Overcoming fear and finding passion

Landon Starnes had to step outside his comfort zone to compete as Lotta Pink in the Miss LifeWalk Pageant

lotta1
Landon Starnes as Lotta Pink

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Talk to Landon Starnes about his involvement with LifeWalk, the annual walkathon benefiting AIDS Arms and its partner agencies, and you’ll hear

Starnes repeat the words “passion” and “fear” a lot.

Starnes said he let fear rule him for too long. But in the end, there’s no doubt that “passion” wins out.

Starnes, who works as a hairdresser, said that he was diagnosed with HIV in October 1998. But he wasn’t prepared to deal with reality, and so for years, he said, “I ignored my diagnosis emotionally.”

But then some friends began to encourage him to confront his HIV status by getting involved in LifeWalk, specifically by joining the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk team.

Starnes said it took him awhile to get up to speed, and he was involved with LifeWalk just “off and on” for several years. But three years ago, he decided to really take the plunge and has been an active member of the Guys and Dolls team ever since.

This year, even that got ratcheted up a notch when Starnes finally gave in to his teammates’ cajoling and entered the Miss LifeWalk Pageant.

“My team had been asking me for two years to enter the pageant, but I declined every time. I was just scared to death to do drag,” Starnes explained. “But this year, I decided to accept the challenge, even though it scared me.”

The first challenge was to come up with a character, so “I started brainstorming about a character, about who I would be,” Starnes said. “I started thinking about things I, as a person, am passionate about. And I am passionate about the singer Pink.

“Her music gets to me in a way that no one else’s does,” Starned continued. “Her lyrics inspire me. I think, if I had to pick just one, my favorite Pink song is ‘Glitter in the Air.’ It says, ‘Have you ever wished for an endless night?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?’ It made me look into myself, literally. Last summer, while we were on a road trip, my friends and I stopped and actually threw a fistful of glitter in the air. It was silly and fun, and now it is a memory that will last forever.”

But there is one line in the song, Starnes said, that really touched him, one lyric that made him think and gave him the determination to set aside the fear that had held him back: “Have you ever looked fear in the face, and said, I just don’t care?”

It was, Starnes said, a spark that made his passion for LifeWalk and for doing something to help others blaze even brighter.

“I knew I wasn’t going to try to be Pink, but I love what she does. So I decided I would kind of pay tribute to her with my character,” Starnes said.

And so, Lotta Pink was born.

And lo and behold, Lotta Pink won the Miss LifeWalk title on her first try, helping Starnes bring in about $7,000 for LifeWalk this year, bringing his total over all his Guys and Dolls years to about $11,000.

Starnes said he and Lotta Pink obviously have a lot in common. “We share our passion for the cause, first of all, and second, we both want to step outside the box,” Starnes said. “I was afraid of doing drag. But my favorite quote is ‘Do it scared,’ so that’s what I did. I stepped outside the box and challenged myself, and in doing that, I learned that fears are just fears, nothing else.”

Starnes said that while his fears still remain to some degree, Lotta Pink “has no fear,” and she is helping him overcome his own.

“It’s easier when you can put on a wig and some makeup and kind of step outside yourself,” Starnes said. “Now, learning to step out without that disguise is what comes next!”

Knowing that what he does is all to help AIDS Arms and the clients the agency serves makes it even easier to put the fear aside, Starnes said.

“The Guys and Dolls team works all year, not just on the day of LifeWalk. And the people at AIDS Arms work all year trying to help other people. I love AIDS Arms, and I love what it stands for,” Starnes said. “The walk itself is symbolic, to me. It’s a short walk, yes, but just going through the movement of walking allows you to release your passion.

“Everybody who participates is there for their own reasons, but whatever the reason, they are passionate about it,” he continued. “That alone speaks volumes. The biggest thing that came out of all this for me was seeing how good people really are.”

Again, it all comes down to overcoming fear and fully realizing the passion.

