Getting the courage to form a band and play gigs is a nerve-wracking feat. But when you’re seven years old and playing with your sister on a bargain drum kit snagged from a yard sale, fear of performance is maybe not really something that crosses your mind right away. At least that was the case for Lucy and Gwendolyn Giles, the teenage sisters hailing from Sacramento who are currently touring the country as a band called Dog Party.
Last August, the Army private now known as Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35 years in military prison. A day after the trial, Manning announced plans to undergo hormone therapy and begin public life as a woman. Her coming-out shone a light on a population that media rarely discusses: transgender women in prison.
I have a fat, accordion-style file folder—each section stuffed with mangled envelopes from across the country—full of heavy-hearted, handwritten letters from women I’ve never met. Shaylanna, Venus, Prada, and Eva: every letter flaunts the industrial, pre-stamped return address of a state prison, and every signature is a transgender woman living in a male facility.
Decades from now, we might reflect on these sweltering few months as the Summer of Dolly—a time when everyone’s favorite rhinestone-studded, sky-high heel wearing, bleach blonde beehive-sporting songbird showed that she can still cause a ruckus even at 68 years old.