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A History of Hype: The Cockettes Conquer New York

Cockettes in New York: A History of Hype
November 25, 1971

New York is dead, everyone complained. The last thing to hit town was Jesus Christ Superstar, and it was so unbelievably crass. The major art openings were over, and the holiday parties hadn’t yet begun. Dull dull dull. But didn’t Rex and Truman rave about some divine hippie drag queens from San Francisco who actually wear glitter on their “private parts” as well as their eyelids? Right. “The Rockettes like rocks, and the Cockettes like—” How utterly outrageous! And weren’t they opening down in the slummy crummy East Village along with Sylvester, a black rock queen who sings falsetto? How off off can you get? And isn’t this the Year of the Gay? — it’s all right for men to dig other men in public. Everyone understands now. And hasn’t the underground press been covering the Cockettes favorably for over a year, even though the regular San Francisco press accepts their ads but doesn’t review them? Isn’t it time for something different? Let’s discover the Cockettes!

Not since Andy and Edie had New York made a group of society’s freaks its very own darlings in one short week — seven days to scale the highest media peaks, only to fall opening night with a great dull thud. How come? One reason is that the media-heavy audience came opening night expecting to see some sort of new art form and got comatized instead; but more importantly, the Cockettes were victims of the Big Hype — that peculiar New York phenomenon whereby people and things are declared hot, cool, in, out, under, and over. The poor little gold differs of ’71 from San Francisco made a big mistake — they believed it.

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Reality is fantasy and fantasy is reality to the Cockettes. Their life style is carefully contrived to blur if not actually diminish the distinction between the two. So when the Big Apple gave them the Hype they were ready for it. “Darling, we’re the toasts of the town, they love us to death!” said Big Daryl, a Cockette leader. Never mind the hassles with the producers, the el cheapo production, the lack of a sound system to rehearse with, the cockroaches and the broken plumbing in the hotel, or even the parties the nights before that made rehearsing almost impossible, because the Tinsel Tarted Broadway babies were having their pert little behinds kissed bought up and downtown and Ziegfield wasn’t around to ask if they could sing or dance. Nobody did. “I’m Goldie Glitters, and I go to all these ritzy penthouses every night, and these photographers keep wanting to take my picture.”

Performance for the Cockettes is mostly an excuse to live a freaky life style. Why be a hairdresser or work in a third-hand store if you can be a Cockette and spend all day getting dressed up like your favorite movie star? The drag’s the thing — the Tinsel Tarts spend a lot more time on themselves than they do on the shows. In San Francisco the Cockettes are pure hippie-nostalgia street theatre with rinky tink piano, clever lyrics, and tons of glitter thrown in for good measure — gay hippies plus women who love to show off for their friends. There are far too many freaks in San Francisco for them to be considered avant garde, political, or revolutionary. It’s a $2.50 midnight show at a funky old Chinese movie house where you can watch Betty Boop festivals and dig the spectacle. Stoned at 2 in the morning, you don’t care if it moves. The indulgent audience is half the show, and knows it.

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But the Big Apple declared the Cockettes media myths, the “fashion and faggot aristocracy” came out en masse to view their drag for inspiration, the ticket price shot up to $6.50, and Time, Life, Women’s Wear Daily, etc., all showed up to review them. The opening night’s theme song should have been “Please baby,” pant pant, “give us some new freaks to love.”

It’s easy to love the Cockettes. Their zany behavior turns on even the most hostile people, and every personal appearance is a major production. Integral to the making of the myth were the word-of-mouth reports spread around town by key writers, editors, or celebrities who saw the Cockettes behave outrageously at the Whitney, in Max’s, and at all the posh parties where they were honored guests. Everyone expected they’d be better on stage, but that’s a misconception. The Cockettes are much better in real life. I traveled with them for 10 days, and it was pure insanity all the way.

***

At the San Francisco airport pandemonium reigned from the moment the Cockettes stepped off their chartered bus, along with three tons of luggage that was heavy on the cardboard and tinsel. “Remember, girls,” Pristine Condition yelled, “The password for New York is Sugar Daddy.”

“Did you see that?” Mr. whispered to Mrs. Iowa at the baggage check as Link floated by in a one-piece latex bathing suit with a beauty queen banner of girl scout badges pinned to the front. And when Wally — in six-foot plumes and a pair of plastic Halloween pumpkins filled with gold tinsel suspended over his breasts — began beating his tambourine and asking for “tricks or treats,” four people canceled their flight.

Bystanders were treated to a wacked-out visual feast. In addition to 35 Cockettes, Sylvester’s musicians came with their old ladies, groupies appeared bearing gifts (Grasshopper, a favorite Cockette groupie, even flew to New York), several dozen awestruck airline employees gathered to gape, and one uptight tv cameraman was furious. “This is worse than a double X movie.” Nobody’s mother came to wave goodbye.

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The “Cockette party” of 45 had to sit in the back of the huge 747, along with a few straight passengers who got mixed in. They either opted for stereo headphones and tuned out for the duration of the flight or slumped way down in their seats behind books on California redwoods.

The stewardesses couldn’t handle the commotion. One dropped her oxygen mask when the Cockettes applauded her act, and her partner, a blank-looking blond in a pinafore, just stood watching quizzically as one of the Cockettes called out, “Hey, we made a movie about a girl whose drag looks just like yours — Tricia’s Wedding.”

The Tinsel Tarts spent the rest of the flight “ritzing” around the economy lounge of the 747 where they allowed curious passengers and shy closet queens to buy them beers. One little old lady in an orlon sweater set and mink hat squinted at Wally. “Are you girls in high school or college?” “Neither. We’re Miss America contestants.” A belligerent drunk confronted Lendon, resplendent as Carmen Miranda: “Are you a man or a woman?” “We’re both, honey, and that’s just for starters!” By the end of the long flight everyone was getting very cozy. The Cockettes were singing show tunes for fellow passengers, who joined them, happily posing for one another’s Instamatics and Nikons just as if the Cockettes were some stray Indians they had found in the Grand Canyon. Smile click. Smile click. “My wife won’t believe this. Heh heh. Thanks a lot.”

The flight marked the culmination of more than three months of broken promises and tight money while trying to plan the New York tour. The New York people had originally come to them. The Cockettes were not actively seeking an eastern tour. Two New York producers had strung the Cockettes along from July to October, promising a Halloween opening at the Fillmore East. The Cockettes — most of whom are on welfare — stopped doing new San Francisco shows, and when the rent fell due at their three communes, they couldn’t pay it. One of Bill Graham’s yes men, after taking a month to make the decision on the Fillmore, decreed “The Cockettes will diminish the Fillmore East’s reputation as a rock palace,” which ought to be news to the neighborhood junkies.

