What’s new, Buenos Aires

Argentina’s capital is a gay mecca, but for the most rewarding experience, explore its lush tropical countryside to the north

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HELP ME I THINK I’M FALLING | It’s not just the visual beauty of Iguazu Falls but the monstrous sound of rushing water that thrills you on a trip to the province of Misiones in Argentina. (Photo courtesy Joey Amato)

JOEY AMATO  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

In gay culture, the must-visit South American country has always been Brazil — especially Rio, with its carnivale and sexual abandon. But while neighboring Argentina may live in Brazil’s shadow, the nation’s rich history and beauty make it a destination serious travelers will love to explore.

Upon arrival into Buenos Aires, you’ll quickly realize the enormity of the city. With a population of approximately 12 million, it is easily one of the largest cities in the world. And while south of the equator, B.A. exudes a distinctly European vibe. You’ll notice signs of the city’s Italian influence and see hints of Spain scattered throughout the Argentinean capital.

Palermo is the largest neighborhood in Buenos Aires, adorned with cobblestone sidewalks, outdoor cafes and a mix of traditional and modern architecture. One of the swankiest properties there is the Vitrum Hotel, which fuses fashion, art and cuisine. The hotel’s restaurant, Sushi Club, has been voted one of the best Japanese restaurants in B.A. Vitrum is everything the modern day traveler needs, not the least of which is complimentary wireless Internet throughout. It’s perfect for a quick business trip or a vacation with your partner.

Buenos Aires is divided into many neighborhoods, with likeable Puerto Madero one of the newest and trendiest. Filled with upscale residential apartments, restaurants, offices and lofts, it’s centered along picturesque canals. Locals spend afternoons strolling along the docks, riding bikes on the wide pathways, and lingering over coffee and pastries at riverfront cafes.

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GAUCHO LIFE | You can live like a South American cowboy at Santa Cecilia, a century-old resort where guests are invited to engage in outdoor activities such as horseback riding. (Photo courtesy Joey Amato)

Puerto Madero attracts businessmen during the day and a fashionable, and affluent crowd at night. It is lined with elegant restaurants serving Argentine steaks and seafood specialties. The Argentine Catholic University campus and a private art museum also call this area home.

Although Gay Pride in B.A. isn’t as large as it is in Sao Paulo, its parade is still a sight, as thousands of revelers partied in the streets until the wee hours of the morning.

Gay life in Buenos Aires sizzles. The locals are friendly and it boasts many nightlife options, from LGBT-owned restaurants to traditional bars to swanky ultra lounges were all within walking distance of the city center. Sitges, Zoom and Glam are all clubs meriting a look-see, as is the Axel Hotel, widely popular for its Sunday T-dance.

But Argentina is more than Buenos Aires; much of the country consists of sub-tropical rainforests. The northern province of Misiones is a great place to discover that fact.

One of the highlights of this region is the incredible San Ignacio ruins. Founded in 1632 by the Jesuits during the Spanish colonial period (the original mission was erected in 1610), in the 18th century the mission had a population of around 3,000 and enjoyed a rich economy, helped by the nearby Paraná River. After the Suppression of the Society of Jesus of 1767, the Jesuits left and the mission was eventually destroyed in 1817.

What remains is a remarkable display of beautifully preserved ruins. A tour guide can walk you through the sprawling compound. There is a mystique about the ruins that lingers. At sundown, guests are invited to enjoy an incredible laser and light show, which rivals most shows you would expect to see at Walt Disney World.

If you have time, stop by one of the small shops that surround the ruins. This is the best place to find local crafts and souvenirs at bargain prices. Argentina is a fairly inexpensive country to visit, especially compared to Brazil.

For a truly unique Argentinean experience, check into Santa Cecilia, a historic Estancia built in 1908, located in close proximity to the ruins. The property features a large main house consisting of four guestrooms each with private bath, a charming sitting area and an expansive dining room. Guests here will indulge in traditional cuisine prepared by a private chef while partaking in conversation with fellow travelers and the gracious hosts.

Guests at Santa Cecilia are encouraged to live like the gauchos, including horseback riding adventures and a variety of other outdoor activities which take you along the spectacular countryside.

It is a short ride from Santa Cecilia to Iguazú Falls, one of the greatest natural wonders of South America — and the world, for that matter.

After a short walk through the lush jungle, you can soon begin to hear the thunderous falls, but it is that first glimpse that’s undeniably breathtaking.

Iguazú is actually a network of more than 275 different waterfalls spanning 23 kilometers. The most impressive waterfall, the Devil’s Throat, is 80 meters high. Three ring-shaped balconies allow visitors to get a close look at Devil’s Throat, which spans 492 feet.

One of the best places to stay while visiting Iguazú is Loi Suites. The hotel, set on a large patch in the Iryapu jungle and only 15 minutes from the falls, has 162 beautifully appointed guest rooms. Built in 2009, the resort features a spa, restaurant, tiki bar and game room. Swinging bridges connect multiple buildings, which was actually enjoyable, but could be dangerous if you’ve had one too many cocktails.

 This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Not just a ‘female problem’

Research shows that as many as 15 percent of gay, bi men have eating disorders, but most who do won’t seek treatment

Catherine Nordon  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

I have grown uncomfortably comfortable in the high rise lobby chair. Having spent months and months over the course of two years sitting in the same dull brown chair, I have claimed it as my own personal space.

Stuck here, more than an hour away from our small home town, I need something to call my own as I wait for my beautiful 18-year-old daughter to finish out her day at the Dallas outpatient eating disorder program.

