Stephen Meade

Stephen Meade, 88, says he's happily married to a woman but likes to wear women's clothes. The Republican Party is not supporting his candidacy against incumbent Juan Vargas. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / August 31, 2014)

As a candidate in the 51st Congressional District, Stephen Meade's politics are a problem.

He's a conservative Republican in a district where voter registration is more than 2-to-1 Democratic. The district is 70% Latino, but Meade does not speak Spanish.

He has no money to campaign. And his opponent, Democratic Rep. Juan Vargas, has the power of incumbency.

There's another thing that may make things difficult for the 88-year-old political novice: He wears women's clothing.

"I'm straight, but I just have this thing about loving ladies' clothes," Meade said.

Marilyn, 82, his wife of 40-plus years, is fine with his preference for dresses, shoes (he has 30 pairs) and showy jewelry.

"That's how he is — it's part of his makeup," she said.

All his life, Meade said, he was "tormented" by his desire to dress like a woman.

In the Army during World War II, in college, as a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, and then during a career as a salesman in electronics and real estate, he wore men's clothing, slipping into women's wear in private.

When he married Marilyn, he threw away a closet of women's clothes. "Among us guys who do this it's called splurge and purge," he said.

Only in recent years did he tell Marilyn the truth. He started wearing dresses in public and telling people that he would prefer to be called Stephanie.

Meade's upstart candidacy has not been embraced by the local Republican Party. No endorsement, no offer to include him in candidates' forums or slate mailers, no promise of fundraising help or tips on reaching voters.

Asked about this, the local GOP boss, Tony Krvaric, said in an email that Meade's candidacy is a loser and the party refuses to waste resources on it. Krvaric declined to be interviewed.

Meade hopes a political scandal will help his long-shot candidacy.

Vargas' name surfaced in a political funding case involving a Mexican Japanese business tycoon and several other people charged with violating federal law banning contributions from foreign nationals.

Vargas is among those politicians whose campaign received a contribution from one of the defendants, a retired San Diego police detective. He has returned the money, and there is nothing in court documents to suggest that he will be charged.

But the case is continuing, and Meade hopes new details will help him drive Vargas from office.

Vargas said he was willing to debate Meade on issues. "The disrespect he's been shown by the Republican Party is shameful," he said.

Fred Schnaubelt, a former City Council member, a real estate broker, said he has known Meade for more than three decades but did not recognize him the first time he saw him "all decked out in heels and elegant women's clothing."

Schnaubelt, one of the city's leading libertarians, admires Meade's politics.