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Finally a San Francisco rock lawyer got them the Anderson Theatre, a block down from the Fillmore. Harry Zerler, a young, former talent scout at Columbia Records who had never produced a theatrical show before, but whose father, Paul Zerler, had been around the business for years, flew out to California and saw the same wild and funny Cockette show that Truman Capote loved and that sent Rex Reed to wondering enthusiastically, “Will the Cockettes replace rock concerts in the ’70s?” The Cockettes were thrilled. Long snubbed by the local aboveground press, they had at last been discovered by the big-time New York media. Zerler promised to bring the Cockettes to New York, and the myth began.

Even though the Daily News wouldn’t print Reed’s raving review, the Washington Post and many other papers throughout the country did. I wrote a favorable piece on the Cockettes for The Voice, and Rolling Stone published an article a short time later. Those three articles became the basis for all the hype in the Cockettes’ ads: “This is the most outrageous thing I’ve ever seen” —Truman Capote. “Insanity becomes reality, fantasy becomes truth, etc.” —Village Voice. Both quotes were taken out of context, but that sort of hyperbole is justified by the producers in terms of the amount of money it takes to transport 45 people across the country and put them up for three weeks, especially people who sign the hotel register “Miss Creemah Ritz,” “Eatapuss Rex,” and Scrumbly. Paul Zerler figures it cost him $40,000. The Cockettes didn’t think setting the ticket price at $6.50 was fair, but they didn’t fight it — after dividing the money 40 ways they were only making $75 a week each plus lodging. The Cockettes have also yet to see a penny of the profits from their film, Tricia’s Wedding, but they are usually too engrossed in fantasy to seriously worry about finances.

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Until the moment they landed, the Cockettes had no idea where they were going to stay. Rumor had it they were going to be put up in a one-bath, three-bedroom house in Connecticut with 25 cots set up in the basement. They got the Hotel Albert instead, in the Village, where on a good day the hallways smell somewhere between old socks and vomit. Miss Bobbie, 17, the youngest of the Cockettes and so beautiful he was offered a modeling audition at Harper’s Bazaar, cried upon seeing the Albert. She expected maybe the Plaza. The rest of the troupe amused themselves with cockroach counting contests in their suites. There was no room service. Pretty tacky for swishy West Coast queenies, but not so different from the Haight either.

It was very difficult to reach any of the Cockettes by phone at the Albert since several had changed their names when registering. Big Daryl vacillated between Harold Thunderpussy and Miss Creemah Ritz and confided his fears of being typecast forever as the whorehouse madam, especially after two janitors mistook him for Mae West on Halloween night.

If the hotel wasn’t “fabulous enough,” the Cockettes’ arrival at Kennedy had more than made up for it in advance. Danny Fields, the skilled rock PR man, had everything arranged. About 100 freaks were on hand, including two third-stringers from the Factory, and Superstar Viva’s husband, Michel, shooting videotape. Few of these people had actually seen the Cockettes perform, but that didn’t seem to matter. The rest of the New York airport crowd watched silently bemused with a so-what-else-is-new expression that contrasted sharply with the jovial hilarity at the San Francisco airport. I sensed New York would be a lot more difficult for the Tinsel Tarts and wondered if the Cockettes felt it too, but they were surrounded by local admirers, including suave Errol Wetson in total black velvet, the “fabulous millionaire hamburger king” as Dennis Lopez, Sylvester’s manager, referred to him. Suave Errol had wined and dined Dennis one night along with Warren Beatty and Roman Polanski. Dennis, used to paying for his own meals with fellow record company flacks, was properly impressed. (Actually Wetson is part owner of Le Drugstore and heir to a chain of 153 hamburger joints.) Suave Errol was dying to introduce the Cockettes to New York — there’s more to life than burgers — and thereby launch himself as the arbiter of a new social phenomenon in the process. “I heard about the Cockettes from my friend Truman, and New York’s been so quiet, so dead, something’s gotta happen. No, I haven’t seen the Cockettes perform. I don’t have to. I can feel their vibrations.”

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Later that night Wetson hosted the Cockettes’ first New York party at this empty East 62nd Street townhouse. Diana Vreeland, grande dame of Vogue, designer Oscar de la Renta, and executives of the hamburger corporation came along to catch the action. The Cockettes gave it to them — in wild costumes they uninhibitedly danced, sang, romped, and stomped. Wetson’s comptroller, perhaps sensing his young boss’s enthusiasm could have some future financial implications, commented, “They’re great at a party, but can they act?” Diana Vreeland was much more positive. She was truly impressed with the originality of the Cockettes’ drag and felt they had put on the best fashion show she had seen in a long time. “What’s so marvelous is that they look happy, truly happy, and that’s so rare these days, don’t you think?”

Meanwhile the Cockettes were digging the plush surroundings, their usual milieu being a couple of joints or a bottle of Cold Duck in the Haight. “Wow, we’ve never been treated like this before, with champagne and all,” said Lendon. After Suave Errol’s bash the group made a pilgrimage to Max’s Kansas City and turned the place upside down. In two days they completely revitalized the sagging dragging atmosphere at Max’s, and according to the regulars, “brought the place alive again.” After the third straight night there the Cockettes were allowed to charge hamburgers and Harvey Wallbangers, which was fortunate since they hadn’t been paid and were actually going hungry — but they were getting lots of attention, hype hype. The first night at Max’s, Pristine Condition fell out of her chair when she saw Trash star Joe d’Allesandro. She swiped his bread roll, brought it back to the Albert, shellacked it, and sewed it on a hat. That night rock critic Lillian Roxan told Prissie, “I always wondered what it was like to take New York by storm, now I know.” That was the sort of comment that got passed around town by word of mouth to turn on the general populace.

During the week before opening night I must have gone to 27 parties with the Cockettes, on the East Side, on the West Side, in the Village, in penthouses, lofts, museums, and basements, gotten a total of 15 hours sleep, met two thirds of the freaks of New York, and began to suspect that all of Manhattan was gay. New York was bored and the Cockettes were so joyous they were almost wholesome. The Tinsel Tarts became the hottest numbers in town. They got a standing ovation at the Brasserie on Halloween night, then a ride home to the Albert in Marlene Dietrich’s silver limousines, which stretched the fantasy beyond all imagination. “The chauffeur, who evidently just cruises around picking up freaks, told us she’s out of the country and doesn’t own a television set. Honey, it was outrageous, and lucky, because we didn’t have the money to pay for a cab.”

