting
and shimmering and a scant sum of
clothing. She has a certain Gypsy Rose Lee
quality of vulnerability. Her fans flank the
catwalk in waves to offer her folded dollar
bills, sometimes by the fistful.
It was no different for the soldiers that
night. They sat at a table near the stage and
whooped good-naturedly throughout her
act. Addams visited them during a break
after the 11 p.m. set.
Top: Glover swung the bat,
but he wasn't alone. Middle:
Winchell, had he lived, was
up for Soldier of the Month.
Bottom: Fisher received 12
years in a plea bargain. His
bullying may have been a
cover-up for his own gay
proclivities. (Photos: Peter
Wright/The Kentucky New
Era/Associated Press; United
States Army/Associated
Press; Jom
Roshan/Associated Press.)

She says she talked to Barry Winchell last


because he was so shy, but immediately fell
victim to his pretty eyes and silly laugh. He
told her he had never met a drag performer
before, but was always "curious about such
things." Somehow, they approached the
topic of a date for later in the week. "At the
start, I guess I was a bit more aggressive
than he was," she admits.
They fell into an easy affair. Winchell
brought almost no philosophy or gender
theory to this relationship. He considered

his girlfriend to be a woman, yet considered himself gay for


sleeping with her, friends of Winchell's say. "He wasn't really torn or
tortured about those things, and once he felt comfortable with me,
our sexuality together was very easy," Addams says. Addams would
introduce him as heterosexual, but he would always correct her,
saying, "It's O.K."
"They were very attached to each other," says Mike McCoy, a friend
of both from local gay bars. "Wherever he was, you wouldn't find
her too far behind. Just like an ordinary couple would be."
Winchell spent weekend evenings on the floor of Addams's dressing
room, beneath a Vesuvius of crinoline and fake fur, studying his
manuals while she performed -- a case of beer Winchell brought still
sits beside a rack of clothing in the tiny, dusty room. After the show,
they would rent videos or go downtown for coffee. Among their
friends from the Connection, especially other performers, their love
affair was taking on a celebrated character. "Oh, she was happy,"
says Regine Phillips, a transgendered performer. "It was kind of like
a movie." Kim Wayne Mayfield, who performs at another Nashville
bar as Kimmie Satin, adds, "You could tell there was a girl and a
boy and you could tell which was which and he was just happy as
all get-out to be with her."
For Addams it was a dream come true. "Among the transgendered
women here in Nashville, we have a jaded understanding of 'the
way it is,' "she says. "And one of the cold hard facts that we
understand is that a lot of the straight men who are attracted to us
are actually closeted gay and they may not even have admitted it to
themselves. We bring them into the gay community and introduce
them to people and they start to get comfortable, and the next little
step is that they leave us behind and start dating men. It's really
lonely.
"But Barry? Barry just seemed to take me at face value. He liked me
for me, as much as that sounds like a cliche. He thought I was
beautiful and he enjoyed our sex life totally. The sexualreassignment surgery, he seemed totally like he didn't care whether
that happened or not. I felt comfortable that he wasn't going to use
me as a bridge. I finally was able to really let myself relax and
accept his love."
t's ironic I'm a showgirl," Addams allows in her dressing room
before going on one evening. "I grew up strictly forbidden to
dance or bowl or roller-skate, forbidden from swimming in
mixed-sex pools or staying out on a Saturday night. I was quiet and
sensitive. I never lisped really, and I never said 'Girl!' or 'Miss
Thing,' and I didn't like Madonna or do a lot of this" -- she cocks her
head from shoulder to shoulder and throws her snapping hand in the
air. "I wasn't a stereotypical queen. I was just like a quiet, sensitive
person who wrote poetry and walked in the woods and played violin
and stuff. I wasn't delicate, really, but I wasn't really boyish. I think I

