“American Gangsters: Trap Queens” tells the true-life stories of women criminals. These crime bosses topped the game in embezzlement, credit card schemes, drug-trafficking, and other hustles, garnering millions in the process — as well as infamy.
The show’s second season, narrated by notorious artist Lil’ Kim, premiered in January on BET+. Though irresistibly alluring, “Trap Queens” is billed as a cautionary tale, warning that riches made through illegal means are fleeting, and come with a very steep price. But “Trap Queens” also illustrates how the women at the center of its narratives often turn to crime as a means of sustaining themselves and their loved ones in a world that isn’t always just, especially for people who are racially or economically marginalized.
“Trap Queens” shows us the good, the bad, and the ugly: the dangerous appeal of crime, the humanity of the criminals, the racial and economic injustice they often face, and the inevitable downfall of those in the game. Perhaps no one knows this better than Dwen Curry, whose story is featured in the second season’s third installment. Curry, who is the first trans woman featured on the show, amassed an estimated $6 million in identity theft and wire fraud, defunding millions from credit cards, bank accounts, and trust funds with the help of her crew, whom she dubbed “the gay gangsters.“ During her time as a “trap queen,” she launched her own successful salon in Oakland; moved to Los Angeles, where she became a friend and stylist to actor LisaRaye McCoy; and found herself living a double life as a stylist to stars like Mariah Carey, La La, and Tracy Ellis Ross. The increasingly flashy lifestyle required more and more money to maintain, leading Curry into ever more elaborate schemes.
As Curry says in the show’s introduction, “I was flossing with celebs while fleecing trust funds.” Until the Feds caught her in 2009.
Recently, Curry sat down with GO to talk candidly about her rise (and fall) as a trap queen, her experiences as a hustler who happens to be trans, and how she is now rebuilding her life with a new cleaning business, Squeaky Queens — and, of course, her love of Chanel and other designer goods.
GO Magazine: What made you decide to tell your story on “American Gangsters: Trap Queens?” And what was it like telling your story for, and seeing it played out on, a national television show?
Dwen Curry: Well, first of all I want to be really clear: It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know. I have a girlfriend who was extremely adamant about getting my story out…. Because if you’ve noticed on [the show] all of them are just 100% women — when I say 100%, women, you know, you guys are able to bear children, we’re not — and I am the only transgender [woman] and she felt as though it would be an interesting story. And her and I, we bounced things back and forth. And she said, ‘I think I could really sell this.’ I said, ‘Well, then you should ’cause who in the hell has ever heard of a gay gangster, ever?’ No one. No one’s ever heard of GG. Till now.
GO: It’s pretty unique.
DC: Yeah, that’s GG, honey. So that’s what it was. She helped me. She took me out of the mental state that I was in and she’s just like, ‘You are my friend, I am wanting to help you. I don’t like the way these people have done you. We are going to fix this, you just need to hold on.’ And that’s what I did, I held on.
GO: And what was it like seeing your story played out on a television show?
DC: It was amazing. I see the emotions that I’ve evoked into the audience. It’s just authentic. There’s redemption. But I don’t want you to sit up here and look at the crime that I’ve done. You need to look at what happened. You know, look at the whole story. This story is real D; you might have all the riches, but you’re gonna go through what you need to go through, and that might not be pretty.
GO: You allegedly earned around $6 million running your hustles over the years. You also seemed to be pretty successful in your more legitimate businesses, your salons and your styling. Do you think that you could have achieved the level of success that you had without resorting to initially illegal means?
DC: Absolutely. Because what I’ve learned to do now, with that negative narrative, I’ve learned to turn it around into a positive narrative. And absolutely, I could have done something different. I’m not gonna sit up there and say, ‘Okay, well, I’m a product of my environment. And this is why I did this. And this is why I did that.’ I know that a lot of things that I have done have not necessarily been right. But what’s [amazing] to me is that I was able to grasp a hold of the whole ballgame. I didn’t have a floor plan for it . It just kind of fell in my lap. And I took it, and I ran with it. But could I have done something differently? Absolutely.
GO: How does your story compare to the stories of the other women on “Trap Queens?” I know you said that as a transgender woman or woman of trans experience that that’s a part of the story that hasn’t been told before. Are there similarities or parallel themes you’ve noticed between you and the other women? Are there differences?
DC: They definitely have incredible stories. I think it just ends up being about the tenacity that you end up having, unbeknownst to you, to be able to take care of your family and those that are around you. Because those women are just not running around and committing crimes and stuff like that. No, that’s a lifestyle that is acquired, where you establish a certain lifestyle, and you try to keep it up. So we all have very comparable stories.
