Bua uuh Guul

Back in the disco days when we encountered a person of undecipherable gender, we would turn to each other and ask “bua uuh guul?” The phrase became part of our vocabulary when someone overheard a pimp on the sidewalk approach a potential customer and offer him his choice of gender in a playmate. Not only was the john’s predilection unclear, what was available was pretty murky too.

Gender confusion and challenging sex role stereotypes has always been a preoccupation of mine. As documented in a recently published book, Curatorial Activism: Towards an Ethics of Curating.

When I first saw the words “ethics” and “curators” together I thought “not another rehash of the frolicking I did back in 1973.” Those allegations involving The Detroit Institute of Art staff have been laid to rest years ago.

Then I realized it was referring to the Extended Sensibilities: Homosexual Presence in Contemporary Art show held in Manhattan in 1982. My friend Charley Brown did a series of paintings of me in the early 80’s, a couple of which were in that New Museum show.

The portrait included in the book is one of my favorites because of Charley’s use of found materials: layers of cardboard glued together, appliqued toothpicks adding dimension to Brian’s sequined top. There’s gutter in that glamour.

The timing of that show coincided with my waning interest in drag. The derring-do and shock of what I’d done before was no longer there and my falling out with Jim had left me without focus. Plus, RuPaul was on the ascendant and about to change the drag landscape completely. I like to think I helped make the world safe for Ru. Then I think what a miserable failure I’ve been. No one’s safe from that bitch.

My friend Charley did a series of B paintings, a couple were in this show

On my trip to Indiana this month I reunited with Susan in Bloomington who I hadn’t seen in over 40 years. One of the things we reminisced about was the evening she gave me makeup lessons. As we listened to Ike & Tina records in her apartment that night, she went over the basics of eye makeup. And told me my practice of the art was particularly abysmal.

On our recent visit I tried to convince her that precision wasn’t nearly as important back in those days as how I presented myself. She would have none of it. She chided that anything worth doing was worth doing well. Then, out of the blue, she asked whether I identified as a woman or a man.

The question is an obvious one and the way the discussion seems to be framed these days. But it caught me completely off guard. The essence of my being never entered into my thinking when I did drag. It was all about what I could get away with. And looking good while I did it.

I told Susan the only thing I’ve ever identified as was a troublemaker.

Cherry

Eviction Countdown: Day 8

In 1988 Brian and I took one last trip before he became seriously ill. We went to Acapulco and stayed in a small, white washed guest house on the side of a hill.

Our daily routine was to sleep in then go have a big breakfast at the hotel buffet on our way to the beach. We rented an umbrella and spent the day in and out of the water. While he lounged, I went parasailing.

On our walk back in the late afternoons the tourist shops would be open and we’d check them out. There wasn’t much of interest except a one-of-a-kind coiled snake. All the other items in the shops had that genuine, made in Taiwan Mexican feel. The snake had to be local and I wanted it.

The problem was getting it through Customs. At the time it was not quite as pro forma as it is today, agents were very arbitrary and discriminatory. They would have loved nothing more than to nail a couple of gay guys with contraband.

My method back then was to pack any questionable items I might be carrying in my dirtiest, filthiest laundry. I figured if they were freaky enough to go through that stuff then they’d earned the right to confiscate. They didn’t.

Bambi came into my posession in the mid-90’s when I visited the Brimfield Antique Show west of Boston. Dale, David and I had talked about it for years and when we finally did go it was completely overwhelming. Acres and acres of vendors.

For me it was like being in a major museum. There’s so much to see, so much detail, eventually it runs together and you can’t tell what you’re looking at. Maybe that’s just my ADD.

After about 6 hours my friends had purchased a handful of things and I had nothing. They started guilt tripping me, “you mean we’ve come all this way and you aren’t getting anything?” In the blitzkrieg of images roiling in my head I remembered the fawn. I went back and bought it.

I now had a prop to use when I read the Bambi story to the young ones. “Gather round children. I’m going to tell you a story about your Mother getting killed and abandonning you for the rest of your life. We’ll have hot chocolate afterwards.”