“It’s so important for everyone to find their passion, whether it’s LifeWalk or something else,” Starnes said. “Finding my passion has lifted me to a whole new level of awareness, understanding and joy. It’s just such a positive energy when you are around all these people at LifeWalk who work so hard to make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s helped me find a happiness I have never known before.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lee Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 1 p.m. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Do you Peru?

Even as fans rallied to help Coco Peru get her next film off the ground, the drag goddess still likes her comedy live

lead

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Expect a lovefest when Coco Peru comes back to Dallas for Pride weekend. With memories of a responsive audience, shopping and beef jerky during her last go-round here nearly two years ago, the drag goddess is hoping for a repeat performance. Sort of. She’s back on the road with a new show, but that’s not all the legendary queen has going on.

“Well, we’ve filmed Girls Will Be Girls 2 already,” Peru (aka Clinton Leupp) says. “Right now the writer/director is busily editing. It’s just one of those things: You film it and hope for the best.”

Peru has garnered a significant amount of film work over the years, usually with notable cameos in films like as Trick, but occasionally as the star, as with Girls Will Be Girls. But she admits live performance is where she’s at her best.

“I like to think my show is like watching a theater piece,” she says. “I love film acting, but it’s exciting on a whole other level. There’s not that energy of a live audience and no feedback. So often, comic timing is how the audience is reacting to you. With acting, you mentally feel it out, try it and mostly trust the director. I find sometimes I rehearsed a line so much in my head, it takes me a few times to take direction on it.”

For Girls 2, Peru discovered just how much her fans appreciated her work. As a micro-mini indie, the film went on the website Kickstarter to raise funds. As word got out that the film was in production and that Peru was in it, the money rolled in.

“The movie was completely funded by fans,” she exclaims. “It was just incredible that they would want to pay money! And I must say, most of it came from my fans. I’m just putting that out there.”

Along with funds from Kickstarter, the crew itself was almost all-volunteer. People would just show up, willing to help out. It turned into an actual labor of love.

Along with donated help, the production even received a donated green screen. All the generosity reminded Peru that people are that genuinely kind and that it’s all right to ask for things, which usually embarrasses her. She saw this particular filmmaking experience as a good lesson on many levels.

“Let’s just hope the movie’s funny,” she laughs.

Dating back to the “early ‘90s” — that’s as specific as her website will get — Peru gives much credit to her fans along the way for the success of her career. Even if they come up to once again mention her role in the film Trick, Peru takes none of it for granted. Perhaps it’s cliché for any type of celebrity to appreciate their fans, but she  talks at length about how her fans have kept her driven.

“It’s so overwhelming, whether it’s a movie or my own shows, that they will take time to contact me to tell me whatever it is they are feeling,” she says. “I feel lucky and blessed when they reach out to me and I strive to answer every email. I remember those days that felt so lonely and sad. Growing up gay and feeling rejected doesn’t make a happy life. But when you get over 800 birthday messages on Facebook, it’s amazing!”

She’ll meet a new slew of fans on her current End of Summer Tour, as she’ll visit Tampa and Las Vegas for the first time as a performer. Even with her experience onstage, Peru is still daunted by a new audience, the same way she was before playing Dallas the first time early last year.

“The first time, I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect,” she recalls. “I felt that audiences came wanting to have a great time. You go to certain cities and they have a bit of an edge, but in Texas, it was an immediate love fest on both ends.”

In her new show, There Comes a Time, Peru talks about getting older and reminiscing about her life. Fortunately, Dallas isn’t a punch line in her monologue. The city left a good impression on her and she only hopes to make another one of her own.

“Well, I’m happy to be coming back and they took such good care of me last time,” she says, “but I don’t wanna jinx myself. You never know.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Lady of leather

Dallas chef Synn Evans took off her chef’s coat and put on a cowhide vest on her way to being crowned Ms. Texas Leather

culture-1
LEATHER MAMA | Synn Evans is a long-standing member of the leather community, but won the first event she ever entered last week: Ms. Texas Leather. (Photo courtesy Oblivion Images)

JENNY BLOCK  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

I want this.”

