Saturday, August 23, 2014

Remembering Rachel van Horn

SERVING SELFIE: Rachel and I at Ervay and Main Steet.

I remember the first time I met Rachel.
It was at the Magnolia Gallery  — the opening of my first show as an artist.
That night, I was a ball of nerves.
Friends and relatives were being so supportive.
But I had no idea how people I’d never met would respond.
That night, the Magnolia Gallery was crowded with my muses: a flock of drag artists and supreme transgender beings.
These special ladies filled the gallery with blingy heels, vintage floral gowns, blue eyeshadow and architectonic boobs.
With so many scene-stealing glamazons in such an intimate space like the Magnolia -- other people tended to blur out.
But as I was threading my way through the gallery, an imposing female figure — with shoulder-length rocker-babe hair and wearing a concert T-shirt — excitedly rushed towards with the force of an incoming tsunami.
She grabbed my forearm and said, “Oh! My! Fucking! God!  I love your work.  Jesus Christ!”
It was Rachel.
And she was as overzealous as a teenage boy seeing breasts for the first time.
I might add: We were indoors. It was nighttime. And Rachel was wearing sunglasses.
On the night of my first time to exhibit artwork, Rachel’s reaction helped repair so much damage of self-doubt, fear and insecurity.
Rachel literally shook me from my core.
She distracted me from letting my neuroses eat me alive.
She helped restore my ability to put my work out there.
Rachel was like high-octane inspirational fuel.
The next time I saw Rachel was in this very building at CentralTrak — one room over.
Heyd Fontenot had been mentioning that Rachel and I should get to know each other.
Heyd knows that sometimes I can get so I excited that I almost combust.
And I think he realized Rachel’s intensity and my own were more than a little similar.
I’d barely stepped foot into Heyd’s studio. And before we even exchanged niceties, Rachel turned to Heyd’s laptop and said, “Hey, let’s watch some porn.”
In her own adrenalized manner, Rachel began issuing high praise to website that specialized in a very specific brand of kink.
This erotica featured passive partners who suffered outrageous verbal and genital humiliation.
But what really impressed Rachel was that at after the climax, the obedient sex-slaves were finished off with violent, bare-knuckle punches to the face.
For a split-second, I was a little aghast.
But then Rachel locked eyes with me.
And I saw a girl ..... with the world’s worst poker face.
Beneath the gusto of Rachel’s commanding, “Come on, man! Let’s do it” was a hint of panic; wondering if she’d gone too far; worrying that maybe she offended me.
I’d seen that expression before.
... On my dog.
... When I’d come home after he just dug through the trash.
The instant I saw Rachel’s eyebrows wrinkled in guilt-stricken, apologetic anxiety, my heart melted.
And we bonded.
Since then, it’s hard for me to remember attending a Dallas gallery show where Rachel didn’t practically tackle me in one of her enveloping bear-hugs.
I vividly remember the last time I saw Rachel.
It was the day after a very rough night of personal disappointment.
That would be Dec.18. At noon...
I was biking down Ervay Street. And right near Nieman Marcus, I spotted Rachel stomping down the sidewalk.
I hollered at her from across the intersection.
She greeted me with, “Shut the fuck up. I didn’t know you biked.”
Rahcel immediately began admiring me, “Dood. You look so fucking sexy.”
Rachel knew how to pour it on thick.
A small pack of female pedestrians were waiting for the light to change, and Rachel interrupted them with, “Come on. Doesn’t he look hot?”
The women gave me the once over... And they charmingly humored both of us.
That exchange — when my self-esteem was at an all-time-low — couldn’t have come at a better time.
Rachel totally inflated my spirits.
Then we each busted out our cellphones: Rachel took a picture of me, and I took one of her.
I asked Rachel where she was going.
She explained that she was literally pounding the pavement, looking for a job. She asked, What do you do now?”
I explained that I’d entered the public sector as a civil service employee.
She looked at me like I was a freak and asked, “Ewwww. What’s that like?”
I explained, “The work is really tedious and grueling. The hours suck. And the pay was shit. But ... it’s a job. I could send you a link where you can apply.”
Rachel flipped her hand in dismissal and said, “Fuck that shit. No thanks.”
Then she kissed me and we were on way.
I went down Ervay.
And I could see Rachel stride down Main Street, with her club-kid backpack bouncing to her pace.
That afternoon, Rachel possessed an unshakable confidence. A trait of hers that I just envy.
Tonight, I invited a performance artist to reinterpret a folk-hymn that dates back to 1748.
I only wish I could sit right beside Rachel, so we could watch this together.
I’d like to introduce y’all to miss Sally Duvall.

