**Potential spoiler alerts for Orange is the New Black, season 7**
My spouse and I were watching Season 7, Episode 8 a couple of weeks ago, and a familiar face suddenly popped up! In Piper’s story line, her sister-in-law gets the two of them to go on a transformative wilderness retreat. The leader of the retreat, Rio, is someone I used to perform drag with!!! When I saw her, on TV, I wanted to shout, That’s Windz! But since I’m historically bad at face recognition, I waited until the credits, to confirm that the actor, Linday Coryne, was for sure the person I’m remembering.
In the scene, she is teaching Piper and a group of ladies, how to hunt with a bow and arrow. She has a handful of lines, one of which is, ““Recognize the bow as both arbiter of death and provider of life; recognize the multitude that exists within each of you; be proud of it.” She’s like, part hunter, part spirit guide.
We didn’t have a whole lot of overlap, in real life. By the time I started performing in 2006, she was moving to Baltimore (if I’m remembering correctly). But she’d come back home to visit periodically and perform with the “Muthers Boyz.” I was also there, some of those nights, performing and/or watching.
Windz was the star. Within the context of this dark and dingy gay dive bar, he seemed more like a megastar. The crowd ate it up, everything he did. I definitely felt some envy toward him, at times; I looked up to him. On the other hand though, our approaches, attitudes, and motivations seemed so far from each other that it wasn’t much use to try to compare myself to him. He was doing his thing, which was very different from my thing.
The following are just my impressions and things I remember (which might be fuzzy). We didn’t actually know each other or have many conversations…
Sometimes, he put a lot of work into his costumes, especially when he was emulating Michael Jackson, which was one of the things he was most known for. His impression was spot on. Other times though, it seemed like he went on stage in just what he might have been wearing that day anyway, business casual or whatever, with no drag make-up, facial hair, or flourishes. His repertoire of songs was small. I definitely saw plenty of repeats within the few times I did see his performances. But what he did, he had it down, and he always looked like he was having a blast up there. Really drew in individuals from the audiences, creating special moments.
I, on the other hand, struggled to connect with audience members. I didn’t particularly want to; sometimes I wished I could be doing my performances in a vacuum instead. Being at a bar, at that time, was uncomfortable for me, but I was driven by the gender-play; the opportunities to try out being someone else. And for me, it was a one and done kind of thing. Once I did a song, I never did it again. (There are a handful of exceptions to this.) Like, it was onto the next thing. I was going to learn another song, try a different vibe, try new costume elements, get the essence of the original performer or time period or mood of the song or whatever. A lot of times, for me, it was silly or it was out there, robotic or other-worldly or very much effeminate or even aggro/punk. I wanted to get the whole range of gender expressions, try it all, experiment. I also used drag to work through a lot of feelings at the time. But that’s a story for another post…
I remember one time, the two of us were backstage together, and Windz said, “Maybe you should do some Duran Duran. People would be into that.” I thought to myself, “OK, at least my ’80’s vibe is shining through, but I’ve already done Duran Duran!” Haha. In Windz’s world, maybe it was more like, you collect a handful of “signature songs,” and you cycle through them. Like a radio station. For me, it was more like I was a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill.
I am, essentially, a kid in a record store, pulling out vinyl and looking for the next thrill. I literally do this a lot.
These photos are not the best, but they’re all I got. This was from a time before digital photography. Do you remember,way back when, taking a photo and not being able to instantly see if it turned out well or not? And then you really have only 24 chances (or 36 if you splurged for a 36 shot roll of film), and then you’re gonna pay around $7 for those 24 pictures, and after you pay, then you finally get to see whether it’s a good shot or not??? OK, so I’m fibbing a little bit. Digital photography was a thing (this was probably 2007.) It’s just that I didn’t yet have a digital camera. I brought my Pentax film camera with flash, down to the bar to try to capture some of the performances.
Windz was very aspirational. And it paid off! Holy shit – she (the person, not the drag king) is an actor on TV and stuff!!! I was super floored to recognize her on TV! I hope to see her in lots more stuff; I want to see more gender-nonconforming people in more roles in the media, like, all the time!
WordPress sent me a notification today letting me know that it’s my 5th anniversary of blogging here. So I’m scrambling to do a celebratory post!
