Lipstick, Powder and Paint #3

One of the greatest things to come out of my adventures with Miss Wong was meeting Andrew Pentecost. Andrew is an amazing makeup artist who was working for MAC at that time. He always did Suzy’s makeup in the early days, and he also started doing the makeup for all the women I shot portraits of. I, too, have learned much about the art of painting one’s face from him.

As time went on, we very quickly discovered a very deep connection and started to refer to ourselves as mother and son. I had played this little game before, but this time it felt (and still feels) real.

Andrew and Arnold would sometimes get in drag together, just to go out and have fun. Sort of like two girlfriends getting ready for a night on the town. The greatest fun I had was being invited to these “play dress up” sessions. To be allowed, and welcomed, to photograph. Since they usually weren’t ready to go out until very late, and I had spent a lot of energy on the photos, I rarely went out with them. I suspect the getting ready was more fun anyway. These two pictures are from one of those nights. Andrew was always so sure of his makeup. He only does drag for sport…occasionally performing on stage, but mostly just for the fun of it. His drag persona is Angel Electra. When he is Angel, his personality changes. He becomes this really fun girl, just a little bad around the edges. He does a lot of punk personas for the stage. One night last summer Angel was performing at Play. Fred decided to go with me and he loved it. He tipped Andrew. The next day Andrew texted me and said, “It’s one thing when your Mom gets you. It’s even greater when your Dad does.” Fred and I were recent visitors via FaceTime at the wedding of Andrew and his partner Kyle, in San Francisco.

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Lipstick, Powder, and Paint #2

I thought this series was going to be in a particular order. I decided this morning that since it is about what is on my mind, plus showing you photos, I needed to just decide each day what photo to post and what story I want to tell.Today, I have Sara Andrews on my mind.

Sara is a woman who was born a male. I have only known her as a woman, as she transitioned genders at a young age. Sara is a very talented performer. She performs drag. The women she creates for the stage have very little to do with Sara in her everyday life. She is a polite, well-behaved, lovely woman in her everyday life. At least, that has been my impression. I had the pleasure of hanging out with Sara for a few days a summer ago, when we both visited West Hollywood to go to Sutan Amrull’s Big Birthday party. We ended up all staying with Arnold at the place he was sharing with his manager and friend, Diana Coney. So, I would hang out with the regular-girl-next-door Sara during the day and then I would see her transform into her drag persona and hit the stage. Or, the night of the big party, I saw her transform herself into a movie starlet, who behaved a bit like Audrey Hepburn. She was not in drag that night. She was Sara Andrews all dolled up and on her best behavior. People loved her. I felt very glamorous to be her sidekick.

There is some discussion right now, provoked by RuPaul not welcoming trans performers to Drag Race, as to whether or not a person who has changed their gender identity can actually be a drag queen, as we usually think of drag as men impersonating women. And, I admit, that’s how I basically define drag. But, I also realize, that drag is not about the person performing…drag is about the persona that person has created. (I got this idea from a young man who posted a comment on Sara’s FaceBook.) Sara Andrews creates amazing personas of females. She does this as an art form, and a means of creative self-expression. And, I believe she has a ball doing it. She does it for fun. The audiences at Hamburger Mary’s loved her. Especially the women. She gets on the stage and behaves like the bad girl all of us would like to be. But, she isn’t cheesy…she is funny and just provocative enough to make sure her audience has as much fun as she does.

I don’t get all this argument. I know that RuPaul is not really a contest as much as it is reality television. The whole beehive that has been created around that show might be good for the art of drag, or it could possibly also have some negative effects. But, drag is always and forever drag….creating the female persona. Sara Andrews chooses to live as a woman and perform as a drag queen. Even though this can be a little hard to understand, I finally get it. Trans women and drag queens aren’t the same thing at all. That is, unless the trans woman is performing great, great drag!!  There you have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hustlers, Pimps, and Johns….and the fabulous Paige Turner

First of all, let me make it clear that Paige Turner is NOT a hustler, a pimp, or a john. Paige is a very funny and talented female impersonator whose day job (as a boy) is animal caregiver at the Nashville Humane Association. Paige has a small role in the movie Boulevard (Robin Williams’ last film) which was shot in Nashville. Even though Paige is on the screen briefly, she works her part for all it’s worth. Every toss of the head, every physical gesture, every pose—she makes her big personality felt. You can catch Paige every Tuesday night at Mad Donna’s in East Nashville, where she hosts Drag Bingo. She also writes a monthly column about drag for the Nashville LGBT magazine, Out and About.

I visited with Paige at MadDonna’s on Tuesday night to photograph her and talk to her about her movie experience. She was selected for this part out of many who showed up for auditions—the director loved her look. See her in the movie and you’ll understand why. She is working the street wearing very short cut-off jeans and thigh-high silver boots. Paige has fantastic legs–you can’t miss her. She says that she did have several opportunities to interact with Robin Williams and that he was lovely to everyone.