That’s how Synn Evans felt about the Ms. Texas Leather title from the minute she decided to compete. As of Saturday night, that desire became a reality.

She’s in full regalia for our interview, including black leather vest, chaps and her medal. She sports a jet black Mohawk, devilish grin and blue eyes with a gaze as intent as it is kind. Ms. Texas Leather is not a beauty contest, but it’s hard to imagine her looks didn’t help her case.

Evans has been a member of the leather community since 1996, when her best friend introduced her to the scene at a party.

“I was introduced to good people and taken by the hand because of connections. It’s a huge networking system,” she says. “No matter where you travel, you have a place to walk into and fit in, and whatever turns you on is all right. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s like you just know something you just belong with.”

Still, her entry last week marked her first leather competition — surprising, considering how she lights up when she talks about leather:

“I love the way it looks. I love the way it smells. I love the way people dress in it. It’s not for everyone and I get that. But I think that if people were introduced to it in a proper way, it would be hard to walk away from. It’s exciting.”

Her love of leather is in no way hampered by the fact that many see the scene as the domain of gay men. “The leather scene is dominated by men,” she acknowledges. “It was started by men. Women were there, but it was a separate entity. Throughout the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, it started to take off and the feminist movement was really intertwined in it.”

Despite its male roots, Evans says she doesn’t feel any disrespect from her brothers in leather. “I don’t think there’s a problem for women in the community. Men appreciate having their own space just like I appreciate having the women’s space. I’ve never had any trouble. I get along very well with the gay male community. I’ve never had anyone be negative in any way, which is one of the reasons I love the leather community so much. It’s really just a matter of visibility.”

It’s that very issue that helped Evans to win the title. “Visibility is part of my platform, for women in the community to be seen and heard,” she says. Evans also hopes to improve access to the community for those who are hearing impaired, an issue close to her own heart as her last partner was hearing impaired and her current partner, Lillith Grey, is a sign language interpreter and instructor, as well as Gulf Coast Leather Woman of the Year.

“When I announced I was running for this title, [Former IML champ] Jeffrey Payne said to me, ‘It’s going to be a title family now.’ Next I’m going for International Ms. Leather.”

Evans says prepping for the competition was no easy task, between writing a speech, preparing for the interview, researching the judges and preparing a fantasy scene (a four-minute-long performance). Of these, it was the interview, Evans says, that really had her nervous.

“What was so stressful was that they could ask anything — personal, professional, family, anything — like, ‘What does leather mean to you,’ or ‘How do you plan on raising money for the title [for travel]’ or ‘How will your students feel about this?’” She stops and smiles. “They would think it was cool.”

In her vanilla life, Evans is a chef instructor at a community college and a private chef for various events (including for Glory Hole, her partner’s fetish production company; see sidebar). When Evans goes off to her professional gigs, her Mohawk gets collapsed and her jewelry comes off  as her chef’s coat goes on. “In my professional life, I try to be neutral,” she says, although some things, like her tattoos, she keeps on display “because they’re me.”

“Transitioning back and forth between the worlds really isn’t that hard. Like everyone else, you have a time and place for everything in your life. You always find a time and place for things that are important to you and I would never give up the leather community for anything in the world. It’s incredibly liberating to be with people who don’t care if you want to be pierced or don’t want to wear clothes or whatever.”

She laughs. “It’s all about pleasing yourself, realizing what you like and what you want and doing it … as long as it’s safe.”

It’s clear that the win means far more to Evans than just bragging rights.

“This title is a huge opportunity for women in the leather community here in Dallas and across the state. Part of my job as titleholder is to get people to come out. This title has the opportunity to really give the issues and the community the visibility it needs.”

Then she leans back, takes in the moment with a slow breath, and smiles. “It’s pretty cool.”

Indeed.