As I pull my faded Converse shoes up into the chair, my eyes are drawn to the eating disorder recovery symbol that is tattooed on my wrist to serve as a constant reminder of the 29 years that I spent with an eating disorder, and where I want to stay.

There are 10 million individuals in this country that suffer from an eating disorder, and there is not a race, a group or a community of people that are protected from the disease.

And because eating disorders, specifically anorexia, have the highest morbidity rate of any psychiatric disease, 10 million is a frightening number.

It has almost become an urban legend that eating disorders are a “woman’s disease,” because gay men are affected by eating disorders at an alarmingly higher rate than any other group.

Brad Kennington, LMFT, L.P.C., is the executive director of Cedar Springs Austin, an eating disorder treatment center in west Austin. He believes that the gay culture — obsessed as it can be  with youthfulness, the body and physical attractiveness — plays a critical role in the development of eating and body image issues with gay men.

“The body-focused, hyper-sexualized gay culture, which places a tremendous value on a guy’s looks, can certainly trigger body image and self-esteem issues that can then lead to an eating disorder,” Kennington says.
Kennington, who has specialized in treating male eating disorders for nearly 10 years, shared some interesting findings: According to a 2007 Harvard study, 25 percent of all anorexics and bulimics are male, and 40 percent of binge eaters are male.

In the general population, 5 to 7 percent of males are gay. Studies show that up to 42 percent of eating disordered males are gay, so gay men are disproportionally represented in the male eating disordered population.

Research also shows that 15 percent of gay and bisexual men have struggled with disordered eating.

Kennington explains how important the body can be in the gay community: “One’s body equals one’s identity. Having the so-called ‘perfect’ body also gives a guy status and power in the gay world.”

Kennington notes the vast difference in not only the actual numbers of people who seek treatment for their eating disorders, but the significantly lower number of men that will seek treatment.

“For men,” he says, “shame plays an incredible role in not wanting to seek treatment. The myth that eating disorders are a female problem helps keep men and boys who struggle with eating, over-exercising and body image locked in a closet of shame, not wanting to step out and ask for help.” There is a stigma associated with having an eating disorder, especially for males. But, Kennington stresses, “Eating disorders are not a female problem, they are a human problem.”

When struggling with the idea of seeking treatment, Kennington says all gay men need to have the courage to ask for help.

“In some ways, it is another ‘coming out’ process to admit to yourself and others that you have an eating disorder,” he says.

Kennington says he hopes that the perception of having an eating disorder changes and that individuals will come forward and seek the help and the peace that they so deserve. But for that to happen, there has to be a change, not only in society as a whole, but more specifically within the gay community: People must retrain themselves to have the desire to be the “most healthy” that they can be.

Eating disorders often co-exist with other addictions, like alcohol and drug abuse, which are like the “gateway drugs” that can lead into the development of  eating disorders.

Depression and anxiety also play major roles not only in the foundation for an eating disorder, but in perpetuating the disease.

And if any of these struggles are left untreated, then all of these co-existing issues can make the eating disorder longer-lasting and significantly worse. Sometimes, one addiction replaces another, while at other times, all addictions can thrive together.

Discrimination — or at least, fear of discrimination — within hospital and treatment settings could be one factor that keeps gay men from seeking treatment for eating disorders.

But Jim Harris, Psy.D., the program manager for the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas Eating Disorder Program, promises that his eating disorder program is comfortable and familiar with working with gay clients.

Noting how important a life partner is to the recovery process, Harris says, “We encourage life partners to join our weekly multi-family group supporting recovery for their partner as they are a vital to the therapeutic process.”

Often, the individual struggling with an eating disorder won’t reach out for help on their own, leaving it up to family and friends to intervene.

Lara Pence, Psy.D. M.B.A., site director for The Renfrew Center in Dallas, says the question she is most often asked is how to approach a loved one who needs help with an eating disorder.

Pence says, “I think that is what really is important is that you approach the person out of concern and support [instead of] judgment. So often when someone has an eating disorder, they are not interested in hearing about what is wrong with them, but rather they need to know that someone is going to be there for them.”

Pence says that those trying to help a loved one with an eating disorder “tend to want to approach someone with the evidence of behaviors that they have used, like, ‘I have seen you do this.’

“But people are very protective of their eating disorder, and that approach doesn’t go very well,” she continues. “So it is more effective to approach the individual from the angle by saying something like, ‘I noticed that you feel sad to me,’ or ‘I have noticed that you aren’t yourself.’”

Pence says she believes that “the common thread in the gay community is that you meet a lot of people that are having an identity crisis and the struggle with coming out as gay, which although different, is similar to straight women with an eating disorder who aren’t comfortable with who they are.”

So a variety of issues come into play in treating eating disorders, especially among men. It is not an easy process.

But life is designed to be lived in full color, not in the black-and-ewhite world created by an eating disorder.

So if you or someone that you know is struggling, love yourself or your partner enough to find recovery. Take the first step and reach out for help.

…………………..

TREATMENT RESOURCES

• Cedar Springs Austin
4613 Bee Cave Road
Austin, Texas 78746
512-732-2400
info@cedarspringaustin.com

• Eating Disorder Program
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital
8200 Walnut Hill Lane
Dallas, Texas 75231
214-345-7355
TexasHealth.org

• The Renfrew Center
9400 N. Central Expressway, Ste. 150
Dallas, Texas 75231
RenfrewCenter.com

• National Eating Disorders Association
800-931-2237
NationalEatingDisorders.org

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Ropin’ the wind

As the International Gay Rodeo Finals return to North Texas, we examine the connection between the gay culture and the cowboy way

Cowboy

THE COWBOY WAY | Charlie Colella shows the form necessary to score points at the rodeo, but his favorite event is pole bending, a combination of speed, precision and horsemanship. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Like a true Texas transplant, Charlie Colella wasn’t born to the rodeo, but he got there as fast as he could.

