By Walter Beck
“Hello me…meet the real me and my misfit’s way of life.” – Megadeth
It’s Saturday night, I’m heading out with my romantic partner in crime, Millie; we’re driving along in the cold February air.
I have on my leather jacket; my black beret, studded with buttons and ribbons from ten years on the picket lines; a leopard print top that was a Christmas gift from a co-worker; a lacy leopard print bra I picked up at Target, stuffed with discount pantyhose; a red and pink tie-dye skirt I picked up at Goodwill for about $4; bone earrings and a bone inverted cross necklace that were handmade by a fellow poet/performance artist Charlize; a bi heart necklace that was a gift from Millie; and it’s all topped off with a pair of battered brown leather steel-toed boots. My face is decked out with eyeliner, mascara and lipstick done by fellow poet Margot, and my nails are softly glimmering in metallic orange.
On this cold February night, I am my alter ego, the Revolutionary Trash Queen Cher Guevara.
We’re heading to the Irving Theater for the monthly showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where I’m slated to perform as part of the shadow cast, Transylvanian Lip Treatment. I’m not playing a character, just doing the pre-show, consisting of the Creatures of the Night Costume Contest and the Virgin Ritual, where I will playfully humiliate first-time Rocky goers.
As we’re driving up East Washington Street, I start thinking about how free and comfortable I feel. I’ve been in character as Cher off and on since last August when a longtime friend of mine, Chloe (alias Helena Handbaskit) helped me create the character for a poetry gig at the Irving. It was done guerilla style; Chloe grabbed what she had and we made it work.
A few weeks after that, I did my first “official” drag gig as Cher, performing at an open stage night down at Zonie’s. That gig was rough. I managed to get through it without puking, but my nerves were raw throughout the whole thing. I remember one of the queens backstage asking me, when I said it was my first time doing this, “Just got an itch to scratch, honey?”
An itch? Yeah, I thought so at the time – you know, try something new, find a new artistic direction, do it once or twice, get some good material out of it and then that’s it.
But it wasn’t it. Cher started to pop up, mostly at Rocky gigs. Although truth be told, I did start incorporating a fair amount of cross-dressing into my “normal” life, wearing my skirts at work, much to the amusement and encouragement of a lot of my co-workers.
And when I would go full out, it was even better with my friends diving in and helping out with this character, doing my make-up, getting my stuffed tits right – whatever they could do.
It certainly hasn’t been without personal strife. This exploration of my feminine side has caused friction with my family. They’ve put up with a lot of weirdness from me over the years, but this seems to be the limit, with my old man sighing and saying “I have enough problems, I don’t need a son who’s a cross-dresser.” One of the most recent times I visited my mother, she could barely look at me.
It’s funny to think about in a way: I’ve had my face splattered all over the local news barking on picket lines; I’ve been covered in fake blood on poetry stages – all this and no real problems. But a bit of make-up and a discount skirt becomes the biggest bomb I’ve thrown in the eyes of my relatives.
I don’t know where this will ultimately end up. It’s simple to say that Cher Guevara is merely my drag persona, but it feels deeper than that. It feels like I kicked open a door for a little artistic inspiration and I’m finding myself in a hallway lit up by my friends and romantic partner in crime.
Putting on the gear, I feel all my problems vanish for at least a few hours. I don’t have to put on a professional front; I don’t have kill my soul; I don’t have to watch my language; I don’t have to hide one single thing about me. As long as that oasis shines in the midnight moon, I know I will always have a place to let my hair down and be free.
“Hello! Hooray! Let the show begin, I’ve been ready…” – Alice Cooper
Walter Beck is a local queer journalist, activist, poet and performer. In addition to The Word, Beck also freelances for Omnibus Journal and the Pink Panthers Movement, and performs regularly as a member of Transylvanian Lip Treatment, Indianapolis’s Rocky Horror Shadow Cast.