A transformative weekend

TLI2 offered ideas, inspiration and hope

Leslie McMurrayThis past weekend, transgender people from all over Texas — along with parents of transgender kids — met in Dallas for TLI2 (Transgender Leadership Institute 2). It was the second such weekend-long seminar on activism organized by Equality Texas and Freedom For All Americans. The first was held in Houston late last year.

In addition to the two organizing groups, there were presentations from Rebecca Kling from the National Center for Transgender Equality and representatives from the ACLU, Transgender Law Center, TransGriot and several other organizations.

There was a “get to know you” reception on Friday night, then on Saturday after an early breakfast, the intensive work began. The workshop challenged us to examine our beliefs and why we do what we do. It offered suggestions on how to do it better and be more effective advocates and leaders in our communities.

Topics ranged from transgender issues to racial justice and immigration, a topic that has been in the news and maybe even on your street.

Rebecca Kling from NCTE spent a good amount of time on helping us craft our stories. It’s not as easy as you might think: Writing just to make yourself feel better is different than writing to make a specific point or to advance a cause. Understanding who you are addressing and what you want them to do are key elements in shaping your story.

The conversation on intersectionality was a spirited discussion. Our group was quite diverse and everyone had a voice.

I was familiar with the word, but not the origin of “intersectionality.” It was coined in 1989 by Kimberle’ Williams Crenshaw, and stemmed from a discrimination lawsuit was filed on behalf of an African-American woman who claimed that African-American women were not being promoted based on their status.

The law said that race and sex could not be combined, so there were two trials. But because the company could show that women were being promoted and that African-American men were being promoted, both cases were defeated.

The fact remained that African-American women were not being promoted but thanks to a technicality, the law at the time provided no recourse.

The value of contact with local, state and federal representatives was emphasized throughout TLI2. Personal contact through office visits, lobbying and testimony is the most powerful, followed by phone calls, letters and finally, e-mail, everyone agreed.

A phrase came up that I hadn’t heard before: “Oppression Olympics” (I hope the IOC doesn’t sue!). This is the idea that we seem to be running a long race against each other to determine who is the most oppressed when it’s really not a contest at all.

The weekend’s discussion also include a really good description of “privilege,” describing it as all of us playing the exact same video game, except each of us is given different tools or weapons within the game that we didn’t earn; they’re just randomly handed out.

If you have an armored tank, the game gets pretty easy. If all you have is a stick, things are much harder. So some people have an advantage not due to differences in skill, but because of unearned resources.

For me, what made this whole experience magical was the presence and participation of parents — partly because it wasn’t expected. My preconceived notion was that it would just be transgender people there. Each of us learned a few new things.

See, the parents who come to events like this wouldn’t be there if they weren’t loving and supportive of their kids. There were a lot of tears as some of the adult trans people described being thrown out of the house or abused by their parents. More than one mom shouted “I’ll adopt you!” Or “I have a guest room.”

I feel like each of us came away with a large adopted family.

I was deeply affected by a mom who worries about her football player son. She is not worried that he can’t handle himself or that he will be injured on the playing field, She worries that in a locker room setting, four or five other players may gang up on him and he won’t be able to fight back effectively.

She worries that he may be sexually assaulted. How many moms of football players have that concern?

Legislators pushing SB6 — the Texas “bathroom bill” — have it backwards: trans kids aren’t the ones the other kids need protection from, trans kids are the ones who need protection.

Now more than ever, action is needed. Facebook posts are fine, but unless the Texas Legislature is on your “friends list,” your message isn’t reaching the right ears.

You have to vote. You have to speak out, and you have to make sure the right people hear you.

You can track bills in the Texas Legislature online at Capitol.State.tx.us. Pay attention to what’s happening in Austin, and show up for committee hearings. Wear purple when you go.

Write letters. Make phone calls. Recruit your friends. Make your voice heard.

Sometimes, it can feel like the whole world is against us. It was so nice to be in a huge room full of people this weekend and feel so much love.
Leslie McMurray, a transgender woman, is a former radio DJ who lives and works in Dallas. Read more of her blogs at lesliemichelle44.wordpress.com.


—  Dallasvoice

Pet of the week • 02-17-17



Meet Luciano, a 2-year-old, 58-pound pit bull mix who is a real sweetheart. He’s still learning how to live in the “people world” and although some people find him intimidating because of his size, he’s actually a gentle giant. He moves slowly and likes hanging out with other laid back dogs. He’s pretty shy and needs a warm-up period when getting to know new people. So he would like a calm, quiet home with a family who understands that he likes to move at a turtle’s pace. Luciano has been neutered, microchipped and is up to date on his age-appropriate vaccinations. #151423

Luciano is waiting for you at the SPCA of Texas’ Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center in Dallas, 2400 Lone Star Drive near I-30 and Hampton Road. Hours are noon-6 p.m., seven days a week. Regular adoption fees are $250 for puppies, $125 for adult dogs 6 months or older and kittens 0-6 months, $75 for adult cats 6 months or older and $50 for senior dogs or cats 7 years or older and VIP dogs and cats (available for adoption for 30 days or more.) Fee includes spay/neuter surgery, age-appropriate vaccinations, a heartworm test for dogs six months and older and a  FIV/FeLV test for cats 4 months and older, initial flea/tick preventative and heartworm preventative, a microchip, 30 days of PetHealth Insurance provided by PetPlan, a free 14-day wellness exam with VCA Animal Hospitals, a rabies tag and a free leash. Call 214-742-SPCA (7722) or visit today.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Gay Agenda • 02-17-17



­­­Have an event coming up? Email your information to Managing Editor Tammye Nash at nash@dallasvoice.com or Senior Staff Writer David Taffet at taffet@dallasvoice.com by Wednesday at 5 p.m. for that week’s issue.