Next: Eviction Countdown Day 7, Metro
Previous: Eviction Countdown Day 9, Built-Ins
The Complete Countdown
The complete saga, From the Beginning

Life of Outrage, Life of Beauty

The evil genius
The evil genius

Brian was a co-owner of Hot Stuff on Polk Street, a vintage clothing store. He was also an aspiring women’s designer.

In the Fall of 1979 someone came into the store to post a flyer for the Outrageous Beauty Contest to be held at the Fab Mab. Brian loved money more than anything and immediately set his eyes on the prize. That’s when our mutual friend Kathy told him to call me.

For ten days straight we got together evenings to hash out our routines. The night before the competition we met with the producer/director to preview our outfits and skits.

The guy lived in a Berkeley, commune-like setting and looked like Stephen Hawking. He was in a wheel chair and communicated with a pointer attached to his forehead he used with a letter board on his tray. His acolytes were so attuned to what he wanted, they usually knew what he meant after just a few letters.

The women he lived with were absolutely devoted to him and there was a heavy sexual vibe to it all. Some worked in the strip clubs on Broadway next to the Fab Mab. Most of the other entrants in the beauty contest worked in those clubs too. Brian and I were the only men competing..

I don’t remember all the areas of competition but one involved Brian doing a Julia Child impression assembling ingredients and preparing a sauce. He finally called for his assistant and I appeared layered in spaghetti. I was supposed to be completely covered in the pasta but in our haste to assemble it backstage it wouldn’t all stick.  The crowd loved it anyway, especially when Julia dumped the Putanesca all over me.

In another segment we appeared in Brian’s original designs made from Hefty trash bags. I played the Hallelujah Chorus on a little toy piano while wearing a Bishop’s mitre. He improvised singing God knows what.

For the finale we used nasty tripe from Safeway that had been doctored with food coloring to look like brain matter. We attached it to his forehead then he laid on a catafalque as JFK. I appeared as Jackie in the pink suit and recited poignant passages from the Inaugural Address. We won the contest and our triumph was documented in the Examiner.

We had so much fun working together I was a little surprised in the days immediately following when he became distant. He wasn’t rude about it, he just wasn’t sentimental. He was ready to move on to the next money-making opportunity, whatever that might be.

I wasn’t about to let him get away with that shit. I forced myself on him and within a couple of weeks we were inseparable. We remained close friends until he died in 1991.

 

 

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The Jackie Obsession

Life of Brian

In the span of three years I lost three of my closest confidants to AIDS. Brian was the last in 1991.

We were not partners but we were both hypersexual so on occasion, out of necessity, we’d shag. Though we were never mushy. We loved to cause trouble and we were good at it.

The pictures of him passed out are from 1982 on the night I returned from my first trip to Europe. My friend Giorgio had given me two beautiful bottles of ancient Chianti. He insisted they were purely ornamental, they’d gone bad years ago.

Brian never met an order he couldn’t defy. We drank them both that night.

 

Next: Life at Home, Alone: Special Halloween Edition of Nude Leaked Photos!

Previous: Life at Buzzby’s

The complete saga, From the Beginning.

Winning Streak

Captain Jack's Hospitality Team: Blossom, Bridget and Chatty Cathy
Captain Jack’s Hospitality Team: Blossom, Bridget and Chatty Cathy

Mark sent me a link to a New York Magazine article about a tony bay front cabin in Provincetown. The pictures conveyed all the sterile lifelessness of a very talented decorator. But we remembered it when it funked.

In the summer of 1972 Mark and two other Bloomington friends decided to work in this quaint little artists’ (wink wink) colony. In July three of us joined them at Captain Jack’s Wharf, a beaten down place that slept two but held six that week.

My friends’ first jobs were at the fish processing pier a hundred yards down the street. They lasted only a week. The constant waft of putrefied sea life lasted all summer.

My favorite memory is of the nights at Piggies, a ramshackle little dive bar on the outskirts of town. You could dance there. The crowd was a mix of gay and straight, half-naked because there was no AC.  Sweat flew to a constant onslaught of James Brown. It was a love shack if there ever was one.