When I started this blog, I was trying soooo hard to navigate my gender identity and to find a community. I’d say the first year or two was spent feeling like my blog was not enough, just continually putting myself out there and obsessing about how to connect with others through this method. I spent hours, daily, reading as many other blogs as I could find, about gender. After about 2 years, I think I started to feel secure in my writing voice, if not quite my gender yet. I really settled into writing regularly, and I got so much enjoyment out of it – this more than any other creative endeavor, for a long time. I’d say that within the past year, that’s shifted again, and I’ve felt pretty disenfranchised. I get way more “views” than ever before, mostly thanks to this singular post: 28 risks of chest binding. People love a good scare. They love to google things that could go wrong. I’m definitely proud of that post – I put a lot of work into that one. And I do love the fact that once they find my blog through that route, it seems like the majority of people poke around a little more and go deeper. (This is based on what I can tell from “stats.”) But the sense of community I felt so strongly has dwindled over time. People have stopped posting / I have stopped finding new blogs to read. There are a few mainstays that I haven’t quite kept up with; I’d like to remedy that…
The way I decided to celebrate this milestone is to pick 5 blog posts that I think got overlooked (one per year). Either I put a lot of emotional energy into them and didn’t get much feedback, or maybe I just think they’re worth checking out – they withstand the test of time, something like that…
2013: From whimsical musings to invasive rumintations on transitioning – This was my 10th post ever, and I really think I zeroed in on the psychological push-pull of not feeling like either gender for the first time here. I even used some of what I wrote here much later, in an essay that is forthcoming as part of an anthology published by Columbia University Press. For real! The date keeps being pushed back, but it will be within a year – I’m sure I’ll have updates as that approaches.
2014: The Soft Sell (upping the ante) – This was my 30th post. It was mostly about: despite the fact I may have been solidifying my gender identity more and more, I was waaaay behind in telling a lot of the people in my life about it. The blog was a great outlet to be semi-private but also just feel it out as I went. The term “the soft sell” came from my therapist – that was her reaction to me telling her the half-assed way I had come out to my parents. When she said that, all I could picture was the members from Soft Cell, one of my fave bands. That has always stayed with me. Hah.
2015: I came out to the principal of my school (workplace) – This post was definitely not overlooked, but I still think it’s worth highlighting. I came out to her waaaaay before I actually actively came out at work, and I strongly feel like the fact that I did that, that I put those roots down, gave me hope toward my final destination. It also breaks down the divide I feel between the “janitor” and the “queer” parts of my identity – this blog has continually felt out where that line is, where it crosses, where they are distinct, etc. I just really like this post because it addresses a lot of that stuff head-on.
2016: Drag king stories #5 – This is definitely my favorite entry within this ongoing series I’ve been doing. I wrote it in honor of Prince’s death (the actual show took place in June of 2012) – the fact that I got to emulate Prince at a really well attended event meant the world to me, and the fact that I performed one of the songs with my drag partner/buddy’mentor made it all the more special. We were both regular drag performers at a gay bar in 2006 and 2007. Before I could articulate where I wanted to go with my gender, I got to act it out in all kinds of fun and creative ways, harnessing music and dance and costuming and make-up. Being a drag performer was a big step in my journey – this post really showcases that, I think.
2017: Jeepster (working title: I got an oil change and got my mind blown) – this is a real oddball post. I’ve always said that the three things this blog is about are: gender, being a janitor, and mental health, and this one here really crystalizes a mental state that was temporary (thankfully!) I had just recently gotten through the thick of a manic episode, and the residual disorganization / megaorganization is still very much apparent in the writing here. I think I want to highlight it because I’m currently working on a 16+ page piece where I just try to remember as much as I can about my most recent hospitalization. This is a companion piece.
And I’m gonna cop out and not do 2018 because the year’s not done yet! Plus, it’s my 5th anniversary, so I’m highlighting 5 posts. Makes sense. Here’s to 5 more years!
Back in October, I was asked to be a part of a group performance art piece, an interpretation of John Cage’s Variations III. We were given a sheet of transparent plastic with 42 circles on it. Our task was to cut out each circle, take a 11 X 8.5 inch sheet of paper, drop the circles onto the white paper, clear any circles that landed outside of the paper and also any circle that wasn’t overlapping with another circle. Then we took a photo of our “circle configuration.” Mine looked like this:
We were then supposed to distill this pattern into a “score” that would span 2 hours (including 5 minute breaks for every “event.” According to the directions, “Starting with any circle, observe the number of circles which overlap it. Make an action or actions having the corresponding number of interpenetrating variables (1+n). This done, move on to any one of the overlapping circles, again observing the number of interpenetrations, performing a suitable action or actions, and so on. Some or all of one’s obligation may be performed through ambient circumstances (environmental changes) by simply noticing or responding to them. Though no means are given for the measurement of time or space … or the specific interpretation of circles, such measurement and determination means are not necessarily excluded from the ‘interpenetrating variables.’ Some factors though not all of a given interpenetration or succession of several may be planned in advance, but leave room for the use of unforseen eventualities. Any other activities are going on at the same time.”
