Opinion: Even in WeHo, Trans People Struggle for Acceptance

West Hollywood is known as a progressive city, in part for its acceptance of gay men, who make up 40% of its population. In theory, the city also is accepting of lesbians, although there are few here. As for transgender people, well the city does have a Transgender Advisory Board. However, it’s not unusual to hear (older) gay men complain about the presence of women — gay or straight — in gay bars. And the recent experience at Catch restaurant of Ashlee Marie Preston, a transgender woman of color, suggests that even gay men in West Hollywood may be less accepting of transgender people than they think they are. Here is her story:

At 9:45 p.m. last Tuesday I arrived at Catch, the upscale seafood restaurant on Melrose Avenue at San Vicente Boulevard, where I had made a reservation for dinner for me and a friend. The attendant at the door stared at me with a confused expression and asked if he could help me. I told him I had a reservation. He asked my name, and I told him. Struggling whether to call me “ma’m” or “sir”, he said that I didn’t have one.

Then I showed him my email confirmation. His response: He couldn’t let me up without a reservation. I showed him the reservation confirmation again. He said that the system must be down and to check in with someone tomorrow. Meanwhile there were guests arriving, and he was allowing them up without checking for their names as I stood on the sideline with security staff.

catch, transgender, lgbtq
Ashlee Marie Preston at Catch

I asked to speak with a manager. He said the manager wasn’t around but he would send him an email. In an attempt to seem helpful, he took a picture of my cell phone with the reservation email and said he would forward it. He apologized and told me he didn’t know what else he could do and that I should come back another time. After I continued to insist that he honor my reservation, he said “someone important” (verbatim) had bought out the space I had reserved, and that that was beyond his control.

After going back and forth an additional 10 minutes, I let him know “who I was” and assured him that if Catch didn’t honor my reservation I’d bring formal complaints against everyone responsible. The door attendant then told me he’d see what he could do, and within seconds he was magically able to find my reservation and allowed me to go to my table. Moments later, up came my friend Rachel, a gorgeous blue-eyed blonde girl, who had no problems getting to the table.

When we were seated, the first thing I noticed was that Catch was not packed. There was no “important person” who had bought up the place. That was a blatant lie. Along the wall there was a man in a blazer — the assistant manager — who spoke with other employees as they looked at our table. My server came over and introduced himself.

As I was looking at the menu, my server took it from me, explaining in a condescending way that “these places work a little different” and then explained how meal courses work and highlighted discounted items on the menu. I told him that I frequent Nobu, another stylish restaurant, and many other L.A. favorites, and that I knew what to expect at a restaurant. He looked surprised and “congratulated” me in what was his best impression of a Southern black woman.

I was annoyed when I began to order my meal. I even ordered more than I cared to eat (I really had no appetite anymore), to counter the notion that I could only afford the “discounted section.” My friend Rachel was upset. She said she didn’t feel we were welcome at Catch and that she had picked up on a lot of micro-aggression in the short time we were there.

catch restaurant, lgbt, transgender
Ashlee Marie Preston’s bill for dinner for two at Catch.

So I told my server that I wanted to speak to a manager, and he said he’d ask the assistant manager to come over. We waited for that assistant manager, who, looking serious instead of welcoming, walked up to the table with his arms folded and simply said: ” Yes?”

I told him everything that had transpired, and he immediately gas lighted me and discredited everything I said. I said I felt I was being profiled. And although I didn’t say anything about my gender, he responded: “I don’t think that’s likely, Laverne Cox has eaten here before.” (To me, that’s like someone saying, “I can’t be racist; I have a black friend.”)

I told him that I had been patient with the horrendous experience but I wanted some accountability for the poor service I had received. He shrugged (as other patrons watched) and asked what I wanted him to do. He then disingenuously apologized as if to say, “Better??” I told him it wasn’t better, and that I would write about my experience at Catch.

“Do what makes you feel good,” he said. “If that’s what you feel you need to do, I won’t stop you.” He then excused himself and told the server “don’t mark anything off,” which I took to mean “make sure you don’t discount anything.” (As if the prices were why I had complained).

At that point, I asked that the meal be wrapped up to go. I couldn’t stay any longer because I felt embarrassed, humiliated and dehumanized. When the server brought the receipt, he said that he’d try to go to the back and get a discount because he knows “it’s a little pricey” (again, the implication that someone who looked like me wasn’t financially able to pay for my meal). But then he came back and apologized and said that he couldn’t give a discount, delivering the receipt to me as if it were a cancer diagnosis. I paid the bill and even made sure I left a tip just to debunk his obvious stereotype of me.

As a trans woman of color, I have learned that my visibility and my very existence is disruptive to our cis-hetero normative society. If I am a trans person in a hotel, a common perception is that I must be an escort. If I am walking down the street, the assumption is that I welcome men to approach me for sex. And because of the economic challenges that most trans people of color face, if I’m in a posh restaurant, my ability to pay is questioned. As trans people, our presence is always met with suspicion. There are those who make it their mission to erase trans people by denying us access and refusing to allow us to hold space.

