AMONG THE SEASONAL RESIDENTS OFf-TOWN THIS SUMMER, AN ABSENT FRIEND LOOMED LARGE.
The news went viral on Facebook. Then it made Towleroad. Stalwarts of the Provincetown chattering class jammed news feeds with sad-face emoticons and R. I. Rs for the death of a beloved personality. It got so bad that on February 2i, Tom Yaz, a video jockey, made the 50-mile drive to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis Port, walked up to his friend, and said, "Ellie, the rumor is you're dead."
Ellie Castillo, the 80-year-old trans street performer (and little-known father of five) looked up from her hospital bed, smiled, and said, "Oh?"
Yaz, who produced the album Ellie in High Fidelity and two music videos (the latest of which was shot on a frigid beach in January, featuring Ellie in bra and panties, lip-syncing to Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen"), persuaded her to post a video announcing that she was, in fact, alive. In the seven-minute film, a smiling Ellie, clad in a leopard-print Snuggie, tells her fans she's been hospitalized for digestive problems and that she will be back to P-town in no time. The video got 2,000 hits in the first hour of being posted on Ellie's YouTube page while Facebook messages flowed in from fans and neighbors with posts such as "Oops! Get well soon, Ellie!" Towleroad took down its story.
Ellie had been a Luddite. But within 36 hours of her death being reported, her number of Facebook friends quadrupled. And as Ellie's modest electronic footprint continued to expand during the 56 days she spent in the hospital, something beautiful happened. Thousands of people who had known Ellie as the elderly male-to-female street performer with a gruff New England accent, long wispy hair, and an affinity for scanty clothing were now- thanks to diligent management of Ellie's online profile by Yaz and by her oldest daughter, Andrée Clearwater - getting profoundly intimateglimpsesinto Ellie's hithertomysterious personal life.
In 2001, Elliot "Ellie" Castillo, at the age of 70, brought a microphone and a wig to Provincetown. A Baptist minister working in the Boston area for more than 40 years and a four-time divorcée, Ellie became the village mascot of P-town and the most visible embodiment of how many there like to see their community: as a place of refuge, exhibitionism, nonconformity, and acceptance.
"When Ellie was in the hospital, we had middle-aged straight women from upstate New York posting how they can't wait to drive over to Provincetown just to hear Ellie sing," says Yaz. "His rent was $840 a month, and, after bills, I think he had $60 to his name before he hit the streets. …