Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nikki Araguz - A Biographical Assessment

While most of the mainstream media seems almost blindly focused, with near tunnel vision, on their excoriation of Nikki Araguz, on occasion, brief glimpses of the woman behind the news stories has slipped through the din of their diatribe. When assembling a portrait of any person, the traditional attributes people gather about another person usually include: professional interests, hobbies and avocations, socioeconomic background, education, beliefs and values, all deduced from a person's relationships, work, recreation, and residence, as a person structures their life. Without an opportunity to interview Nikki Araguz directly, it has been possible to ensemble the following cursory assay of Nikki Araguz and her life, based on sifting through the media disinformation, in search of aspects of her life that appear credible and which provide a better reasonably balanced purview of the woman she is. Hopefully, some future opportunity will lend itself to a more in depth and personal portrait, based on information directly from the subject.

Nikki left, with her father, mother, sister and brother.
Nikki was born in June of 1975 to her mother Sheri, when Sheri and her husband were in Carmel, California, while he was stationed there during military service. Sheri and her husband were originally from Texas, so Sheri returned to Texas after her husband was ordered to a post in Germany, shortly after Nikki was born. A year later, Sheri's husband returned home to Bryan, TX, but was hit and killed by a semi-truck a month later, long before Nikki had any opportunity to get to know her biological father. A few years later, Sheri married Chuck Bockelman, Nikki's stepfather, to whom Sheri remains married today. Since the recent probate lawsuit was filed against Nikki, her entire family has made positive and supportive public statements about her, including her mother Sheri, her stepfather Chuck, her older brother Gary, and her younger sister Vanessa. Sheri's mother is active on the page setup to support Nikki, where she has stated she would attend the hearings about Nikki's case if she were healthy enough to be able. The photo above, apparently taken some years ago, provides clear evidence of her family's support of her, with her stepfather Chuck hugging her, while all five of them were gathered for a family snapshot.

Nikki at 19 in video documentary
Meanwhile, as Nikki grew up, her teenage years were apparently a time of experimentation and exuberance for her. She doesn't appear to have had the benefits of affluence that often expose people to resources that provide information on topics that might not otherwise be readily available. As a result, Nikki apparently had a hard time getting detailed information about the congenital intersex condition she was born with, or doing much about it during her early life, despite her mother's attempts to get the attention of physicians about it. She seems to have struggled while trying to find her social place because of it, and more than once succumbed to manipulation by people whose primary purpose was to take advantage of her natural need for attention and positive social feedback. At one point when she was in her late teens, she attended a college or junior college near her in Texas, but none of the news reports have included much information about majors, graduation, or degrees she may have earned. Only one news report states that she has some form of degree in marketing. In a video documentary made of her when she was in college, she appears happy as well as reflective, but a little flighty, as one would expect of any young woman her age. She was in fact quite beautiful at nineteen or twenty, and an obviously sexually attractive young woman, apparently without medical or hormonal intervention. The college video documentary provides demonstrable evidence of her intersex condition, although it also demonstrates her lack of medical understanding about it at the time. What many uninitiated people clearly don't understand, is that by the time Nikki had reached the age of eighteen, her body had developed to become a normal looking female one from all outward appearances, along with her contradictory but unseen underdeveloped genitalia. The genetic condition she has prevents her body from responding to any testosterone her body may produce, which caused her body to respond only to the estrogen that is naturally in everyone's system.

From all appearances, much of Nikki's twenties after college were occupied with low level jobs such as working in retail. In her early twenties, Nikki worked at a shoe store in a local Texas shopping mall. That is where she met her first husband Emilio Mata, who she married when she was about twenty-four or twenty-five. Without socioeconomic privilege to provide financial and intellectual stability, news reports imply that neither Nikki nor Emilio had very good judgment during that period of her life. Both she and Emilio Mata racked up minor convictions for petty criminal acts such as driving while drunk, minor drug possession, and petty theft, all the sorts of youthful indiscretions that people with financial privilege often manage to avoid getting on their permanent records, even if they have committed them. By 2002, she and Emilio Mata were also in financial trouble and decided to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If only they could have known the terrible fate that would befall them for unknowingly choosing an unscrupulous attorney named Frank E. Mann III, whose violation of her attorney/client privilege eight years later would be one of the falling dominoes that have knocked Nikki Araguz into the middle of an arduous legal ordeal. The financial and social instability surrounding Nikki and Emilio seems to have eventually become too much for their relationship to survive, and they divorced in 2007, about the same time Nikki met Thomas Araguz. Emilio Mata eventually worked his way up in the technology business and now works for a digital chip foundry in Houston.

Nikki and Thomas Araguz wedding
At about the same time Nikki divorced Emilio Mata, she began attending Grace Community Fellowship church in Needville, TX, another deep Houston suburb. One Sunday she was approached by Thomas Araguz, who she had seen at church and said hello to previously, but during their first significant encounter, he asked her to have brunch with him after the service. Their Mexican restaurant brunch turned into a classic, love at first sight, three hour, marathon event. Within weeks they had decided to move in together. Nikki seems to have gained significant emotional support from Thomas Araguz after the two of them met at their church, and immediately struck up a soulful and collaborative relationship. Early during their relationship, Nikki apparently disclosed her medical condition to Thomas Araguz as well. In addition, there are indications that Nikki had been saving money during that time to get corrective genital surgery. Thomas seems to have also attended medical meetings with Nikki to get information about the corrective surgery she needed. One day in June, 2008, Thomas took Nikki on a private, afternoon, Gulf of Mexico boat cruise, where he proposed marriage to her. A year after they had met, the two of them somehow managed to put together a wedding, with excellent photos that document the ceremony, to which she wore a beautiful white strapless gown. Two months later, Nikki had also finished making payments for the $20,000 genital reconstruction surgery she needed, with a well known and respected surgeon in Trinidad, Colorado, Marci Bowers, MD. It's a surgery that must be scheduled and paid for in cash, many months in advance. Since Thomas had to stay home on call for firefighting duty, the two of them exchanged affectionate email messages and phone calls while she spent a week recuperating in the hospital, from the surgery she needed to have a vagina constructed. Thomas was a man patient enough to wait months before he could consummate his marriage.

During the past two years, since her wedding and her surgery, Nikki Araguz appears to have been focused primarily on building a home life with her husband Thomas Araguz. They were finally able to rent a little house, on a couple of acres, in the outskirts of Wharton, which is a small town that looks like it was cleaved from a section of the fictional town Mayberry, where the district courthouse marks the center of town, and the mostly single story business buildings that surround it for a few blocks in each direction don't appear to have changed much since the 1950s. While some of the houses around are tear-down/rebuild two story homes of a more recent vintage, most of the houses are tiny single story ramblers, many of them no bigger than apartments. They are set back on large lots among huge deciduous trees that shade the lawns and houses from the oppressive summer heat, along residential streets without sidewalks. Nikki spent the time when she wasn't working, taking care of her husband Tom's two young boys four days a week, helping the boys with their homework, helping the boys with their toy trucks, and making a home of the house they rented together.

Nikki's relationship with Thomas Araguz and his sons in such a quaint looking place as Wharton, appears to have stabilized and grounded her. Meanwhile, she had leveraged her knowledge of the magazine business, which she had developed while working for various local Texas magazines, including a GLBT magazine called Outsmart where she sold advertising, into a magazine business of her own. She was the creator and publisher of a local magazine called Wharton County Living, the sort of free circulation piece that is often found in shops around most communities these days, that generate their revenue entirely from selling advertising space rather than from subscription fees. When Thomas was out of work, it was Nikki who pitched in the money for the child support payments to Heather Delgado, Thomas's bitter ex-wife. Nikki has also described her marriage as one with a normal amount of emotional intensity and disagreement, the natural product of constant, daily, deep, emotional involvement with, and commitment to, another person. During her recreational time she apparently had a horse that she enjoyed riding and caring for, something also quite typical for small town exurban life in Texas. In an interview with the Houston PBS television station, she described herself in the following manner:
"I was a housewife and you know ran a magazine, and loved my husband and my children, and rode my horse. This was my life prior to my husband’s death, and um, with the lawsuit that was brought on, I was thrust into the media."
Her weekends appear to have been consumed primarily with going to church with her husband and their two boys. When she wasn't busy with the boys, she seemed to have spent her time helping her husband study for exams while he was trying to get through Wharton County Junior College, to earn an associate's degree in firefighting and emergency medical technology, all on a very modest income. In the meantime, Nikki ran for Mayor of Wharton, a town so small that her loss to the incumbent mayor was by a vote of 382 to 118.