• Weekly: Lambda Weekly every Sunday at 1 p.m. on 89.3 KNON-FM. This week’s guests are transgender activists Katie Sprinkle and Leslie McMurray; United Black Ellument hosts discussion on HIV/AIDS in the black community (UBE Connected) at 7 p.m. every fourth Tuesday of the month at 3116 Commerce St., Suite C; Core Group Meeting every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m.; Fuse game night every Monday evening except the last of the month at 8 p.m. at the Fuse space in the Treymore Building, 4038 Lemmon Ave, Suite 101; FuseConnect every Wednesday from 7 p.m. For more information call or e-mail Jalenzski at 214-760-9718 ext 3 or Janenzski@myresourcecenter.org. LGBT square dancing group Pegasus Squares meets every Sunday from 3-5 p.m. at Dallas School of Burlesque, 2924 Main St. #103; Dallas Frontrunners meet for a walk or run on the Katy trail at the Robert E. Lee statue in Lee park every Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. and every Saturday at 9 a.m.

• Feb. 17: High Tech Happy Hour
Hosted by SMU Cox School of Business LGBTQ and Allies organization from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Meadows Museum, 5900 Bishop Blvd.

• Feb. 17: Mustache Envy & Queerlesque
A transmultigendernautical adventure through queerdom beginning at 10 p.m. at Sue Ellen’s. 3014 Throckmorton St. For information visit Facebook.com/ MustacheEnvyDallas.

• Feb. 18: Studi O69 Gaybingo
Monthly fundraiser for Resource Center takes place from 6-9 p.m. at the Rose Room at S4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 214-540-4458. MyResourceCenter.org/gaybingo.

• Feb. 18: Boys Do Babs
The Turtle Creek Chorale, Camarata and Jodi Crawford Wright celebrate Barbra Streisand in a cabaret performance at
8 p.m. at 7 for Parties, 150 Turtle Creek Blvd. $40-95. TurtleCreekChorale.com.

• Feb. 18: Pride@Work
Pride@Work Texas chapter meeting from 2-4 p.m. at Becky Moeller Auditorium, Texas AFL-CIO Building, 1106 Lavaca St., Austin.

• Feb. 18: BTIPS TX Crowning Debut
Crowning debut of the first Mr Black Trans Dallas, Trenton Johnson from, 3-5 p.m. at Black Transmen Inc, 3530 Forest Lane.

• Feb. 20: Gray Pride
Monday meet up for folks 50 and up to share your story, watch a movie, make a new friend or play a game from 1-5 p.m. at Resource Center 5750 Cedar Springs Road.

• Feb. 21: Awareness About the Care Needs of LGBTQ Older Adults
1.5 CEUs available for social work and nursing home administrators offered by Ed-U-Care. Networking begins at 6 p.m. and programs at 6:30 p.m. at The Senior Source, 3910 Harry Hines Blvd. RSVP to Educaredallas@gmail.com.

• Feb. 21: Log Cabin Republicans
Dallas County D.A. Faith Johnson speaks at 6:30 p.m. at Coal Vines Pizza, 2404 Cedar Springs Road #500.

• Feb. 21: Stonewall Democrats
Monthly meeting from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Sue Ellen’s, 3014 Throckmorton St.

• Feb. 22: LGBT-friendly west coast swing class.
Dallas Pride Dance presents instructor Lori Hayner teaching the coolest dance in the universe for beginners, advanced, couples and singles. 8-10 pm at You Can Dance Dallas studio, 14833 Inwood Road, Addison. $15 suggested donation per person. Everyone welcome.
kapustinfan@yahoo.com; 940-297-7943.

• Feb. 23: Leah Lax speaks
Author Leah Lax talks about leaving the Chasidic world and coming out at 7 p.m. at Temple Emanu-el, 8500 Hillcrest Road.

• Feb. 24: Spring Fling
Mr. and Miss Charity America present Spring Fling benefiting the Texas Red Ribbon Wish Network, Rhonda Mae’s Wall of Food and Tucker’s Gift at 7:30 p.m. at Urban Cowboy, 2620 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth.

• Feb. 25: Dash for the Beads
5K and 10K run, 1K walk and festival at Kidd Springs Park, 711 W. Canty St.

• Feb. 28: Last Night in Black History
Michael D’Andre Childs from Artist Unplugged emcees a showcase of fashion designs from students at The Art Institute of Dallas, tribal dance and music, storytelling, poetry speaks and honors influential black leaders in history benefiting Artitude, a new non-profit to unite LGBT and diverse community artists from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young St.