Even today, at 51, Colella’s family doesn’t quite understand how a boy reared in the Chicago suburbs, who holds down a day job as an office working in corporate America (19 years with Xerox, now with FedEx), now lives on a 12-acre ranch in a small town (population: 1,200) an hour north of Dallas, breeding horses and pursuing his passion for the last 21 years: Ridin’ the rodeo.

In Texas, the connection between mankind and the rodeo is a familiar one. Even in urban North Texas, the Mesquite Rodeo less than 20 miles from Downtown Dallas looms as one of the most celebrated in the country. But Colella’s interest developed while he was living in, of all places, Bakersfield, Calif. — hardly the cliché of Western masculinity.

He has been riding almost as long the International Gay Rodeo Association has been around. “In 1990, I was living in Los Angeles and bored with my life and met these guys from the rodeo,” he explains. “I was a city boy. My folks took us camping and we rode trail horses when I was a kid, but even they said, ‘Where did this come from?’”

Surprisingly, the idea of a gay rodeo didn’t even arise in Texas. The first acknowledged event — a fundraiser to fight muscular dystrophy — took place in Reno, Nev., in 1976. In 1981, the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association had been formed, followed in 1982 by the Texas Gay Rodeo Association. By 1986, the IGRA was formed as an umbrella organization of regional groups, including ones from Canada (hence the “international” designation).

Colella started off his rodeo career big: Riding steer and bulls. That’s where a human sits atop a one-ton wild animal and tries to hold on for eight seconds. Even the best cowboys end their rides being thrown on their asses. “It often was one of the biggest rushes ever!” Colella gushes. Rodeo events have resulted in him suffering a fractured pelvis, a broken foot and a herniated vertebra. He doesn’t ride bulls anymore.

“There’s an old saying: To be a bull rider, you fill your mouth with marbles; every time you ride a bull, you spit out a marble; once you’ve lost all your marbles, you’re a bull rider,” he laughs. “I started with that and rode bulls for a couple years, but I’m a little older and little smarter now, so I don’t do the rough stuff.”

Colella pursues about 11 of the 14 competitions, and he’s qualified for seven events in the IGRA Finals, which take place at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth this weekend. (For a complete schedule of events, go here.) The invitational event is considered the capstone of the gay rodeo season.

“Pole bending is the one I get nutted up about. I was sitting No. 1 in it [this year], but I had a bad day last time and someone pulled ahead of me,” he says.

Even with his current slate of events, Colella has had his share of close calls. Just last month, he “had a little argument with a steer,” as he puts it. “I’m not quite sure what happened — I think I got horned,” he says, pointing to a two-inch scar on his forehead smack dab between his eyes. “It was in Kansas City in, of all events, wild drag. My buddy does the drag and the steer got away from us. We caught it and he went around me with the rope. I ducked to keep from being penned and that’s when it happened. It went through my hat, so it could have been worse.”

All in the day of a cowboy’s life.

Or, for that matter, a cowgirl. Gay rodeo has traditionally embraced women in a way that mainstream rodeos have not. In 1989, a woman, Linn Copeland, was appointed to serve out the unexpired term of president of the IGRA, and in 1990 she was elected to another full term. While women’s and men’s events are still kept separate in competitions, Colella for one doesn’t see the women’s branch as being any less competitive: The events are the events, and the skills are exactly the same.

“We’ve had some incredible bulls and some pretty incredible female bull riders. I’d like to see more women get involved — there are like two guys for every girl.

“We compete men against men, women against women, but if we blended it all together some of these women would kick your butt. I was teasing a buddy once that he ‘threw like a girl,’ and did I get my ass chewed out.  I was being unfair — these women can throw a rope. Some of these girls’ll kick your ass!”

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RIDE’ EM | Corella will compete in 7 of 14 events at the invitation-only IGRA this weekend. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

So what keeps men — and women — like Colella coming back year after year?

As a convert to cowboydom, Colella takes it seriously as a lifestyle. Even at work, he dresses daily in a pressed Western shirt, jeans and ostrich-skin boots; he proudly sports an oversized belt buckle, one of perhaps two dozen he has won over the years for his rodeo skills. (“I’ve got every ribbon, every buckle I’ve ever won. A lot of people put a lot of effort into getting that together and that means something to me,” he says.) For him, as gays are fond of saying, it’s a life, not a lifestyle.

“Anyone involved in the rodeo, gay or straight, says it’s a way of life,” he says. “I’m single, and it’s difficult dating living where I live, but I decided I wasn’t gonna sacrifice what I wanted for a guy. I have a great life so I’m pretty happy. This is who I am. It’s what I am.”

The rodeo also gives him a chance to show off his skills behind the scenes.

“It’s a kind of a gratification of how I’ve trained my horses,” he admits of each victory. ”The oldest horse I own is 19 and she’s the mother of another two, so I have bred them myself. You do well, it is a reflection of that. You’re saying, ‘My horse is very talented, and I did that.’”

But, Colella admits, there’s more to getting involved in the gay rodeo than all of that. It’s the sense of community that comes with it.

“Everyone just takes care of you,” he says. “I think it’s important that we all belong to a group, an organization, whether it’s your church or the leather community or the rodeo. IGRA helped me find who I am, helped define who I am. Any club who can bring out who you are [is valuable]. I’ve met so many people from around the country. It’s just amazing the amount of friends who offer support.

