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14 October 2019

Kimberley Elliot (1953 – 1980) TAO, Neo-American Church

Kimberly's story is told from two sources: Susanna Pena's history of TAO and Art Kleps' history of the early years of psychedelism.   Putting the two together we get the following.   However see also the discussion below.



Along with Colette Goudie and Tara Carn, Kimberly Barreiro – originally from Cuba – was one of the original members of the Transsexual Action Organization after Angela Douglas moved it to Miami. They joined in 1973, became officers of TAO and were a major part of its public face. Kimberly served as director for the town of Miami Beach.

Douglas described Kimberly in 1974 when she was 21 as “tiny, bubbly”. She was one of the first in the group to have transgender surgery, and apparently did a full transition in less than a year. In the TAO newsletter Mirage for Autumn 1974, Kimberley is quoted: ‘I don’t regret it all. But the pain was incredible. I don’t know if I could go through it again’.

She married Steve Elliot, and took his surname.

They were both into psychedelic drugs, and having heard of Art Kleps and his drug-based Neo-American Church, decided to drive up to New York state to visit. In his book, Kleps refers to Kimberly Harrison and Stove (“Ah is all stoved in, man”).
Kleps: “Stove and Kimberly had a strange story to tell. They were both from Miami, where Kimberly, a classic blonde beauty, plied her trade as a Miami Beach hooker. She had met Stove after he had freaked out on the most colossal and one of the weirdest bummers I had heard about up to the time. It involved hordes of fleas appearing in his house on some crazy but exact schedule, not being able to take a shower because the water wouldn’t touch his skin, and aimless wanderings during which he was pursued by flocks of blackbirds and was picked up on the road by kindly spades driving white cars who knew all about him even though he had never seen any of them before in his life. 
Kimberly …, had driven Stove up to be cooled out, paying all the bills along the way, in the ancient and honorable tradition of the whore with a heart of gold. She loved every variety of psychedelic drug, and never had anything but splendid and happy experiences while stoned.”
Kleps regarded Stove as as a “well-defended” paranoid in that he did not, “most of the time, do anything particularly bizarre or fail to handle the routines of ordinary life in an acceptable manner”.

Kimberly had to sell the air-conditioner and the radio out of her car for the journey back to Miami. She stopped for a few days in Millbrook and intrigued Timothy Leary who wanted to know more about her.

In 1980 Kimberly was found dead from a drug overdose at Miami Beach’s Midtown Plaza. Angela Douglas considered her death as suspicious. Several of the old TAO people attended her funeral.
  • Susana Pena. "Gender and Sexuality in Latina/o Miami: Documenting Latina Transsexual Activists". Gender & History, 22,3,2010: 763. Reprinted in Kevin P. Murphy & Jennifer M. Spear (eds). Historicising Gender and Sexuality. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
  • Art Kleps. Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism. Original Klepian Neo-American Chuch, 1975: 85-91. Chp 13 Online.  

Is this True?

Pena says in her footnote 50: “Reportedly Kimberly Elliot and her husband are mentioned in Art Kelps’s Millbrook: A Narrative of the Early Years of American Psychedelianism ... under the pseudonyms Kim and Steve Newell.” Which is why I included a mention of Kleps and the Neo-American Church in my History of TAO: Part 2.

Pena is wrong in identifying Steve Newell with Steve Elliot.  Kleps introduces Kimberly thus: “Then Kimberly Harrison and Stove (“Ah is all stoved in, man.”) arrived, followed by Steve Newell and then Mike and Gai Duncan. It was an entertaining group.” Therefore Kimberly is with her man Stove who is not the same as Steve Newell. Kimberly Harrison and Stove do appear to be Kimberly and Steve Elliot in that both couples are from Miami Beach, both are into drugs. Pena, following Angela Douglas, does not say how Kimberly made a living, but sex work in the context of TAO does seem plausible.

There is no mention in Kleps of Kimberly being trans. Good we say – it is good not to be read. However on page 87 he says: “I had a private trip with Kimberly a couple nights later, or at least she had a trip and I just smoked a lot of hashish while she told me the story of her life, which hadn’t been all that bad, really”. So she told the story of her life while on LSD and did not mention her transition and the painful surgery. Indeed!  The CIA had pioneered LSD as a truth drug.

Kleps is not good at giving dates – at least not in the book version. What jarred for me was the mention of Kimberly stopping in at Millbrook to see Timothy Leary.  I quickly assertained that he was not there after 1968 when LSD was made illegal. In the online version of the book, the section about Kimberly is in Chapter 13, and the Contents Page specifies that Chapter 13 is 1965-6, not 1974-5.

Thus Kimberly Harrison cannot be Kimberly Barreiro Elliot.  To regard them as one is a false positive. 

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