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The fantasy hardly ever stopped. Robert Rauschenberg flipped for Pristine Condition, John Rothermel, and Goldie Glitters at a Whitney opening and gave them $1000 when he found out they were hungry and broke. “The only people who support artists are other artists.” “Honey, that was Bingo with a B,” Prissie said. Taxi drivers usually turned off their meters and often gave the Cockettes drinks and joints. After Goldie Glitters offered to put one particularly polite cab driver on the guest list for opening night, he declined, saying he had a “very square wife.” “That’s okay,” said Lendon, dressed in a girl scout uniform with saddle shoes, “so do I.” Candy Darling acted like a perfect lady and invited them to her press conference. Holly Woodlawn taught them how to scarf dinner from fancy hors d’oeuvre trays. The Fontainebleau wanted the Cockettes for December!

Throughout this madness the Cockettes starred, wherever they went — at the erotic film festival party, the Screw anniversary party, Le Drugstore, where Suave Errol gave them another party and fed them, and in front of the clicking camera phalluses of scores of photographers who invited them to pose. David Rockefeller, shy about attending opening night, sent his chauffeur down to the Anderson to buy 11 tickets for the second night’s performance. Rex Reed, given 30 free tickets by Paul Zerler, was organizing a busload of celebrities to attend opening night and Suave Errol was throwing the after-the-opening party at guess where?

Days began at 2 p.m. and ended at dawn. The Cockettes were living just like the girls in the ’30s musicals they parodied. Stage door Johnnies that would have freaked Busby Berkeley were saying goodnight early in the morning. One evening at Max’s, after underground star Taylor Mead’s boyfriend stood on a table, sang to Taylor, and simultaneously stripped for the benefit of the Cockettes, I asked John Rothermel, “Madge the Magnificent” in “Tinsel Tarts,” and Big Daryl, in Eleanor Roosevelt drag for the evening, what they thought of New York. “I know we’re degenerate,” said John, flipping her boa, “but we weren’t prepared for the nihilism of New York.”

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Early on in the week the New York establishment press began to get very interested. The Post ran a story saying the Cockettes were to drag shows as Niagara is to wet. Life’s entertainment department was dying to cover them, “but we’ll never get it past our managing editor.” They sent a photographer opening night anyway. Esquire decided to go ahead with a story, after having been told about the Cockettes over a year before. A Harper’s Bazaar editor was ecstatic. “That sounds just like the sort of thing we want to get involved with.” Time and Newsweek were coming to the opening, as was the Sunday TimesWomen’s Wear was really in a tither. They wanted to run something but felt uncomfortable using the word Cockette in print, especially since they had recently run an interview with rock star Sly Stone and quoted him as saying he was “happy as a motherfucker,” and a big Chicago garment mogul had canceled his subscription. The Washington Post, already hipped to the Cockettes from Rex Reed’s review, sent the same reporter to cover opening night who had just returned from writing about some other queens at the Shah of Iran’s 2500th anniversary bash. Even the local tv news, usually much too conservative to cover drag shows was sending a crew to film at the Anderson. I was approached to revive a Cockettes film project I had begun and then dropped. We decided to go ahead, and got the Maysles Brothers to shoot opening night.

The producers were spending an inordinate amount of time hyping instead of insisting the Cockettes rehearse, but Harry Zerler still wasn’t satisfied that the Cockettes had done enough to promote the show(!). “I haven’t seen any handbills passed out on the streets of New York,” he yelled at Sebastian, the Cockettes’ mild-mannered manager, “and why are they so filthy? All the front rows are littered with bottles of Ripple. Next time I’m going to produce a bunch of compulsive anal retentive people.”

Danny Fields said the Cockettes were the easiest act he had ever promoted. “I haven’t seen such enthusiasm from the press since the Rolling Stones’ tour of the U.S. in 1969.” Opening night was over-sold and everybody was clamoring for tickets. “No,” barked one of the theatre staff. “I don’t care if John and Yoko come to opening night. There’s no excuse for mediocrity.”

Every once in a while reality would rear its ugly head. Dusty Dawn felt terrible. It was bad enough that New York laws prevented her from dancing on the stage with her son, 16-month-old Ocean Michael Moon, “the world’s youngest drag queen,” on her back, but Ocean had developed a terrible rash. Eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant Sweet Pam’s baby dropped. And Wally, still wearing the plastic Halloween pumpkins, had had an emergency appendectomy five days before leaving San Francisco and was afraid he had glitter in his incision.

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The producers didn’t have time for such mundane details. They were trying to cope with an inadequate budget — the Cockettes had kicked out 24 footlights and the soundmen were scrounging around for $25 mikes — but the Big Hype continued, so I took Wally and Dusty to the emergency room of Columbus Hospital for a check-up. Nonplussed would hardly be the word to describe the good sisters upon Wally’s arrival, but they remembered charity begins at home — they let him keep his 47 bracelets on. He had to leave his gold tinsel outside with me, however. The doctor told Dusty she obviously didn’t bathe her baby. She was indignant. “I bathe Ocean twice a day — it’s just in New York when he rolls around on the sidewalk he gets a lot dirtier.”

By the end of the week the Cockettes had barely rehearsed. The sound system hadn’t been installed and the Tinsel Tarts insisted they needed a different set. Harry Zerler balked, so the Cockettes stayed up all night Friday anyway, building a new, special-for-New-York cardboard set. On Saturday they could barely keep their eyes open. At dress rehearsal Saturday night the hastily put together sound system broke down completely. Such was the power of the Sunday Times, however, that three Times photographers interrupted dress rehearsal for over an hour to get “exclusive” pictures.

Meanwhile, Sylvester’s three back-up singers had left for Washington to sing the Black National Anthem at the White House. From the Cockettes to Nixon? I would have believed anything at this point — but the girls didn’t return and nobody knew where to find them. “They were last seen with the President.”

Dress rehearsal was really the first full rehearsal. The Cockettes didn’t know how to use mikes or project their voices and on the big Anderson stage they came across like a parody of a parody, only it wasn’t funny — it hurt. Obviously opening night would be a painful experience, but the Cockettes didn’t understand.

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They consistently refused to deal with reality. Sebastian, worried about technical difficulties, pronounced the show “great.” Suave Errol didn’t think so. What a dilemma — hundreds of people invited to his big party and his social standing was on the line. Where was Truman now that he needed him? Out in California.

The Cockettes declined rehearsals Sunday and toddled off to one more press party, at John de Coney’s, a hip barber shop on Madison Avenue where scores of reporters and photographers were invited to watch the Cockettes get their hair done. Before leaving I asked Goldie if she didn’t think it would be better to spend the time rehearsing, but the PR girl from the barber shop had arrived, not about to be thwarted. “But they’re waiting for you and Jacqueline Susann will be there.” Miss Susann never showed, but the Cockettes sipped wine under the dryers, posed endlessly for the 20 photographers present, and answered reporters’ questions that were definitely a case of life imitating Grade B flicks.

The Crawdaddy man: “Is it true the Cockettes had an orgy via closed circuit tv?” Answer: “No.” “Well then, what do you expect to get out of tonight’s performance?” “Enlightenment.”