BACKSTAGE PASS: Drag artistry thrives as a communal, creative force of nature inside Dallas’ Rose Room dressing suite

The Rose Room is arguably Texas’ finest cabaret venue specializing in gender illusion. 
The Dallas landmark is known for ushering in pageant-polished “queens” since 1988 — and putting Big D’s “big hair, big drag” reputation on the map.
Only about 10 or so entertainers are tapped to earn official spots on the Rose Room Cast’s current roster. Those lucky “showgirls” are given lockers and a seat at the dressing table in the communal backstage area — where the pre-show creative energy is so powerful, it could electrify a Beyonce halftime performance.   
Some artists arrive at the Rose Room backstage by 8:30 p.m to prepare for the first show, which is at 11 o’clock. And by that time, they’ve already worked through many creative layers beforehand — concepts, costumes, choreography, character work, body tights, rhinestones, feathers, jewelry, heels... It’s estimated that each performer has a library of at least 50 of their own wigs. 
While they sculpt body padding and slip into undergarments, a “sisterhood” emerges. One that‘s never short of laughter or imagination.
Whether they’ve been working for weeks toward unveiling a new performance, or they’ve improvised an Amy Winehouse Tribute on the diva’s saddest day, an esprit de corps unifies these visual-and-dramatic creators.  
Some achieve smoldering glamour with hooded eyelids and smoky-black shadows. Some define their lips with flesh-toned pencils and finishing touches, like, liquid-liner beauty marks. And some mega-watt veterans can remember what the Rose Room looked like when the first George Bush took office. 
The art of gender illusion has always been a magical experience. Maybe during the art of preparation is where most of those supernatural feats emanate.

Daniel Kusner

Rachel Van Horn, dead at 44

'Rachel with Her Hand on Her Chest (blue),' by Heyd Fontenot.
A wild and rare social butterfly, Rachel Van Horn (a.k.a. "stealingkitty;” a.k.a. “Rachel Bionic”) died the evening of July 21, 2014. She was 44.
 Rachel was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She was the youngest daughter of Johanne Remdoneck and assumed the Van Horn surname from her father.
Rachel loved Dallas but often romanticized about traipsing off to Berlin or somewhere secluded in France to pursue her passion for writing. Opinionated and fearless, Rachel had a way with words.
As a freelance writer, she contributed to The Dallas Morning News, Arts+Culture and the Dallas Observer.
Her talents were extensive. 
Rachel took to her grave a secret beans-and-rice recipe that her daughter, Christina, will dearly miss.
At suppertime, Rachel knew the importance of serving a well-made “dinner breakfast:” eggs with potatoes and bacon, along with bagels and cream cheese, and coffee.
As a loving mother, Rachel impressed upon her daughter a sense of unwavering and soothing security.
As a postmodern queer feminist, Rachel was obsessed with Barbie dolls.
She also loved swaying her booty on the dance floor.
She maintained a fierce interest in bicycling – using social media to preach the gospel of two-wheeling and peddle pushing. Rachel especially loved adventurous late-night bike rides that lasted until dawn.
 When it came to cinema, Rachel bonded with her child while continuously watching “Almost Famous,” and campy mother-daughter dramas like “Grey Gardens” and “Mommie Dearest,” as well as goofy comedies like “Superbad.”
Shopping was her therapy. And she loved furry four-legged creatures -- caring for nearly a dozen hamsters that were all named either Teddie or Rosie; and family canines Buster Brown, Cody, Gracie and Twilight (a.k.a. “Twigs.”)
Rachel was married to James Michael Parrish on Jun. 20, 1991. She is survived by her daughter, Christina Parrish, and brother, David Van Horn.
Condolences can be sent to the attention of Christina Parish at 2501 Manor Rd. #201, Austin, TX 78722.
A fund is being established in her name, the Rachel Van Horn Memorial Fund to Support Emerging Arts Writers.  One of Rachel’s haunts, the artists' residency program, CentralTrak, has agreed to host a series of events and workshops to help foster the work, education and careers of emerging writers focusing on the visual arts.  Rachel Van Horn was a generous and enthusiastic supporter of the local arts community and she will be greatly missed.
Special thanks to Heyd Fontenot, Daniel Kusner, Courtney Smith, Joey Seeman, Billy Rose Parrish, CentralTrak and the comedian community of Austin.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