• March 2: Cirque du Soleil Promise House benefit
Kurios at 8 p.m. at Lone Star Park, 1000 Lone Star Parkway, Grand Prairie. Tickets $85-100 at PromiseHouse.org.

• March 3-5: Scoot Back to Big D
Pegasus Squares LGBT square dancing club hosts its inaugural Fly-In with more than 15 hours of dancing in two concurrent halls. Sons of Hermann Hall, 3414 Elm St. The host hotel is LaQuinta, 10001 N. Central Expressway.

• March 4: Toast to Life
Lady Bunny returns to host the Resource Center fundraiser from 7-11 p.m. at Empire Room, 1225 N. Riverfront Blvd.

• March 8: Planned Parenthood Awards Luncheon
Marcia Clark is the speaker. Tickets are $150. Reservations at 214-302-8382.

• March 17: Mustache Envy & Queerlesque
A transmultigendernautical adventure through queerdom beginning at 10 p.m. at Sue Ellen’s. 3014 Throckmorton St. For information visit Facebook.com/MustacheEnvyDallas.

• March 18: Pot O’ Gold Gaybingo
Monthly fundraiser for Resource Center takes place from 6-9 p.m. at the Rose Room at S4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 214-540-4458. MyResourceCenter.org/gaybingo.

• March 20: Advocacy Day in Austin
Speak to your legislators. GALA North Texas will sponsor buses to Austin. Texas State Capitol, 1100 Congress Ave., Austin.

• March 23-25: Topsy Turvy
The Turtle Creek Chorale presents Topsy Turvy: Songs You Thought You Knew at 7:30 p.m. at City Performance Hall, 2520 Flora St. $25-65. TurtleCreekChorale.com.

• March 25: AIDS Walk South Dallas
From 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, 2922 MLK Jr. Blvd.

• March 31-April 2: Texas Traditions Rodeo
Texas Gay Rodeo Association presents Texas Traditions Rodeo. Gates open at 11 a.m. at Diamond T Arena, 6900 E. Sherman Drive, Denton.

• April 8: No Tie Dinner
This year’s theme is An Artful Life, inspired by the pop artists. From 7-10 p.m. at Frontiers of Flight Museum, 6911 Lemmon Ave. $75. Tickets at NoTieDinner.org

• April 15: Purple Gaybingo
Monthly fundraiser for Resource Center takes place from 6-9 p.m. at the Rose Room at S4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 214-540-4458. MyResourceCenter.org/gaybingo.



Dallas County’s new district attorney, Faith Johnson, talks to Log Cabin Republicans on Tuesday. See listing for details.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Obituary • 02-17-17 – Michele Anne Cox



Michele Anne Cox, 56, passed away peacefully on Sunday, Jan. 29, after a courageous battle with cancer. She was born Feb 17, 1960.
Michele was a Dallas-area Realtor and a longtime and prominent community leader. She will be greatly missed by friends and family. She worked extensively with the Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, chairing the Oak Cliff Home Tour for four years. Her colleagues at OOCCL praised her invaluable service to the Oak Cliff community.

She is survived by her mother, two brothers and a sister, all of Dallas, as well as a multitude of friends from Dallas and Galveston.

A mass of Christian burial was held on Friday, Feb. 3, at Christ the King Catholic Church, 8017 Preston Road in Dallas.

Rest in peace, dear friend. You were truly loved and we will never forget you.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Sexual roundelay

Post-Valentine’s, an illustrated history of celebrities sleeping around



The Art of the Affair by Catherine Lacey and Forsyth Harmon (Bloomsbury 2017) $20; 88 pp.

It’s all about who you know — or, as in the The Art of the Affair, who you’ve dallied with.

Somehow, in some way, the people you meet leave fingerprints on your life. A laugh you’ll never forget, a bon mot you’ll quote, or even an attitude can be a memorable springboard for an idea.

That goes doubly for creative types, for whom romantic (or platonic) relationships, their “carnage of affairs” could lead to “countless works of art.” These unions, whether legal or otherwise, also left a tangle of threads between many artists and writers.

Essayist and editor Edmund Wilson, for instance, helped launch the career of Anaïs Nin, who later wrote erotica. Nin was “unapologetic about her… affairs,” of which there were many, including a banker, “probably a homosexual,” and novelist & playwright Gore Vidal, who himself had “a short affair” with writer James Baldwin, who called another man “the love of his life.”

Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington both collaborated professionally with Ella Fitzgerald, but it was Marilyn Monroe who helped boost Fitzgerald’s career. Monroe talked the owner of an L.A. nightclub into booking the singer, and she attended each of Fitzgerald’s performances there. Monroe, of course, had her share of affairs, too, as well as a friendship with Truman Capote, who was repeatedly insulted by none other than Tennessee Williams.

