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.



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.










Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part Four. Miss Gay Middle Tennessee America, Giselle Nicole


Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part Four. Miss Gay Middle Tennessee, Giselle Nicole

It takes a while during a pageant for the contestants to change costumes and re-do makeup and lord knows what else. And the promoters don’t want the audience to get restless. It’s during these intermissions when some of the most fun talent of the evening happens. (And, here’s a compliment to the pageants in the Miss Gay America system: they start on time and run like clockwork). Usually at a pageant, former title holders come in as guest performers to take the stage while the competitors are making their changes and the judges are having their pow-wows. These queens are seasoned performers, having been on the pageant circuit for a while, and they are working the crowd. Some of the most amazing performances I’ve personally ever seen were at last year’s Miss Gay America Pageant, where there were several former title holders giving it all they had. Also, during these periods in a pageant the current title holder will perform. For this year’s Miss Gay Tennessee America I’m sure that my pal Suzy Wong will be making a spectacle of herself in the most wonderful way possible. Suzy has decided to donate all her tips for the evening of the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant to the Nashville Rescue Mission.
I am also looking forward to seeing Sally Sparkles – her name describes her personality, both onstage and off, what a sweetheart – the current Miss Gay America, and Kirby Kolby, Miss Gay America 2012. I have to confess, Kirby is one of my very favorite performers. His energy is incredible, and he serves high drama. I could see him on Broadway, as either a glamorous female diva, or a dramatic male lead. Watching him on stage is real theatre. (He is also one of the best looking men I’ve ever seen. There, I said it.)
Let’s talk about tipping at pageants. It is important to bring lots of dollar bills to any show involving female impersonators. Their tips are an important part of the performer’s income. They have an enormous overhead to look the way they do, and they work as hard as any entertainers you’ll ever see anywhere. Personally, when I go to a show I usually tip every queen involved. Anyone who is willing to go through the changes involved (literally and figuratively) to entertain in this art form definitely deserves a tip. Get up to the edge of the stage and tip your queens, but if you are watching a pageant don’t tip the competitors. That’s a no-no. But applaud them as loudly as possible. And feel free to cheer.
But for now here is a little moment with the beautiful and charming Miss Gay Middle Tennessee America, Giselle Nicole. (Giselle’s first alternate is Jasmine St. James and I hear she is fierce).
Giselle has participated in 7 pageants, with her win of Miss Gay Middle Tennessee being a step up to the next level. The real women who have been her role models are not movie stars or celebrities, but the women who are in her own family; sisters, grandmother, aunts, and her mom. When I asked her if there were other female impersonators who she especially admired, I liked her answer. “Those that have come before me and have paved the way for me to do what I do today.” There is a real history involved in this art form, and Giselle understands and appreciates that.
Giselle’s long-term plan is to become a superstar and cross over into mainstream media as Giselle Nicole. She has trained in musical theatre in the prestigious conservatory AMDA in New York. This crossover “is looking pretty good. I just wrapped up ‘The Boulevard’, a film with Robin Williams and fellow sister Paige Turner. I also have done some extra work on the tv show, ‘Nashville.’ ”
I loved the answer Giselle gave me when I asked who her biggest supporter had been.
“My dad who passed about two months ago was my biggest fan, mentor, and coach. I know that sounds a little strange but he was. I would talk to him on the days of my pageants and he would give me the best pep talks. We talked about pageants like it was football. I was so proud of him because he was a heterosexual male and had no problems telling me how proud he was of me. He would show my pictures to everyone he knew.”

Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part Three. Venus Knight, Miss Gay Nashville America


Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part Three . Presenting Venus Knight, Miss Gay Nashville America.

As the evening of the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant continues the two categories of competition that remain are Evening Gown and Question and Answer. A contest can easily be won or lost with one of these two categories. Evening Gown is the part of the contest where glamour conquers all. The contestants will invest everything in the dress for this part of the competition. It needs to flatter their body, catch the eyes of the judges, and bring a sigh from the audience. They are judged not just for the dress, but on how they appear in it. Many times a more elaborate wig will be used in this part of the competition as minimalism and restraint are two words that do not exist in the vocabulary of pageant girls. More is more and too much is not enough. There are times when you might hope the stage is big enough for the dress and the ceiling high enough for the wig. Here is an interesting side note: there isn’t nearly as much focus on being super slim among female impersonator pageants as there is in the “real girl” pageants that they are inspired by. Some female impersonators are rather large women, and that doesn’t have to work against them. It is all attitude and style, and “werking” it!
It is important to realize that in the Miss Gay America system all the competitors are 100% male. No plastic surgery below the neck is allowed. It is all totally an illusion. It involves the highest level of makeup artistry, wigs, lots of foam rubber, duct tape and sometimes 5 pairs of Spanx control-top panty hose.
For Question and Answer the questions that need to be answered are much like the questions asked in the Miss America Pageant. They have a brief pause to think and then to come up with an intelligent, articulate response.
Next time I’ll tell you about what happens during intermissions at the pageants, but for now I’d like you to meet the reigning Miss Gay Nashville America, the girl with legs I would kill for, Venus Knight. (The first alternate to Miss Gay Nashville America is the queen with the greatest name of all time, Venus Ann Serena. She is a unique personality and a true one-of-a-kind entertainer.).