Then Goldie divinely ensconced under the dryer, started telling her dreams to the film interviewer. “I dreamed I was an olive in a martini glass, but no one would swallow me — oh hello dahling, come be in my movie.”

Opening night was everybody’s movie, from Footlights Parade to Phantom of the Opera. According to Rex it was the “craziest, wildest in New York’s history.” The Big Hype had really worked. The Anderson was jammed. Hundreds of fashionables pushed and shoved their way through the one open door. Beautiful People and big-time celebrities had to plough through just like the hoi polloi. Literati, glitterati, and culturati rubbed shoulders with dreaded freaks and every important drag queen in town. Some groupies had sprayed their bodies completely silver, others carried teddy bears, one even brought a whip.

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The WWD photographer was beside himself. How could he shoot Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Angela Lansbury, Alexis Smith, Robert Rauschenberg, Rex Reed, Peggy Cass, Diana Vreeland, Nan Kemper, Clive Barnes, Sylvia Miles, Kay Thompson, Bobby Short, Elaine, Bill Blass, Estevez, Tony Perkins, Dan Greenburg, Nora Ephron, Mrs. Sam Spiegel, Jerry Jorgensen, Ultra Violet, Candy Darling, Taylor Mead, Gerard Malanga, John Chamberlain, Cyrinda Fox, Holly Woodlawn, Jackie Curtis, the entire cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, the President of Gay Lib, a dozen Vogue editors, two real princesses, and the night clerk at the Hotel Albert?

At 8:30 Sunday night, when the doors to the Anderson were supposed to be open, Sylvester was still on stage rehearsing. His backup singers had suddenly reappeared at 7:30 and now he was arguing with one Sweet Inspiration and one Supreme who he had hired to take their place. The Cockettes, dead tired and not yet dressed, were quietly munching turkey sandwiches in the front row while half the “ritzy penthouse” people of New York were shrieking and fighting to get in the door. Truman sent an encouraging telegram — “keep it gay light and campy” — and the delighted Cockettes dedicated the show to him.

The audience came to get wrecked and thrilled by a fantastic new set of freaks. But as soon as the curtain went up it was all downhill. The audience was dying to be surprised, outraged, anything. They loved Sylvester, even after 45 minutes, but the Cockettes were hopeless. The sound system was terrible, the show was too slow to crawl, and the Tinsel Tarts were even too tired to be themselves. They forgot lines and bumped into each other, all this for the media heavies and literati. “My god, how could they disappoint us like this?” After 40 minutes, when Taylor Mead shouted “Bring back Jackie Curtis,” people began to get up and leave. (Jackie should love the Cockettes. After being panned everywhere when Vain Victory opened, he’s suddenly hot stuff in all the comparative reviews.)

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One man in the audience, who had slept through the entire show, awakened and promptly vomited all over Princess Delores Rispoli, one of Rex’s guests. The usher was indignant. “What are you, some kind of vomit freak?” It was a fitting climax.

The critics were unanimous. “Having no talent is not enough,” declared Gore Vidal. “Dreadful,” pronounced Women’s Wear. The Sunday Times headlined, “For This They Had to Come From Frisco?” Lillian Roxon wrote the only favorable review, for the Daily News. She said the Cockettes were 15 years ahead of their time.

The party later a Le Drugstore was the expected mob scene. Inside Wally was trying to explain to an unsmiling woman reporter from Time, “But you don’t understand, we’re not professionals, we’ve never been professionals.” And outside, late-arriving Cockettes were barred from entering because too many people were already inside. “But it’s our party, let us in,” pleaded Reggie.

By the next morning Suave Errol had dropped the Cockettes forever. Ironically the strong dose of failure reality opening night was like a shot of adrenaline for the Cockettes. By the second night they had improved considerably, and the audience loved them, but none of the hypesters were around to see it. The Cockettes blew it. They had embarrassed the media moguls and weren’t about to get a second chance.

Harper’s Bazaar no longer wanted to get involved. Dick Cavett made them sit up in the balcony, and David Frost’s producer, alienated by Sylvester’s “being nothing but a queen,” canceled them one hour before showtime. The Big Hype was already looking for something new to swallow whole — and then spit out.

Categories
Equality From The Archives PRIDE ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Stonewall 1979: The Drag of Politics

“Gay people aren’t fighting anymore,” drawled Marsha P. Johnson, 34. “They don’t care as long as they have a bar to go to. You know that, darling. But when I came down here 10 years ago, I caught the drift the minute I walked into Sher­idan Square. I said, ‘It’s about time, honey.’ ”

We were sitting in the Bagel And, originally the Stonewall bar, where re­sistance to police raids started gay liber­ation 10 years ago. This evening the space around us aspired to sleek wholesomeness instead of the warm sleaze of an un­marked, underlit gay bar — hanging plants instead of go-go boys. But despite the changes over 10 years, Marsha looks the same, still in his drag that is vibrantly out of tune with the times. When Marsha saunters up Christopher Street, a younger generation of ersatz cowboys and truckers looks at him as a plumed curiosity: why would anyone want to do that?

Marsha’s drag the night we talked was merely a “‘functional layering of coat over sweatsuit over a florid blouse; it had been a rainy day on the streets. But no weather could keep costume-jewelry earrings from Marsha’s hair, nor the red plastic high heels from coming out of his bag once we were away from the puddles. Marsha patted a dab of rouge on his brown cheeks, added a scent of faded cologne, focused on me, on the potato salad, on the air, and continued on in his lazily singsong voice. “I was in lots of raids before. All the street queens were. The paddy wagon was a regular routine. We used to sit in our little 42nd Street hotel rooms — ‘hot spring hotels,’ they used to call them — and party and get high and think about walking down the street someday and not worry about getting busted by the police. That was a dream we all had, sitting in those hotel rooms or in the queens’ tanks of the jails. So, honey, when it came that night, I was ready to tip a few cars for a dream. It was that year — 1969 — when I finally went out in the street in drag full-time. I just said, ‘I don’t give a shit,’ and I’ve been in drag most of the time since.”

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As gay liberation changed from a resistance against police raids into a full-fledged movement, Marsha and fellow street transvestite Sylvia Rivera organized their people. Sylvia and Marsha knew each other from days of waiting tables at Child’s Restaurant. They were a tough duo. The street transvestites became the vanguard of the movement: S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). By 1971, they had their own communal house on 15th Street. It had only four rooms, and the landlord had turned the electricity off, but it became a home for a floating population of 20 street queens, living by candlelight, sleeping everywhere, including the bathtub. Marsha became the mother of the S.T.A.R. house, and for a year and a half those four rooms were a warm respite from the streets.

