It's time for another personal tale. So, take a break from the toy soap stories and dive into the world I fell into. A razzle dazzle peak into the glittery night life, where a clueless dorkette found the confidence to do... well, I'm not so sure what the outcome was after all these years, but it is a fun look back!
I was a showgirl once. A long time ago people would gather round ye olde night club and watch me perform mildly choreographed numbers to a variety of songs. I'd make good tips. I even became such a familiar face that the night club hired me to help promote free items as a go-go girl before delivering my next show on the main stage. I was in my early twenties, full of creativity and youthful zest to enjoy life. My outfits were my dazzling armor, no one could touch me. For a moment in time I was this shining light bringing people together by way of music and sexuality.
I blame it all on Jessica Rabbit, if blame is even the appropriate word. When I was 5, sitting there in that dark theater, my eyes were transfixed on that long leg gliding out between the curtains. The hair over one side of her face. That gown that sparkled so beautifully that I just wanted to die... It was just magical.
I wanted to be on a stage, sauntering around and looking as cool as can be. At that age I was not thinking about captivating men or anything, but I did want to be on a stage. To entertain. To have that ability to be gorgeous and mysterious. Like, what was underneath that swoop of hair? Was it another eye? A second eye that was more stunning than the other that the rest of the world was not worthy to stare upon it?
As a kid I'd take one of my blankets and make a wig out if it, covering one side of my face. I'd walk around on tip toes imagining my feet in the highest heels possible all while shimmying my shoulders. There was always this movement with me.
One day I was standing in the supermarket line with my mom, staring at the pretty colorful packaging of Chiclets gum,
suddenly I was asking, "Mom? Do you think I can grow my hair out and cover one of my eyes? Would it be hard to see?" That was a big no. My mom did not want me looking like Jessica Rabbit in any way shape or form. My love for Jessica was concerning to my mom, I think it was the overt sexiness that seemed inappropriate for a kid my age. However, my mom was fine with purchasing Jessica Rabbit toys.
For example, there were these PVC treats.
The one with the missing pan was from my childhood. I had cut the item out of her hand because I felt it took away from her fabulousness. I'd eventually lose her in the house attic only to reunite with her decades later. It was a most fantastic reunion, let me tell you.
The Jessica Rabbit Flexies was possibly one of my most favorite toys at that time. I got her at Best, which incidentally was one of the coolest stores of my youth. The architecture was absolutely everything. I wish this artistic approach to architecture was still occurring in my neck of the woods.
I've never been a fan of bendy figures, but there are always exceptions to every rule of life, and I made room in my collection for this toy. The metallic fabric that accompanied her captured the sparkle from her debut in the movie, and I just loved it.
Sadly, the Jessica Rabbit from my youth would find herself in a most horrible fate. When leaving my friend's house, I left Flexie Jessica behind and I was frantic to go back and retrieve it. My parents sighed, "It's late, you can go back over tomorrow to get it." That night, my friend's miniature dachshund got hold of the toy and completely mutilated her. The shiny metallic fabric was shredded and poor Jessica's fingers were chewed off with teeth marks and slashings all across her body. It was a fate worse than Dip.
I was gutted, but I learned a valuable lesson. Never, under any circumstances, should I bring a toy to a friend's house, because no one was going to treat my beloved toys the way that I would.
In fact, I'd come to learn as I got older that no one was going to treat me the way that I treat myself. Which was essentially to be treated like a goddamn star. Even if it was just me on the stage. After all, wasn't it Shakespeare who said, "All the world's a stage?" Holding that tattered and torn Jessica Rabbit Flexie in my hands was terribly heartbreaking, but I'd get to carry on that torch and mesmerize an audience in honor of her. And those missing fingers.
I was 20 and it was 2002. Still a ways away from beginning hormone replacement therapy, but I living a most fabulous life. I had a new group of friends. I was casually dating here and there. There was a nightclub that I was going to every Friday night called Rich's. It was known as a gay club and while there were certainly a lot of gay men in attendance, it was really a mixed crowd of all kinds of people because the DJ at Rich's was always playing the best dance and techno music. Everyone was just cool with each other. I'd be spinning around and dancing under the glittery spiked disco ball on the main dance floor. It was easy to get lost in that rhythmic world.
That was my life every Friday. I'd put together a fun outfit that would usually pay tribute to the '70s or '80s. Before I'd head to the nightclub I'd stop at a comic store a few blocks away called Phoenix Comics. I'd get my latest X-Men comics as well as any back issues. I'd be in all my finery perusing drawer after drawer of X-Men issues. It was fantastic.
