Picture it: Odessa, Texas--1994, a young 19-year-old naive Mexican boy returned home after a short year of living on his own in Dallas, Texas where he went to "find" himself only to get lost in the confusion. He experimented with girls, he experimented with men, he even experimented with hair gels, but that really falls under the topic of humid weather and tornado fashion.
Upon his return, the friends he "came out" to a few months prior to returning invited him to the town's Halloween party at the local gay bar--new to the gay scene, the young cowboy went. What did he dress up as? I just told you--a young cowboy.
When he arrived, he saw lions and tigers and queers--"Oh my!" But one particular person had sparked his interest and didn't leave him for the rest of the night and that was a certified drag queen. The young boy and this Black female impersonator talked, danced, laughed--even cut a rug on the dance floor--which was difficult seeing as he was only 5' 7" and his dancing partner was 6'1" (without heels).
And right then and there, during the Halloween Gay dance off to "I Will Survive," the two began a tortured love affair that spanned five torturous years. My friends...I was that naive Mexican boy and looking back I wonder, "What the hell was I thinking?" But none-the-less, I didn't walk away from that relationship empty handed (I did steal a few Cds and towels--what? Don't judge). In those five years I learned about love, I learned about unity, and strangely enough I learned about make up tips on how to impersonate Diana Ross. But the most important lessons--I'd like to share with you and I learned them from Miss Tia--and they are:
1. Be Prepared: Every performance was unique and original, but "behind the scenes" were always the same, such as making sure the wigs were fluffed out and sprayed properly to have the appropriate sheen. Every one of his numbers required a different costume and he'd perform three to four numbers/routines ranging from Toni Braxton to Janet Jackson and ending with Diana Ross at each show. But every once in a while, while putting on his pantyhose (which hid his "junk" but also held the female hip padding in place) they'd rip and I'd get pulled away and rushed to Walgreens to buy a new pair. Well, after a few sprints to the drug store I learned that we needed to keep a few extra pairs of pantyhose backstage. This lesson has helped me throughout the years. Life has a funny way of throwing the unexpected at us--but if you prepare for some of the "surprises" then we won't be shocked and thrown off course too much.
2. Be ready with "Plan B": In the world of Drag Queens and performances, you have to be prepared for your number as the performer before you hits the stage: enter problem. You don't know how many times Miss Tia was ready for his number, had his cassette tape cued up to the right spot, handed it over to the DJ while the previous performer was about to go on--when all of a sudden we'd discover they both were doing the same song. It's Drag Queen code to never discuss what songs/numbers/routines you're performing because the Drag Queen before you might steal your song and your thunder. But every once in a while two performers would have the same song...and the other code was--"Who ever goes on first does the song". Those Drag Queens loved their codes--not as much as their cocaine--but I digress. So if you heard your song being performed already--you quickly changed your song, costume and wig to match the new one you were about to perform--but what song? That's why he always had four to five songs prepared and by the same artist so he wouldn't have to change costumes. Having a "Plan B" has gotten me out of so many tight spots (no gay sex joke intended) that it's become instinctual, second nature for me. Yes, you want things to go as planned, but having an alternative to "Oooh" and "Aahh" your audience--no matter who they are--is needed in life.
3. Trust Yourself: From 1994 to 1999 there were so many Black female performers like Janet Jackson, Aliyah, TLC, Jade, Brownstone with #1 hits, and to a Drag Queen, this was a gold mine because as a female impersonator, you want to show your audience a good time and perform the latest hit to get them energized and have them tip you--or was thegood tipping die to the alcohol? Regardless, in a time when everyone was trying to "wow" the audience with a song with recent radio play, Tia would take a chance and "work" a song that wasn't popular yet and won them over with--and it worked each and everytime. Don't get me wrong, he played it safe at times--but when he trusted himself, his talent and his power to perform--he'd walk off that stage in those high heels feeling the pride that only a man in a dress and wig could feel. I still remember the time he performed Toni Braxton's "Breathe Again" in Spanish. He had the Mexican gays tipping him which wasn't too common. See, another Drag Queen code--Oy, The Morse Code is easier to crack, was that your own race would make an effort to tip you more and he was black, but he managed to cross the color lines. Trusting that you're up for a challenge someone throws at you is a great thing--but challenging yourself is even greater. Just for today, take an ordinary task that you routinely do and make it better--cooking, lying, sexing--whatever you choose--good luck!
4. Simplicity Gets You Further: Drag Queens are dramatic creatures. The world is their stage and it's their job to lip sync to every Better Midler song ever made. And with those numbers require flamboyant costumes, props and gestures--but did they always work? No. And I learned that from Tia's performances--because he was just a boy on a stage, playing a girl, pretending to sing. All Tia needed was a spotlight and the magic he created was unforgettable. Sure, having bells and whistles in your performances, presentations or even love life can be fascinating--but eventually, the show loses its value and people want the 'bottom line"--the real stuff. I use this lesson when presenting to clients--sure I can conjure up awesome PowerPoint presentations and fancy handouts when going over my social media plans that I propose for them, but in the end, they want to see positive results with no fluff. My clients want to walk away feeling inspired--just like a gay bar audience.
5. If You're Good--It Pays Off: This one is a little tricky, because I'd like to say he was passionate about performing, but he wasn't. He was just looking for a way to pay the electric bill. And how exactly do you measure a Drag Queen's performance? By the audience's energy? No. Ah, it must be the audience applause. Nope. How then? By the number of Whataburgers (a Texas hamburger joint) you can purchase after the performance (and also by having enough to pay the electric bill)! I can't tell you how excited I was to count all the dollars bills he'd make--it was like playing Monopoly and owning Boardwalk! Every performance Tia raked in approximately $500. That's a lot of Whataburgers. But he was always very generous with it which kept things running like a well-lubricated machine (gay sex joke intended). And although he wasn't passionate about dressing up--to him it was like wearing a uniform that took 2 hours to put on--he was simply good at it. And the lesson here is to discover what you're good at and do it because they pay off just might be worth a lot of burgers!And just in case you were wondering, we stayed together for five years. We went our seperate ways eventually, but every once in a while, when I visit Texas, we'll meet up (heels not included) and for old times sake--he'll buy me a Whataburger.