It didn’t last long. Nothing could stave off the problem of rent. By July 1971, the house had closed and the street transvestites lost favor in gay liberation. S.T.A.R. dispersed. Some overdosed, some were stabbed by johns. Sylvia Rivera retired to a domestic life upstate as a food preparer. Looking back, Marsha merely says, “You know how people are. They’re very close at one time and after a while they just go away.” Marsha is one the few who remained — a walking relic of a half-dead movement.

Marsha’s position on Christopher Street is double-edged. A martyr of gay liberation, he is denied entrance to many bars. Andy Warhol silkscreens of Marsha sell for $1400 in a Christopher Street gallery while Marsha walks the sidewalk outside, broke.

Marsha recently appeared in a Hot Peaches show celebrating the Pope’s death. In honor of the occasion, Marsha was a nun for a night in a white habit and green-glittered eyes. He pulled out a crumpled paper and sang from it: “Climb Every Mountain,” every verse, his voice wandering a capella up and down the scale. The audience, stoned and silent, hardly breathed, and then rose at once in honor. Marsha’s power with his followers is hard to describe, but it is undeniable. When friends describe him, they invariably use words like “saint,” “charismatic queen,” and “myth.” In fact, Marsha was formally canonized years ago in a ceremony conducted by the Angels of Light and the Hot Peaches.

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Some of Marsha’s charisma is simply due to his survival power. His past life would have destroyed many: several attempts on his life by johns, eight nervous breakdowns (by Marsha’s count); more than 100 arrests (Marsha doesn’t count anymore). A revolving door life, from the streets to Riker’s Island to Bellevue to Central Islip Hospital to the Tombs.

But to his admirers Marsha represents more than streetwise survival. He can turn conventional values on their head, publicly affirming his differentness, making beauty from the most unlikely materials. Marsha’s camp-garbage aesthetic is shared by many street transvestites — affordable, democratic taste — but Marsha is an acknowledged leader. “Marsha caught on like wildfire,” Bob (formerly Flash) Storm remembers, “and set all these new trends in dressing. She was the abundance and beauty of the street trash. And flowers, always flowers. Going after this sky-high energy with extreme makeup and colored wigs and pins and jewelry. She looked like an ornament when she was done.” Marsha’s transformation defies masculinity, but he is still a far cry from feminine — his out-sized features protruding beneath the makeup, flamboyant clothes set on a six-foot body, muscled arms and legs. Marsha eludes gender and ends up a countercultural saint of transformation.

His plumed saintliness is volatile, how­ever; two weeks after his night as a nun, Marsha was in Riker’s Island again after striking a Ty’s bartender who had refused his patronage. It was not an isolated incident. One Christopher Street shop manager called Marsha a “bully under­neath that soft sweet manner.” Others have cited Marsha’s toughness, and Sylvia Rivera recalls he first met Marsha in a drag-out fight with a street queen who had pulled Marsha’s Halloween wig from his head. Aggression has been a necessary part of Marsha’s life. It doesn’t make friends on Christopher Street.

“This last breakdown, I was fighting with everyone. I don’t like getting in those fights, but when they say you can’t stay and you don’t know why… When I’m having a breakdown it seems like I meet all these weird people, all these strangers who don’t understand gay people coming around. I know something is coming on and I light my candles and incense and pray to my saints. Sometimes I have visions. In one of them, there were 10 suns shining in the sky, gorgeous and freaked out, like the end of the world. I love my saints, darling, but sometimes the visions can be scary.”

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Marsha wasn’t always a mythic figure, of course. He was once Malcolm Michaels, a church boy from Elizabeth, New Jersey. “I went every Sunday, honey, because I wanted to learn about Jesus. I always thought gayness was some sort of dream, something people talked about but never did. So I remained asexual for 17 years, until I left New Jersey and came to New York. It didn’t look too gay, until I saw all these nellie things hustling near the Howard Johnson’s at 6th Avenue and 8th Street.” Malcolm Michaels soon put on a blond wig and became Marsha P. (for “Pay it no mind”) Johnson.

“For the last 17 years,” Marsha said, “my life has been built around sex and gay liberation, being a drag queen and dating all the time. It can get very boring you know, darling, all these men. Some­times they hassle me if they thought I was a woman when they picked me up. I just say: ‘Honey, this is like Macy’s Depart­ment Store. If you like the merchandise, you take it. If you don’t, I got to go.’ I’d like to stop hustling and have a regular husband. It’s easy to get a husband, but it’s not easy to get them to, support me, or pay the bills, or give up sex. Because, honey, gay men don’t give up sex for anything. My best husband — I met him dating — was a junkie and he got shot in a robbery. He wasn’t a very good man, but he used to give me everything. I’ve had eight husbands and eight separations and none of them have given me a white house and picket fence.”

Marsha’s residence is spread out. “I’ve been 86ed from a lot of places — Ty’s, Boots and Saddles, the Ramrod, the Silver Dollar, G.G. Knickerbockers, Keller’s, the Limelight — so I spend most of my time on Christopher Street or under the West Side Highway.” Marsha sleeps at the Beacon Baths ($7 a night), keeps his wardrobe in a Port Authority locker, makes up at department store sample counters (this morning it was Lord and Taylor, but the regular rotation includes Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, B. Altman). “It’s hard work, being beautiful, when you don’t have a place. I do my best though,” Marsha drawled, putting another earring in his hair and spearing another piece of potato salad. “I’m trying to get my own place so I can have my wardrobe and I can set up my candles to the saints, my own altar. I haven’t had my own alter in a long time. Maybe by the time of the gay pride parade I will have an apartment so I can invite my friends up for cocktails.” Later, talking with Marsha’s friends, I find that Marsha is always looking for apartments; he rarely gets one.

Marsha will carry a GAY LOVE banner in this year’s parade, his ninth. “When I started I carried the S.T.A.R. banner, and then it became the GAY POOR PEOPLE banner and it’s been GAY LOVE for the last couple years. I think that says everything. All the gay love party will do is give gay birthday parties. I’d like to give birthday parties for Charles Ludlam, Jackie Curtis, Harry Koutoukas, Bob Kohler, Sylvia Rivera, Bambi L’Amour, Bob Storm, Holly Woodlawn, John John, and the Hot Peaches. I think that’s the “best organization for now.”

Marsha finished his bowl of potato salad, knocked back the last drop of a soda, shook the earrings in his hair, and walked into Sheridan Square. “It’s changed, honey, this street is a different place. But when it gets down to it, it’s money that rules the world, and Lucifer is coming. Yes he is. In the meantime, spare change for a dying queen, darling?”

Steve Watson is the author of Minette: Recollections of a Part-Time Lady.