Then sometime in the spring of 2010, Heather Delgado, Thomas's disgruntled ex-wife, became discontent with her level of access to the sons she shared with Thomas Araguz, so she filed a child custody lawsuit against them. Delgado somehow happened upon the unscrupulous attorney Frank Mann III, who seized at the opportunity to gain the advantage by outing Nikki's medical past to Delgado. Once he did that, Nikki and Thomas's lives suddenly became emotionally stressful beyond their limits, and apparently their judgment in some instances.

Thomas Araguz funeral procession
The day her husband died, Nikki had left Wharton, and was reportedly driving west toward California. Some speculate she was driving to California to see if she could get expedited service on obtaining a female California birth certificate. Meanwhile, Thomas was called out to fight a huge fire at an egg farm and processing plant. While Nikki drove west, Thomas and the other firefighters fought their way into a blaze so huge that as many as one hundred and fifty firefighters, from hundreds of miles around, were brought in to fight it. Thomas went missing somewhere inside the structure, with only minutes of air left in his oxygen tank. His charred body wasn't found until the next day, July 4, 2010. Nobody in Thomas's family even thought of calling Nikki to give her the terrible news. It was the wife of another firefighter who called Nikki on her cell phone, as she was driving west through New Mexico, who gave Nikki the news that would spark the flames of a different sort of blaze, one that continues to consume Nikki'e life. At first Nikki and her step sons were nearly sainted by the news reports, along with Thomas, the fallen hero. But the classic heaping of sympathy for the family of a fallen public servant, turned almost instantly into a public pummeling of Nikki, while Thomas and his memory faded instantly, once the attorneys for Heather Delgado and Simona Longoria filed their lawsuit and held a press conference, having already obtained the attention of the press because of the fire and Thomas's death. Newspapers and television stations all over Texas, and then all over the U.S., began to run stories that changed from near beatification to vilification of Nikki, mischaracterizing her as a liar, a fraud, a criminal, and a gold digger.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the midst of the heated child custody dispute that preceded her husband's death, their occupancy of the house they were renting together appears to have been lost, as a whirlwind of events culminated with Nikki being left without a husband, with the children she had taken care of for nearly three years stripped from her life and possibly forever, without a home, without a business and its income, and with a contentious lawsuit filed against her, based not on what she had done, but because some people would rather not allow her to have female legitimacy. While Nikki has been receiving intensive support from transsexual activists around Texas, the Houston Press wrote the following:
Nikki also told Fox News that, because she was actually born female, she never identified as transgender. And despite the fact that many in the Houston transgender community are offering Nikki financial and emotional support, and despite the fact that prominent transgender attorney Phyllis Randolph Frye believes the suit against Nikki threatens every transgender person's civil rights and has taken on Nikki's case pro bono, Nikki told Fox that she should not be "lumped in" with the transgender community.
Similarly, Nikki told Ernie Manouse of the Houston PBS station in an interview with him:
Nikki Araguz - I simply am a heterosexual woman. That’s how I define myself. I’m not a medical professional, but I know that I have been diagnosed with partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, and that falls under a classification medically as a transgender syndrome.

Ernie Manouse - And folks have a problem getting past the idea, and they assume that when we talk in these that it is someone who was a male, born a male, grew up as a male, somehow felt they weren’t a male, so they had sexual reassignment surgery. That is a different condition than what you went through, correct?

Nikki Araguz - Completely, completely, I, in my growing up, even in my early years, my parents started to notice that I was not developing into a boy, umm, that I was developing into a girl, and sought medical professionals, umm, late 70s early 80s, nobody knew what was going on. And so umm, they just allowed me to continue to develop into the woman I am today.


Ernie Manouse - And again I want to clarify for our audience, when you say it was the birth defect we are not talking about a fully developed all male individual going and having a sexual reassignment surgery.