Williams was no fan of Tallulah Bankhead, and the two publicly snarked at one another for years. Bankhead was an exhibitionist and didn’t care who saw her naked — which, presumably, included her lover, Billie Holiday. Oh, and Williams?  He was a friend of Gore Vidal, who also knew Truman Capote and Anaïs Nin…

Did you ever go somewhere with someone who seems to know everybody?  That’s what it’s like to read The Art of the Affair.

Author Catherine Lacey and illustrator Forsyth Harmon play a sort of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon here, except Bacon isn’t among the folks they dish about. Instead, readers are taken back many decades to look at the dalliances and relationships of artists and stars of the early 20th century, and because very few contemporary artists grace these pages, there may be many times when you won’t recognize the people among the threads. That can be remedied through inference, but a better explanation (at least for some artists) might have been nice, as would an index.
Still, I liked the tidbits in this book, the mini-factlets between ties, and the obvious delight that author and artist lend to the love affairs they so diligently discovered. Light, gossipy, and a little scandalous, The Art of the Affair shows that it’s who you know that’s important … and I know you’ll like it.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer    

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Cassie Nova • 02-17-17

Drag rules to live by


Good day to you all. I hope you are having a splendid day. Sorry, I just had a frittata for lunch and am feeling fancy. The moment has passed. So what’s up? I have been a little under the weather this week. The past few days have been so beautiful outside but all I have wanted to do is stay in bed. I have literally been so worthless and unproductive this week that I should work for Congress.

Speaking of politics, I had to unfriend someone on Facebook this week. She is a Trump supporter, hated Obama and constantly posted things that annoyed me. I kept her as my friend because at one time we were close. Then she said something so ridiculous and stupid that I could take no more. This bitch had the nerve to say Lady Gaga was horrible during the Super Bowl halftime show! Dafuk you say! I have listened to a lot of her hate-filled bullshit and ignored it because you just can’t argue with stupid, but you will not speak ill of Mother Monster. She said she was a horrible singer — I nearly lost my shit! Love her or hate her, you cannot deny her talent. Unfriended and blocked!

I have met Lady Gaga twice, and she was such a positive, awesome, nice person. There was not a hint of bitchiness or diva syndrome to her. Name one other artist that shows up and performs for free at venues that helped her before she was a superstar. The week that “Born This Way” hit No. 1 on the charts, she performed in the Rose Room and at the Round-Up. Her concert was already sold out so it was just a thank-you. She will forever have a place in my heart, not just because I live for her music, but because of how much she has done for the gay community. I adore that crazy woman, and for those of you that said she wasn’t political enough during the halftime show: she sang “Born This Way” in front of Mike Pence. Her lyrics are political enough. You don’t have to rip up a picture of the Pope on live TV to make your point.

Now I would like to give you all a few rules to make sure that when you come out to a drag show you have a good time and don’t piss anybody off.

Rule 1: Stay out of the way. We appreciate your enthusiasm but standing in the aisles can be troublesome. Some of the girls (not me) dance and have choreography. Walking in front of them or going around them might accidently get you punched or elbowed by a death drop or a foot to the face from a high kick. Just be aware of where the entertainers are and wait for them to pass by before you go get your 12th drink.

Rule 2: (and this is a big one for me personally): If you are going to tip, don’t put the money in your mouth and expect us to take it with ours. That’s just gross. Yes, I have put my mouth on much worse, but mouth-money is nasty. I will still take it and spend it gladly but Purell, Purell, Purell.

Rule 3: If you arrive late and stand near the stage, look behind you. If you see someone sitting in a chair or stool, that means they got there early to get a good seat. You just gonna walk in late and stand in the damn way…No! Move, bitch, get outta tha way, get outta tha way bitch, get outta tha way!

Rule 4: If you are with a bachelorette party, please be respectful. We understand that this is a special night for your friend, but this is also the only night many of you will ever be in a gay bar so you get an attitude if we don’t make the entire show about the bride to be. Truth is, we might give you a little shout-out, but our entertainers are getting paid to perform so we don’t need you and your woo-hoo girls to entertain us. Sit back, relax and enjoy the show … hopefully without a scowl on your face. P.S. This does not apply to gay and lesbian bachelor/bachelorette parties. We will always make a big deal out of yours. (Honestly, calling out a bachelor or bachelorette party is totally up to the emcee. Don’t demand it and it will be more fun for everyone.)

Rule 5: Selfie etiquette. In this day of selfies, if you didn’t get a selfie with it, it didn’t happen. Not true. You can actually point the phone or camera towards the object or person you want a picture of, and take a pic without you in it. It’s called “photography.” I know, I know – you wanna be in the pic, too. It’s just the way things are. First off, don’t expect us to stop our number for a selfie if you ain’t tippin’. Secondly, have your shit ready. We do not have time for you to figure out your phone while standing, saying cheese or duck-lipped forever. You get one click then we gotta go. If you messed it up with your fat thumbs or because you have a crappy flip phone, that’s on you, boo.

Rule 6: If you are not having fun, leave. One of my pet peeves is when someone is sitting at our show looking like they are smelling shit (aka stank face). Stank face usually occurs when straight people are forced to be in a gay club where they are clearly uncomfortable. Now, don’t think the gays are immune to stank face. We have been known to have it in groups. We get it, drag is not for everybody. There is a dance floor downstairs; go dance. There is a hot dog vendor on the corner, go eat a dick… sorry, a wiener. There is plenty to do on the block if drag is not your thing.

