Trans Gender in the Name of Marilyn Monroe
Franco’s Norma Jean offers a scene like no other in the area.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Rommie strides towards a stage, revealing black lingerie and thigh high boots. As the mostly male crowd hoots, Rommie climbs up three stairs to the homemade, dining-table-sized platform. As the Latino music becomes more rhythmic, she turns her rear to the audience and shakes it like an animal trying to keep 50 flies at bay.
One young Latino runs up and stuffs a wad of cash into her panties. His friends sit at a table littered with candy colored condoms courtesy of Monterey County AIDS Project and laugh.
While lip-synching, Rommie heads out into the crowd. She climbs up a pole in the middle of the room with the agility of a fireman and hangs out over a table. Another Latino male with spiked hair runs over and slaps her rump.
These men understand that Rommie is not fully female – the San Jose-based performer is a female impersonator who has had breast augmentation. She is one of a handful of entertainers who dance and lip synch for the adoring crowd at Castroville’s Franco’s Norma Jean on Saturday nights.
Some 23 years ago, Ernie B. Sanchez purchased Franco’s, a historic bar on Castroville’s Merritt Street which was established in the 1880s. When the Salinas native took over, it was a straight bar without much going for it.
“It looked like someone had a piss contest,” he says. “It was a disaster.”
Three years later, because he was having problems with his clientele, Sanchez decided to take Franco’s in a different direction. A few months later, he discovered that Marilyn Monroe – back when she went by her given name Norma Jean – was Castroville’s first Artichoke Queen. “I brought Marilyn out of the closet,” Sanchez says.
Renamed Franco’s Norma Jean, the bar enjoys lipstick red walls and framed paintings of Monroe. Above a wooden dance floor beams of light from a disco ball rain down on dancing gay men, transvestites and straight men and women. In another room inside the establishment, dancers including Dorys, who dresses like Cher to lip synch “Believe,” strut onstage.
A Salinas man, who refused to give his name, has been going to the bar for 13 years. “It’s the only place,” he says, “I can meet people the same as me.”
FRANCO’S NORMA JEAN at 10639 Merritt in Castroville is open 10pm-2am Saturdays (and 10pm-2am every third Friday of the month for ladies’ night). $10. 633-2090.