So, in less dense terms, 24 performers were given a space of roughly 4 feet by 6 feet, all in one big room. And we could do any activity we chose, for a length of two hours, off and on, as was guided by our circle permutation. So, basically, I had 9 circles which meant 9 events, and I tried to have each overlap “dictate” how each of the 9 events was structured. The performance was on December 1st.
I decided mine would be about doing drag. There was really nothing else that made sense. Drag has been the only form of performance art I’ve done, and I was excited to, in a way, deconstruct and leave up to chance, the way it played out.
I brought an alarm clock radio with a tape player, 100 cassettes tapes all in a display case, 9 wigs & hats, 4 skirts, 2 pants, one dress, a bunch of shirts and coats and belts and cumberbunds, 4 shoes & boots, a makeup bag, 4 “microphones,” a mirror, a blow dryer, and a hair buzzer. I think I was the performer with the most “stuff,” and over the course of 2 hours, I proceeded to make a mess of all of it, within my space. This was reminiscent of any time I would do drag. After a show, my room would be a disaster of dress-up options.
So, for each of the 9 events, I threw “circles,” onto the ground (including cds, tokens, bracelets, and mason jar rings). I then pretended to have these circle formations dictate what I wore and what tape I played. In a vague sense. It all did work out in the end – I had 9 different outfits and 9 different songs, all chosen at random. Some of those included REM – Drive, XTC – Summer’s Cauldron, Tears for Fears – Shout, and Kate Bush – Jig of Life. I didn’t know these songs by heart, so I just pretended to lip-synch. Due to the cacophony in the room though, I was the only one who could hear the clock radio anyway – I had to hold it right next to my ear!
Other peoples’ actions included baking things, bicycling, playing instruments, creating play-dough art, playing video games, reading aloud, dancing, and much more! Observers just walked among us. It was unclear whether they were supposed to engage with us or not. One guy did come up to me and ask if he could talk to me. I said, “Sure.” He said he thought earlier I had silver lipstick on and now I don’t, so what happened? I said, “Oh, that lipstick was so old it didn’t go on right. It was all clumpy. So during one of my breaks, I went to the bathroom to take it off.” “Was that part of what was supposed to happen?” “No!” And we both laughed. He asked more questions about why did you do this, why not this?
Afterward I talked to a handful of acquaintances – it felt good to be social. That guy came back up to me and said, “You know, when you put on the lipstick, you really had me convinced.” “Convinced of what? That it looked bad?” “No, that you were a woman.” “Oh, whoa, OK, so, I’m a little bit of both. As is all this stuff.” I gestured to all my clothes and junk, still strewn about. My two friends I was talking to backed me up, which felt awesome.
I think ultimately, I was going for that response, for people to be confused about what genders I was playing out or not playing out. So even though his forwardness made me uncomfortable in the moment, it was an important element, or “takeaway,” from the night.
First off, happy Trans Day of Visibility to you!
It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of performing. I felt compelled to do something for a DJ’s birthday bash at a bar, because I thought it’d be low key and fun. And because I had a good idea. And because this is a group of acquaintances I’d like to get to know better. And also I had been asked about a month ago by someone in this group, and I declined at the time, but it got me thinking.
So this was last night – it consisted of 2 DJs, one other performer and then me, and an MC kind of trying to get people to play ridiculous games for a little while, and then another DJ.
My plan was to get the birthday gal situated in a chair, have a birthday song play as I come out with so many layers on (including a motorcycle helmet with a party hat on top) that she has no idea who it is, pass out birthday hats and those tootle things, get people involved in a chaotic way, and then for this song, “Strip” to play, by Adam Ant, and just start taking off all the coats and other clothes I’m wearing. Not to the point where I’m down to underwear or less, haha, please! My “base layer” was a vest, bow tie, pirate pants, and socks. Plus full on Adam Ant make-up, which was one of the best parts about it!