“Most of the people in the top 10 or 20 are competitive, but we all want everybody to do well. I wanna win, but I’m gonna root for the next guy and coach him to do just as well.”

Colella is fit and healthy, but now in his 50s, the most he’ll promise about what he’ll be doing five years from now is say he hopes to be upright. But the rodeo grabs ahold of you in a way you can’t fully control.

“There’s a friend of mine in the rodeo who’s over 60 and still doing all the events: He’s still wrestling steer and riding horses,” he says. “We joke that the day he dies, we’re all gonna say, ‘Thank god! Now we can stop,’ because as long as he’s doing it we can’t justifying quitting. But one day, I’ll do other things at home with my horses.”

Like any great movie cowboy, the time’ll come to ride off into the sunset.

But not this weekend. This weekend, there are ribbons and buckles and titles to be won and animals to be tamed. That’s life on the rodeo.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

It’s raining (ON) men

For one Southern Decadence virgin — and thousands of other gay men descending on NOLA — Tropical Storm Lee couldn’t steal their thunder

GET WET | Despite occasional cloudbursts, the French Quarter remained a hot-bed of activity all throughout SoDec weekend. (Photo courtesy Rod Orta)

JEF TINGLEY | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Gay culture has a longstanding symbiotic relationship with low-pressure fronts. Chanteuses and drag queens alike sing about it in “Stormy Weather,” it’s H20 that ultimately does in the Wicked Witch of the West and the post-shower rainbow has become synonymous with LGBT Pride. It seems like we’ll find any angle to work the adage “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

So when it came time for my virgin voyage to New Orleans’ “Gay Mardi Gras” known as Southern Decadence, I wasn’t about to let a little rain (or even massive Tropical Storm Lee) steal my thunder — even if Lee’s thunder was more than impressive.
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone.

Clad in soggy leather, feathers and outfits slightly less revealing than a birthday suit, partygoers from across the nation braved the storm that flooded others parts of city to make sure that this 41st annual event lived up to its indulgent namesake. Organizers estimate Decadence brought about $125 million in economic impact to New Orleans and a crowd of nearly 80,000 people (down from an 110,000 in previous years).

But beyond the loyal fans, what made Decadence really shine was its all-inclusive embrace throughout the French Quarter. The sense of notorious southern hospitality was almost palpable.

The hub of the activities began near Bourbon and Saint Ann streets, home of NOLA’s largest resident gay bars — Oz and the Bourbon Pub/Parade — which were festooned in this year’s official colors of fuchsia pink, black and silver for the occasion. Their crowded balconies provided great people watching, but there was plenty to see on the street below, too — like Miss Ashley. This self-proclaimed “traffic trannie” works the intersection with her best “Stop In The Name Of Love” moves along with a whistle and a whip to keep partygoers safe from passing cars. (She even has a Traffic Trannie Facebook page.)

Strolling along Bourbon Street, you’ll note how clubs that usually cater to the heterosexual set during other times of the year ramp up their Kinsey Scale rating to 6.5 over Labor Day weekend, adding rainbow flags, hunky bartenders and drink specials to lure in the gays. It worked for our group, which made repeat appearances at a little-known bar called Bourbon Heat (711 Bourbon St.) that offered more breathing room, three-for-one drinks and front row seats to the action on the street.

GLAM IT UP | Attendees at the annual Labor Day bacchanal let all inhibitions loose. (Photo courtesy Rod Orta)

Decadence is the kind of party that goes from morning-to-night — or morning-to-morning if you choose (throughout the year, there is no “last call” in New Orleans — bars stay open 24/7). But there are less crazy options if you need respite from dancing in the rain (or searching for your pants).

Places like the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St.) is one such example. The bar is decked out like an old-fashioned carousel and your bar stool literally goes round-and-round to give you an ever-changing vantage point. The setting was very relaxed with background music as eclectic as the crowd.

And while the temptation at Decadence can be to live on a “liquid diet” or simple street foods like pizza and Lucky Dogs, we opted for one night of elegance at the world famous Arnaud’s Restaurant (813 Rue Bienville). It’s the Big Easy equivalent of dinner and a show. Before your meal, tour the upstairs Mardis Gras Museum. Some of the elaborately beaded and feathered costumes on display date back to the 1940s, almost resembling cave drawings that Bob Mackie might later turn into a gown for Cher. The real star, however, is Arnaud’s extensive menu of Creole belly-rubbing goodness. And for true dramatic flair, make sure to order up the flamin’ Bananas Foster for dessert (its presentation will have everyone in the room looking your way).

I’m sure that any other year, Southern Decadence might have received a much different report of dignity exchanged for beads and moral codes left in the gutter, but in this case the rain seemed to bring just some good clean fun. And as the talented Katy Perry was once paraphrased as saying: “After you [drink a] Hurricane, comes a rainbow.”

Southern Decadence 2012, I’ll be back. So get those blue skies and shirtless boys ready.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Chaz Bono attacked for inclusion on ‘DWTS’

Earlier this week I reported that Chaz Bono, the transgender child of Cher and Sonny Bono, was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. What a great bold move for ABC, I thought. Well, apparently a lot of people think differently.

TheWrap.com is reporting that ABC’s message board lit up with hostile, hateful comments about Chaz. “How low can this show sink” was one comment. Others suggest that is was “sickening” and simply a media conspiracy to “flaunt” gay culture.

Maybe we need to stick up for our community. If you’re so inclined, you can go here to the DWTS message board and post your own comment. Don’t let the haters win.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The pleasure dome

It may not be stately, but LGA’s goofy ‘Xanadu’ is a great summer camp

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HAVE YOU NEVER BEEN MELLOW | A Muse (Misty Venters) inspires a bubble-brained street artist (Angel Velasco) in the camptastic (and very gay) musical ‘Xanadu.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Sonny Malone (Angel Velasco) isn’t the smartest guy in the room — and that’s probably true even when he’s visiting the monkey house at the zoo. He’s the prototypical himbo, the man who’s at his best when he’s just looking pretty and keeping his mouth closed. Girls used to get relegated to such status; now it’s the boys’ turn.

But Sonny does like to create art, and he sees it in chalk drawings on the sidewalk in Venice Beach as well as the opportunity to open a roller disco in 1980. (He doesn’t have much foresight: By 1981, disco — on wheels and not — was dead and would remain that way for 15 years.) That’s when Kira aka Clio (Misty Venters), head Muse (of the Olympus Muses), intervenes. Her job is to inspire humans to create, though she’s forbidden to let them know that’s what she’s there for or create anything herself.

That’s what counts as a plot in Xanadu, the very loose stage adaptation of the disastrous Olivia Newton-John film of 1980 better remembered for its soundtrack than for any recognizable dramatic energy. But playwright Douglas Carter Beane took the loose idea of the movie and molded it — and it was pretty moldy to begin with — into a snarky, ironic period comedy where cut-offs, head bands, knee socks and Converse high-tops are the peak of fashion.

The main problem with Xanadu is, paradoxically, also it’s chief selling-point: Beane’s script. It’s very inside baseball, with lots of kitschy in-jokes about Southern California and gay culture, that simultaneously elevate the humor and weigh it down.

“This is children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people,” one character cracks self-referentially, letting the audience know the actors are just as aware of how ridiculous, even inane, the whole undertaking is, but sallying forth nevertheless through a phalanx of puns and creaky one-liners. Beane dares you not to camp it up with him; you resist at your peril.

All of which makes Xanadu fun and completely frivolous. From the sassy black drag queens who are several of the Muse “sisters” to co-director and supporting player Andi Allen in cat-glasses and a Lucille Ball color-and-wave haircut circa Season 2 of Here’s Lucy, it’s a calculated send-up of Gen-X iconography told with enthusiastic silliness.

The jukebox score is a pastiche of disco-era radio hits like “Strange Magic” and “Evil Woman,” shoehorned together like the random shuffle on an iPod … if you like that kind of stuff — and it’s nearly impossible not to like it, considering how committed the cast is to the whole aesthetic. This is Velasco’s best stage work (he played Juan in Uptown Players’ Altar Boyz three years back), as he projects adorable stupidity and naïvete. (“Even my suicide notes are clichés!” he whines in a moment of despair.)

The rest of the cast is equally adept (it ain’t easy dancing on roller skates), and this is Level Grounds Arts’ most polished production since moving into the KD Studio Theatre. Gnarly, dude.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What to see at FIT: ‘Lady Bright,’ Tennessee

The offerings at this year’s Festival of Independent Theatres are making it one of the best yet.

The fest opened with the double bill of Upstart’s Wasp and Second Thought’s Bob Birdnow, the former an absurdist charmer and the latter a one-man tour-de-force from actor Barry Nash.  Two more plays this weekend have similar credentials.

WingSpan mounts a double bill of short-short plays. One, Perfect Analysis Given by a Parrot by Tennessee Williams, is like Streeetcar Lite: Two ageing Southern ladies (Nancy Sherrard and Cindee Mayfield, pictured) who dress like they were trained in fashion at RuPaul’s Drag U, troll the bars of Chicago looking for conventioneers they can bed. In typically Williams style, they mask their lack of morals behind a veneer of moral indignation and ethical relativism, bathed in film of self-delusion and exaggerated gentility. It’s a bitter, catty pas-de-deux with laughs — more laughs, at least, than its companion piece, John Guare’s The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year. A sort of romantic take on Albee’s Zoo Story, it follows a couple who meet in a park under less-than-ideal circumstances and come to a halting understanding about their relationship. There’s not much there there, as you might say — neither funny nor poignant, but just quirky.

So goes the absurdism; the one performance that rival’s Nash’s is surely Larry Randolph’s in ONe Thirty Productions’  The Madness of Lady Bright. Randolph plays an ageing drag queen, surrounded by the memories of his once-glorious romances and catalogue of friends. Now old and alone, he’s dressing up like Bernadette in Priscilla: Haggard, defeated, still craving affection.

This early play in the gay culture movement is a prickly, tender and sad, but also phenomenally realistic and well-realized portrait of growing old and alone, whether gay or straight. And Randolph’s resourceful, exquisitely wrought performance, full of tarnished dignity, sells it. This is a show — a performance — not to be missed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

COVER STORY: Brunch meets nightclub

MIMOSAS AND DRAG | In gay culture, brunch is a major social and culinary event, where fancy eggs benedict (like that at Dish, above left) and bottomless mimosas are standard issue. But they are becoming more fun, with drag queens part of the morning’s entertainment at Dish and Axiom Sushi Lounge in the ilume, and ZaZa’s Sunday School brunch (above right) serving up sparklers, DJs and girls dancing on tables. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE BRUNCH PHOTOS

Sunday brunch in Dallas’ LGBT community has evolved into much more than just a meal; it’s a way to keep the weekend party going

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Mad Men portrays the 1960s white businessman’s three-martini lunch. The Golden Girls ate cheesecake late night around a kitchen table. Carrie always sipped cosmos with the girls during cocktail hour while gossiping at the local club.

But in gay culture, the ritual of a Sunday brunch has long served as a social nexus, a place where all the major deals are made — and the arbiters of local society convene to hold court in the sobering light of day.