………………

GET YOUR KINK ON

culture-2This weekend, it’s time to get kinky and retro.

Glory Hole is a not-for-profit fetish event production company (which also has a kink/fetish performance troupe, called the Gloryhole Girls), with beneficiaries like the John Thomas Gay and Lesbian Community Center and other LGBT and kink charities. It was founded in part by Lillith Grey, an artist, activist, burlesque dancer and college instructor in the sex-positive community (she’s also partner to reigning Ms. Texas Leather Synn Evans).

Friday is Glory Hole’s ’70s Porno Party. “It’s going to be phenomenal,” Grey says. “We have live music, The Foxxy Love Show, community vendors, a private portrait photographer, a voyeur room, a full dungeon, hot DJs, and a catered fondue bar, as well as a no-cash raffle.” (One donated non-perishable food item gets you one raffle ticket.)

The location is sent to members the day of the party, and the parties are BYOB with a very strict no-photos policy. Security and safety are paramount at these events. Costumes are highly encouraged. “RIsque is A-OK,” is Grey’s motto.

Because it’s a members-only event, you need to join in time for the party (no applications are accepted at the door — if you can even find the door). To register by 6: p.m. Friday, visit GirlsGoneGloryhole.com.

— J.B.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dynamic duo

New partners Curtis Cook and Shane Friesenhahn shake their booty … camp

There’s the nursery rhyme that begins, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean… .” But apparently if Jack Sprat were in a same-sex relationship, it would be a fat-free household all the way around. Such is the case with this month’s fitness profile: Curtis Cook and Shane Friesenhahn. The lads have been together for just three months, but the real number that caught our eye was their collective body fat: 19 percent and shrinking by the day. How do they do it? Diet, exercise and rewarding a great workout with a sexy new swimsuit rather than a hot fudge sundae.

— Jef Tingley

…………………….

Names and ages: Curtis James Cook, 24, and Shane Friesenhahn, 37.

Occupations: Cook: HAMP processor at Nationstar Mortgage; Friesenhahn: owner of Silk Sculptures, a floral design studio.

Length of relationship: Three months

Sports and activities: Pool volleyball and Dr. Peay’s Booty Camp

Exercise regime: Cook: I attend Dr. Peay’s Booty Camp two days a week and go to L.A. Fitness a couple times a week. When I go to the gym, I always do abs first, then either upper body or legs followed by 15 to 20 minutes of cardio. My workout usually totals around an hour to an hour and a half.  My goal is to go to the gym on my days off of [boot camp], but it doesn’t always happen.

Friesenhahn:  [Boot camp] five days a week, which consists of cardio, Plyometrics and light resistance training.

Upcoming fitness goals: Cook: I’m lean, but I want to be toned. My goal is a slightly bigger chest and defined mid section. I also want my body fat around 8 percent; as of the beginning of July it was 12 percent. I think my goal of toning up will automatically help me reach my body fat percentage goal.

Friesenhahn: I’m currently right below 8 percent body fat, but my new goal is to boast a “lean and mean” 6.5 percent — a little bones showing never looked so good! I will say that making better nutritional choices, mostly organic, really helps.

Best “eat this, not that” tip: Friesenhahn: Well, instead of Krispy Kreme donuts or a starchy cereal, I replace it with whole fruits such as blueberries, a Pink Lady apple or grapefruit. As for my sweet tooth, I am in love with organic crunchy peanut butter with a banana or a piece of gluten free bread that has live sprouted grains. I am also an avid believer in supplements including as astaxanthin, fish oil and many others.

Workout preference: mornings or evenings? Cook: I like both. I would like to work out in the mornings more, but it is just so hard to get up that early.

Friesenhahn: Evenings mostly, but just to mix it up I do like to attend the “crack of dawn” morning workouts as well.

How do you survive an outdoor workout in the Texas heat? Friesenhahn:  My exercise group works out in the shade, unless we are running the typical mile required. Everyone brings the essentials like water and Gatorade. Sometimes [our trainer] brings ice when it’s really hot. The main thing is to read your own body and take mini breaks to regroup. Other than that, I really enjoy sweating and releasing toxins.