just wasn't anything. I was so busy concealing everything that I just


came out as a blank."
In pictures, Addams is a skinny, dark-haired boy with wide eyes and
an ethereal comportment -- unless he consciously forced his hands
to stay in his lap, Addams says now, they seemed to float in the air
when he spoke. Nonetheless he looked all boy, not androgynous in
the least. Inside was a different thing. He had crushes on other little
boys, and was jealous of every girl he knew, starting when he was 6.
He knew something was different about him -- he often awoke
shrieking in terror, convinced that he was mandated for hell. He
suspected homosexuality, but had no inkling of gender dysphoria.
He suffered from a crippling body-image problem: he often skipped
school because he couldn't stand to be looked at and wrote in his
notebook over and over again, "I'm so ugly."
Sensing that to survive he needed to get away, Addams joined the
Navy after high school and, ignoring his desires, served happily as a
combat medic in Al-Jubail in Saudi Arabia during the gulf war. The
other soldiers accepted him. But his recurring struggle with
depression eventually led him to a Navy psychologist, who warned
him up front not to discuss any issue that might get him shipped out
on a gay discharge.
It wasn't until he finished his tour and returned to Nashville in 1994
that he visited his first gay bar -- the Connection -- and saw his first
drag queens. "I just thought I had never seen anybody that pretty in
real life before," Addams recalls. "And I couldn't hardly believe
they were boys. And when I found that out, I thought, If they can do
that, I can do that."
Encased in shimmering organza and garish drag makeup for the
club's Wednesday amateur night, something wholly unexpected
happened. A heavy weight lifted. Dressed as a woman, Addams no
longer suffered crushing self-hatred. As if by force of an explosion,
she came to believe that she had never been a man, not in her soul.
"I realized that moment that I have to either choose to live through
the constricted filter of a man's body, or else to try to change that
body as much as I could to reflect what I wanted to be, and what I
feel like I am," she says. She began hormone treatments in 1997 and
embarked on her resculpturing a year later. A final surgery, which
will physically and legally make her a woman, is something
Addams plans to undertake three or four years down the line.
ddams had only begun feeling comfortably female about the
time Winchell and Fisher first came to take in her
performance. But all of this postmodern gender parsing was pretty
well lost back on base. According to testimony, which the S.L.D.N.
has synopsized (Army transcripts have not been released), Justin
Fisher's mood, usually foul, grew malignant in the days that

followed his trip. That week, Fisher told Sgt. Michael Kleifgen, a
section leader, that a soldier whose name he wouldn't reveal was
gay. Sergeant Kleifgen began an investigation, in direct violation of
"don't ask, don't tell." When he zeroed in on Winchell, he asked him
point-blank if he was gay. Winchell denied it, and the probe went no
further.
But Fisher also informed other Delta
Company soldiers, and Barry Winchell
became the target of ceaseless hostilities.
"Pretty much everybody in the company
called him derogatory names," Sergeant
Kleifgen told the court (a base
spokeswoman would not make him
available and calls to his house went
unanswered). "Basically, they called him a
'faggot' and stuff like that, I would say, on a
daily basis. A lot of times, he was walking
around down in the dumps." The Pentagon
is expected to issue a report on Fort
Campbell's command climate this summer.
J. Cortland Torres, 24, a gay Fort Campbell
soldier and friend of Winchell's who,
fearing for his own safety, requested a
discharge after the murder, describes the
base culture as a "Lord of the Flies" of
anti-gay fever. "I honestly think that if the
Army didn't promote this hatred of gays,
this wouldn't have happened."
As a shy male growing up
(top), Calpernia Addams
Winchell probably did not know Fisher
was behind it at first -- in fact, he had every seemed a very unlikely
candidate for a stage career,
reason to believe Fisher was among the
or for gender dysphoria.
most accepting of his unusual romantic
Bottom: Winchell had a brief
window on happiness with
situation. The two returned to the
Connection together on several weekends. Addams. (Photos courtesy of
Calpernia Addams.)
One night, according to Addams, Fisher
asked her to fix him up with Kim Wayne
Mayfield, who was in full Kimmie Satin drag. Beneath the makeup,
Mayfield, 32, is all man. Fisher knew this, Mayfield says, and it
didn't seem to deter him. "He flirted with me for several weeks after
that, and I flirted back," Mayfield recalls.