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Stonewall 1979: The Politics of Drag

Most people feel awkward around drags — uneasy, even frightened. So many of our social responses are dictated by our recognition of someone’s gender, which we generally assume coincides with his or her sex. Confronting a man dressed as a woman jams our social signals and frustrates our habitual social responses. If we can be temporarily alarmed by a foreigner who swoops down to kiss our hand or who ceremoniously makes a rude noise to indicate his appreciation of dinner, then small wonder we are even more dismayed by someone whom we don’t know whether to call “he” or “she.”

But mere social discomfort is the least of our problems. Far more significant is the threat posed by the drag queen to our sense of identity. It has become fashionable to say that a man secure in his masculinity will not object to transvestism, but even that hypothetical creature may find drag queens unnerving. The sources of this queasiness, I’d submit, are historical and cognitive. Historically, gay men have been branded as effeminate. Since 1969 and the birth of gay liberation, however, homosexual men have rigorously rejected the effeminate label — and, if seen in the correct light, this redefinition can only be commended. Social labels have a nasty way of defining behavior, and homosexuals, like other minority groups that have had a taste of freedom and self-respect, have rejected the demeaning stereotypes imposed on them. Gay men today are assuming the most blatant badges of manliness, which in America is always associated with the working class.

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The drag queen appears all the more isolated and fragile among so many burly men. I am not referring to heterosexual transvestites, since their fear of being unmasked usually makes them inconspicuous, even invisible. I am speaking of gays, whether they be show drags (those who dress up only to perform in clubs or at contests) or street drags (those who live their whole lives in women’s clothes). The gay drag is also more despised than ever because she reminds the new macho gays of what they once were, or might have been. At the very time when many homosexual men are learning that they can be both gay and butch, along comes this bizarre specter, teetering on spike heels under pounds of lacquered hair, her face painted and powdered above her prominent Adam’s apple, her clothes a fantasy of outdated frills and finery.

Historically, then, the drag queen stands as a unpleasant reminder of discarded effeminacy. But I have also said that she makes us uneasy on a cognitive level. Cognitive psychologists would say that, despite surface variations, there appear to be abiding categories of thought wired into our brains. For instance, there seems to be a basic human urge to analyze experience through pairs of opposites. The exact contents of the categories may differ, but the drive to make such distinctions prevails. Some that spring to mind are pure and defiled, ours and theirs, taboo and permitted. Surely one of the most universal of these dichotomies is male and female — or rather, since we are speaking of gender rather than sex, masculine and feminine. In almost every group of people, a great deal of effort is expended to make these distinctions as sharp as possible — differences in dress, vocabulary, manners, attitudes. Since gender differences are also reinforced by economics — the sexual division of labor — they are all the more difficult to eradicate.

Even when gender is systematically de-emphasized, the separation between masculine and feminine continues: for example, a group of feminist teachers worked with kindergartners in an environment where boys and girls were encouraged to dress, speak, and play alike and where all gender differences were discouraged. Despite such efforts, the children remained acutely aware of gender distinctions and could be overheard saying, “Boys don’t to that,” or “That’s only for girls,” and so on. These mental habits persisted even when the gender-identified behavior was precisely the opposite of what society at large regards as proper masculine and feminine behavior. Thus a boy might be heard saying to a girl, “Don’t touch my doll. Dolls are for boys, not girls.” These ideas are discussed more fully in Psychology of Sex Differences by Eleanor Maccoby and Carol Jacklin.

In studying other cultures, anthropologists have found that people tend to be suspicious of anything that falls between two categories. The Hebrew taboo against eating lobsters, for instance, may arise from the fact that they are interstitial animals. Sea-dwelling animals, fish, have flippers and swim; land-dwelling animals have legs and walk. The lobster, however, inhabits the sea but has legs. It falls between two categories and is therefore taboo.

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Not surprisingly, the drag queen, occupying the interstice between masculine and feminine, is troublesome. Interstitial entities are usually handled in one of two ways — they are either despised or revered. Interestingly, there are many cases, especially among black Americans, of drags being revered. When I was in my teens the Prophet Jones in Detroit was the leader of a popular religious cult; he wore make-up, articles of feminine attire and a full ermine coat, presented to him by his devotees. Little Richard, with his lipstick, high heels, satins, and bouffant hairdo was another such shaman. But if a misfit is not revered he is despised, and this is the position of the drag queen in both homosexual and heterosexual white society in America.

In recent years the drag queen has been attacked by another group — lesbian feminists. Some Lesbians perceive drags as mocking women, all the more so because the drags so often get themselves up in the very guises that liberated women have been at such pains to discard — show girls, sex kittens, fashion models. As far as I can make out, lesbian feminists think that drags (1) mock women by imitating them and (2) doubly insult them by imitating unliberated women.

Not all feminists have subscribed to this view. As long ago as 1970, Kate Millett in Sexual Politics saw the drag as a useful subversion: “…as she minces along a street in the Village, the storm of outrage an insouciant queen drag may call down is due to the fact that she is both masculine and feminine at once — or male, but feminine. She has made gender identity more than frighteningly easy to lose; she has questioned its reality at a time when it has attained the status of a moral absolute and a social imperative. She has defied it and actually suggested its negation. She has dared obloquy, and in doing so has challenged more than the taboo on homosexuality, she has uncovered what the source of this contempt implies — the fact that sex role is sex rank.”

I think the feminists’ discussion of drag has been muddied by a failure to distinguish between the intentions of the queen and the effects of her behavior on others. Many of the drags I have interviewed across the country seem to have rather modest ambitions — to be “glamorous,” to be “stars,” to amuse audiences and to convince unsuspecting straights that they are “real women.” They generally look confused and bewildered when they are accused of mocking women; quite the contrary, many of them wish to be women. The effect of their behavior can be diverse — lesbian feminists consider it offensive; straight audiences at a nightclub find it entertaining; many gay men find it threatening.

Disdain for drag is, I would contend, often concealed snobbism. Most gay transvestites especially street drags, are from the working class and many drags are either black or Puerto Rican. Discrimination against them may be both elitist and racist. The greatest irony, of course, is that the Stonewall Resistance itself and many of the other early gay street actions were led by transvestites.

As for why drag queens have singled out prostitutes and show girls to imitate, the explanation may be at least partially historical. Certainly gay men have seldom impersonated middle-class housewives or aristocratic hostesses. The gay hissing and bitch sessions, the vulgar put-downs and the half-funny, half-serious rivalries parallel the catty remarks of whores and chorus-line gypsies. In Jonathan Katz’s Gay American History one discovers several clues. A cited article published in 1896 about the “faeries” of New York states: “They are fond of the actor’s life, and particularly that of the comedian requiring the dressing in female attire, and singing in imitation of a female voice, in which they often excel.” Testimony given to the New York police in 1899 has this to say of male prostitutes: “These men that conduct themselves there — well, they act effeminately; most of them are painted and powdered; they are called Princess this and Lady So and So and the Duchess of Marlboro, and get up and sing as women, and dance; ape the female character; call each other sisters and take people out for immoral purposes.” In 1893 a medical journal published a note about a black drag ball in Washington, D.C.: “In this sable performance of sexual perversion all of these men are lasciviously dressed in womanly attire, short sleeves, low-necked dresses and the usual ballroom decorations and ornaments of women, feathered and ribboned head-dresses, garters, frills, flowers, ruffles, etc., and deport themselves as women.”