Nikki Araguz - That would not be at all an accurate description of what happened for me, umm, because I was an underdeveloped, umm, and not past the age of two or three years old did I develop anatomically, genitalia.
Nikki's public posture in this regard may turn out to be an all important component of her legal argument that her marriage to Thomas Araguz should be considered valid under Texas law. Her statements in the PBS interview were better organized than her statements in earlier television interviews, including the following one, in which she appeared quite flustered when a television news reporter tried to pressure into describing herself as male, to which she responded with the following statement:
"I do not and have not ever considered myself in that way (male), but I understand that some people are explaining it like that. And what I'd like to say is that essentially I had a disorder much like anyone else who was born with a birth defect of any kind - no arm, six toes, no vision, OK? There was an anatomical birth defect that was underdeveloped beyond the age of 2 years old." (assertion (male) added)
The same television news reporter attempted to address the false accusation that she had somehow deceived her husband, that her husband didn't become aware of her medical history until April 2010. Heather Delgado and Simona Longoria have included a fraud claim in their lawsuit against Nikki Araguz based on this accusation. Nikki made her case to the news reporter by disclosing that she didn't have genital reconstruction surgery until October 7, 2008, two months after her August 2008 marriage to Thomas, with the following response to the reporter:
"I had the operation two months after our marriage, and my husband was fully aware, and the birth defect that I had essentially was not a problem to my husband," she said. "He was proud to be my husband as much as I was proud to be his wife."
However, Nikki Araguz is going to need help from skilled attorneys and persuasive medical expert witnesses in order to make her case before the court. While she has been unlucky to have chosen to marry in Texas, she is luckily surrounded by a legal team ready and willing to do everything in their power to help her.

Nikki Araguz - two days after her husband's death.
Currently, Nikki Araguz presents the demeanor of the mature and maturing thirty-five year old woman she is, a woman whose thin youthful beauty has settled into a more filled out thirty-something attractive charm, and subdued calm. She expresses herself in video interviews with emotional presence at the same time she is capable of intellectually lucid clarity. Her attire demonstrates social awareness appropriate for her thirty something status, providing indications of social as well as intellectual sensitivity. She also has a beautiful voice; one that delivers her usually articulate ideas with a pleasant warmth. Just two days after her husband died, during a video interview she gave to a small local newspaper, she said of personal relationships:
"If there is anything that I can say to anybody, don't waste a minute of your life arguing. Don't walk out the door and not say I love you, because you never know when you'll never get to speak to them again.",
It was a statement she made with heartfelt emotion in her voice, as steady tears of genuine grief streamed down her face. The majority of her statements since this tragedy began, have been focused on similar forms of reflection, and requests for respect and dignity from the media and the public.

Although Nikki's small immediate family hasn't been physically present when she has appeared at the district courthouse in Wharton, TX, her family has expressed a desire to be there if they were physically able. Unfortunately, both Nikki's parents have severe chronic illnesses. In fact, Nikki has apparently made frequent excursions to help her mother, who has suffered from and been hospitalized with strokes and seizures, and apparently has diabetes, heart disease, and partial paralysis. Nikki's mother Sheri has been active and present on the support page setup for Nikki though, providing what support she can through that medium. As far as trying a case in the media is concerned, the presence of family seems to give the public an impression that someone has social legitimacy. With that in mind, the people from Nikki's immediate family whose presence might lend moral support to her during court appearances are her biological siblings Vanessa and Gary, whose public statements about Nikki have been entirely supportive and corroborative.

With help from the Houston transgender support center, Nikki Araguz has apparently been staying with friends and supporters, and spending nights in hotels, as far from Wharton, TX as is practical, since her husband's death and the onslaught of media frenzy that surrounds her. Other than a couple visits to the courthouse there, and visits to her husband's grave site, Nikki has stayed away from Wharton, TX. One possible conclusion that it seems reasonable to reach from such a portrait, is that Nikki Araguz is a woman whose life over the past few years has matured her in ways she probably never dreamed of before the day she met Thomas Araguz. One can only wonder how someone like herself, or like Christie Littleton and others before her, forge new life plans after such events, or how they structure their future personal relationships.


  1. The term 'Assay' is precisely the correct, and correctly spelled, word in this context.

    Assay - definition:

    2: examination and determination as to characteristics

    3: analysis to determine the presence, absence, or quantity of one or more components