What makes this experience especially interesting to me is that these Catch employees were gay men. That raises the issue about how some white cisgender gay men feel privileged to be accepted in hetero-centric environments such as Catch and feel threatened by trans women — especially those of color. I believe that gay men who struggle with internalized homophobia sometimes project onto trans women because they feel we reinforce the hetero-normative fears, stereotypes and criticisms they have faced. Some of these same men are the ones who state “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” on their online profiles — the type of gays who oppress other members of the LGBTQ community.

I’m sharing this experience in the hope that I can draw attention to the fact that racism, transphobia, homophobia and misogyny can and do exist in progressive cities such as West Hollywood. Most importantly, in sharing this experience, I want other trans people who experience acts of bias and discrimination to know that it is not okay. We all are worthy of being treated with dignity and respect, and speaking up and speaking out is an act of resistance that is necessary if we are to ever counter the injustices that limit us as a community.

Ashlee Marie Preston, a native of Louisville, Ky., is an openly trans person working in mainstream public relations. She is secretary, communications chair and a member of the executive committee for the Transgender Service Provider Network of Los Angeles. She also is a member of the board of the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles and the Imperial Court of Hollywood/Los Angeles, and is involved with organizations such as the Stonewall Democratic Club, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gender Odyssey Los Angeles Conference. She is on the board of directors for TransCanWork LLC and Mirror Memoirs.

  1. @David Moore: Last week at Planning Commission, Mr. Birnbaum kept congratulating himself about he far over and above any expectation, he has extended himself to the neighborhood residents regarding the roof top noise from Catch, specifically noting one that testified that Mr. B claimed was the only resident impaired by noise.
    One question, has Mr. Birnbaum called on Ashlee Preston?

    1. @Respect for others: absolutely not…despite how many times myself and media outlets reached out to him.

  2. David, I’ll move past the fact that the restaurant has had plenty of opportunity and time to respond. When running a business, one experience matters. Often, one experience IS indicative of a larger issue. However, even if it was a one-off event, does that mean that the establishment should get to enjoy a good reputation in the face of that? No. They need to be held accountable for every interaction. Every customer. This wasn’t a wrong order. This was blatant harassment.

  3. David Moore i don’t know which contradiction to start with…the one in which you talk about character assasination, (before proceeding to drag me through the mud without knowing me..) or the one in which you claim to be against bullying, while resorting to bullying, victim blaming and shaming. I think I’ll address the contradiction in which you accused WeHoville and other outlets of not reporting responsibly and not properly investigating when A) I’m not the only isolated incident reported AND there has been an investigation (take your on advice and do your homework), and B) NBC News and every outlet that covered the story reached out to the restaurant for public comment and gave them a week to respond in which they did not. So before you insult me, accuse me of having a chip on my shoulder, and being a self-centered grand stander…ask yourself what your real issue is…for someone that claims they are “pro-trans” you sound like the furthest thing from an ally…

    1. I urge you to consider how your life could be different if you were not a victim on so many levels. Your reaction to my post is telling.

  4. I think there are always two sides to a story. It is unfortunate that in an atmosphere of hysteria over protecting trans rights, all of the comments here fail to give the accused the dignity of a response. I am pro trans. I am anti bully. This writing reeks of someone trying to grandstand and bully others. And maybe — just maybe — Ashlee has a chip on her shoulder.

    Put another way, there are always other ways of looking at a situation. Just because Ashlee’s perception of the situation was such, that does not make it so.

    And also, Ashlee’s one experience at this restaurant ought not have the effect of ruining the reputation and harm the business of a restaurant that many people love. Is there a pattern of bigotry at this restaurant? I’d like you know before judgment is cast. Indeed, responsible writing demands investigation.

    Give the accused the dignity of a response. And Ashlee needs to stop her self-centered obsession of grandstanding.

  5. If Catch were really hip and happening, they would hire Ashlee to revamp their entire public relations approach top to bottom. That would be significant. My grandmother always said “folks that treat you without any respect, actually have little or no self respect. The only thing you can do is be extra nice to them”.

  6. Thank you Ashlee for telling your story the employees at Catch treatment of you was racist and sexist. I hope you file a complaint against Catch with the city of Los Angeles.

  7. Those weren’t “micro-agressions,” Ms. Preston. Those were open and hostile acts against you. It’s appalling and wrong. Thank you for being strong and speaking out.

  8. How did the author know the guys were gay?…..anyway, I didn’t need to hear about this awful experience to know not to go there.

    1. Hi Jim,

      I knew because I found them on Facebook and saw their preference settings and intimate pictures with men . One of them in particular even had 160 mutual friends. They gave me real first names and fake last names but I still found them.