This film by Dito Monteil is one of the most beautiful character studies I have ever seen. It is about a man who has always been lost and troubled, and then has a relationship with a young male street hustler which has such a profound effect on him that he comes to grips with his true self, comes out of the closet, and finally goes to New York to invent a new life. The development of the hustle is as interesting to me as the development of the main character. The young man, Leo, is willing to sell sex, but not willing or able to give anything of himself. He is as conflicted and troubled as the older man, who is so hungry to share his heart. While the love that he is looking for could not happen with Leo, he realizes that he is still searching. At age 60, his character says to us that it is never too late. In freeing himself, he also frees his wife (ironically named Joy) to find herself as well. It is an amazing movie. An interesting side note is that it was shot in my own neighborhood, in a house right down the block.

I saw this movie (twice) at Nashville’s treasure of an art house cinema, The Belcourt. By coincidence, another movie that is playing there at the same time is Tangerine. This is another film about hustlers, pimps, and johns. This time the hustlers are trans sex workers and the two main characters are played by two Los Angeles trans women, Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. This movie delves into a subculture that is disturbing but very real. Nothing is held back. In this film we also see some very interesting character development unfold. It seems that the subject of transgender is showing up a lot lately in the media. While LaVerne Cox, Carmen Carrera, and Caitlyn Jenner are privileged and glamorous, there are many more trans women who have a very hard life. As one of the characters says, “It’s all about the hustle.” For some, especially those who have little options to begin with, this seems the only option there is.

I highly recommend both of these movies. They are similar, but different. They look at a side of life that many people don’t ever see. And they both do it with love and caring.

Happy Birthday to my Spiritual Son, Andrew, and my Magical Daughter, Angel Electra

The picture here is of Andrew Pentecost, both as himself and as his drag persona, Angel Electra. This was a fun project we did a while back, using two images in one photo to tell a love story. I particularly like this photo. I think it captures a moment that can be typical in relationships. One person is totally engrossed in something that has nothing to do with the other person. The other person is curious as to what could possibly be more interesting than them, and secretly looks on to see.

Andrew and I have a very special mother/son relationship. We are alike in so many ways, and frequently serve as each other’s therapist. I never really wanted to have children, but as I have gotten to know Andrew, I realize that if I had, he would have been the perfect son for me. I love him dearly.

Today is Andrew’s birthday, so I’m thinking of him. Professionally, Andrew is a makeup artist, and a very good one. He can take anyone and make them into their most beautiful self. I have spent many hours watching him change himself to Angel. Such a process. I honestly have no idea how many photos I’ve taken of him. He is a fascinating subject to photograph, because he truly becomes another person as a result of the makeup process. I love to photograph him as he is studying his face, applying the makeup, and doing all the other steps that go into this change. The finish is always flawless.

I have also watched him do makeup on many women for photos I was about to take. The results never cease to amaze me. My approach to making up my own face (and the faces of others I am photographing if Andrew isn’t there to help) has radically changed because of what I’ve learned from him. Andrew is an artist in so many different ways. He is also a great teacher. Knowing him has enriched my life, and brought out a maternal side of me that I enjoy expressing. I know that we will always be connected, no matter where our different paths may take us.

My Long Love Affair with Drag

DSCF2664My love of drag started in 1972, when I attended the first Miss Gay American pageant. The night of the first pageant I made friends with one of the performers and he became the person who helped me to get through one of the most painful times of my life. I was 29 and everything was falling apart. Mr. Danni Ross helped me hold it together. (Sidenote: back then “impersonating a female” was against the law, so the queens had to be introduced as Mister, just to make sure they weren’t trying to fool anyone.) Through my friendship with him I met several other queens and became a regular at Jerry Peek’s  Watch Your Hat and Coat Saloon, on Nashville’s Second Avenue. Jerry started the Miss Gay America Pageant and I love it that they always honor him at the performances. Jerry is a perfect example of graciousness and a real role model as well. He and his partner, Joe Heatherly, have been together for decades. I am always happy to see Jerry and Joe.

The years have rolled by fairly quickly and I still love drag. My precious friend Arnold Myint/Suzy Wong brought me back into the thick of this world a few years ago and I have loved going to pageants with him and photographing Suzy. His original makeup artist, Andrew Pentecost, whose drag persona is Angel Electra, has become my adopted son. In fact (another side note) if I did have a son I would probably be quite disappointed if he didn’t do drag.

This weekend Arnold, our girlfriend Candace Keller, and I, rented a nice little Air B&B in Memphis for a weekend of pageantry. Andrew/Angel joined us for Saturday night and it was just a wonderful time with my friends. I really savored the moments as it is rare to have this kind of time together with people who mean so much to me. I don’t take friendships and special people for granted. I try to freeze the moments in my life that make me happy so that I will always remember those times. I have been very blessed to have married Fred Ellis. He has never given me any grief about my love for drag. He doesn’t share my interest, but he cuts me the slack to enjoy it. He is friends with my friends, and I am thankful he doesn’t get weird when I load up with Arnold and head for a pageant.

