Princess Kennedy runs away to the circus. Photo: Katie Panzer
The gayest of homo-holidays is here! Since part of this year’s theme for Gay Pride is “remembering our past,” I thought this would be a perfect time to talk about mine. No, not my drug-addled past that you get every other month, but the past of my people, if you will. I searched high and low in his and her-story alike. I came across pharaohs, kings, warriors, Greek gods, native spiritual leaders, French saints and—ahem—queens, all of whom were gender rebels.
Ramses’ father was depicted as a woman in all his hieroglyphs. Aphrodite and Hermes begat the hermaphrodite. Joan of Arc and a couple kings and queens of medieval Europe were cross-dressers. You can’t forget Shakespeare, who was using males in female roles sparking D.R.A.G. (doing role as girl). In this century, we have the vaudeville trannies, Christine Jorgensen, (America’s first Transsexual in the ‘50s) and Marsha P. Johnson who threw the first stone at the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
Info about all of these herstory makers can be found online. But, in true Kennedy fashion I wanted more. Last year at Sundance my friend Michelle Lawler gave me a DVD of a documentary she had made called Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight. The film was about a queen in San Francisco named Vicki Marlane. I remember seeing Vicki Marlane around. She was an older queen, 76 to date, and ran in a different circle, so I never took the time to get to know her story, but what a story it is.
Marlane was born Donald David Sturger in 1934 in Eldridge, Minnesota. Marlane says she always identified as female. In a story very similar to my own, he remembers that he would wear his aunt’s clothes to the roller rink trying to fool his 1200 fellow town members. At 17, he ran away to the then-popular traveling circus. I, like every other child, had my own dreams of running away to the sideshow, but I never realized the significance of this dream. “It was where we went. There was a lot of drag in the carnival, but you’d never know it,” Marlane says with a smile. Marlane danced the ‘cooch,’ a dance which was a staple of 1940s burlesque show strippers. “I’d tuck my dick up behind me and poke my finger into the fatty looking pussy with no one being the wiser,” she says. Marlene says that in some of the towns, they couldn’t perform the ‘cooch,’ but they came up with an alternative act for Marlane. “They would pour powdered glue on my arms, it would crack and with some green food coloring dropped in my eyes I would be alligator girl,” she says.
After leaving the circus in the early ‘50s, there were very few options for a queen. “It was a rough life and we had to eat,” she says. “I would hitchhike from Florida to Niagara Falls and back again, turning tricks the whole way, earning about $2000. It was always a gamble.” Marlane recalls that there were many times she “would get clocked as a boy by a waitress hustling in a bar and the next thing I knew, I’d be carted off to the stockade where I would be put into solitary confinement until I agreed to have my shoulder-length hair shaved off.” Luckily, most of the jails were fairly low security at the time, so escape was always an option. “I could escape by getting employed as an incarcerated auto mechanic and crawl through a broken board in the wall,” she says.
I relate to this story because when I was 17 years old I was arrested for being in drag. At that time in Utah, it was illegal for a man to be dressed as a woman unless he was wearing three articles of men’s clothes. It was horrifying! The arresting officer pulled me into a dimly-lit room where he made me strip naked. There was no chaperone. While bare-naked, I was verbally abused by this not-so-hot cop, and I left with the feeling that I was a dirty shameful freak. Luckily these days I have a foolproof method around the “three article” law. Under my lady clothes, I am rocking a cock ring, a butt plug and a set of nipple clamps.
Butt plugs and cock rings aside––join me, and my SLUG cohorts, in this year’s Pride Parade on June 6. For more information about getting involved in this fabulous event call the SLUG H.Q.: 801-487-9221.