Favorite spot in North Texas to exercise indoors: Cook: The L.A. Fitness by my work in Lewisville, because I don’t feel like I’m being cruised the entire time.

If you could become an Olympian in any sport, what would it be and why: Cook: I’ve always wanted to do gymnastics. The parallel bars and tumbling are my favorite. I even took tumbling private [lessons] for a month when I was 20 and learned a back handspring in only four sessions.

Friesenhahn: Ice figure skating. The blend of artistry and athleticism is super challenging. I used to roller skate my long drive as a kid and pretend I was practicing for the next Olympics!

How do you reward yourself for a great work out: Friesenhahn:  Two ways. First is a trip to Yumilicious. Then on to find an even more “skimpy” swimsuit to wear at the next pool get together.

Cook: I definitely don’t eat badly afterwards because then I feel guilty and it’s as if I just negated the entire work out. I reward myself by maybe buying something a little smaller and more fitting because I know I will look good in it. I also like to go lay out in my Speedo after a good week of working out because I feel confident with my body.  Basically I reward myself by showing it off.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

PHOTOS: John Grissom captures AWOL title

John Grissom, shown above, took home the title of AWOL Leatherman 2012 on Saturday night during AWOL III, Third Strike (A Weekend of Leather) at the Crowne Plaza Dallas.

The AWOL competition feeds Mr. Texas Leather.

The Leather Knights, who put on AWOL, also announced the dates for next year’s event, “AWOL IV – FLEET WEEK,” which will run Oct. 12 through 14, 2012.

This year’s AWOL benefited the SSC Fund, a nonprofit that raises funds to provide hearing aids and sign interpreters for hearing-impaired and/or deaf individuals.

For a slideshow of photos from Saturday’s AWOL Leatherman contest, go here.

—  John Wright

The lost art of cruising

‘Electro-tricks’ may be quicker and easier, but half the fun of the hook-up was working at it

Hardy Haberman | Flagging Left

I don’t get out much — at least to the bars. First of all I don’t drink anymore, and second, I am not really looking to hook up with anyone since I am in a very nice relationship.

I do, however, occasionally meet friends out for the evening or for a special event.

When I do go out, it is most often to our local leather bar, the Dallas Eagle, and I often indulge in a little people watching. I like to watch the crowd, the way people interact with one another, the ebb and flow of what was once a favorite past time of gay men: cruising.

What surprised me was the lack of that particular gay art going on.

First, let me say this is not a reflection on the Eagle; it’s a fine, first-class leather bar. What I noticed is something I have seen in other cities as well, and it bothers me a bit.

Now for those who might not know, cruising is a delicate dance men used to perform when looking for a partner, playmate or just trick du jour. It usually began with some long, slow looks, occasional subtle signals like a nod, the touch of the brim of a cap, a purposeful second glance or even just a slight change in body language.

If two people read the signals, and actually respond, it might proceed to sending over a drink — or a more direct approach. Often before actually making contact, you would ask a few friends if they knew the man in question, and for the leather scene that would also entail asking if anyone knew more intimate details: Was he a safe player? What was he into?

Of course, we also had the hanky code. It was a more direct and cut to the chase way to let folks know what you were seeking.

I won’t go into the details here, but the basics were: Hanky in the left pocket meant you were a top, and hanky in the right pocket meant you were a bottom.

Still, even with outward signs, there was an art to the whole endeavor. If done correctly, it had an element of seduction in it and all the sexual energy that went with it.

Sadly, I don’t see much of that going on anymore.

What I do see is guys checking their smart phones. Looking a little closer, I see them using Grindr, checking Recon and texting.

That’s when I realized what happened to cruising: It has gone the way of the dodo.

