WEST VILLAGE — Shay Neary lost more than just money when her wallet was stolen as she worked in a West Village restaurant last week.
Neary, 26, who is transgender, also lost a hard-won Pennsylvania driver's license that listed her as female for the first time, as well as important mementos from those who supported her as she went through her gender transition.
In an attempt to get those items back, Neary posted a heartfelt letter on dozens of lampposts and store windows along Christopher Street, asking the thief to return her wallet.
Neary was at work on the morning of July 23 when she went down to the restaurant's lower-level office, leaving her purse in a booth upstairs.
"It wasn't more than five minutes," she said.
But when she came back upstairs, her wallet was gone. She looked at the restaurant's surveillance video and watched a woman in a headband and blue leggings walk confidently into the restaurant and exit shortly after, about 10:52 a.m.
Neary believes the thief was also transgender.
"I just couldn't believe that a fellow T-girl took it," Neary said. "I think if she had known [Neary was transgender too], she probably wouldn't have done it. Our community's not like that."
Neary reported the theft to police and turned over the video surveillance. Police at the 6th Precinct are investigating.
Losing the money in the wallet was frustrating, Neary said. She had about $40 in cash, a $200 gift card to Marshall's and two bus tickets to Honesdale, Penn., where she was going to go to a wedding. She planned to use the Marshall's gift card to buy a dress for the wedding.
But worse than that were the irreplaceable items that had accumulated in the wallet over the three years she had it, including a strip of photo booth photos from Coney Island, with an ex who saw Shay through her gender transition "even at times when I thought I didn't have the strength to wake up the next day and just live."
The wallet also contained a MetroCard her mother had kept in her shirt when she visited more than a year ago, the last time Shay saw her, which still smelled of her mother's perfume, and was a comfort when she was homesick. Neary also lost two tickets to the play "Kinky Boots," which she saw with her grandmother in January before she died.
The tickets were particularly meaningful, Neary said, as her grandmother had always been loving and supportive "even though I wasn't like everyone else."
"It's unusual, you know, for someone — especially someone of that generation — to even be comfortable with her trans granddaughter, let alone love and accept her," Neary said. "When I was feeling depressed or having a bad day, I could look at it and think, at least I had a good family backing."
The wallet also contained her Pennsylvania driver's license, which identified her as female and took more than a year of gender therapy to convince the state to process and issue. Replacing it is going to be arduous, Neary said.
She visited her family in Pennsylvania this past weekend and went to see about getting the ID replaced, only to find that she would need several documents, including a letter from a licensed therapist saying she has gender dysmorphia, in order to again justify being identified as female.
While the letter asks the thief to return the wallet, Neary said she's not holding out hope she'll see it again. Partly, she wanted the woman to know who she stole from, and what the items in the wallet meant. But mostly, one thing motivated her to post the signs: "Desperation."
"You lose personal items like that, and you don't know what really to do," she said. "Especially if they're really sentimental — you'll do anything you can think of to get them back."