The performance highlight of my weekend was seeing the great Charity Case. Charity is a Miss Gay America and a very, very fine performer. To watch someone who has mastered this craft over the years is a rare privilege. Her performances move me, and I love the woman that Mark Coleman/Charity has created—very strong, quite glamorous, and a true performance artist.

I have no doubt in my mind that I will always love drag. Some love tennis, some love football, others–golf. Drag is my SuperBowl. (Thanks for the concept, Arnold). I get lost in it. I like to get there early, get a good seat, and completely lock in to the performances.  I like to take the photos, tip the queens, and shout encouragement. I can see into my crystal ball that Fred and I are going to be spending more and more time living in Mexico as the years roll forward. I also predict that I will schedule some trips back to El Norte for some drag shows. There is nothing like a good drag show.

Pageant. Day Two. Let the Games Begin.

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Pageant, Day Two. Let the Games Begin.

Today the action started at the Millennium Hotel in St Louis. The day began with all the candidates being divided into groups which determines who does what, when. My friend, Suzy, was quite pleased to be in Group Three. This means that today will be Male Interview. This involves coming across as a very together dude (who just happens to wear gowns and wigs). I have no doubt that Arnold (Suzy) will do well with this category, as he, in fact, is a very together dude. Tomorrow the Group Three contestants will do their main talent number. I can’t tell you what his talent number is today, as this is very top secret. I have, however, watched the rehearsal and I can tell you it is pretty cool.
On Friday, the job will be Solo Talent and Evening Gown. So, this is the schedule for Group Three. The guys in Groups One and Two will do these same categories, but at different times. All of this happens today, tomorrow, and Friday. Saturday night some of the awards will be presented and the former Miss Gay Americas who are here will be performing. (Kirby Kolby is in the house!)
I thought you might like to meet a couple of the other contestants. At the top of the page you see Arnold/Suzy with Dextaci, from Monroe,Louisiana. This young man does an incredible impersonation of Wynonna Judd. I saw him do this last year and thought he was lip-syncing. But, no, he was singing in his own voice. For his day job, Dex works in a bank.
I also enjoyed meeting Miss Gay California, Paju Monro. He is a very handsome guy and I’m sure is going to have some serious wow factor in a wig and makeup. And, yes, I’m sure he’ll shave before he hits the stage. When he isn’t doing his thing, Paju is a flight attendant.
Arnold is almost dressed now for male interview. White shirt, tie, slacks, blazer; crisp, handsome, dude.

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Makeup. A Tribute to a Friend

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Makeup.
A Tribute to a Friend.

I have always loved makeup. Unless my face is painted, I’d rather not see you. My fascination with makeup started with a box of Maybellene mascara when I was twelve. But I never really knew how to appreciate the true artistry of makeup until Andrew Pentecost crossed my path.

Andrew and I met when he came to my house to turn Arnold Myint into Suzy Wong for one of my jewelry ads. What fun to use a guy in drag for one of my ads! He and I clicked, and shortly thereafter he started doing the makeup for all my ads and became one of my closest friends. I loved watching him paint the faces of my models. Some of the transformations were as amazing as Arnold to Suzy. And of course, I had him paint my own face time and time again. He always took a while, but the time spent was well worth it. I reached a point where every time I knew I was going to see Andrew I would try very hard to duplicate the things I had seen him do. I would wait for him to notice my makeup and compliment my work. And because he is such a sweetie, he usually did. He and I spent a lot of time together and started to feel a kind of mom/son bond. There wasn’t a week that we didn’t get together for lunch or dinner. I loved for him to stop by on his way to work for some home cooking, too. When Fred and I went out of town he moved in and took care of our house and Pinky. He and I could always let our hair down and share how we were feeling about whatever was going on in our lives.

He had told me he occasionally liked to do drag himself, just for fun. I suppose when you are that fabulous it is hard to limit your self-expression to just one gender. I finally saw him on stage at Play and I literally did not recognize him in his alter-ego character, Angel Electra. Blew me away. Since then I have taken several pictures of Andrew as Angel. The one I have included here is my personal favorite.

He is a master at his craft, whether he is literally changing gender before my eyes or just making a pretty woman into a drop-dead gorgeous one. Because he is so extremely talented it is exciting to see where his career will take him. I guess I knew he would not always be hanging around helping me find the perfect shade of lipstick, or making me look totally fabulous for a big event. Recently Andrew got a very good job with Bare Minerals and has moved to Indianapolis. I’m sure this is a step for him towards reaching the top of his profession. I’m going to miss him very much. I am also sure that we will stay in touch. I know that he is one of those friends that no matter how long since you’ve seen them when you get together it is like no time has passed. And each day when I sit down to paint my face, I will think about Andrew. Every lipstick color reminds me of him. Especially MAC Hot Tahiti. He was right all long, it is the perfect red.