DRAG RACING: Classic car aficionado Lypsinka pokes fun about her ambivalence for automobiles

WHAT'S IN LYPSINKA'S GLOVEBOX? "A tube of Chanel lipstick, insurance papers, Valium and a gun. 
“You’ll forgive me for saying this, but only a gay periodical in Dallas would publish an automobile guide. However, I loathe cars and have plenty of evil things to say,” Lypsinka cackles about the topic at hand. 
When it comes to cars, John Epperson — the architect behind the enchanting, supernatural seductress, Lypsinka — knows what he’s talking about. Growing up in a small town in Mississippi, at 14 Epperson had his learner’s permit, could change his own oil and got busted by his parents for sneaking into a drive-in movie to catch The Killing of Sister George, which, at that time, was an X-rated feature. But the drive-in was where he got to see many of his favorite films (Myra BreckenridgeBeyond the Valley of the DollsRosemary’s BabyA Clockwork Orange. . . ). And cinema is the essence of Lypsinka. 
Epperson is a undeniable film historian who scholarly discourses about early RKO movies to glam-a-thon campy delights like Showgirls. He avoids nearly every television program (“I don’t watch anything with commercials, except for Saturday Night Live.”), but his immersion in all-things-Hollywood is impressive. And in Lypsinka’s imaginary world, her car’s vanity mirror is bathed with klieg lights.
Epperson admits that he has mixed emotions about cars. When he lived with his family in Mississippi, he had to depend a car in order to get around.
“But I’m totally self-absorbed, and taking care of a car is like taking care of a child,” he complains. “I even resent having to put gas in the tank.”
When he decided to move from away home to pursue a career in entertainment, he knew it meant relocating to either L.A. or New York.
“So I chose New York because you don’t need car, and it’s an enormous relief not to have one,” he huffs.
But traveling is a big part of Lypsinka’s life. Currently, she’s touring her latest show, Lypsinka: The Boxed Set, around the country. And for this interview, Lypsinka is on the phone in Los Angeles. 
“And when I’m in L.A., I rent a car,” she says. “If I ever lived here, I don’t think I’d buy one — I’d rent one because then, if the thing breaks down, you’re not responsible for it. You can call the rental company and say, ‘The thing fell apart. Get me another one!’”
The drag performer (“I find the use of the term ‘drag queen’ derogatory — like ‘nigger’ or ‘faggot.’ So ‘drag performer’ sounds more politically correct, if you don’t mind”) is currently tooling around in a rented, silver Buick Regal.
“My friends from Houston came to visit me and laughed at my car. I didn’t pick it myself. I’m just happy that it has power windows, air conditioning, a CD player and a tape player,” he chirps. “However, I will not drive a little Geo Metro — that little tin can on wheels — it just feels too dangerous.”
When she’s motoring in her rental, she relishes exploring country roads with the stereo on full-blast cranking out early Barbra Streisand hits. 
“So you see, like everything else in life, I’m a contradiction. And I have contradictory feelings about cars,” she admits.
She knows that a guy can look like a supreme dream machine if he’s in the right car.