My drag name is Adam Andro-matic. It’s derived from Adam Ant, but, after all this time, I had never once portrayed him! Not sure why! One of the first CDs I bought with my own money, as a youth, from Media Play, was the best of Adam Ant. I know almost all those hits and non-hits by heart. As I planned out this performance, I really embraced it / him. “Strip” is such a ridiculous song. The video is even more so, I just learned! But it’s also just purely joyous, which is something I’d never gotten from it, in the past.
Last night, also, was just purely joyous. I didn’t have any pre-performance jitters or anxieties. Generally, my anxieties around performing manifest themselves by being too much of a perfectionist and obsessively timing things out. This time, not at all! I just went in there, hung out, got ready, did my thing, and then stayed in costume for the rest of the night, talking to people I’d never talked to before, getting trapped into dancing with some drunk people who seemed to really want to dance with me, etc. The birthday gal really really loved the striptease / lap-dance, and so did her boyfriend! She hugged me a bunch of times and kissed my cheek. This may have been the most fun I’ve ever had, during a night I was performing. All the stress was out of the equation. So was the extreme elation / relief when it was over, but I’ll take the straight up fun over all that intensity!
The MC introduced me as Adam Andromeda. Haha. I’ll have to think on that!
Oh, and also, later in the night, I was dancing to a favorite song – “Revenge” by Ministry, when a woman I’d never seen before came up to me. She said, “Will you come with me for a minute?” I followed her without hesitation, and she presented her boyfriend to me. I knew this guy! I’m not great with faces, but I narrowed it down to it being 2 possible people… We shook hands. He said, “Do you know me?” I said, “You work at [the food co-op].” He shook his head, no. “You work at [school],” I said next, and he affirmed that. I see him almost every day, at the YMCA after school program where I work. His girlfriend asked me, “Is he good with the kids? Do the kids love him?” I just nodded slowly, because the answer is, “No,” from what I can observe, but she seemed to want to hear good things, haha. He said he was buying me a drink. I was pretty much done drinking by then, but I thought it’d be nicer to accept. I said, sure, a PBR. A couple of minutes later, he handed me TWO PBRs. I shook my head and kept saying, “no, just one!” But he kinda forced them, nicely, at me. I took them both, drank half of one of them, and put them up on a piano, for safe-keeping. Really the only reason I would waste beer – so that I can get home safely!
Also, I saw my neighbor on the dance floor. This tiny, older woman who is ALWAYS out at clubs and bars, dancing and not drinking. She just seems so mild mannered!
I stayed out till closing time. Things had gotten really chaotic on the dance floor. It was interesting to observe, dip my toes into… When I got home I got ready to take a shower / get all the make-up off my face. I noticed I had a kiss mark, from the birthday gal, on my cheek. Haha.
Prince was sort of an unlikely artist for me to try to emulate. I usually gravitated toward the detached, spaced out robot/alien type vibe – people like Gary Numan and Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy and David Bowie. Prince is sex, right? And, I never felt like I could pull that off. (Also, of course, he’s African American, and I’m not.) Lots of drag kings (or at least the ones I saw) exuded an overtly macho, hyper-sexualized persona. Off stage, they were laid back, just hanging out and smoking on the back patio. I just kept to myself for the most part, feeling too nervous to interact, eating pop-tarts and re-writing lyrics back stage. Incorporating jerky movements into every performance. Falling back on hacky-sack or yo-yo onstage to make things more interesting.
Years later, I was no longer performing at a gay bar – I was doing monthly shows at a community space. It was freeing and also draining. I also did occasional shows elsewhere, like a David Bowie Tribute Night at a bar that’s mainly a music venue. Someone was organizing a Tribute 2 Prince at this same bar, and I think he’d seen my David Bowie performance and thought I’d fit in well with bands doing Prince covers. I immediately agreed and started getting excited. It’s like, I would have never taken on Prince of my own volition, but when someone suggested I do it, I was game.
I probably had about 2 months to get ready, and I really took it to heart – I put a bunch of Prince songs on my iPod and listened every day at work, narrowing down good ideas, learning lyrics, just getting a sense of the breadth of his many types of music. I danced and lip-synched in front of the mirror in the bathroom at work. I started to cull songs that would work well as a medley, and also, separately, I started to have some ideas for the song, “Diamonds and Pearls.” It’s a duet (with New Power Generation member Rosie Gaines), and I had to see if I could enlist my drag king buddy to do it with me. She said sure; we did lots of practicing at her house. (We also did a photo shoot.)