Dancing in public was such a weird thing in the early 1970’s. My generation wanted to shake it but there was no place to go. In San Francisco you’d hear that you could dance at a certain bar on a certain night or that this one place had a jukebox if things didn’t get out of hand. But rumors abounded of police busts, mafia connections and liquor licenses being revoked. Discotheque was a 1960’s word, disco had yet to be invented.

The bar at Buzzbys
The bar at Buzzbys

Then in 1975 the first great gay dance bar opened, Buzzby’s on Polk Street. It was a small space we all crammed into. It was soon followed by Oil Can Harry’s at Ellis and Larkin.

Oil Can’s was huge and always crowded on the weekends. Attendance would fall off during the week, however, so they would often do promotions. One Wednesday they did a Nostalgia ’77 contest.

The trend of the day was for the 1950’s: Grease, Sha-Na-Na and Happy Days were on everyone’s minds. Not me, I wanted my Carnaby Street back. That night I wore a red vinyl mini-tunic, an asymmetrical bob wig, and go-go boots. In a sea of circle skirts, saddle shoes and pony tails, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I won.

In 1978 I met Brian. He talked to our mutual friend Kathy about entering The Outrageous Beauty Contest at the Fab Mab and she told him bluntly, “you’ll never win it without B.” So he called me and we started working on it.

Your Nostalgia 77 Winner
Your Nostalgia 77 Winner

With “outrageous” the theme, the elements of judging included: swimsuit–me in a mesh two piece with picture hat walking my poodle Brian; musical–I played the Hallelujah Chorus on a toy piano in a Bishop’s miter while he sang; and cooking–Brian did a Julia Child impression making a sauce then called for his assistant. I appeared in an outfit of tiered spaghetti and he dumped the putanseca over my head.

Our finale was Jack & Jackie. He laid on the catafalque with his exposed brain matter (doctored tripe) while I stood behind him in the pink suit reciting poignant passages from the Inaugural Address. We won.

In 1979 Ted Kennedy was planning to run for president.  For Halloween I went as “Joan, the next Kennedy widow.”  I wore a sleek black suit and a blonde fall which looked sexy even though no one got who I was. Brian and I went over to the Castro to hang out for a while then decided to head back to Polk.

There were no cabs so I took off my stilettos and walked the two miles in my stocking feet. At the ‘N Touch we saw some kind of competition on stage and heard a big crowd. Brian said, “put your shoes on, we’re going in.”

A drag queen was hosting a contest and pulling audience members up on the stage. She didn’t have much presence and came across as a control freak more interested in rules and regulations than in entertaining. She spotted me and called me up.

I’ve been on stage many times and live for that indefinable moment I am now going to try to define. It feels like a surge where individuals in the audience meld into an monolith of energy you fight. It’s not an a+b=c thing that can be programmed, it just happens sometimes. And when it does it’s better than any drug I’ve ever done (which I’ll save for another post.)

It happened that night at the ‘N Touch and all I had to do was slither and goad. The crowd loved it.  After I did my turn I crossed the stage for the “interview portion” of the competition.  The MC clearly resented my popularity and I only made things worse by being flip with my answers.

I found Brian afterwards who said “you’re going to win this.” We stayed and had a drink as the MC’s dreadful patter brought down the room. The electricity I’d felt on stage quickly dissipated into general mulling and indifference.

Finally she started naming the winners, corny best this and best that awards. Then the countdown began with fifth runner-up. When she got to third the crowd had had enough. They started chanting and stomping in unison “We want blond-ie! We want blond-ie!” It got so loud it drowned out the hapless hostess.

Brian dashed to the Ma and Pa store next door and returned just as I was pronounced the winner. He had a couple of bottles of cheap bubbly that he shook violently. As I took my victory lap on stage I popped them to spray the audience. Everyone went wild. Except the MC who shouted, “That does it! Get off the stage! You’re out of the competition!”

So what. Who needs titles when you have hearts and minds.

Outrageous Beauties
Outrageous Beauties

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The Jackie Obsession