Putting together the right crew is part of the finesse that comes with planning the ideal brunch experience. “Not all my friends get along so I have to juggle it,” says one brunch regular.

“I usually have a herd of about five [regular brunch buddies],” says Joshuah Welch, who manages the ilume property where two tenants — the restaurants Dish and Axiom Sushi Lounge — have recently initiated theme brunches. Today, though, it’s just Welch and one other friend: “I was in a coma until 15 minutes ago,” Welch said.

Nursing a hangover is definitely another purpose of the brunch trek: Where else can you have food and alcohol on a Sunday morning to satisfy the twin desires to ease your headache and fill your belly? But the hangover element can affect where you choose to meet your friends. A place with loud music isn’t necessarily all that welcome when you’re sound sensitive, one diner — wearing sunglasses inside — ruefully admits as the music strikes up.

And there’s definitely music, highlighting the latest local trend in brunching: Turning the traditionally staid eggs-benedict-and-mimosa chatfest into something more like a nightclub bathed in sunshine.

The glam world of the party brunch is upon us.

Gays, of course, have always made brunch more a social function than a dining one — at least in urban areas. (Out-of-towners visiting Dallas say the gay community in Northwest Arkansas does not gather routinely for brunch.)

While a hearty meal accompanied by some hair o’ the dog is a reason for brunch, it is by no means the only one. Sunday in the gay community can be akin to a war room strategy session.

“You meet to plan your week — decide what you’re going to do for Sunday Funday,” says regular bruncher Eli Duarte.

“Where else can you find our community gathered in the daylight?” asks Tim O’Connor, another diner, with a hint of sarcasm. “There are not a
lot of places to do that outside the Strip, though it can be a kind of continuation of the bar scene.”

That social aspect has caught on in the broader community, and has even been raised a notch of late in Dallas.

At Dish one recent Sunday, 200 to 250 diners are expected to enjoy the morning’s entertainment. It doesn’t come from a pianist playing songs from “Your Hit Parade,” but rather a dance-mix DJ spinning tunes louder than Grandma would probably enjoy. And that’s not the half of it: Midway through the day’s two brunch seatings (one at 11 a.m. another at 1 p.m.), Dallas drag divas Krystal Summers and Erica Andrews rend the control booth from the DJ to put on a full show for the Taste of Drag Brunch.

Taste of Drag doesn’t take place every Sunday — on special occasions like Mother’s Day a more traditional service is offered — but owner Tim McEnery says they try to do it once or twice a month. And it’s not just for the gay community.

“It really is for everyone,” McEnery says.

CHAMPAGNE | ZaZa’s Sunday School brunch serves up camp with their frittatas. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Anecdotal evidence tends to bear that out. When I mention to a middle-aged straight woman that I am headed to a drag brunch, she excitedly asks where. “I need to know where I can see a good drag show,” she declares enthusiastically. At Dish, there certainly is a mix of gay and straight folks, though queerer heads prevail.

McEnery doesn’t claim to have invented the drag brunch, but he thinks it’s high time Dallas has one. It’s been a staple in cities like San Francisco and New York for years, but has only recently gained currency outside the coasts.

On this particular Sunday, the first seating already has a nine-top (including two women — one, a former New Yorker who notes that brunch has burgeoned as a social event since she moved to Dallas); across from it, five diners, including four well-appointed women in sundresses and espadrilles, their makeup and hair obviously fussed over, have taken a prime location to watch the shows.

A decent-sized crowd fills in the 11 a.m., which is generally less well attended than the later — not surprising in the gay community, several brunch regulars quickly note.

“Part of the point of brunch is to see and be seen,” acknowledges Welch, who is not at all surprised by the girls who turned up at 11 in full, flawless makeup. “People dress up to come here.”

Of course, gays and straights can mingle together or separately anywhere in town during brunch, though there is certainly a concerted effort at Dish — which is located along Cedar Springs — to make Sunday morning feel like an extension of Saturday night.

STEAK AND EGGS | Brunch is a social function, with friends attending in crews where they enjoy a little alcohol along with steak and eggs to keep the Saturday night party going like this group at Dish. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“Who went to church today?” asks Andrews of the Dish crowd. “I did, but I still smell like last night at the Rose Room.”

Doing the Taste of Drag Brunch, she says, makes performing on the weekend almost run together.

“It’s a different group than I see at the Rose Room,” says Summers. “And we tend to do different music on Sundays — more classic drag. But it’s a perfect time to catch up with friends, to talk about how your week went.”

Over at the Hotel ZaZa ballroom, the third Sunday of every month morphs into Sunday School Brunch, where staff dress as nerdy bookworms and sexy Catholic school girls for a prix fixe menu that comes with a bottle of champagne per couple.

But it’s not just the costumes and food that attract the crowd; indeed, many attendees pay the $10 SRO cover just for the entertainment: Around 2 p.m., the lights dim, the curtain pulls back and the brunch room turns into a naughty discotheque, replete with sparklers, women dancing on the bar, mood lighting and a pounding dance beat.

Today’s a mixed crowd — “about 50-50 [gay-straight] observes one regular, “though it’s often ’mo central.”

The crowd is up and dancing before long, with muscular men in surplus among the attendees as the music gets louder and the lights dimmer. The sunglasses stay on. Gossip can wait; for now, there’s still some partying left to do.

—  John Wright

REVIEW: Q Cinema selection ‘We Were Here’

Getting its Southwest premiere at this year’s Q Cinema film fest, We Were Here documents the recent history gay San Francisco and the impact of “the gay plague” HIV/AIDS had on the community. David Weissman compiled a group of men and women recounting their stories of SF in the ’70s. It’s hard to believe this is the first documentary that takes such a look at this chapter of both the city and the LGBT community.