Ultimately, according to Mayfield, the two groped one another in


the dark confines of an after-hours club and talked about an affair,
which never did happen. According to testimony, Fisher bragged to
another soldier that they had made out. In another wrinkle, last May
Fisher stood over Winchell as he slept and fondled his feet,
according to Addams. "When Barry told me about that, he just
thought it was very weird," she recalls. "He was like, 'What the hell

are you doing?' and Fisher said, 'Oh, I'm just drunk, I'm sorry.' "
Whether or not these near-dalliances made Fisher gay, they
definitely placed him in a distant sector of the continuum that the
feminist Judith Butler calls the "gender matrix." A forensic
psychiatrist who examined Fisher, Keith Caruso, says the soldier
suffers from something he calls "transvestic fetishism," meaning
that for sexual titillation and psychological succor, Fisher has turned
to wearing women's underwear, and to those who share his fancy,
since he was 14.
Why, then, would he foment hostilities against Winchell? Rhonda
White, from the Tennessee gay rights group, blames that least
understood beast, internalized homophobia. But maybe by
announcing Winchell's secret to the world, Fisher was testing the
waters for what might happen if his own secrets were to slip out -nothing good, as was instantly apparent.
Or perhaps, as his lawyer Michael Love argues, Fisher's psychoses
were entirely unrelated to homophobia, the similarities between
these lives utterly coincidental. Indeed, Fisher has been given
diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder, attention
deficit/hyperactivity disorder, robust alcoholism and mild
depression.
Throughout the spring of 1999, Fisher called Winchell derogatory
names. He found an aggressive co-conspirator in a newcomer to
Delta Company, Pvt. Calvin Glover, 19, an excessive drinker from a
fractured Oklahoma family. Having been intermittently homeless
before joining the Army, Glover had met gay teenagers in his
hometown, but had not shown any animosity toward them, says
Cynthia Brown, former director of the Ada Youth Shelter in Ada,
Okla. "I didn't see him being homophobic," she says. "He doesn't
have that kind of malice."
Regardless, Glover became Winchell's chief tormenter, admitting
that he picked a fight with Winchell on Saturday, July 3, at the start
of a three-day keg party on base celebrating the long weekend -heavy drinking was common on Ft. Campbell, even among minors
like Glover. Glover taunted and humiliated Winchell throughout the
afternoon. Finally, when he reached to knock a beer out of the gay
soldier's hand, Winchell had enough. He threw Glover to the
ground, hitting him several times. Most of the other soldiers
applauded the outcome. But Fisher would not let it drop. He taunted
Glover for getting "beat by a faggot," according to testimony. "A
faggot cannot kick my [expletive]," Glover reportedly hollered as
Winchell skulked off to bed. "I could [expletive] kill you!"
The drinking continued the following evening. By all accounts,
Glover had at first buried the hatchet and played Wiffle ball with
Winchell. Back in Nashville that same night, Calpernia Addams was
competing in the biggest pageant of her career, the Tennessee

Entertainer of the Year Contest, taking on the outsize personalities


of drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals and transgendered stage
legends from across the state. Donning a beaded black pantsuit, she
lip-synched to Sinead O'Connor's haunting rendition of "Don't Cry
for Me Argentina" while actually playing the violin riffs herself. At
2:30 that morning, judges balanced a tiara on her head and named
Addams the best in the state.
At precisely the same time, Fisher and Glover were drinking beer in
Fisher's room and listening to the soundtrack from "Psycho." Glover
picked up a bat and went to a hall where Winchell was sleeping on a
cot.
Winchell never woke up. Glover swung the bat five or six times
with such ferociousness that parts of Winchell's brain extruded
through his left ear, according to testimony. Blood covered the walls
and ceilings, splashing 15 feet down the hall.

Justin Fisher
asked Calpernia
Addams to set
him up with Kim
Wayne Mayfield,
who performs in
drag as Kimmie
Satin. 'He flirted
with me for
several weeks
after that, and I
flirted back,'
Mayfield recalls.

