Growing up, Honey Andrews always knew the woman she wanted to be: Selena Quintanilla.
“I knew which way I was headed. I knew that I was going to transform into a girl. Besides my mom, Selena was my model female figure,” Andrews said during an interview in her bedroom, which also doubles as a Selena shrine.
Honey Andrews (now her legal name), moved with her family from Mexico to Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1995, when she was nine years old. She says she felt an immediate connection to Selena, the breakout Tejana singer who was just 24 at the time and in the national spotlight as the decade’s most successful Latin crossover artist. Selena was trying to perfect her Spanish just as Andrews was trying to learn English.
Tragically, Selena Quintanilla was killed by the president of her fan club that same year—20 years ago today.
But for her true fans, Selena never really went away. A few years later, when Andrews was 16, she started performing at local gay bars as her idol. She began her transformation from male to female shortly after. Today, her monthly performances are famous among locals in Corpus Christi.
(Watch as Honey Andrews prepares to perform famous Selena hits.)
And they became infamous last year, when a Selena memorial event banned Honey Andrews from performing because she’s transgender. “Nobody wants to see a male person dress up like a girl,” the organizer of the event told Andrews in a Facebook message.
Andrews posted a screen capture of the message, and her fans shared the image hundreds of times. By that afternoon local newspapers and news channels had picked up the story, condemning the discrimination against Honey Andrews.
Andrews’ fans and supporters defended her and organized a boycott campaign against the event. She was never invited to the event, but says the support from her South Texas fans was more meaningful to her.
"The straight and gay community came out in my defense, just because of the way the organizer worded the message,” said Andrews.
Andrews, who today speaks perfect English and is a hairstylist in a Corpus Christi hair salon, says Selena’s music has helped her through all sorts of obstacles in life. She says currently her favorite song is “Como la flor.”
“It's about a broken heart, the lyrics are about saying goodbye,” Andrews said of the song. The title translates to “Like a flower.”
Andrews family has been supportive of her transition and her performances.
Today, Honey Andrews’s room is filled with collectibles of the late singer. The walls are covered with posters and the shelves are filled with dolls, records and she’s even kept old plastic cups that were handed out at the local convenience store.
"She's my idol. She's been my inspiration, one of the first artists I fell in love with. To this day I still look up to her,” Andrews told Fusion. She searches the internet regularly looking for missing Selena memorabilia to add to her collection.
She studies old Selena videos so her performances are as accurate as they can be. She says the dance moves, body language and the red lipstick are key parts to morphing into her childhood idol.
It’ll all come together tonight as she performs at a memorial event, on the 20th anniversary of Selena’s death.
(Video produced by Ignacio Torres. All photos by Jorge Rivas)