Their experiences prompted both Chavez and Guerrero to begin warning others of the mistakes they'd made during their years of drug addiction. They began volunteering at soup kitchens in the community and soon discovered the Center Orange County, now located in Garden Grove. It was there that Chavez discovered the Miss Hermosa y Protegida transgender beauty pageant—and where the next chapter in the couple's life would begin.

*   *   *

Guerrero says he would have liked to marry a woman. He tried, he says, three times. "Mostly because I love children. I would have liked to have children." But he eventually accepted that women weren't in his cards. He liked men, and he didn't want to lead a woman down a confused path.

Alfonso Guerrero and Manuel Chavez at their home on the eve of their wedding
Jennie Warren
Alfonso Guerrero and Manuel Chavez at their home on the eve of their wedding
Alfonso Guerrero and Manuel Chavez exchanging rings on Tuesday
Jennie Warren
Alfonso Guerrero and Manuel Chavez exchanging rings on Tuesday

What Guerrero didn't expect was that after 18 years together, Chavez would decide to live his life as a woman, something he had always wanted but never acted on. Chavez had learned about the Miss Hermosa y Protegida transgender beauty pageant sponsored by the Center and decided to participate. In 1998, the couple started therapy and Chavez began the female hormone injections that would give him breasts, a smoother face and preliminary hips.

"It was hard," says Guerrero. "I told him I supported him, but that he ran the risk of losing me because I had never really been attracted to people with boobies."

What he discovered, Guerrero says, was that he loved Chavez beyond his physical form. "I loved him for who he was at his core. We just kept communicating and talking through everything. Thankfully, his transition didn't negatively affect our relationship."

Chavez participated in the beauty pageants and wore a white floor-length wedding gown to the couple's 25th-anniversary party. But the combination of hormone treatment and antiretroviral drugs proved too harsh for his liver. In 2003, Chavez stopped taking the hormones and halted his transition. "My health was more important to me for us," he says.

Today, Chavez coaches pageant contestants at the yearly pageant and works with HIV patients as a community-outreach coordinator for a health-care group. Guerrero coordinates the entire pageant [see "There (S)He Is . . ." March 28] and handles all the Latino-outreach programs at the Center. "Our work has now become about educating people," Guerrero says. "And no amount of money could be as satisfying as the work itself."

At their wedding ceremony on Tuesday, the two men stood tall in their suits, Guerrero in white pinstripes and Chavez in a dark suit with green-speckled vest and a soft purple shirt. He's comfortable living as a man, he says.

A thin line of sweat trickles down Guerrero's face as he kisses his groom nervously after they are pronounced spouses for life. Hugging friends and witnesses outside after the ceremony, the newlyweds' smiles dazzle from their clean-shaven faces. The trio of protesters gathered outside the courthouse does little to sully their moment. They walk down the courthouse steps, smile, turn their backs to the protesters and kiss jubilantly before the cameras.

daltan@ocweekly.com

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