With an undeniable sense of confidence that can only come from decades of bolstered courage and self-validation, actress Erika Ervin, who is also professionally and belovedly known as Amazon Eve, graced a stage in Turlock, a city she fled out of fear more than three decades ago.
The reason Ervin left Turlock all those years ago is because she is transgender, meaning that her gender identity differs from the sex she was assigned at birth. On Tuesday, however, Ervin was welcomed back by students and community members in the Turlock High School Performing Arts Building during an event hosted by the school’s Gay Straight Alliance.
“The time has come for me to stop sitting on the sidelines,” said Ervin. “The LGBT has been fighting for equality for a very long time and the basic rule of equality is if you believe in equality for some, but not others, then you don’t believe in equality at all.
“For me to come to Turlock is a very important thing because this is the town that oppressed me — although I know everybody in this town is not like that. It’s not the people that agree with us that we have to talk to, we have to have the courage and compassion to talk to those people who disagree with us and learn to find a common ground from which to start a conversation,” continued Ervin.
Amongst other things, Ervin is known as being the world’s tallest model and for her role as Amazon Eve on “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” Whether they knew her from the popular show or admired her for her advocacy in the LGBT community, students and community members gathered on Tuesday to hear her speak about her life in Turlock and her rise to fame after she left.
“Her incredible journey since leaving Turlock has been full of trials and triumphs and it has inspired me more than I can say,” said junior Arianne Kisner. “Her story is an ongoing one and I am extremely glad that she chose to come here tonight to speak to us.”
With roots in Turlock, Ervin shared stories about living next to a vineyard, rebelliously swimming in canals, spinning so fast on the merry-go-round formerly at Crane Park that “kids were just flying all over the place,” and coming home to the strangely welcoming and unmistakable smell of cow manure. As Ervin reminisced with audience members about these childhood memories, she said that this time also marked when she began to notice she was different.
“It had nothing to do with who I was attracted to — that came later in life. It had to do with my gender,” said Ervin. “When I grew up I had a father who was a scientist and I had a microscope and a chemistry set instead of a Barbie, which is what I really wanted.”
Ervin said that knowing this made her the subject of physical, verbal and emotional abuse from both her family and peers, the accumulation of which led to her first suicide attempt at just 12 years old.
“I threw myself in front of a car,” explained Ervin. “As a kid, I didn’t have the language to describe who I am. I didn’t have anyone to check in with and we had no information back then. I was very desperate.”
In 1984, Ervin relocated to the Bay Area where she studied Theater Arts and Business Management in college. After graduating in 1986 at 18 years old, Ervin worked in a law office for six years before going on to study with the National Academy of Sports Medicine to become a personal trainer, with a focus on realistic fitness and fostering a positive self-image.
Despite her relocation away from the Central Valley, Ervin wasn’t able to completely escape her depression. In 2009, she attempted suicide once more as she struggled with her late transition, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, low self-esteem and hypermasculine behavior.
“Right after that hospital visit I created Amazon Eve,” said Ervin. “I had no idea what was going to happen.”
Due to her newfound confidence and alter-ego, Ervin later graced the cover of Zoo Weekly in both Australia and the United Kingdom, and ultimately landed a part on “American Horror Story: Freak Show” as Amazon Eve. She has since accepted a role off-screen as an executive producer, with aspirations to increase the visibility of the LGBT community throughout history.
“I left this little town frightened and emotionally dysfunctional and as soon as I escaped that darkness, I let that light shine for other people when I was ready,” said Ervin. “That’s what I want you to take away from tonight: be a light for which to see.”
At the end of her speech, Ervin answered questions from audience members, engaged in improv with students to help boost their confidence, and took endearing photos with each and every attendee who patiently waited for their turn in line. Before she left, she reminded others to “be a light for which to see.”
“I’ve been hiding most of my life, but I decided not to do that anymore,” said Ervin. “I didn’t get to transition when I wanted to, but I got to transition at the right time for me at the time in history it was allowed. I still struggle with debilitating gender dysphoria because I’m so tall and I transitioned later on in life, but I managed with it and I still struggle with it so I try to tell these stories to people to move, touch and inspire others so that they can in turn move, touch and inspire other people to effectuate change.
“We are not at war. There’s no battlefield, no enemy, no one to aim a weapon at. This is a rescue mission and it’s about rescuing people from their fear. We just want to live in peace. Get to know us. Come to the next time when I speak. Bring me your questions. I welcome a debate,” continued Ervin.