In a way, the film could be a sequel to his 2001 doc The Cockettes, which focused on the hippie gay culture burgeoning in 1960s San Fran. Now we’re seeing how the ’70s played out and the tragic fate that awaits. Without a lot of fanfare, Weissman points the camera at five old-school SF denizens and lets them tell their stories in timeline fashion. The interviews are spliced in with archival footage and photos of the survivors and their friends along with fascinating, rich images of gay history, as well as some of the darker moments. Public figures at the time railing against the community and AIDS still rile up anger.

Weissman handles each component of the interviews and the footage with the gentleness of laying out the fine china for the perfect place setting. The stories are tragic enough that Weissman lets them unfurl rather than piecing together an unnecessary, sensationalistic dramatic arc. If anything, though, the film actually echoes another documentary. Almost the same timeline structure can be seen in the compelling KERA documentary Finding Our Voice: The Dallas Gay & Lesbian Community.

Regardless, these are stories that need to be told and passed on. We Were Here may be a hard watch for those who were around at that time. It will likely bring up tough memories, but that’s not the overall message here. The strength and humor that lie within each of these survivors is also a testament to the resilience of the gay community, which is tested even to this day. Weissman didn’t create just a documentary in Here, he instead fashioned an heirloom that belongs in the entirety of LGBT history.

90 min. 3.5 stars.

Rose Marine Theater, 1140 N. Main St. June 5 at noon. $10. QCinema.org.

—  Rich Lopez

Undefeated

Three deaf gay North Texans refuse to let what some would see as a disability stand in the way of a fulfilling life

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@ dallasvoice.com

Noise. There are layers of it every day. The bustle of traffic, dogs barking, someone stomping down the hall, the whirring of a desk fan and the blare of digital music from computer speakers.

These can all register with most people all at once — even if they don’t know it. For some others, they may be fading aural glimpses — or nothing at all.

When deaf culture and gay culture collide, it’s not an unusual thing. Although one has nothing to do with the other, there is an interestingly significant proportion of gay people who are deaf. The Rainbow Alliance of the Deaf states that the percentage of the LGBT population is “approximately 10 percent of the deaf population.”

But is there an added pressure to being deaf or hard of hearing and gay?

Three gentlemen would say no.

“The deaf community is a very welcoming one and doesn’t discriminate,” Jeffrey Payne says. “It’s a non-issue.”

Payne may be most recognizable as the winner of International Mr. Leather in 2009 and more recently as a new co-owner of the Dallas Eagle club — but more on him later.

Andy Will

Born this way

Speaking of non-issues, Andy Will was born completely deaf 36 years ago. He seems perplexed at times talking about it, because for him it’s a fact of life. And knowing he was gay at a very young age didn’t hurt Will in discovering who he is.

“I knew I was gay when I was 8,” he said.

For the record, the majority of his quotes here are via Facebook chat and text messages.

Will didn’t come out until later, and before doing so he got married and had a daughter, Sarah. The gay thing didn’t go over too well with his wife, and the two were only married for eight months. Will didn’t see Sarah for quite some time.

But something in Will is so optimistic about life and what it offers that it would seem patience paid off for him. Or maybe it’s optimism mistaken for proud parent considering the exclamation he has when talking about his girl.

“I wanted to be honest to my family and my ex-wife that I’m gay,” he said. “I didn’t see my daughter for 11 years but she came to see me on her 12th birthday and we’re happily back together. Father and daughter! And she knows and has kindly accepted me as being her gay dad!”

In the meantime, Will met Joseph and they were together for five years. But Joseph passed away after losing a battle to cancer. Will met Dwane online and then officially at JR.’s Bar & Grill. They are celebrating 10 years together.

Dwane is not deaf.

“I’m not sure how I did that. Life is pretty happy here,” Will said.

Some of Will’s hobbies may seem unexpected to the hearing population. Once a week he drives more than 50 miles from his home in Krugerville, north of Denton, to the Oak Lawn Boxing Gym off of Riverfront Boulevard. He’s been taking lessons from gym owner Travis Glenn for “about four or five months,” and according to the coach, it’s been a learning experience for both men.

“Many people have suggested that I just need to learn a few basic American Sign Language signs, but that doesn’t work when you have on boxing gloves,” Glenn said. “It took a few lessons, but Andy and I have found a working rhythm for his training. When he does something that needs adjustment, I point to him, mimic what he did, and shake my head ‘no.’ Then I point to myself, do the movement correctly, and shake my head ‘yes.’

“I’m sure it looks odd to bystanders, but it seems to work for us,” Glenn said.

Will mentions that sometimes they have to work with a pen and pad or that he can read Glenn’s lips as he speaks, but he’s at the point now where he can almost tell what Glenn is thinking.

“I can read his movements and body language but sometimes I can read what he means in my mind and get the movement right,” he said.

Out of simple ignorance, people may incorrectly assume that deaf people can’t do as much as hearing people. But Will has never bought into that.

“I’ve been playing sports since I was a kid,” he said. “I used to play basketball and football in school and I currently play on softball and rugby teams. And now boxing.”

Again, for Will, this is nothing, but he knows what people may think. He isn’t trying to shatter any images. He’s just living his life. But if he changes someone’s perception along the way, he’s fine with that, too.

Above all the labels that people could place on Will, he’s shooting for one.

“I’m the proud gay dad of Sarah,” he said, “And sometimes I can surprise people that a deaf person can do the things that I like doing.”