I remember that I scoured thrift stores for cheap diamonds and pearls to no avail. Then, the weekend before the show, my spouse and I were in Philadelphia visiting friends and attending the Philly Trans-Health Conference. We stayed out late one night, so late that we missed our chance to take the subway back to their apartment. We had to get a cab. This is maybe one of 3 or 4 times I’ve ever been in a cab. Our friends said at a certain point, “this is fine, just drop us off here.” We opened the door, and right there, out on the curb with a bunch of junk, was a tangle of a bunch of diamond and pearl necklaces. For real. Right there. I still have them.
Around this time (this was late spring/early summer of 2012), I was sort of questioning/re-exploring my sexuality, and talking about it a lot in therapy. It kind of helped things, to throw myself into emulating Prince, at the time. After the performance, I wrote this to my therapist (amongst a lot more words, haha), “so this was by far the sexiest performance I’ve ever done, and some people were responding to that (I got gyrated on in the bathroom, some people were touching me) yet it does not translate to me feeling like I am a sexual person. It’s just a role.”
Even so, I had a blast! I did 2 sets – the medley I edited, which was “Uptown/When Doves Cry/Gett Off/D.M.S.R.,” and then “Diamonds and Pearls.” It was so fun performing with my drag buddy again, and we totally nailed it. The place was packed, and a lot of people approached me afterward to talk to me / say how much they liked it. I was Prince.
David Bowie was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to become a drag king. He was the epitome of androgyny amongst the famous, and I wanted to emulate him. Whenever I did drag, I tried to capture the look of the singer, something that not all drag kings take the time to do. And since I was leaning toward music of the late seventies and eighties, flamboyancy was big – eyeliner and eye-shadow, lip-liner and lipstick. Clothing found in the women’s section of thrift stores, tight pants, boots with heels…
I just went back to an old email chain between my drag buddy and me, prior to my first performance, when we were bouncing ideas off of each other. I’m sure that I talked about all the gender variant singers I wanted to channel, especially David Bowie. For some reason though, my side of the email correspondence is all blank. 😦 (Otherwise I would have cut and pasted what I wrote, ten years ago.) I hope my drag partner might still have these emails. That’s disheartening that I might have lost that… (This same friend’s first 7″ record was Blue Jean.)
I definitely did David Bowie songs more than any other musician, over the years. Here is a list as best as I can remember, in chronological order:
– Ziggy Stardust (a Bauhaus cover)
– Space Oddity
– Rebel Rebel
– Breaking Glass
– Space Oddity again
– A Ziggy Stardust medley
– The Man Who Sold the World
– Let’s Dance
The first time I was asked to do drag out of context (not at a drag show), was for a David Bowie tribute night, for his birthday. I can’t remember how I got connected to that – I think through a friend. I was super psyched to have been asked. This was a show of local bands doing covers, and I was performing to a crowd that was made up of people who perhaps had never been to a drag show. It was at a bar I always had wanted to perform at – a bar that definitely does not put on drag shows. I did David Bowie as a glam rocker, and David Bowie as a mime. (He was a member of the Lindsay Kemp Mime Company in 1967.)
A different organizer put on the tribute show the next year, and it was at an even more mainstream bar, with even more out-there musicians doing covers. I did David Bowie as a glam rocker, and David Bowie in a dress. The idea to do that came from the cover of his The Man Who Sold the World record. I was mixing things up, wearing Aladdin Sane inspired make-up (see photo – I applied this make-up in the mirror before realizing it was the reverse!). Interestingly, I felt very self-conscious wearing that dress – I didn’t feel like people were going to accept that, even though it was just a costume, and David Bowie definitely would have / could have flaunted it… That performance felt stilted because of my discomfort in the dress, I think – not because of my thoughts that it didn’t do David Bowie justice.
Yesterday, after hearing the news of his death, a friend posted on my facebook wall that she thought of me when she heard the news. I made this Aladdin Sane picture my profile pic, and many other friends commented that they thought of me. I had no idea we were so connected in the minds of the people I know! That feels good! My mom even sent me an email that just said, “My condolences for your loss. David Bowie, I mean.”
I have a radio show now, and I think I’ll play all Bowie songs on the next show – play some covers, play some of my fave songs of his over the many decades he was actively making music – right up till his death. (I have yet to hear his new album…)
David Bowie, I will miss you being in this world and out of this world…