Venus has established herself in national pageant competition and went to Miss Gay America last year as first alternate to Miss Gay Tennessee America. She laughingly said she has participated in so many pageants she has lost count. She is a strong competitor, a powerful dancer, and an interesting personality. As is true with all four of the performers I interviewed, Venus remembers the first time she went on stage as a
female impersonator. She has performed frequently at Play, but found she wanted to stretch her wings a bit, and that desire was what led her to start competing in pageants. She feels that pageants are a way to get out into the world and open doors to opportunities.
Venus’s strongest supporters are her mother and grandmother, and her former boyfriend, Tony, who remains a close friend. When asked if there was a female impersonator she especially admired, Venus didn’t hesitate in naming Ivy White.
Venus makes a clear definition between her life as a female impersonator and her life as a guy. Venus is the first person in his family to graduate from college and earn a Master’s Degree, both from Western Kentucky University, His interest is family counseling, and in the future sees himself having his own practice. He also is planning to get a law degree. He sees Venus in the future as a national title holder. He is determined, focused, and ambitious, in and out of the wig.

Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part 2. Miss Gay Memphis America, Iris Le’Fluer


Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part 2. Miss Gay Memphis America, Iris Le’Fluer

Before I continue with the presentation of the preliminary winners for the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, which will be held in Nashville at Play on September 15, I’ll tell you a bit about the categories that the contestants compete in. They make their initial appearance in an introductory walk across the stage and down the runway called Presentation. This is where they tell the audience (and judges) a little bit about themselves and have a chance to show off their personalities. The category of Male Interview is not seen by the audience. This takes place before the performance part of the pageant begins and for this one the contestants appear before the judges as their male selves. They are asked questions about their lives without the wig. There are two talent presentations. One is Solo Talent where only the performer is on stage and works solo and there is the Production Number, which usually involves back-up dancers, props–the bigger the show the better.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the other two categories, Evening Gown and Question and Answer. But right now I’d like you to meet another of the beautiful preliminary winners, Iris La’Fluer, Miss Gay Memphis America. (The first alternate for Miss Gay Memphis America is Tyra Hunter. I have seen her perform before and I know she will bring it. She is a great dancer.)
Iris “comes from a small country town but has big city dreams.” He knew early on that he was a born queen. “When I was little I used to dress up in my mom’s clothes and do shows for my grandmother. I always wanted to hit the stage!” The rest is history, or I should say, her story, because Iris has been performing ever since. She started entering pageants in 2010 and has placed first or second alternate in every pageant she’s entered–except for the ones where she has been crowned the winner. Her most exciting win is the title of Miss Gay Memphis America, and that is what she will be competing as in the upcoming Miss Gay Tennessee America pageant. Her greatest cheerleaders have been her partner of three years, Chris, and her mother, who has been her dresser and has appeared in her talent. Her mother and her grandmother are the real women who have inspired her the most.
Looking into the future, Iris says that the title of Miss Gay Tennessee America is something she won’t give up on. She is considering several possibilities for life without the wig as well. One of those is becoming a makeup artist, where she could put her skills to good use. Iris gives special credit to two former Miss Gay Tennessee Americas, Anita MsCocktail and Pat McCooter have been especially helpful to her during this particular pageant experience.

Miss Gay Tennessee America. Part One. Miss Gay East Tennessee America, Katie Love.


Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, Part One. Miss Gay East Tennessee America, Katie Love.

I have had the pleasure of photographing the four winners of the preliminary contests leading up to the Miss Gay Tennessee America Pageant, which will be held in Nashville at Play on Sunday, September 15. This has proven to be one of my favorite projects and I have enjoyed spending time with each one of these unique individuals. They will be competing not only against each other, but also against the first alternates from each of the preliminaries. This should prove to be a very entertaining event, heightened by performances and appearances from the reigning Miss Gay Tennessee, Suzy Wong (who will be competing at Miss Gay America as the current Miss Mid America), Sally Sparkles, the current Miss Gay America, and Kirby Kolby, Miss Gay America, 2012. I am sure the talent line up will include many other great performers in the wonderful world of female impersonation. I was happy to learn that the very witty Anita Ms Cocktail will be at the podium, serving up some of that diva-glamour-humor that she does so well. The promoter for this event, Jeffery Culbert, will be on hand, and it is always great to see the Miss Gay America guys, Terry Eason and Larry Tyger. And the one who started this whole thing, the grand guru himself, Jerry Peek, will also be in the house.
Since I have enjoyed getting to know these fascinating illusionists, I thought it would be fun to share a bit about them with you. If you are a Pageant novice, these posts will prepare you to get the most out of the pageant. Today I want you to meet a contestant who is as personable as she is pretty-Katie Love, Miss East Tennessee America. (The first alternate was PurrZsa Kyttyn-Azrael, and I look forward to meeting her at the pageant).

Katie is happy that her mother plans to attend this pageant and watch her perform for the very first time. She has enjoyed experiencing the sense of family that comes from working closely with others in the Miss Gay America pageant system. Winning the title of Miss Gay East Tennessee was a thrill to her, and this was the first time she had entered a pageant that was part of a national system. She had “practiced” a bit with some local contests, and saw each one as an opportunity to learn more. Her biggest cheerleaders are her ex-boyfriend, who is now her best friend, and her current boyfriend, who is her soul mate. This is just a snapshot of what great people skills Katie has. She makes this work beautifully. She exudes the kind of spirit that feels like she must get along with everyone who is fortunate enough to cross her path.
She has a very positive, upbeat attitude. I loved her answer when I asked her what she thought she’d be doing in five years. “In five years I see myself preparing for the Miss Gay Tennessee Pageant. This will either be to enter because I haven’t won yet, or because I have and I am here to entertain. I am a fighter and I don’t believe in giving up until you have achieved your goals.”