After the comic store I'd hit a coffee shop called Crossroads where I'd catch up with friends and find out what everyone was up to. I was young and felt like there were endless possibilities for my life. After the appetizers of the night I'd find myself ready for the main course: Rich's. I was the good time girl. Bartenders loved me, because even though I didn't drink, I was full of fun conversation. Club goers liked me because I always had snacks with me. "Hey M, you have anymore Nerds or Sweetarts on you?" Why of course! I just carried my bubbly self wherever I went and it was great. Those of you who know me know that when I was younger so many people disliked me. I was Hated, with a capital H! But at Rich's, people liked me. My being a trans woman was not disgusting or awful. I was valued for who I was.
Granted there were some shady bitches that thought I was too loud, or too much, or too tacky, but there wasn't much I could do about that!
Eventually Rich's found some competition in the night life department from another club opening and the heyday and excitement of my Friday spot was dancing its swan song. To create more buzz and to bring people back in, Rich's created an amateur talent night on Fridays. Hosted on the second floor in the 'chill' bar by Virgina Slym, a classic drag queen if there ever was one, the talent night was a way for people to entertain via lip synching, dancing, and/or a comedy routine. Some would call it a drag show, but it was open to all kinds of performers, one did not have to be a drag queen to sign up. Plus at that time the word drag had a dirty name in the club scene.
This night of entertainment was something different for the club and when I was asked to do a set for a Friday night I shrugged, "Sure, why not? What exactly do I need to do?" Ms. Slym purred, "Girl I dunno, just entertain everyone. If you can do that, you're good."
I'm not a seamstress. Never have been never will be. I was also a broke college student working odd end jobs so I did not have the funds for expensive showgirl outfits. I did have a good eye for deep clearance racks at Ross, Marshall's, Charlotte Russe and vintage stores. So, I pulled together a look and went about putting together my first set. I needed 5 songs that I would dance and perform to while lip synching and I needed to deliver a brief monologue to the audience so they could get a feel for who I was. For an amateur night they were asking a lot.
Each Friday night I'd study the talent, getting a sense for what was working and what wasn't. I noticed the songs the other performers would dance to were standard diva fare. The 'I Will Survive' and other classic bops that, while always a good time, were very opposite of what I was thinking. As much as I loved a sparkling moment, I wanted to go out there and really give it to them.
My Friday night arrived. I was incredibly nervous. The other girls who had gone previous Fridays before had worn fancy gowns and wigs that could reach to heaven and I was in a low rise stove pipe black trouser pant with a lacy lingerie top, my real hair, and makeup painted by my best friend Glorene. We were both so nervous, lord love her but I was not as polished as I would have liked that night. In fact, nothing about my look was polished. I looked like a feral mess.
When it was time for the show to start, I peaked through the entrance and nearly gagged. So many people had turned out to see me. The room was packed. I had spread the word to the best of my ability but I had never expected that many people to show up. Maybe passing out all that candy so many nights before had been the trick?
My first song was Björk's "It's Oh So Quiet" and much like that song everything started out slow and then just exploded with all of this energy.
I was dancing and twirling, throwing my hands and legs every which way, spinning around each person, grabbing hold of tip after tip. Any doubts about what I had planned were gone, they were loving it.
The rest of the set list was as follows:
Republica- Drop Dead Gorgeous (Had to perform this song, it's one of my favorite songs featured in one of my favorite movies: Scream)
No Doubt- Bathwater (I had to revisit that song, it was quirky and fun and very unexpected)
The night was exhilarating. For all my unpolished ways I had managed to do the most important thing: entertain. I also racked up a nice amount of money in tips. Virginia Slym had walked up to me after the show and smiled, "Tell the truth, you've done this before haven't you?"
"No, I truly haven't"
"Well, well, well, they loved you. I want you to perform once a month, you pick the Friday."
My heart had stopped. I was thinking this was going to be a one time kinda thing, but to be asked to come back? I immediately went into planning mode. Each month I performed I worked on my looks, never fully polished but always true to me. The songs I'd perform to were my favorite songs. Music that was always surprising and fun.
I did a number one night to the Waitresses' "I Know What Boys Like" and at one point during the song I laid across the laps of a group of men sitting on a long booth and posed to the line, "Boys like me!" I felt like I was living my full on Jessica Rabbit fantasy.
The money was also good. When it was my night, people came out to see me. I'd have men tipping me twenty after twenty. Sometimes a guy would be waiting for me in my dressing room. Other times men would slip me their numbers. I even got to date a guy who was really the first gentleman I had ever been wooed by. It was an eye opening experience. It ended tragically, but I learned a lot.
I was doing things that were different, breathing new life into what it meant to be a showgirl. I was connecting with people through music on stage and then after. One night we had a show for Pride Month. I had created a special performance to honor those lost by HIV/AIDS and this big old bear of a gay man, we were just crying looking at each other as I worked through my routine to Cyndi Lauper's True Colors.