Obviously, then, many of the early drag queens actually were prostitutes. Others, such as the black queens in Washington, may have found that the worlds of the theatre and prostitution were the only ones where overt homosexuals were welcome. Most likely is the hypothesis that homosexuality in all its forms was so forbidden that only in the permissive world of prostitution could it be mentioned at all. Closeted homosexuals were speechless; only those who had entered a milieu of prostitution and show biz could discuss their sexuality. As a result, even today a small but essential gay male vocabulary can be traced back to whores’ slang, including trick, box, trade, number, hustle, score, and so on. Modern homosexuality arises with the growth of industry and big cities; once men could become self-sufficient (if alienated) laborers, they could reject family life and live as bachelors. But even so, only the most oppressed outcasts of gay life — the drag queens — dared to speak openly of their sexuality. Contemporary drag is a reminder of our beginnings.

I have tried to touch upon the most confusing and complex issues that swirl around the question of drag. But I would be evading my responsibilities if I did not state that I believe transvestites have been treated very unfairly by lesbians and gay men and that they must be fully accepted into our ranks (scattered and in disarray as those ranks may be). Recently, some gay strategists have taken a stand against all forms of eccentricity in gays, and especially against transvestitism, on the grounds that unusual dress and behavior can only hurt the cause of homosexuals in general. As long as drags, leather men, radicals and “media freaks” are un­muzzled and conspicuous, or so the theory goes, then straight society will continue to frown on all gays and deny us our rights.

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Interestingly, the National Organization of Women was faced with an analogous problem a few years ago — whether to accept or reject its lesbian contingent. Those feminists who opposed the lesbians did so because they feared that if NOW were linked to lesbianism in the public mind, then the entire organization would be branded and dismissed as suspect by non-lesbian women. Those who endorsed the lesbians argued that if lesbians have traditionally been singled out as scapegoats, then they can just as easily serve as leaders and symbols of feminist solidarity. The decision to stand behind lesbians won out.

I think that lesbians and gays should take a similar stand on drags. To accept transvestites is not only humane but also tactically wise. All of the objections that straights and gays might have to drags are merely condensed and heightened objec­tions to male homosexuality. A survey of straights published in the Journal of Homosexuality revealed that most straight people do not object to sex be­tween two adult men. What they dislike is self-definition as homosexual. Coming out of the closet is what riles straight people; you will recall that even Anita Bryant does not object to teachers being gay, she simply does not want them to announce they are gay. Once someone comes out of the closet, once a gay man defines himself socially as gay, then he becomes disturbing. Avowedly gay men, as the survey revealed, are perceived by straight society as women. The anger against gay men (and it is much stronger than that against gay women) arises from the fact that gay men are seen as de­liberately and perversely renouncing their prerogatives as men and accepting the lower status of women. Because gay men are perceived as choosing to be women — that is, inferior — they arouse scorn, fear, and confusion.

These are the same feelings that drags awaken in everyone, of course. Drags have become the new “queers” of gay life. For that reason, our reactions to them are a sure index of our own homophobia. By embracing drags, lesbians, and especially gay men will take a step towards self-­acceptance. By placing drags in a re­spected position within the movement, gays will have elevated and defended what straight society most despises in all homosexuals. ■

Edmund White’s next book will be States of Desire: Travels in Gay America. He has written two novels, Forgetting Elena and Nocturne for the King of Naples. He authored The Joy of Gay Sex with Charles Silverstein.

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New Drag Show In Times Square!

Tina, Cher, Michael, Janet, Beyoncé, Madonna, Gaga, Katy, and then some.

They’re all onstage at the Times Square Snapple Center (1627 Broadway, at 50th Street), every Friday and Saturday at 11 p.m.

And they’re men! Even Michael!

Icons is the D’Angora Entertainment-produced drag show that was a hit in Provincetown and has now sashayed to the heart of NYC’s tourist center for some high-octane fun.

The show winkily celebrates pop’s top divas, with wicked lip-synchs and frenzied choreography, plus the obligatory four shirtless dancing boys.

The casino-style revue makes no major statements. It simply aims to entertain, and that it does — especially when we get musical smackdowns courtesy of Michael and Janet, Gaga and Beyoncé, and Britney and Nicki Minaj, all thrusting their pelvises and vying for center stage.

At one point in the performance I saw, the audio volume blew out, but the giddy audience just sang the Spice Girls song themselves to allow the show to go on.

By the finale, I realized that all the impersonations had been done by only two quick-changing drag queens — the amazing Ricardo Torres and Dennis Wilson.

Give them a respirator!

Also give them an announcement! They need to be introduced by name at the end so they can reap their deserved applause!

My only other caveats: The Jacko and Whitney bits go on a bit too long and the queens’ hair falls over their faces a few too many times, shielding us from their expressions.

But everything else is as perky as the bosoms of Tina, Cher, Michael, Janet, Beyoncé …

Lift up your Snapple shot and enjoy.

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Divine Dressed Like Liz Taylor On Dates With His Girlfriend

In this week’s column, I give you some exclusive tidbits from Jeffrey Schwarz‘s upcoming doc about the late, great drag comic Divine.

Well, Divine wasn’t exactly about understatement, so here’s some more!

Director JOHN WATERS:

“Before he was Divine, he was a normal drag queen for about five minutes. He dressed as Elizabeth Taylor. Idolized Elizabeth Taylor. And went out on dates with his girlfriend named Diane dressed as Elizabeth Taylor. Which is really odd when she lived with her parents. ‘Diane, your date’s here!’ and it’s Glenn Milstead dressed as Elizabeth Taylor.”

]

Divine’s mother, FRANCES MILSTEAD:

“When he got to high school, I took him to a diet doctor. The doctor gave him pills. But soon as we come out of the doctor’s office, he said, ‘Come on mom. Let’s go get a pizza.'”

Polyester co-star TAB HUNTER:

When they met: “He came on over and we had a quick little bite to eat. And was like a big beached whale. He was wonderful and he was on his best behavior. He was really cute, really terrific. Very vulnerable.”

“Behind the scenes, I found him to be quiet. He was in a big muumuu and he’d sit around. He was very serious. He did have a sense of humor that was quite wonderful. He’d say outlandish things.”