“I’ve made friends with Morrissey, the singer, (above) and he drove up here the other day in a black BMW convertible. And I must say he looked very dashing. He has black hair, and I’m into color coordination. The black hair matched the car and probably matched his mood. He looked great in that car,” Lypsinka swoons.
And when it comes to vintage cars, Lypsinka reaches into her Obscure Film Knowledge file and whips out her grease-monkey smarts. When choosing a mechanic, she looks for a man who resembles Catherine Deneuve’s dreamboat mechanic in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). Of course, when hiring a chauffeur she prefers the Max von Mayerling-type (played by Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard).
“Norma Desmond’s leopard skin-lined car was an Isotta Fraschini. ‘Cost me $28,000. All handmade,’” she mimics with vampy Gloria Swanson-like precision. “Max gets that old bus off its blocks, and they go to Paramount Studios who want to rent it for a Bing Crosby road movie. She drives up to the gate, and she goes ‘Jonesy! You there, Jonesy.’ I also think Isotta Fraschini would make for a great drag name.”
All this talk of vintage cars leads Lypsinka on a dissertation about a classic Bugatti connected to the first lady of modern dance, Isadora Duncan.

THE OLD ISADORA DUNCAN JOKE: 'Wear the long scarf. It really brings out your eyes.' 
 “Vanessa Redgrave starred in the film version of Isadora's life. Her performance is unbelievable — the best thing she ever did. Anyway, in the movie she keeps seeing this sexy guy driving a Bugatti — she doesn’t know his name Every time she sees him drive by, she screams, ‘Bugatti!’ Finally she meets him at a party, and she gets in his Bugatti and they drive away. And her scarf, which she’s famous for, her long scarf gets caught in spokes of the wheels and chokes her to death.”
As for Lypsinka’s driving skills, she claims she’s an expert driver and especially talented parallel parker.
“I’m also a musician. I worked at American Ballet Theaters and was a rehearsal pianist for 13 years before my career took off. Musicians are very mathematical, and parking is basically geometry. Once you’ve figured it out, it’s just done like a mathematical equation,” she boasts.
What’s inside Lypsinka’s glovebox?
“A tube of Chanel lipstick, insurance papers, a Valium and a gun!” she shrills.
And if she was in a drag race, she imagines she’d be decked out in some Fast and Furious ensemble, √† la Thierry Mugler.
“Thierry’s usually dressed in clothes that look like racing-car clothes. And since he’s designed stuff for me before, I think I would go to him and have something custom-made,” she says. 
Before she finishes the interview, Lypsinka wants to make sure she hasn’t offended any readers with her jabs at the automobile industry. “I certainly don’t want to stop any car lovers from coming to my show if I ever make it to Dallas. And I know that if I ever get there, I’m going to want to rent a really nice car.”  
— Daniel A. Kusner

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

PHRESH FASH: Guns and Roses

While fulfilling my jury summons this afternoon at the Harwood Avenue municipal courthouse, I checked out Guns and Roses, a blingy, kicky-casual unisex boutique on Commerce Street that opened six months ago. 
One display, above, seized my attention: Suspened from the ceiling are upside down, armless-naked mannequins with their mouths taped shut. 
Guns & Roses Boutique, 2014 Commerce St.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RIP, WHITNEY PAIGE: The eyes of drag are upon us


WHITNEY PAIGE: fotos by Daniel Kusner, 2005.
Gender illusionist Whitney Paige promises the performance of her life as she bows out of the pageant world at Miss Gay USofA 2005

