What A Drag, Y’all!

This Saturday, the Alliance for Full Acceptance, will host its 3rd Annual Drag Show with the fine folks at The Chart at 1078 East Montague Avenue in North Charleston. The fun starts this Saturday, August 28. $5 (cash money, please!) gets you in the door, and the proceeds benefit AFFA. Doors open at 9 pm; show being at 10. Be there early, it’s always a crowd.

This year’s talent line-up features:

Drag virgins from AFFA’s Leadership Team

A handsome handful of hardcore Kings

2 Chart ladies batting for the boi’s team

If you’ve never ventured out to a drag show, you’re missing one of life’s great wonders. For your enjoyment and education, do read the piece I wrote about Ayanna Rodriguez (Rahni Simpson), a formerly Charleston-based drag queen and performer, for The Charleston City Paper. You won’t be sorry.

P.S. I’ll be there Saturday working the door. In drag.

How To Be Fierce: A Guide To Gracious Drag Queen Living

The scene: Saturday night, 11:30 p.m., The Chart, Park Circle. The music starts, and I feel the bass thumping in my chest. The crowd is already hooting and hollering before the DJ announces the arrival of what we’ve all been waiting for, “Please welcome to the stage, Miss Ayanna Rodriguez!”
Everyone’s on their feet screaming and clapping, and from out of the darkness struts a lean, tall vision clad in a skimpy lamé number, four-inch heels, and an attitude usually reserved for cities like New York. Ms. Rodriguez is fierce. Her long limbs draw exquisite shapes in the air as she dances. She’s lip-synching Kylie Minogue, and there are four people waiting to give her dollar bills as she prowls by. She owns the room. I am clapping, exuberant, hooting, raising my hands in praise. It’s over far too soon, and everyone wants more.
Ayanna Rodriguez is Rahni Simpson, a 26-year-old Greenville native, who’s been doing drag since he came to Charleston in 2001 to attend the College of Charleston. His first drag show took place about six months after he arrived in the Holy City. “They just sort of threw me up on stage at Avalon [now Pantheon] and said, ‘You can do it.’ I did it, and I loved it,” he says, eyes wide and bright.
Sitting across from Rahni in a booth at Vickery’s downtown, several things become abundantly clear. He is both handsome and beautiful, with high, chiseled cheekbones. He’s seriously lean, (“I eat healthy, but sometimes I crave a burger.”) and holds himself with the grace of a dancer (classically trained in ballet, jazz, modern, and tap). He’s also a singer (his range: baritone to soprano) and a born performer.
Rahni grew up literally next to a Christian Methodist Episcopal church where he spent much of his childhood playing piano at services or singing in the choir. At home, his mom trained debutantes for pageant competitions. Perhaps that’s where he picked up his poise and grace. He’s the youngest of four boys, which means he knows when to be quiet and when to throw out a sassy comeback. When I ask if he’s ever been in love, he answers, without hesitation, “Yeah, with a pair of Chanel sunglasses.” He’s at once social and shy, confident and meek, playful and serious. He says with all sincerity, “I live my life the way I think everyone should live their life: the only person whose opinion really matters is my mom’s.”
Rahni’s local hero is another drag queen, Brooke Collins, she of the handmade feather headdresses and vintage style. It’s from Brooke that Rahni learned how to do his makeup, sew, and be a professional performer. In fact, when he moves to San Francisco in a few weeks, he says it’s the moments backstage with fellow drag queens like Brooke, Coco, and Jasmine he will miss the most.
When we talk sexuality, he says simply, “I’m just me.” And like any other part of our culture, drag queen culture is full of diversity: black and white, gay and straight. When I ask about the gay rights movement, he says, “My contribution is to entertain.”
I thought long and hard about that, because I’m certain there are plenty of folks within the LGBT community that might question that sentiment. But the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. Rahni’s life goal, “To give the world the best of me,” is about the most wonderful and well-intentioned goal anyone could have. How that best of ourselves manifests is as diverse as we are. Some people march. Some write policy. Some teach. Some write. Some paint.
And others, like Rahni, walk on stage to entertain, inspire, and empower. Without knowing it, they ask us to look for the power within ourselves. They ask us to live our lives in celebration, as an exclamation, hands stretched over our heads in praise of all that we are.

My life in 1,000 words or less…and counting

A scene from my life...and an unfortunate haircut.

My latest article for the Charleston City Paper is here. And for the record, it’s an interesting writing/journal assignment to give yourself: summing up your life in 1,000 words. What would you include? What would you skip? Below is the first go-round of the article, which I had to trim to 800 words for publication.

I grew up in a suburban town of lush front lawns and tree-lined streets 30 miles from New York City. During summers, I was outside from morning until night, until my Dad’s whistle called me home.

I was a tomboy. My brother, 12 years my senior, was my idol. He played football, fixed cars, listened to Pink Floyd and had the coolest Adidas ever – white with green stripes. I had to have a pair just like them.

My sister, who I also idolized, was five years older. In addition to teaching me the lyrics to “Crocodile Rock,” she was also the first person to tell me I was gay. She was mad at me at the time. Probably because I refused to play Barbies. Again. I cried and told my Mom, who said, “What a terrible thing to say!” My sister got punished. My sister and I talked about that moment recently and she said, “Well, I was right.”

My Mom kept my hair short. Her story is my sister and I screamed whenever she touched our hair. To be fair, Dorothy Hamill’s hairstyle was all the rage at the time. I dressed in jeans and t-shirts and was often mistaken for a boy. This pained my Mom to no end. Rather than grow my hair out, she decided to sew white eyelet lace around the back of my jean jacket. It looked as horrific as you are imagining. Even at six, I knew it was awful. I was mortified and refused to wear the jacket. I joke with my Mom now that white eyelet lace is the reason I’m gay. She thinks it’s funny, most of the time.

My childhood girl crushes include Olivia Newton-John, Joan Jett, The Go-Go’s, Jodie Foster, Lindsay Wagner and Kris Evert. In more disturbing news, my male crushes include Tom Wopat and Burt Reynolds.

I’m the only girl at my friend Dave’s 8th birthday party. This is not unusual. After cake, we play football. While celebrating a touchdown, one of the boys says to me, “That’s not fair. I’m not allowed to tackle girls.”

I date and fall in love with a number of boys/men during my teens and 20s. One breaks my heart. I break another’s heart. Along the way and through the angst, I decide that there is something wrong with the way I’m built. That I’m not meant to fall in love the way other people do. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m gay.

The first gay bar I go to is called “Connexions.” I’d like to write a coffee table book about all the badly named gay bars in the world, but that’s another story. I was terrified, exhilarated and danced all night.

I live with my best boy friend for seven years in my 20s. He has known me since birth, and as I ease my way out of the closet, he is there, supportive, loving, even accompanying me to the gay girl bars in New York. The first time we talk about my sexual escapades with women, he barrages me with questions. We compare notes, and I cannot stop laughing.

The first time a gay man tells me I look hot I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

I’m folding towels and underwear with my Mom when I come out to her. I was not planning on it. She asks me if the bar where a friend of mine and I are going is a gay bar. I say yes. She says nothing. I realize this is the moment. I say, “Is there anything else you want to ask me?” She says no – and means it. I tiptoe my way out by saying, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m gay.” She stops folding laundry and says, “I’ll get your Father.”

My Dad suggests therapy. I think this is because I used the words, “I think I’m gay” rather than “I am.” Overall, he takes the news much better than Mom. Later he says, “I try very hard not to get upset about things I have no control over. I just want you to be safe and happy.”

I’m at a Gay Pride party in 2000. I see a beautiful woman. She’s from South Carolina and is leaving. We begin emailing and then move to the phone. I make my first visit to Charleston. On my 30th birthday, she gives me a ring and asks me to live with her. In 2003, I move to Charleston. We move into a house and are together nearly four years.

Once, when discussing the holidays, my Mom refers to my partner and me as “the girls.” This small gesture of inclusion brings me to happy tears.

I spend one summer as a stepmom during which I feel loved, hated, exhausted, elated, panicked, whole, inept, like a bizarre combination of babysitter, aunt and neighbor. I now realize that the kids were just kids – and I was with the wrong partner.

Around straight people who don’t “know” any gays, I sometimes feel like a Lesbian Ambassador.

I have come out a hundred more times since first coming out – to doctors, friends, co-workers, confused men, etc.

In case you missed it, Laura Bush supports gay marriage, saying “…when couples are committed to one another and love each other, they ought to have the same sorts of rights everyone else has.”

I could just kiss her.