Ronnie Fanshier

Normal fears

Ronnie Fanshier used to be a male dancer. He once was Mr. Texas Leather. Now he lives a comfortable life in the suburbs and is one step away from being completely deaf.

“I am classified as profoundly deaf,” he said.

He also just turned 50 and isn’t worrying so much about his deafness as much as just accepting the landmark birthday — like anyone does.

“Fifty is a milestone if you’re gay, straight or whatever. I have mixed feelings about it, but I appreciate what I’ve learned about life up to this point,” he said. “I certainly would not want to go back and live all over again. There would be so many friendships and loves I’d miss out on and that’s not a chance I would take.”

For someone who is so close to having 100 percent hearing loss, Fanshier doesn’t sound like he’s letting that be an albatross. Born with nerve deafness — meaning that the nerves transmitting sound to the brain don’t function properly — Fanshier always knew what the ultimate result would be with his hearing. Acceptance wasn’t so much an issue, but socially, it did have an impact — good and bad.

“Looking back to school, I adapted quite well to most social situations I was exposed to. I knew I was gay at an early age, but I played the boyfriend/girlfriend game until I graduated. Back then, if you were even suspected of being gay, you were pretty much ostracized,” he said.

As a youth, Fanshier seemed to use his deafness as a way to glide by students prone to bullying anyone who was gay, although he remembers it with some delight.

“Being hard of hearing/deaf helped immensely in that respect, since I was already a little different in an accepted way,” he recalled. “What’s funny is I remember some classmates saying I was a ‘fag’ and other classmates would say, ‘No he’s deaf, and that’s why he talks different.’ Isn’t that a hoot?”

As adulthood came, Fanshier says he kicked the closet door down and hit the gay bars. Everything he had learned socially in school to communicate and even get by worked wonders for him in the community. And he developed his own tricks to party it up on the dance floor.

“I loved dancing,” he said. “I would turn my hearing aids off and dance to the beat. If the bass got soft, I would watch others on the dance floor and use their rhythmic movements to create a sort of metronome to dance to until the bass got strong again.”

He loved it so much that he took it to the pedestals. As a college student, he danced his way through gay bars in Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. His confidence brimmed.

“I was young, athletic-looking and very personable,” he said. “I would intentionally wear one hearing aid up there on the box and it was a good ice breaker for tippers. This was another way of making myself more memorable. I was very social and outgoing and my handicap never stopped me.”

What Fanshier does instead is own his deafness. He didn’t apply fear to it and instead worried about what he says every gay man probably worries about: Health, finding Mr. Right (he did), family acceptance — oh, and one more thing:

“Will I be able to get the clothes, car and home that any self-respecting queen should have,” he joked.

What’s curious about Fanshier is that he never learned sign language. He was actually discouraged by his parents and teachers who feared that society would single him out. And he’s glad for that.

“I thank them profusely for that,” he said. “I would not be the person I am today if that decision had not been made for me. I should learn ASL, but I tend to have a short-term memory and I probably wouldn’t retain it, and I have few hard-of-hearing friends to use it with. I also work in a mainstream environment, and sign language would have severely limited my job options.”

But Franshier’s made it work the way he knows how. He’s built a good life with a long tenure at the hospital he works for, a house by the lake and his partner of 14 years — all while taking what may easily be considered a detriment, and turning it to his advantage.

Jeffrey Payne

The emergence of a voice

Jeffrey Payne has not been silent about his experience. He told the Voice before about discovering his hearing loss at 40 years old and was initially told he would be completely deaf by Christmas 2010.

The timeline has been wrong so far, but Payne has taken his visibility in the Dallas LGBT community and is turning it into increasing the awareness of Dallas gay deaf denizens.

“I’ve come to know many individuals in Dallas who are hard of hearing and also gay,” he said. “What’s really wonderful about it is that it’s all part of same gay community.”

Payne himself could be looked upon as the spark that began an increased interest in Dallas. With such a high profile in the leather community that reached out beyond, people could identify with him in a way perhaps they couldn’t before.

“I believe some people saw the need for it when I went from hearing to hard of hearing,” he said.

He’s worked with several local gay organizations in increasing options for hard of hearing, but was ecstatic with the Texas Bear Round Up’s efforts this past March.

Organizers looked to Payne for directon on providing an enjoyable experience for hard-of-hearing and deaf bears attending.

“With TBRU, this huge event and largest bear event I believe, they were so proactive reaching out to me and the St. Cyr Fund to ensure interpreters at all functions,” he said. “I was thrilled, to be honest with you.”

The Sharon St. Cyr Fund was created by Payne — and named after his mother — to assist with purchasing hearing aids for those who can’t afford them and to increase the presence of ASL interpreters at events. Payne has taken his plight and turned it into opportunity — and doesn’t mind if he’s a little uncomfortable.

“Just with my story I’ve been given, I’ll talk to anyone on a microphone, even if it is out of my comfort zone,” he said. “ASL is really just a different language, but some people get frustrated if they can’t sign. [Hearing] people also want to learn so it’s nice knowing the awareness level is there now. Sign language is a very beautiful language.”

As for his personal struggle, Payne doesn’t dwell on it. He sounds repurposed for this new mission in life. He credits his husband, David, and his family for their support and understanding. He’s intent on not just dealing with deafness, but making the most of it.

Payne said before winning IML, he was a background kind of guy. That ended when his name was announced as the winner, but he was  encouraged by his partner not to waste the opportunity he had.

“I’ve always been a firm believer that things happen for a reason,” Payne said. “I was thrust out of the background with IML and now I can make a difference.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 15, 2011.

—  John Wright