By Daniel A. Kusner 

Whitney Paige (aka Darryl Kendrick) stands beneath two strobe lights, ready to begin her photo session. But there’s a stray feather hanging from her gown’s d√©colletage. 
When I reach over her undulating breasts to remove the fine blue plumage, she flashes her hypnotic eyes and says in honey-sweet voice, “Don't worry, I won't bite. I’m not hungry at the moment.”
About 23 years ago, Paige moved to Dallas from Nashville. Growing up in Tennessee, she loved Diana Ross and knew she wanted to be an entertainer. But her theatrical-acting dreams were modified when she saw the bigger-than-life drag artists performing in Dallas gay nightclubs.
“I immediately saw how big the drag business could be,” Paige says. 
What began as a hobby quickly changed to a career in gender illusion.
With a theater degree from Austin Peay State University, Kendrick began her transformation into the glitzy persona of Whitney Paige, the no-doubt-about-it drag diva with the shimmering eyes. As her popularity grew, she was able to work full-time as a drag entertainer. 
Paige, a Rose Room regular, says Dallas performers can haul in six-figure annual salaries.
“Easy!” she insists. “If you’re that good. This isn’t just about wearing in a wig and dress and lip-synching. We take this business very seriously.”
How seriously? 
This week, Paige is working toward capturing the title of Miss Gay USofA 2005. For the contest, which consists of three preliminary nights at Station Four and a final “talent night” at the Adams Mark Convention Center, Paige will debut six outfits. 
She’s also hiring an army: 14 backup dancers, a costumer, a hairdresser, a set designer, a choreographer and a crew of wig masters and make-up artists. She won’t disclose an exact figure, but says this years budget is well over $10,000. The winner, however, receives $3,000 — a fraction of what most contestants spend. 
Paige says the rewards come after the contest because the winners booking rate usually increases. 
Since 1998, Paige has competed five times in Miss USofA. Each year, she's always placed in the top 12, and has twice been first runner-up. 
To prepare for the 1999 Miss USofA contests, Paige thought slimming down was the answer. So she dropped 100 pounds, underwent liposuction and endured a radical thinning procedure of having her ribs cracked. 
But because of the cost and the exhausting creative pace, Paige says this year will be her last as Miss USofA contestant.
“Last year, when I placed first runner-up again, I took time off. I saw that the window of opportunity to win Miss USofA was closing. I’m getting older, and they're getting younger,” she explains. 
“Do I need to be Miss USofA? No, but I want it — badly. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time. I want this pageant to be the jewel in my crown.”
Contestant longevity might be one of Paige’s best strengths. Final talent night might sell the most tickets, but there are also evening gown and interview scores. And the interview portion can make or break a contestant.You can polish a contestant to win on looks and talent, but they might not know the job. 
“The interview portion is a job interview,” Paige explains. “Not only does Miss USofA have to be a well-rounded entertainer, she must know how to deal with promoters and know how to sell the pageant. The winner has to commit to filling in for judges if needed and take up the duties to run the pageant if the owner is unable to do so. And thats what most of these new girls don't know,” Paige continues. “They think, I’ve got a crown, I’m beautiful, I’ll entertain you. Please, there’s so much more to just getting onstage. The winner should also be able to run the pageant.”
Paige, who has also served as a pageant judge, gave a quick rundown on the criteria for each category.
“Interview: There’s no right or wrong answer because it’s all opinion. Judges are looking for confidence, and they want to see if the contestant has done her homework.
“Evening gown: It has to be full-length. Years ago, it was all about the most heavily beaded thing you could find that would just knock you out. Now a lot of the gowns are couture. They don’t have to be flashy-flashy. The gown could even be made of a simple fabric. But the most important thing is the fit!
“Talent: It’s up to the individual. Some girls are comedy queens who can’t be serious, and that’s a talent. While you should be able to entertain the masses even fill up the room with friends and family who’ll scream their heads off and cheer you on — the bottom line is, you have to entertain those seven judges. They’re the ones whose opinions count.”
Miss Gay USofA 2005 preliminary nights: May 23, 24 and 26 at 9 p.m. at the Rose Room inside Station Four, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. Admission $10. Final night at Adams Mark Convention Center, 400 Olive St. May 27. $30-$75. For information visit






