I know a girl from the seedy San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood that I live in who tattooed something like tribal marks all over her face. From my observations, it appears that everyone she comes into contact with feels compelled to comment on what they perceive as a horrible mistake. "How will she ever get a job?", sing the concerned masses.
Hanna, (not her real name)a caramel complexioned 25 year old is a popular point of conversation among the shady, drug addicts and scam-peddlers we share a zip code with. The subject of how she will hope to earn a living is one Hanna is used to fielding as she does by
rote. "I make money from modeling," reports Hanna. Anyone within earshot of Hanna's careworn admission laughs it off as a delusion of grandeur before trailing off in notes of 'tsk-tsk-tsk" that eke of pity.
Hanna remains steadfast in her account of earning her way as a model, so much that I make an attempt to humor her. Hanna describes a recent photo shoot in Los Angeles that featured Grateful Dead motifs as central to its theme. I think to myself that
it doesn't sound entirely far fetched that Hanna and her self-induced permanent ink stained face would be in demand. Her look is definitely off beat and what some could consider cutting edge, certainly beyond the main-stream.
Once upon a time into my own personal past, I was part of a marginal talent demographic. Back when I was a student at USC in
the mid 1990s, I had the privilege of affiliating myself with a burgeoning phenomenon that would take the talent industry by storm. Dragon Talent was the brainchild of a former club promoter and good-time glamour gal named Robin Harrington. Possessing the foresight to capitalize on a trendy demand, she came up with the idea of a drag agency as a way to satisfy what was an increasingly popular demand for gender-benders in entertainment. The Crying Game had just achieved box office records that
followed suit with movies like Paris is Burning and To Wong Foo,Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar. Dragon Talent was, in effect the first Drag Race set to the beat of Rupaul's Supermodel soundtrack played to blasting decibels in car stereos as
queens raced to auditions. It was a heady era that I remember well.
Seemingly devoid of topics to write about for my Arts Reporting JOUR 440 class, I used my experience as an original client at
Dragon and self-described "Robin's girl" to inspire an assignment. Dated January 23, 1996, the assignment would be one of several I would focus on my experience as tran-ifed talent.
"I've never been partial to wearing Spandex to a formal occasion. I prefer to keep the poly-Lycra fabric in the aerobics studio and out of the cocktail lounge.
Despite this reality, there I found myself in front of the full length mirror one Saturday morning squeezing myself into a Thierry Mugler backless black number that hugged everything. Too much of everything.
"You've got to tuck, honey," the woman's voice directed from behind me. "And wear this," she said, as a flimsy black g-string was tossed into my space. A few adjustments later and it appeared my transformation was complete. A boy no more, I
could now satisfactorily pass for the gender-phuqued persona I called Tabitha that was my stage name. Satisfied that I was sexy enough in Spandex to fool or distract the most jaded of Hollywood casting directors, Robin marveled in astonishment to
my lady's likeness. "You look so much like a girl, it's unbelievable," she murmured to herself.
"Flawless," Robin screamed in more audible tones. The descriptor of flawless was ubiquitously applied to all things that appealed to Robin. It carried more weight than her declaration of fierce that was more than just an adjective. The more akin to female likeness one appeared to be, the more flawless and fierce it was.
It may sound fishy bt it's merely another day at the office for Robin and her girls. Being a professional female impersonating type is difficult enough without worrying about the details in marketing. The girls need someone else to do the legwork. Our legs are usually being waxed.
My job, as well as that of the 90+ other drag queens under Robin's tutelage is to look as beautiful and glamorous as possible whenever the occasion demands it. Robin's job is to make sure that the right people know it. If that involves sending our headshots out with the daily casting breakdowns or taxi-ing a stranded queen over Laurel Canyon in time for a coveted call back appointment, Robin is the girl. After all, she's the only real girl among us.
Robin's queens came to be a family once upon a summer day when a rumor began circulating through Hollywood's drag social
circles that a star-maker was upon them. Plucking the virgin clientele from Southland bars, cabarets, theaters and street corners of ill repute, she transformed a wayward group of drag queens into a professional family unit worthy to carry the Dragon Talent insignia brand on our headshot.
True to form as the mother mentor and big sister figure she represented, I had known Robin to personally accompany me to her preferred wig seller on Hollywood Boulevard in order to insure I would receive a flawless fit in faux follicles.
Because Robin and her sidekicks at Dragon represent the majority of the existing transsexual talent pool, the same queens are rotated around for the available auditions. Competition is pretty fierce in La La's lipstick land, especially when a
national commercial is the prize. A recent cattle call sent out by Clothestime attracted just about every genre of queen I knew to exist in LA. I couldn't believe the degree of difference displayed by the divas in that casting director's waiting room. As it turned out, the blond tresses Robin and me chose that Saturday I spent in Thierry Mugler were akin to suicide. I was instructed to dance spontaneously to the tune of INXS's Suicide Blond that clearly foreshadowed my fate. On an HBO call back I suspect it was no random happenstance that Robin failed to mention I would be up against the bitchtress I knew as Girl Craig.
I almost accidentally stepped on her putrid pedicure as we collided head on at the same audition. When I saw her again out at
a club the following weekend, I dished in saucy detail about her scandalous sex habits to all who would listen. This type of
bitchiness does not run deep when it's realized we are all part of a greater good as members of Dragon Talent. The queens are never very far away from one another under the umbrella of Robin's arc.
Lightning struck and worlds collided when I suddenly realized that Hanna's experience was the postmodern equivalent of my all but forgotten experience as an alternative, underground type of talent. From where the queens fazed off the radar to affect less of a shock appeal, arose a need for geeks and freaks to fill the void. Thus, a trend for tattoos as terrorism
came to be. And Hanna stepped into the role I grew out of.
"After they drummed me right out of Hollywood. Because of booze and dope." ... as the legend goes.