Rule 7: Be respectful. It takes a lot of courage — and dare I say, balls — to get up on any stage. This goes especially for the Thursday night Rising Star amateur show. Those girls are up-and-coming and may not be as polished as some of the other girls, but I still ask that you respect them. We all start somewhere. So applaud their bravery, applaud their determination. Come back each week and hopefully applaud their growth. Karma is a bitch and so am I. You disrespect one of us, you disrespect us all. Drag is a sisterhood — a dysfunctional and messy family but for some it is everything. Respect my family and I will try to overlook your stank face.

Rule 8 (Which actually should have been Rule 1, but I don’t like to rewrite anything: Have fun. That’s the great thing about a drag show. As a performer, there is no better feeling than seeing the crowd smiling, laughing, singing along and dancing in their seats. If you are having a blast, show it. We feed off it. Sometimes the cheering and applause of an audience can change our mood. We know the show must go on even if we have had a bad day or we are in a bad mood; a great crowd can change everything. It can reverse a bad mood and provide balance to a horrible day. Yes, the tips also help — a heavy purse is always a great thing. But sometimes a great crowd can energize and heal like nothing else. It is easy to get addicted to the endorphins that are released when a crowd cheers for you. So if you are having a good time, let us know it. Life is too short not to enjoy yourself so support your local drag show!

Remember to love more, bitch less and be fabulous! XOXO, Cassie Nova.

If you have a question of comment, email it to AskCassieNova@gmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Dallasvoice

Mistresses of Illusion

Ashantee Black DeFox and Ivana Tramp bring Grace Jones and Tina Turner to life each Saturday night at Rainbow Lounge


Ashantee Black DeFox , left, Ivana Tramp, right


Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

“It’s drag … but with a twist.”

That’s how Ashantee Black DeFox explains the Illusions show that she and Ivana Tramp host each Saturday night at Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth.

Both Ashantee and Ivana are veterans in the North Texas drag scene. Both have been performing in clubs — locally and elsewhere — for several years, and both have pageant titles to their credit.

Their names and faces sure to be familiar to fans.

But then again, it’s not really their faces you’ll see onstage each Saturday at Rainbow Lounge.

“We’re hired to do specific characters, to give the illusion of specific performers, and we bring in special guests each week not just to do drag, but to do specific performers,” Ashantee continued. “It’s drag, with a twist of Las Vegas.”

Ashantee is known for her illusion of Grace Jones, and Ivana for her illusion of Tina Turner. In recent weeks, they have welcomed to the Rainbow Lounge stage stars like Tommie Ross performing as Diana Ross, Sweet Savage performing as Cher and Candy Cane performing as Mariah Carey. They brought in an entertainer from Memphis to perform as Reba McEntire, and one from Houston presenting the illusion of Selena.

You never know, the two show hosts agreed, who you will see on the stage. And their Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge has a reach that extends beyond the LGBT community, Ashantee said: “We cater to the hetero community, too. We have a lot of people who come in for private parties, wedding showers and things like that.”

Neither Ashantee nor Ivana is new to the drag scene, nor are they new to the art of illusion. “We work nationally,” Ashantee said. “We do cruises, events, private parties. I went to the Grace Jones concert [dressed as] Grace Jones, and people just freaked out. I went on America’s Got Talent and performed as Grace Jones.”

Ivana described one job where a client “booked me [as Tina Turner] and the B-52s — the actual band — to do a show for his wife, who was dying of cancer.”

Another time, she said, she went out in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, again dressed as Tina. When she stepped out of the car, the crowd around her went wild, grabbing at her and taking photos.

“I had someone fly me to California to perform as Tina Turner in a double-wide trailer. I performed at the side of a pool, at expensive hotels, even at children’s parties,” Ivana said.

“Illusion and drag are different,” she added, “and there’s good things and bad things about doing mostly illusion. On the bad side, I’ve gotten stuck doing Tina Turner; I don’t have the chance to do a lot of other stuff. But on the good side, I’ve had a lot of opportunities and gotten to meet a lot of people because of performing as Tina Turner.”

“We live these characters,” Ashantee said. “Anybody can say that they are [performing as] a certain singer, but can you really look like that person? Illusion is more than just lip-syncing somebody’s song.”

Ivana added, “That’s true. We get really upset with some of these queens who think they can just throw on anything and be a character. That’s not illusion.”

Ashantee said that she and Ivana have known each other for about 25 years. But since they started the Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge, they have become family as well as coworkers.

“If I am having a bad day — like I forgot a wig or some shoes — she’ll have something for me to use. We pick up for each other, and help each other out,” Ashantee said.

But their connection goes beyond the stage; they are there for each other in their personal lives, too. Ashantee explained that when her mother died recently, Ivana was there to keep her going.