  9. Catch is a STRAIGHT owned-operated restaurant that caters to straight celebs and their admirers. This is NOT a gay establishment. Sadly, more and more straight-centric businesses are taking over WEHO. Don’t blame this one on the gays

    1. “The gays” weren’t blamed nor was this a generalization. I also pointed out in my op-ed that it was a heterocentric establishment that catered to the affluent/celebrity patron… so there were no implications of it being a gay bar. There was a deeper poignant message that I’m afraid went completely over your head despite how succinctly I spelled everything out…

  10. Speaking as a gay man in West Hollywood, I pray that you don’t label us based on your horrible experience. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

  11. Wow! I can’t believe you went through that. Seriously disgusting of them! Im glad you spoke up. It’s unfortunate that this had to happen to you or anyone for that matter… they obviously messed with the wrong girl though. They thought they could silence you by demoralizing and shaming you and now you are putting them on blast. More people like you need to come forward and speak out about their own experiences. It’s the only way true change will come about. I will NEVER eat at Catch again!

  12. I’m speechless over your horrible experience!! You are brave and I’m sorry you (and maybe others?) had to go through that. I came across your post as I was googling Catch WeHo to find out more about the place. I was invited to dinner there Monday night. I never heard of the place, it was too much of a scene. A server gasped out loud when I told him to tell me about the place because i had never heard of it.

  13. @Anne – assuming you’re serious…if you’re so “in” at Catch, then perhaps you could do the community a huge service by meeting with management yourself to enlighten them on this incident – rather than gloating over apparently not being discriminated against. “They” will come for “you” next…

  14. Really Anne?? Tsk tsk tsk…this isn’t a fantasy column on backpage…take it somewhere else. Thank you to the other people that left comments.

  15. I’m sharing this to everyone I can on social media
    This is unacceptable!! I hate that you had to go through this!!

  16. Gay guys are so hot. Super bummed they don’t like transsexual women.
    Desperate atvtones I remind them I used to be a guy.
    Now about Catch. Sorry you had a bad experience. I know several trans girls that frequent the establishment including myself without incident. Perhaps they were having a bad night.

  17. Catch employees should be ashamed of themselves. Don’t worry Ashlee, what comes around goes around & they will get bit by their own karma. Whenever anyone treats you badly or verbally puts you down, they are WEAKER than you. This weakness is based in fear. If people are confused they will often go to a fear based response & just try to get rid of you so they don’t have to use their brains. In WeHo I would hope that even if someone doesn’t understand you, that they would just ACCEPT YOU AS A HUMAN BEING & respect you as such. After all that’s what we all are!
    So if some is afraid of you they will abuse you in hopes of making you go away. That is obvious by the way you were treated at the door. I respect your civil treatment of them despite their horrid treatment of you.
    The bottom line is we can forgive our persecutors because we understand that they are weaker than us. So we must feel sorry for their inabilities, to be able to forgive them in our minds. You never have to forgive them to their faces, but hopefully you can forgive them inside your head so that you will no longer be bothered by their rudeness. Their ignorance is their weakness & they will at some point in their lives realize what fools they made of themselves in front of everyone!
    You are a much more evolved person than any of the employees to have been able to so patiently tolerate their abuse. Congratulations on being such a loving person! You are the winner here! As Ghandi said, “Do not mistake my kindness for weakness as it is my greatest strength”.

  18. City council members of weho are you reading this? Do something about this. Get the management of catch to stand in front of you at the city Council to justify their existence. I’m not transgender. This is atrocious behavior by Catch.

  19. The people who work at that restaurant should be ashamed of themselves ~ in this day and age, in WeHo, I would expect everyone would behave in an evolved way. Gay men would do well to remember the days of damaging discrimination that they have endured, and in many parts of the world, continue to experience. I am sorry, Ashlee, that you had to experience this and it is important to speak up and keep shining a light on injustice and prejudice, no matter from whom it comes.

  20. What a horrific experience. Thank you for sharing so the community can express their displeasure with the powers that be and with their pocketbooks. I agree with the comment about EP/LP as well. Very rude service and not community oriented.

  21. Thank you for writing about your terrible experience at Catch. I’ve heard this before about Catch – they’ve already developed a reputation for “losing reservations” for anyone they don’t want in their super duper special restaurant. I’m glad you stood up for yourself and made your displeasure known. Unfortunately, I doubt it will land anywhere meaningful with the management at Catch – the apple rots from the core. I hate that this awful behavior still happens – and that it happens in West Hollywood and perpetrated by cisgender gay men. But you speaking up makes a difference. Your voice adds to the chorus of those willing to stick their necks out for the rest of us and help make this a better, more accepting place to live. THANK YOU! oh and BTW, EP/LP is the same totally impressed-with-itself douchebag eatery as Catch (I was there this weekend for the first time and had a horrible experience – will never go back).

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