After the show he pulled me aside hugging me, "I lost so many dear friends and lovers in the '80s. What you just did out there was so touching, thank you for honoring them." We both cried some more and I hugged him so tight.
Things began to heat up with my stint as a showgirl. Other girls started taking notice of me, some who would never say a word to me would now say hello and strike up small talk. Rich's would have a flyer in the local nighttime magazines and my name would be on the flyer as a performer for that week. I was getting booked more regularly than once a month. Invitations to perform at fundraising nights would also happen. I was beginning to think about what this could mean for me long term. I was in college to become a family therapist but I also really liked being on stage and performing. I didn't want this to be a fly by night kinda thing.
To drum up more support for the club, Rich's eventually hired a new young DJ who really knew his music. His mixes and sets were unbelievable. This DJ was also a huge fan of my shows, "I love what you do. I was in New York watching their scene and what you are doing is similar to what I saw, it's performance art. You have shared something with us that feels new and exciting and I want us to collaborate."
"What do you have in mind?"
"No more small stage in the bar upstairs. I want you downstairs on the main stage, every Friday night. One song only, it will be a dance/techno song and we'll work together to choreograph the number. You'll also be paid by the club since you won't be receiving tips like you normally do. This is going to be huge." He was so excited which had me excited!
The DJ had it all set for my main debut. He had a swing attached from the ceiling on the main stage, and I was going to be gently pushed while swinging out over the club goers on the big dance floor. During the middle part of the song, I was to then hop off the swing, run up the back stairs and make my way to the grand staircase that led into the main dance floor where I would slink my way down as the final vocals would be belted out.
The song was by Satoshi Tomiie and it was called Scandal in New York. That night I hopped up on this big swing behind these heavy black curtains. I heard the DJ announce my name and one of the bar backs gave me a gentle push and there I was, swinging out as the curtains opened. Now that was truly my Jessica Rabbit moment. Everyone was screaming and going wild. It was this beautiful insane show.
When I made my second grand entrance on the staircase, the spotlight popped right onto me and people thought it had been over but were like, "Oh ok! This bitch is not done with us yet!" One man had a camcorder and was recording the whole thing. People were tossing money at me left and right. It was a sizzling night. I was on a high.
I'd have a handful of Friday nights like that. Elaborate sets and dance songs to perform to. Like I mentioned earlier, I was even paid to be a go go girl promoting their Varsity Nights. I was dressed up as a cheerleader and I'd pass out free swag with this cute guy who would be in football gear. I was really becoming a part of something, and I had a lot of ideas for how I could make this into a living.
Sadly, Rich's would end up closing a few months after I started performing on the main stage. The young and hip DJ would move on to another club and he asked me to follow him, to perform and collaborate like we had. My final show was in November of 2004, Gwen Stefani's solo album had just come out that week and the DJ and I both knew exactly what song I would be marching out to: Hollaback Girl. He had a side job in radio so he knew that come summer that song was going to be everywhere, and I knew it was going to really get the crowd going. So, that was my final performance. Clearly, I was not a hollaback girl because no one was calling after that.
Whatever spark I had captured with the audience had fizzled. There were certainly alternatives, I figured I just needed to enter some pageants or something. Really continue to put my name out there, find my footing. I wanted to entertain. But honey, once I saw the real talent on display in those pageants, I knew I never stood a chance. These chicks had back up dancers. Elaborate gowns and costumes. They had real swerves and curves that only silicone can supply. And they actually sang. Like, real vocal talent. Most were not relying on lip-synching. I was completely a fish out of water. They were the real Jessica Rabbits.
So, I played it safe. Focused on finishing school while working at the Dollar Tree and eventually a nursing home. Gone was the glamour and adoration. It was like a drug. I stopped going to the night clubs and found myself settling in for game/movie nights with friends. Eventually got on those lovely hormones and stepped away from a world I thought for sure I'd grow old in.
Grand designs for life do not always play out how you would expect, but I am forever thrilled that I got to taste that showgirl way for a couple of years. I don't live in the past, because there have been many wonderful chapters in my life and I am hoping for many more in the future. With that said, it is fun to look back and kick my legs out and shake my hips with a shimmy of my shoulders, because I like to think I still have it.
Finally, I have been reunited with a brand new vintage Jessica Rabbit Flexies figure!
I'm repeating the image from earlier in this post, but it is so nice to have this figure all over again, especially with all her fingers and toes intact. Yay for healing toy trauma! I also really love the Jessica Rabbit Rock Candy by Funko, quite possibly the best Jessica Rabbit figure yet!