“It’s always been my dream to be Miss Texas USofA, but when my mother died, I was ready to give up. This lady right here,” she said, reaching over to wrap an arm around Ivana’s shoulder, “this lady told me not to give up. She knew I wanted to just give up, but she told me to keep going, that my mother would want to see me happy.”

Ashantee said she is also taking care of her special needs sister and her little brother, and that she knows Ivana is there to support her in those efforts, too.

“I’ve never lost my own mother, so I couldn’t say, ‘Oh, I know how you feel,’” Ivana said. “But I know what it’s like to love your family and to worry about them.”

In fact, Ivana moved back to her parents’ home in Arlington to help them after her father was injured in a fall. And, she said, she had given up life onstage.

“I wasn’t having any fun, so I had stopped performing for about five years,” Ivana said. She said she had moved back to her parents, and eating her mama’s cooking had added a few pounds. Then a friend opened a restaurant in Dallas called Tallywackers and asked her to come out of her early retirement to stage a show there.

“He made me an offer, and I told him give me six months to lose some weight,” she said. “But then the restaurant closed. Still, Ivana decided that she did want to perform again, and the Illusions show at Rainbow Lounge was the perfect opportunity.

“Coming back to performing made me come to life again,” she said.

Ashantee and Ivana both say they know they are getting older, and they started at a time when all drag was more like illusion — “Everybody was trying to be their hero,” Ivana said — but they both also know that they have something special to offer their audiences.

“We’re still kicking it!” Ashantee declared.

“Sometimes,” Ivana added, “you’re just tired. You just don’t want to get dressed up and go out on that stage. But then, we start putting on that makeup and — boom! We are ready to go.

“We feed off each other,” she continued. “There’s just that little click — you put on that last bit of lipstick or spray on your perfume, and there it is. You feel that click and you know, it’s show time!”

“We do love it,” Ashantee said. “That’s the most important thing, the thing that makes us the best. We have that passion, a passion to make people smile and give them a show that leaves them feeling good.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.


—  Tammye Nash

From liberal to ultra-orthodox and back again

Leah Lax’s memoir tells how she left the Chasidic world and found herself again


Leah Lax


DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

It’s the tale of how a child of 1960s liberals, who grew up at classically Reform Temple Emanu-el on Hillcrest Road in Dallas, spent years in an arranged marriage where birth control was not allowed, and lived with a covered body. And it is told in Leah Lax’s memoir, Uncovered: How I Left Chasidic Life and Finally Came Home.

She will tell her story at Temple Emanu-el at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23.

Lax called her move to the world of the ultra-Orthodox an act of rebellion against her parents and her upbringing. But, as she now admits, she soon learned, “That’s no place for a baby lesbian.”

Still, her attraction to Chasidism was more than rebellion. She said she embraced the beautiful teachings and, as a cellist, lost herself in the melodic minor-key music the movement produced. She studied the religion and thought of herself as a Yeshiva boy — you know, as in Yentl.

But Lax’s marriage was stifling. Her cello went into the closet. And, of course, this wasn’t Yentl and she wasn’t permitted to study.

“I lost myself as I matured,” Lax said.

Her husband proposed the night they met on a date she described as taking place in a Sears parking lot. Over the next 10 years, she had seven children and a miscarriage, then found herself pregnant again.

“In the Chasidic world, they define manhood and womanhood for you,” she said. “This is how a woman walks. This is how a woman talks. This is how a woman behaves.”

She called her husband distant — even described him as having Asperger’s symptoms — but brilliant, with degrees in physics and math and a doctorate in biophysics.

But her final pregnancy was a breaking point.

“I was either going to have an abortion or I was going to die,” she said.

For that, Lax knew, she needed the permission of the rabbi. In Judaism, abortion is required if it is a situation of choosing between the life of the fetus and the life of the mother. Their rabbi, reluctantly, agreed not to stop her because he knew her mental health was at stake.

“That’s when I woke up,” Lax said. “I own my body.”

That was also the end of her marriage and when she came out as lesbian. Living in Houston, her attorney advised her she had no chance of gaining custody of her children. Most of them were no longer living at home, because they were shipped off to boarding Yeshivas — religious schools — at age 14, so she agreed.

She left the marriage and her home with little more than her cello. Coming out was natural for her.

“I’ve never been attracted to anyone other than a woman,” she said.

What she had to learn was how to do everyday tasks. She didn’t know how to order off a menu, read a lease or use a remote control.

“I thought the Internet was irrelevant,” she said. “I felt like a refugee in my own country.”

That concept sparked the idea of collecting immigrant stories for a new book — something, she said, that suddenly became even more relevant in the age of Trump.

For years, Lax struggled to tell her own story and worked for years to write it. When she was accepted in a women’s month-long writing retreat, Gloria Steinem took her under her wing and even provided the title to her book. Lax said she had been trying to write a feminist memoir, but didn’t have the language until her friendship with Steinem developed.

The book has brought her very close with two of her children. Four of the seven have left the Chasidic world.

Lax said she counts her abortion as the most important thing she did in her life.

“Until I owned my body, I couldn’t make any decisions,” she said.

And how’s her life today?