Saturday, June 22, 2013

RUM, SODOMY & THE LASH: Quentin on '60 Minutes: Australia'

One of the last times we hung out, Quentin Crisp told me about "the fiend" who tried to admit him to the hospital for his busted hand.
He fled the antiseptic torture chamber while filming a piece that aired on the Australian version of "60 Minutes." Quentin didn't stretch the truth one bit.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

IN GUAD WE TRUST... Inside the Trinity Broadcast Center

THE BIGGA THE HAIR ... Sista Jan Crouch
IRVING, TEXAS — While researching an upcoming "214 Trans4m" project, my collaborator, Bryan Amann, and I spent the afternoon framing shots at Trinity Broadcast Center's 23-acre studio facility off Airport Freeway. 
Along with some gargantuan "salvation satellites," TBN mostly consists of a two-building complex that pays architectural homage to the White House
In between the presidential-looking cribs is the International Production Center, which includes the lush, sparkling fountains of "Angel Gardens," the Virtual Reality Theater, where y'all can waltz through a reproduction of Via Dolorosa (the old walled Jerusalem city where Jesus carried his cross to Calvary) and the IPC Studio Auditorium.
While strolling the grounds, the parkinglot filled up. People pulled over to ask us where "Joel" was. We noticed folks heading toward the "South Portico" building. 
I tried to figure out why a Texas televangelism center was so concerned with Washingtonian neoclassical design... 
I noticed all stripes of different people — some sloppily dressed — entering the building, so we decided to crash the joint just to get a peek in side.
What a delight.
We entered as ushers began seating audience members for "Praise the Lord" — TBN's multi-panel talkshow hosted by the younger members of the Jan & Paul Crouch dynasty, Matt and wife Laurie Crouch. Tonight's guests included Joel & Victoria Osteen. 
TBN didn't disappoint. The decor was a riot of "crystal" chandeliers, marble floors, corinthian columns, sweeping staircases — all complimented by purple fabric embroidered with gold tassels.
A large part of this "White House" contained TBN's many presidential seals of approval. 
It was an exhibition about the union of "church" and "state." 
Throughout it's 40-plus year history, there were letters addressed to Paul & Jan sent from Ronald Reagan, both George Bushes, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Kay Bailey Hutchison... Proclamations about the "National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving" (1989);  Reagan's 1983 official "Year of the Bible" announcement; a wall containing portraits of all the executive chiefs; and the 1990 SCOTUS decision that okayed school prayer clubs. 
The "Praise the Lord" taping is an extravagant production, which didn't drag on too long.
My favorite quote of the night came from Victoria Osteen, who said God's not about rigid rules — "God is not condemnation. God is transformation." 



Friday, March 22, 2013

214 TRANS4M NEWEST: Forest Theater resurrection

This afternoon, pageant legend Tommie Ross stopped traffic in Dallas' "Sunny South Side" at the busy corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and S.M. Wright. Passersby thought they saw Erykah Badu, who valiantly tried to save the old movie house 
Known for her impeccable Badu illusions, Tommie also served Queen Nefertari realness for this latest "214 Trans4m" project. Nefertari (a.k.a, the beloved goddess of Mut) represents  "resurrection" — Egypt's master value of a civilization that dreamed of conquering the terrors of death. Hopefully, we captured the spirit of  trying to inspire a revival of the Forest Theater, which is currently up for sale.
The present managers gave us their blessing. For the shoot, they changed the marquee to one of Badu's poetic sayings from the old days: "YOU CAN EITHER COMPLAIN ABOUT THE LACK OF FLOWERS, OR YOU PLANT SEEDS."
Many thanks to Mr. Cortez for helping us — by climbing up a ladder and changing each letter by hand.