Addams rushed home to call Winchell with


her great news, but there was no answer.
She would learn the devastating truth the
next afternoon, from the television. To this
day, she blames herself. "The reason he
was killed was because he was dating me,"
she says. "That makes it even more
devastating, to think that I had played some
role in it."

Among the first things Addams did was to


develop the one roll of film with pictures of
the two of them together. But the film had
been ruined somehow, and the pictures
were black, a final cruelty that she still
despairs. She now has only a few
photographs that Winchell gave her from
his childhood; she wrapped up the rest and sent them back to his
parents. She included a small picture of herself. It had already hit
the papers that Winchell had been dating "a drag queen" from a
Nashville club, and Addams hoped to prepare Winchell's parents for
the sordid coverage. "Just to settle your mind, this is me," she put in
an accompanying note. "I tried to be a good person, and I just hope
that you can find it in your heart not to hate me."
Winchell's mother, Patricia Kutteles, a psychiatric nurse from
Kansas City, Mo., knew only that her son was dating a dancer from
Nashville, which saddens her, given that in her liberal household
homosexuality was discussed and accepted. Perhaps, she thinks, this
indicates he was simply in a passing phase. "When I found out
Calpernia was a transsexual or whatever, that was a bit surprising,"
she says. "But she is a very nice person, and she really cared about
Barry. Knowing he was in a happy relationship, in the end, that
helped. When we talked, he was just so optimistic about his future."

Addams and Kutteles have spoken once, briefly, on the telephone.


They had agreed to meet one afternoon during Glover's courtmartial. (Glover got a life sentence; Fisher, who washed the blood
from the bat, got 12 years in a plea bargain.) But Addams canceled.
"I just felt I did not have the strength to show myself to this
woman," Addams explains. "I don't want to make myself sound like
Florence Nightingale, but if only one group of people gets to have
the help and attention, then certainly I would have it be Barry's
parents."
t a fund-raising cocktail party for the S.L.D.N. in a
190-year-old historic Nashville farmhouse, Calpernia Addams
is filling a plate with roasted pork loin and steamed shrimp
dumplings. Earlier in the day, Addams was not sure she would
attend the event. "I only found out about it after a friend forwarded
me e-mail," she said then. She feels strange, being so bitterly
marginalized. But she is just now beginning to allow herself room to
criticize.
"I'm disappointed in a lot of
ways with almost every
organization that I thought
would help me with this,"
she says. "A lot of things I
don't want to go in print -speaking out against these
major national gay and
When her boyfriend became a gay martyr,
lesbian organizations -- but a Addams had to perform on a different stage.
lot of them I thought would Photo by Jared Lazarus/The Nashville
Tennessean.
come and help me or say
something, or do a press
release or give me some advice. And they just didn't." But
ultimately she pulled on a skin-tight tongue-pink top and a slinky
red skirt that reached below her knees, and with a mist of slight
Southern conceit she strode right past the donation table and over to
the food.
Across the room Kathi Westcott, the S.L.D.N. staff attorney, has
begun calling everyone to attention, and she asks Addams to come
forward. "I am constantly amazed by her elegance and her calm and
cool," Westcott announces. "Without her strength and courage I
don't think we would be able to convince the press that this was a
hate crime."
With that, Westcott hands Addams a framed commendation from the
organization. "We commend you for your courage in ensuring
justice for P.F.C. Barry Winchell," it says. "In addition your
extraordinary efforts have helped force our Armed Forces to
implement new rules in training to prevent anti-gay harassment and
hate crimes, making the world safer for all." Addams is overcome
with emotion. "That's so nice," she says in a voice so soft it is barely

above a lip-synch.
But there is something in the text that snags her, or rather something
that is missing. There is no mention of her loss. Its author seems no
more capable of picturing her as one-half of this couple than
Addams herself was when gripping those blackened photographs.
The proclamation is proof that Winchell belongs to them now, no
longer to her at all. "I do feel like I was an awkward element for
everybody involved," Addams says several weeks later. She sounds
a note of resignation. "I didn't want to be anybody's anything, really,
except Barry's girlfriend. And that was already taken away from
me."

Table of Contents
May 28, 2000

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