“I fell in love,” she said. “We’re together 12 years.” And her book is being turned into an opera.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  David Taffet

Countdown to a Gay Games decision

Dallas is among 8 cities bidding to host the 2022 Gay Games, and aiming to make the final 3 cut on Feb. 28


DSC Executive Director Monica Paul


Tammye Nash  |  Managing Editor

In just 11 days, the Federation of Gay Games will narrow down the field of eight cities vying to host the 2022 Gay Games. And the Dallas Sports Commission is pulling for Big D to be one of the final three contenders announced on Feb. 28.

DSC revealed its intent to bid on the 2022 Gay Games last October, with openly gay Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis making the announcement during the 2016 Black Tie Dinner. Video of that announcement was part of the Dallas committee’s presentation to the FGG a few weeks later in Sydney, Australia.

With anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 competitors expected to attend the 2022 Gay Games, bringing with them about 25,000 partners, family members and friends, DSC Executive Director Monica Paul said the games would have an economic impact of about $60 million on Dallas and the Metroplex.

In addition, she continued, hosting the games would give Dallas international exposure as a destination for tourists from around the world. “We are already a destination city, but this could really change the perception of Dallas in terms of being a city with a very strong LGBT population.

We are very proud of that and we want to be known as an inclusive city,” she said. “People might not automatically think of ‘open-minded’ and ‘inclusive’ when they think of Texas. But we want them to know Dallas is open-minded and inclusive.”

The other cities that have submitted bids to host the games in five years are San Francisco (the city where the games were founded and where the federation is now based), Salt Lake City, Denver, Austin, Washington D.C., Hong Kong and Guadalajara. Paul said recently she thinks Dallas has a very good chance at making the final three.

“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses,” Paul said of the eight contending cities. “You look at San Francisco, for example. That’s where the Gay Games originated. They have history there, so that might give them an advantage. But at the same time, San Francisco is a very expensive city.

The truth is, we haven’t really been comparing ourselves to the other cities. We have been focused on what we have to offer and making sure the committee sees those things,” she said. “Now, if we make it to the short list, then comes the analysis of the other cities’ bids and focus on highlighting our strengths as compared to the other two.”

Dallas, Paul continued, definitely has some advantages. For one, the Gay Games draw competitors and spectators from around the world, and Dallas has the advantage of having DFW International Airport handy, making travel easier for international athletes to get here.

Plus, Paul said, there’s also Dallas Love Field, located just minutes from the heart of the city and giving U.S. participants more options for travel.

“We have a lot of things on our side,” she said. “Look at the sports culture here in Dallas. Just speaking from that perspective, we have everything you need to host the games. And the Gay Games aren’t just about sports; there’s a very strong cultural aspect to them. And Dallas has that covered, too. We have one of the largest urban arts districts anywhere.”

There is no competition associated with the cultural component of the games, Paul said. “Instead, it is more exhibit based,” she explained. “We will have a film festival. The Turtle Creek Chorale and the Women’s Chorus of Dallas would play a big role in that part. The people in the Arts District and the city’s cultural groups will take a role in planning that side of the events.”

DART is another big component of Dallas’ Gay Games bid, offering participants “ease of transportation from the airports to the athletes’ village, and ease of travel to the sports venues and the cultural venues,” Paul said.

FGG committee members have asked about accessibility of the venues in relation to the athletes’ village — which, Paul said, would be constructed using money from sponsorships and from fundraising efforts — and about the venues in general.

“I’m very confident in the venues that we have put forth, and I know they will be great partners for us,” she said. “And we have had overwhelmingly positive response from Mayor Mike Rawlings and the majority of the Dallas City Council members have signed a letter supporting the bid.”

Dallas County Treasurer Pauline Medrano is supporting the effort, Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the Dallas County Commissioners, state Sen. Royce West and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The Dallas bid also has “a very solid financial model in place going into the process,” which gives Big D another advantage.

Noting that Texas’ western heritage “always pops up” when visitors think of coming to Dallas, so the local committee chose to include rodeo among the sports that would be included in the 2022 games if Dallas wins the bid to host.

“I think we’re the only U.S. city offering rodeo. Not including it would have been a huge missed opportunity,” Paul said. “We have a very passionate and very strong LGBT rodeo organization here in TGRA. In fact, we have a number of great LGBT sports organizations — softball, volleyball, bowling, rodeo — that would integral to our success. That is a definite strength for us.

“One unique component we would be adding is cheerleading. It’s always been on the cultural side of the games before, but in Dallas, cheerleading is part of our DNA. It just fit for us to include it in the competition,” Paul said.

Paul acknowledged that the conservative bent of the Texas Legislature’s current session does cast a bit of a shadow over Dallas’ bid for the 2022 games. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s “bathroom bill” has prompted questions from the FGG committee making the decision, for example. But Paul pointed out that the measure is unpopular with many Texans, and that there is a big push — led by Dallas’ own convention and visitors bureau, now called Visit Dallas, and others in the state’s business community.

“The state’s political climate, the country’s political climate could change drastically between now and 2022,” she said.

She continued, “When you put it all together — two airports, a hub for American Airlines, the cultural aspects, the cost per participant — I think we have it all.