Drag star HOLLY WOODLAWN:

“That summer was the best summer in the world because the two of us ruled Provincetown. We did Neon Woman every night. … Everyone thought that Holly Woodlawn and Divine — they’re supposed to hate each other. And we didn’t. We loved each other. We lived together. So when we went out to Commercial Street: ‘OK, Divie, you take the right side and I’ll take the left. And when we come up to each other, we’ll look at each other and [snarl].’ And that would make everybody happy.”

“He never wanted to be a woman. Are you kidding? No, no. He just wanted to be a movie star. There’s a difference.”

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Urgent Advice for Drag Queens

Drop your liquid eyeliner (and other liquids) and listen up, gals! This bit of wisdom could save your lives!

You should ALWAYS make an effort to hold your hands up because that makes the blood drain down like an internal waterfall and the hands suddenly look a tiny bit smaller and more ladylike.

It works!

This tip is from a friend of mine who went through the entire ’90s with her hands up and completely passed!

The above gal is lovely, but she isn’t doing the hand thing correctly, which is as risky as not shaving.

Don’t think you can get away with it just because she did!

Maybe even try to lift up every body part because the blood will drain down and they’ll look smaller too (though, granted, you’ll end up needing size 16 shoes).

Go ahead — hold up your nose, your knees, your feet — but try to look natural!

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‘Night of 1,000 Gowns’ Was Blindingly Bodacious

As part of the coronation procession for the Imperial Court of NY’s Night of 1000 Gowns — along with Christian Freedom (above), who styled me in the red and the black — I got to see all the queens up close.

Anne T. Venom.

Bobbie Pinzs.

Wanda Lust.

Vin D. Cation.

Rocky Mountains.

And, of course, the sexy Juan Knightstand.

But mainly I spent the night gawking at the new emperor and empress, Vanity Society and Pepperica Swirl in all their fancy finery.

]

Those two (pictured below) brought the whole thing to a loony, zingy, spooky, culty, high-art level full of spikes and horns and swatches and textures and veils.

The result was very Where The Wild Things Are meets Mary Poppins, and they looked so brilliant I don’t even care what their real names are.

Or even what their titles mean!

Long may they rain sequins and spangles!

Photos by Linda Simpson (Lindasimpson.org)

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Drag Queen Bitch Fight! Hedda Lettuce on a Rampage!

Drag comic Hedda Lettuce generally wears green from head to toe, but lately she’s been seeing red.

See, virtually the entire drag community (and myself) was recently assembled at Lips restaurant for a Project Achieve event promoting the search for an HIV vaccine.

That was pretty dramatic in itself — but not as much so as the ill vibes going on between some of the drag queens who flash a lacquered smile while wishing they could rip each other’s fake tits off.

Hedda writes in her blog about her fuming thoughts on the various gals:

About one:

“Four years ago, she referred to me as the boil on the butt of the gay community. Personally, I think she resembles the butt more every day.”

Ouch. Waa. Mommy!

]

About another (who’d made a dissy reference to Hedda onstage):

“Boy, she was cranky onstage, desperately trying to make some witty banter and sadly falling on her face more than hitting her mark.”

Yikes. Sheesh. Hmm.

And as for one more painted waif:

“She wore a pale pink wig, matted and suffering from some serious split ends. We should do a benefit concert to get her a new wig.”

Yes, it can be called Project Weave!

http://heddalettuce.com/?p=4529

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Epiphany: A Sassy Drag Queen Who Can Sing

Glamour queen Epiphany is a popular performer/hostess who tells it like it is–and she has a great voice too.

I recently cornered her at a bar for some nocturnal chat worth repeating.

Me: “Hi, Epiphany. What–and whom–do you hate about the NYC drag scene? (Remember, we only have an hour.)”

]

Epiphany: “Hahahaha! I don’t really hate anybody. I do dislike things about people. One of the things I most despise is transparent fakeness. At the end of the day be a good actor! If you can’t suspend my disbelief then you aren’t doing your job. Many queens here in NYC either feel the need to be extra ‘bitchy’ or extra ‘nice’ to each other. It’s all an act within an act.

“For instance, other queens will go out of their way to deliver a nasty, obviously rehearsed comment to me when really they just want my attention. It’s like a little boy pulling the hair of a little girl he likes. Or when a queen has a fake pasted-on smile, again well rehearsed but the delivery sucks and everyone knows she’s full of shit. There is one queen for instance that gets onstage and ‘reads’ people for an hour!! How can you say that is any kind of talent? Those people are defenseless to your ugliness!

“There is another who sings literally the worst opera I have ever heard, but because it’s in a bar, people assume that it is good. Just because it’s opera, not quality opera. There is another who assumes the role of the ‘nice girl’, when she shows up late, leaves early, and will actually say she’s going to the bathroom and perform somewhere else and come back. Is that ‘nice’? No.

“So I don’t hate any of these people, I just think that their bullshit is too transparent to be on stage. I HATE that we as Americans can’t tell when someones being fake anymore. That social lethargy shows in our taste for music, theatre, and politics. Someone can be the worst liar/actor but if the lighting is right and we’re drunk enough we will blindly follow.”

Me: “You’ve been called ‘opinionated’ as a result of your being so, well, opinionated. Is this a great attribute?”

Epiphany: “I think having an opinion is what ‘democracy’ is founded on. I believe, though, as time goes on, America is becoming less democratic and more capitalistic. This isn’t bad, necessarily. My opinions sometimes cost me jobs and friends. But only because I am unafraid to tell the truth. I question and analyze everything. I’m critical and articulate. This makes me a better person, but it does make people say I’m ‘difficult’.

“If me telling the truth gets in the way of your lies, then maybe I’m just ‘inconvenient’. From a capitalist’s point of view, I am a failure because I don’t adhere to the narrow social boundaries predetermined for me. From an artist’s point of view, I soar on a cloud of enlightened musical gritty honesty. I am a very tough guy underneath my drag and when push comes to shove, I push back.

“I feel like I’m just an average New Yorker. A piece of this magical puzzle. People just have a hard time finding where I go, for now.”

PART TWO TO COME…

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Good News! It’s Not Illegal To Call Someone a ‘Cunt’!

Drag performer Vodka Stinger found that out at Pieces bar on Christopher Street the other night.

It was bingo night, and a cantankerous young lady was refusing to get on line to buy a bingo card like everybody else.

“Get on line, you cunt!” advised Vodka into the mic, feeling the direct approach might work.

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Well, the next thing Vodka knew, a pair of cops had shown up and were searching the joint. The girl had called the police!

Fortunately, once the fuzz discovered that there had been no physical altercation on the premises, they went their merry way as the young cunt, I mean young lady realized you can’t be arrested for using the c word.

Thank God or I’d have 911 on speed dial!