GO: The show delves into not just the crimes themselves; it also highlights issues of racial inequity and social justice. What does your story highlight with regards to racial justice and social inequities?
DC: I don’t know. It has a lot to do with it. I mean, when you look at it, I’m all across the board. I can remember one time getting arrested on Halloween. And I was looking as I am and an officer asked me if I was in my Halloween suit. I found that very defamatory, and felt extremely belittled, but what am I supposed to do when he’s got all the power, he’s got the gun, and I got the cuffs on? So it says a lot I’m speaking. I love the fact that I’m the first one to do it. But what I want to make sure is that I will not be the last one because there are other compelling stories that people will be able to relate with.
GO: In the show, you said that you didn’t even really know how much money you made, that you were just aware that you had enough money to provide for yourself and for your family. Besides providing, were there other motives behind your trap?
DC: No, my only motivation was to make sure my family was secure and that they didn’t have anything to want for. That’s the only thing I’m concerned about. I was concerned about when I had extra money I always felt very guilty. If I went to the Chanel store and I bought me a bag, and I then I’d buy Cleopatra [her sister] a bag, or my mother a bag and then I [had] to go and get my little brother some jewelry.
GO: You also said that Chanel was a big item that you like to buy. Why Chanel specifically?
DC: I don’t know; it’s just elegant. It’s classy. And it’s timeless, And, you know, one thing about Chanel: They don’t really repeat too much because all the Chanel I have, I’ve never seen them ever again. So that’s why Chanel is just my favorite.
GO: If you hadn’t been caught, do you think that you’d still be running your hustle? Or do you think you would have gotten out in some other way?
DC: No, I would have gotten out. I was tired. I was so tired. I was tired and sad. You know what’s so funny is I’ve never been this broke in my life. But I have never, ever felt so safe. Where I don’t have to look over my shoulders, or anything like that. It just feels good. So I’d rather be broke with a sense of serenity than to be rich, and have no serenity, and be looking over my shoulder. It’s just mad. I don’t know how I did it. Absolutely do not. I mean, it was a drive, a force within myself that I wasn’t even aware of.
GO: And I like, too, how on the show you said that you learned to memorize [credit card numbers] — never leave a paper trail.
DC: 7371332***895. 5427***27 or 831. Oh girl, and the list goes on.
GO: That’s pretty impressive.
DC: I don’t know how impressive that is now. I’m sure the Feds [are] mad at me.
GO: Yeah, probably.
DC: Now they’ve got to change their whole sequence of numbers around. I actually changed the whole game for a lot of stuff.
GO: On a darker note, I know in an interview with Buzz you had said that doing the show brought up a lot that was buried and that the experience could actually be pretty scary at times. What did it bring up?
DC: What I did not want to face, most importantly, was the accountability part of it. I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to have to face that. I didn’t want to have to face the fact of the victims that had to go through what they went through, regardless of the fact that they got their money back. But that’s not fair. That’s not my money. That’s their money. That’s not cool to do that. You don’t know if someone’s mother has ovarian cancer or if the child — you don’t know what they might use that money for. That’s to my regret.
GO: And I know you said, too, that your experience initially as a gay man, and then as a trans woman, often affected the way people saw you and how they treated you. What was the scariest situation you ever found yourself in?
DC: There’s so many. If you’re talking about the scariest — Girl, there’s a lot of them. I don’t know which one, you know, you want me to go to; it’s been on multiple occasions. This is not anything where it’s just happened one or two times. There’s no way I could really go into one particular situation. Because if I go into a situation, I’ll tell you about one, but I’m gonna find one that’s worse.
GO: In what ways are you currently rebuilding your life now that you’re out?
DC: It’s very simple. I deal with Squeaky Queens, which is my cleaning business. I go to my clients personally, I clean their homes and if they feel like they want to talk, then we have a conversation. If not, then I just clean until I’m done. That’s what I deal with in order for me to meditate and to be serene, and to actually stay grounded, and most importantly, make an honest living.
GO: In the interview with Buzz, you said that of your story, you wanted to tell “only what needs to be told.” What do you want the world to know about Dwen Curry? (Also, what parts of your life are off limits?)
DC: I want the world to know that I’m apologetic, and there’s a certain amount of regret that I carry with me. Everything that glitters is not gold, and not everything is what it seems. It’s important to do things the right way because even after getting out of jail, I still feel incarcerated in a way. No parts of my life are off limits because I really want people to learn from my mistakes.
GO: At the end of your episode, you say you want people to learn from your story. What do you want them to learn?
DC: I want them to learn that redemption is possible. I’ve evolved emotionally and psychologically, and I’m proud of how far I have come. It’s really hard, but at the end of the day, you have to decide to be true to yourself.