“I think we have a great opportunity here. We want to further understand the long-term vision of what the FGG wants, and we want to help them get there by hosting the games in 2022. The FGG’s mission is about inclusion and diversity, and it is hard to have an inclusive model when your city is too expensive. You want everybody to feel they have access.”

The motto for Visit Dallas is “Big things happen here,” Paul noted. And she wants to the Federation of Gay Games to know the city will go all out to welcome participants and make the 2022 games the best yet.

“We want to host the Gay Games, and we want it to be the best executed and best produced Gay Games they’ve ever seen,” she said. “That’s our theme: Go Big.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Tammye Nash

Cabinet level position

We chat with Nathan Dennis, one of the out artists with Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, ‘Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities’



It’s a cliché that at some point, all young boys dream of running away to join the circus. A circus. Any circus. You’d think it hasn’t actually happened since the Great Depression. But for Nathan Dennis, not only is it literally true, it is exactly the future he imagined.

“I saw a Cirque du Soleil show when I was about 13,” recalls the native of Brisbane in Queensland, Australia. The show was one of Cirque’s earliest touring productions: Saltimbanco. “I said to my mother that I would really like to do that. My mom thought I was a little crazy but I wanted run away with the circus.”

But what exactly was the “that” they were doing, and how does a tween prepare for a career in the circus? Dennis was pretty savvy about it.

“I made the link between what I saw [under the big top], and gymnastics,” he says. “When I was younger, I was always hand-standing and was a little bit acrobatic.” But he immediately began taking formal gymnastics classes, perfecting his tumbles and jumps and stretches — all with one goal: To join Cirque du Soleil.

“My main background was trampoline, so [I felt comfortable applying that to] all the acts in Cirque that involve an aerial element. That’s how I made the link. If I had good aerial awareness, I could do a double somersault from a swing or a trapeze.”
Ummm… Aerial awareness? Explain for us couch potatoes, please. Dennis laughs.

“It’s pretty much just have a good ability to know where you are when in the air,” he explains. “To [execute] which trick you are doing, you need to be a little fearless, as well. It all comes naturally to me.”

After years of practice, once he finished high school, he auditioned.

And he was hired.

For Saltimbanco — the very show that triggered his fascination in the first place.

Talk about lightning in a bottle.

That was, remarkably, about a decade ago. In the intervening time, Dennis has moved into one of Cirque’s newest productions: Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities, which is now in its more than month-long run under the distinctive colorful tent at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie. And while Dennis has been with the show for nearly three years, the run-up to it has been a lengthy and daunting undertaking.

Ever wonder how the creative folks at Cirque du Soleil put together a new show from soup to nuts? Dennis has lived it.

Cirque management had begun to hear feedback that, after 30 years of performances, their shows were becoming a little predictable. To address that, the director and writer of the show, Michel Laprise, declared a mandate: Get rid of what they were doing out of habit versus what they did out of necessity (safety, for instance). The result is Kurios.

One thing that sets apart the act Dennis is a part of, called AcroNet, is that just a few years ago, much of what you see would not have been possible. Advances in technology made the trampoline rigging a reality. What arrives on stage looks like a music box, and out of it, the characters come to life (Dennis is one of six performers in the act). They then dazzle us with a human-powered display of physicality.

“When we practiced in our high school gym it was never on this scale,” Dennis says, still slightly amazed at what they are able to do. “I was definitely excited when they said we have this new project. I didn’t envision the net whatsoever.”

All of that required not just tons of training, but the ability to design a unique and entertaining act.

Dennis was plucked from Saltimbanco to join five other artists — none of whom he knew personally, only by reputation on their work in other Cirque productions — to develop the act together.

First, they had to learn how to use the net itself, and to develop their leg strength and control the net with their feet. Then they needed to turn those skills into something.

“For the first two months, we paired with a choreographer and acrobatics coach, and they put together a rough draft of the act. Then we presented it to the artistic director. We’d go back and forth until he liked what he saw. The full creation period was nine months — a week before we premiered, we were still changing things. And we’re still developing stuff now,” he says. “I still don’t know how [we] pulled it off.”

AcroNet has proven popular with audiences of all ages — the costumes (a distinctive aspect of all Cirque shows) conjure up fishes either in a net or buoyantly swimming through the “water,” behaving with goofy abandon. All of which seems very “Cirque du Soleil” to Dennis.

“I just think that there’s an attention to detail and it’s the small details that make the shows stand out,” says. There’s even an LGBT moment in the show, inserted by Laprise (who, like Dennis, is openly gay) where he puts a rainbow in the show — a wink to the big queer following Cirque has always enjoyed.

Just before the Dallas production opened, Dennis and the rest of the cast were on a break, which allowed him to return to his family in Australia. Now that he’s 30, he realizes that his dream job comes at a cost.

“I was dating someone in Australia, but I do not [have a partner] now. It’s hard to meet people and maintain a relationship — especially when you are leaving and going to a city far away, it’s kind of draining to manage,” he says.

Ah, life in a circus. It’s not all clowns and rainbows.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February, 17 2017.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones