She left Turlock at 16 because of bigotry; now transgender actress gets a warm homecoming

Turlock native Erika Ervin is proving that not only can you go home again, you can tower over it while doing so.

The actress and model known for her work in “American Horror Story” greeted fans, signed autographs and took pictures as one of the celebrity guests at the new Turlock Comic Con on Saturday at the Stanislaus County Fairground. Standing 6 feet 8 inches, Ervin, who also goes by the stage name Amazon Eve, holds the Guinness record for world’s tallest professional model.

“I’ve been waiting for an event like this to come meet the public and they could come meet me. I was bullied a lot in Turlock. So I haven’t met any of my bullies, who are really short now,” Ervin said. “I love Turlock. It’s a beautiful place. I love the culture; I miss it. I wish when I grew up it was more accepting.”

Ervin, who is transgender, said she faced a lot of bigotry and violence when she was younger. She lived in Turlock until her early teens, attending area elementary schools and Turlock Junior High. By the time she was 14 she was nearly 6 feet tall already. During her high school years she went from Downey High in Modesto to Livingston High before leaving at age 16 to finish high school in the Bay Area. She said prevailing attitudes in the San Joaquin Valley at the time were not accepting of someone who was different, let alone someone with a different gender identity like her.

“When I left Turlock back in 1984, when I left this valley, I left an area that was still living in the dark ages, a bit recalcitrant in their belief system. And I couldn’t live here. There was a lot of violence here and a lot of fear. So I had to get away to become myself,” she said.

Ervin, who since changed her name and came out as transgender, still has family living in Turlock. Except for a younger brother she is still close with, she does not have contact or a relationship with them anymore.

She said her homecoming was a way to exorcise some of the demons of her past and introduce herself anew to an area for which she still holds a lot of affection. The feeling, it would appear, is mutual. People flocked to her table throughout Ervin’s signing session. Many recognized her from her role as Amazon Eve on “American Horror Story: Freak Show” – some brought DVDs for her to sign and she had a variety of glossy stills from the series available as well.

“I am glad to see things are improving quite a bit. There’s a lot more acceptance than there ever was. I am very pleased to see people are loving this,” she said, in between hugging fans and greeting onlookers. “It’s good to be back home. I guess the thing I miss is that morning tule fog.”

Ceres resident Sabrina Burns brought her “American Horror Story: Freak Show” box set for Ervin to sign. She was excited to meet the actress and pose for pictures together. Ervin used what she called her personal selfie stick, her arm, to take shots with fans.

“We saw she was coming here and she is one of the main reasons we wanted to come,” Burns said. “I enjoy the whole ‘American Horror Story’ series, and her season was one of my favorite ones. It was great getting to meet her, and she’s really nice and really tall. It’s awesome to know that she is from here, too.”

Ervin’s other screen credits include the Netflix series “Hemlock Grove” and upcoming film “Chimera,” co-starring Academy Award-nominated actress Kathleen Quinlan from “Apollo 13” and “American Graffiti” fame. In March she leaves for Bali to shoot the horror film “Dead Squad” with “Game of Thrones” and “The Hobbit” actor Conan Stevens.

Before going into acting full time, Ervin spent years working as a model and personal trainer. She also has experience in the health insurance and legal fields, after studying law and business management, as well as theater arts, while in college.

Acting, Ervin said, allows her to tell stories that speak to universal truth and hopefully foster understanding. They are also an opportunity to show audiences what transgender people can do. In recent years transgender identity and rights have come more into the national spotlight. High-profile transgender stars such as Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner and “Orange Is the New Black” actress Laverne Cox have graced magazine covers and been frequent talk show guests.

“We do come from everywhere. We are not the boogeymen and -women that you think we are – we are not monsters, we are not victims, we are not things to be pitied. We are loving, contributing, beautiful members of society. We’re doctors, lawyers, scientists, artists, craftsmen, engineers. We are daughters, we are sons, we are wives and we are husbands, we are you,” she said. “So all I ask you is just wait and see, we will impress you.”

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland