Drag Power

Drag queens (and kings) have been fighting the fight in heels since Stonewall, while entertaining our hearts with attitude, humor and pride

In the smoky-quiet aftermath of the Stonewall riots, which started June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, one phrase painted on the walls of the destroyed gay bar was "drag power." What better way to say to everyone walking by, and to make sure history never forgets, "We were here."

Maybe back then it was also a larger statement. First, from drag queens, gender queer, transgender folks and other people in the LGBT community who were marginalized, saying "Enough" to New York City police and the society that had their backs. Enough raiding gay bars, enough with the laws and enough telling us we're not going to be accepted.

LGBT life didn't change overnight because of Stonewall, but it was the beginning of a movement. And no doubt part of the movement was men dressed head to toe as women—drag queens.

Patrick Holt says he hopes youngsters in the LGBT community know their history, and know that it was the queens and the transgender folks who fought back first at the Stonewall Inn.

"It's not about being pretty; it's about representing a culture. Sure, it's nice to make tips and be pretty, and I'm not going to lie, it's great when people applaud you," says Holt, who is well known in Tucson for his drag persona, Tempest DuJour. "I'm not one for doing anything halfway and I put my heart and soul into it. Part of the reason I do that is because I'm representing a culture."

In addition to drag queen performances around town, like shows at IBT's that feature veteran queen Lucinda Holliday or the new wildly popular Retro Game Show Night hosted by Tempest DuJour at Club Congress, there's another area of drag that continues to build an audience—drag kings, who are usually women who dress and perform as men. There are also faux queens, who are women dressed as drag queens.

The subcultures of drag, like queens, aren't new historically, but today they've gone from making political statements to being full-on entertainment. At least that's Dana Cianciotto's perspective. When Cianciotto isn't working as creator and director of the performance troupe Musical Mayhem, he performs as drag king Anson Reign.

"The gay scene is predominately run by gay men. Drag kings, even though we've been around for just as long, it's kind of a more underground thing. I think it was more political than it was performance when it first got started," Cianciotto says. "Instead of just going onstage in jeans and a T-shirt with a hat on, we're actually making costumes. We're able to stand next to a drag queen and not look frumpy. You want to look just as glamorous as they are. I think that now that we're raising the bar, we'll be more noticed."

Delicate Flower and (Papa) Tempest DuJour

From the outside it might seem like Patrick Holt's life is, well, complicated. During the day he's an associate professor at the UA's School of Theatre, Film and Television and at night he's in local drag shows.

But 24/7, he's got another identity. Call him Papa. Holt's 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son know their father puts on makeup and dresses, and they love it.

"I am still Papa. When they see pictures they say, 'Oh, it's Tempest.' They know the difference," Holt says.

When Holt and his partner decided to adopt, he says he recognized that he might have to quit drag. In their home he had a drag room full of feathers, wigs and sequins. But during the 20 home inspections the couple went through to be allowed to adopt, no one ever asked about it.

"The wrong thing to do is to pretend it doesn't exist. It's part of me. But if it impedes the process of adoption I won't do it. It means more to me than drag," he says.

Holt says he didn't try to hide his drag persona from inspectors. "I never kept it a secret. Hopefully they saw that we were going to be good parents and it didn't matter."

Holt, who was raised in the Mormon faith, says that—to his parents' horror—he did his first drag performance in a sixth-grade talent show, lip-synching a Miss Piggy song. In the seventh grade, he was Shirley Temple doing On the Good Ship Lollipop.

Because of his upbringing, however, he came out late in life, and that included officially bringing Tempest DuJour to life. Holt says her bio has some references to the Iron Curtain, but she's always introduced as the Delicate Flower of the Desert. Making the decision to do drag was spurred in part by Holt's realization that after years of telling his students not to be scared and not to compromise, it was time for him to do the same thing.

Holt and his friends wanted to make a documentary with a Pygmalion theme, about an unlikely queen who ends up winning a drag pageant, but they couldn't find anyone to commit to the role. Then Holt's friend Larry Moore, aka Lucinda Holliday, said, "Why not you?"

"It sort of had not occurred to me," Holt says. "Here I am a professor in his mid-40s who is 6 foot 6 (in heels and a wig he's 8-feet tall). I'd never seen a queen like me."

Although the film never was made, Holt did enter a pageant. There were only two contestants at the time and the other person had been in the top five of Miss Gay America the past few years. Holt ended up winning.

"I beat this girl and it was good and bad. I received horrible emails calling me a big, fat, ugly bitch. Here's the ugly side of drag you can count on, but I just kept going."

Luckily for Tucson, Holt's latest effort is his monthly show at Club Congress, which has been sold out for the past two years. It started with a mostly gay audience, but Holt says he's happy that it's now almost two-thirds straight.

"We always said we wanted to do a show that was fun and appealing that happens to be hosted by a drag queen," Holt says.

"I love that ... it's not just for the gay community ... hopefully it shows we are evolving and that Tucson is ahead of the curve."

King of the Desert, Romeo White

"Right now it feels like it's about opening doors and breaking walls and barriers," Blake White says, explaining his performances as a drag king. Unlike queens, kings are often still treated like a subculture rather than part of the mainstream.

"No matter what, there's always going to be negativity around what we do or choices made in our lives, White says. Critics, he says, "don't know the trials and tribulations we go through."

White, who was at the Mr. Gay Arizona pageant in Phoenix when the Weekly spoke to him, performs under the name Romeo White. And by coincidence, like Dana Cianciotto, White is transgendered. White says it's not uncommon to meet female-to-male-transitioning drag kings.

"In Tucson, it's not as common to be transitioning, but then in Phoenix it is a little bit more common, and in Texas and Oklahoma, it is very common," he says.

"Drag helps some people feel that sense of completion."

White, who works in Tucson as a sales representative, says he never did anything even remotely close to drag, or any other kind of performing, while growing up. One night, while at a bar with a friend, one of the bartenders thought White was cute and mentioned a talent show. His friends persuaded him to go for it, and then got a call from the promoters of Kings of the Desert asking him to participate in the annual king pageant.

"I had a month to get it together," White says. He had only been performing for two months, but in March 2011, White won the pageant.

"For the most part it was helping me be more outgoing in my transition, and when I started to see how much people were enjoying it, that's when I thought I could keep working on this and improving," he says. White adds that part of the fun is doing benefit shows for organizations that he cares about, such as Positively Beautiful or Emerge!, groups that help those with HIV and victims of abuse.

"That's what keeps driving me."

White, who grew up in Tucson, says at first it was difficult when he told his parents he was transitioning. They didn't speak to him for several months, and it took two years before they started referring to him as Blake. However, things have changed.

"My older sister and her best friend went to one of my benefits in July at IBT's and my mom and younger sister were at the pageant when I recently won Mr. Gay Tucson," he says.

Ajia Simone, Tucson's Black Cat

When he was younger, female illusionist Ajia Simone, aka Tucson's Black Cat, briefly wondered if he was meant to be a woman. In fifth and sixth grade, he knew he was gay. It was later, however, that he realized, "I'm a gay man with my mama's face, who happens to love to wear (women's clothes)."

Which is why, even when Simone isn't performing, he might be wearing women's clothes—or men's, depending on how he feels when he wakes up. The day the Weekly interviewed the popular Tucson performer at Ahead of Style, his salon on Ninth Street near Fourth Avenue, he had a bright-red flower in his hair, red feather earrings to match, and was wearing a conservative top and jeans. Between booking hair appointments, he talked about performing and growing up in Yuma after spending his early childhood in Houston.

"When I was in fifth and sixth grade ... AIDS was coming out. I didn't even know what sex was, but they were calling it a gay disease and I thought I was going to die," Simone recalls.

He got through those times with the help of some cousins who were also gay. Nowadays, "Do I live my life as a woman? Pretty much I do," Simone says. "Hey, if they see a woman then I want them to see a good-looking woman, but I don't even consider myself a cross-dresser, I wear what I feel like wearing."

Simone's regular Tucson gig is the Sunday gospel brunch at IBT's, the popular LGBT bar on Fourth Avenue. It includes good food, a short sermon in a humorous style Simone is known for, and gospel music.

Simone says he experienced culture shock when he moved to Yuma in the late 1970s. There weren't a lot of African-Americans, like there were in Houston, and the Spanish he heard every day was new to him. But looking back, he says living in Yuma was good for him, and he even performed at his 10-year and 20-year high school reunions.

In high school, he says, the tough Mexican-American kids left him alone after one of them told his friends to back off because Simone bought candy from his mother. "They never bothered me again," he says, adding that he often joked with them and recognized that humor could be an asset.

"It really saved me," he says. "I wasn't out in school. ... During lunchtime I was hanging out with the jocks and the stoners. I was at everyone's table making them laugh."

In school he performed in a glee club, doing dance and singing. When he moved to Tucson he started a salon, but he also taught dance and eventually developed his drag persona, which has two sides: family friendly and not-so-family friendly.

Drag queens, from Simone's perspective, are "truly the melting pot of the gay community."

"We're the ones who are always out there and not just at the gay bars. We're at the straight clubs now and we're out there doing the benefits. We're often the face of the community."

Simone says he was raised a strict Southern Baptist, but he was upset with preachers saying that homosexuals were going to burn in hell, and then telling people to love their neighbors. "I'd look in my Bible to see where does it say love thy neighbor unless they be gay. I hated church and God."

But one day, during a pot-induced meditation, Simone says he realized there's a reason for everyone to be on the planet. "If I wasn't black you wouldn't be white. If there wasn't a big flower there wouldn't exist a little flower. If not for both there would be no medium-sized flower. As human beings, there's a reason for all of us being here. I'm a miracle that I'm breathing and that I'm here."

So is that part of his sermon during the gospel brunch?

"Well it's more like this: If you plan on being good to yourself, make sure to lock the door and keep the volume down,'" Simone says. "Or the good news Bible says, if you have your cologne bottle in the car and you squirt it on before coming in the bar, stop it because you stink."

"It's always a positive message with a twist."

Drag King on the Rise

At age 32, Dana Cianciotto has just started the process of transitioning from female to male for the second time. The first time around, Cianciotto halted the process, partially because of a health issue but primarily because he wasn't prepared for all of the physical changes the hormones caused.

"I knew that this was going to have an effect on my voice but it was more shocking than I thought it was going to be. This is going to sound overdramatic, but I liken it to an athlete who loses the use of his legs. All a sudden, I couldn't sing like I used to; I couldn't sing at all," Cianciotto says. "I think I just needed some time to adjust to losing something that was really important to me. I knew my voice was going to change. It just hit me harder than I was expecting."

While his physical gender shift is just getting started, Cianciotto crossed over to a male entertainer persona five years ago, when he began performing as his drag king alter ego, Anson Reign. Cianciotto got his start in drag when a friend needed a few people to fill in for her drag king show at the last minute.

"I thought it would be a one-time thing, an interesting experience." But, after his first performance Cianciotto was approached by a bar owner. "He seemed to think I was somebody who was important and asked if I would be interested in my own weekly show. The second time I ever did drag was at my own show."

While drag kings have been around just as long as drag queens, Cianciotto says that many people don't know that kind of performance is available.

He recalls telling a co-worker that he does drag. "She looked at me and said, 'Do you wear high heels?' and I was like 'I'm not a drag queen! No, I don't wear high heels.' You know, people are just ignorant to it because it's not out there, it's not RuPaul's Drag Race in your face."

Cianciotto says that drag kings put every bit as much effort (and money) into their performances as queens do, and should be recognized for that.

"I think it's important so that younger generations can look up and say, 'Oh, I can do that. I don't have to be a drag queen, I can be a drag king and perform like that.'"

25 Years of Experience Helps Holliday Relate

Larry Moore has been doing drag for more than half his life. At age 22, when Moore had just moved to Tucson, he went to a friend's drag performance.

"I realized that I enjoyed watching it and ... I realized it was something I could do," Moore said. "So, I went to Kmart and bought my first dress—and a hat, because I didn't know how to style wigs at the time."

And so Lucinda Holliday was born. That was in 1989. Today, Moore performs his one-man show, Lipstick and Lashes, all over the country.

"It's me on stage for an hour and a half and I end the show out of drag and just as myself, Larry," Moore said. "It's a great message because I talk about bullying and I do a song called 'I Am What I Am.' The words to the song definitely fit the message that I'm trying to give. I see people with tears in their eyes."

Moore says that connecting with the audience is, for him, one of the most important parts of performing.

"I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict ... and I share that with my audiences even though a lot of times the shows are done in bars and drinking establishments. People connect with that. I think there are a lot of people out there that connect with alcoholism and drug addiction."

While Moore's tenure in the drag community has helped him develop his craft, he is always striving to stay current.

"The biggest challenge at this point is remaining relevant within the performing community. I've been doing drag for 25 years and some people in the performing community, in the drag community, think that someone who has been around for a long time is no longer relevant. However, that is not the case. It doesn't matter how old you are as long as you are able entertain and enjoy yourself."

Ms. Gay Tucson Strives to Inspire Aspiring Queens

Patrick Ramirez, 27, has a busy schedule. He works as an assistant property manager, he's studying for an associate's degree in retail and consumer science from Pima Community College, and he performs at least twice a month as the drag queen and reigning Ms. Gay Tucson, Jasmine White.

"My very first performance was TIHAN, the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS network," Ramirez says,

"I just think that drag queens embody what the gay community is. Maybe not everybody agrees with that statement, but the first people they'll come to if someone needs to raise money is a drag queen. We do bring awareness within the community and we are the first to step up and help out any organization if asked."

Ramirez has two more months to enjoy the title of Ms. Gay Tucson, before the Miss America-esque competition crowns its next winner.

"When I won I was just ecstatic and happy and every emotion I could possibly feel because it's something I've wanted to be ever since I started doing drag. Eventually, I want to be Ms. Gay Arizona ... but one step at a time." Of winning Ms. Gay Tucson, Ramirez says "It's kind of like you've made your mark in the Tucson drag scene. You're established, you're known as a professional. You get to wear the crown and represent Tucson."

While he still has major goals for his own drag career, Ramirez has his mind set on helping other young drag queens succeed.

"Lucinda Holliday actually helped me out a lot. She was the first established entertainer that booked me in her shows. She helped whip me into shape and make sure I was on time. Entertainers like that help aspiring drag queens become professionals," Ramirez says. "I want to be that drag queen. I want the young girls to look at me and say, 'Jasmine White, she helped me out.'"