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 Three. Bonus Post. Fierce.

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Day Three. Bonus Post. Fierce.

I really enjoyed a particular performance last night, I love drama, and this impersonator served it on a silver platter. While most of the illusionists were doing something a little on the softer side, Essence Von Cartier presented Grace Jones. Black leather and silver chains Grace Jones. This was after being perfectly femme in a beautiful champagne-colored concoction for Evening Gown Competition.
Essence lives in Orlando, Florida, where he is a chef. He speciality is fusion foods. Fusion in this case being Southern style and something ethnic; Southern and Italian or Southern and Asian, for example. He is the 1st Alternate to Miss Gay Florida. Good luck. Essence, and thanks for a great performance.

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

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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.