What was once a face-to-face encounter that actually took some time and energy is now a fast, down-and-dirty, “check a few profiles and text enough contacts until you pull a winning number” routine.

The whole cruising experience has become an electronic booty call with no mystery, no romance and no effort.

Oh yes, it is much more efficient. You can select from the variety of “neck-down pictures” and body statistics, like you were choosing a download on Amazon.

Find Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Enough for Now, text a few lines, set a time and bingo! Insta-trick!

All very high tech and painless. No face-to-face rejections, no appallingly awkward moments. Just on-line chat and, essentially, “booking.”

It would seem to me that applications like Grindr and sites like Recon and CraigsList have replaced the whole cruising experience, and though it might be much more efficient, it really changes to atmosphere in the bars.

The heady sexual tension that used to permeate gay bars has given way to guys and gals on their smart phones texting or cruising — the web. One bar in Florida even has a screen where patrons can text directly to the screen, sort of a visual “shout out” for all to see.

Inevitably, the whole electro-trick phenomenon has spawned something totally unexpected. My partner commented on the subject of this column and suggested there should be an Angie’s List for Grindr.

I was surprised this morning when, while researching this piece, I found something very much like that.

Douchebagsofgrindr.com may just be a parody, but if not it offers some insight into the whole process. Personally, I find it kind of crass, but then I find the whole “electro-trick-speed-dating-booty-call” app thing crass.

It makes me long for the days of actually having to spend a little time to pursue and attract and seduce someone you were interested in. Try that now and I suspect you’d just get accused of being a stalker.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.Blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Perfect match

Bob Nunn and Tom Harrover have been a couple for 4 decades. But it wasn’t until a near tragedy that they realized they were truly meant for each other

LIFE GOES ON | Nunn, right, and Harrover stand before a project commissioned for the convention center hotel. Four years ago, Nunn was near death because of kidney disease. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Bob Nunn agrees with the adage that the longer a couple lives together, the more they begin to look alike. Nunn and his partner Tom Harrover might not look that similar on the outside, but they match in a way that few couples do.

Let’s start with some history.

The two have that classic meet-cute that began on the wrong note. As Nunn tells it, Harrover was the dullest person he’d ever met —the two just didn’t like each other. Then, following a spontaneous invitation to a midnight movie, they ended up hitting it off. That movie led to conversation and then dating.

Forty-two years later, they still watch movies — as Nunn puts it, “I couldn’t get rid of him.”

A job in Houston took Nunn away from Harrover for three months, but old-fashioned letter writing kept the newbie relationship afloat.

“Tom had been writing me letters. He’s a very good writer,” Bob boasts. “He basically proposed to me by letter.”

They committed to each other, moving in and pursuing their careers: Harrover in architecture and Nunn teaching art. For 37 years, they lived in “a fabulous house” in Hollywood Heights. Life was good.

Then their life took a sharp turn.

“When we got together, Tom knew I had a kidney disease,” Nunn says. “Nothing was really a problem until about 30 years after we met — my kidneys began to fail and I had to start dialysis.”

Nunn registered with Baylor for the national organ donor list, but the experience was frustrating:  They received little response or encouragement from the hospital.

“Bob was on a downhill slide and the frustration with Baylor seemed like they were stonewalling us,” Harrover says. “We talked about going to Asia even. It felt like they didn’t want to deal with a senior-age gay couple.”

A LITTLE DAB’LL DO YOU | Bob Nunn is officially retired from teaching art, but continues to paint.

Then Harrover suggested something novel: He could donate his kidney to the organ list, with the idea that Nunn could get a healthy one.  Sort of a kidney exchange.

In desperation, they went back to their physician, who enrolled them in St. Paul Hospital’s then-new program for kidney transplant. The experience was a complete turnaround. Nunn was tested and processed immediately while Harrover prepped for his organ donation to an anonymous recipient.

Kidney transplants require a seven-point match system; a minimum of three matches is necessary for the recipient to be able to accept the organ into the body.

The tests revealed that Harrover’s kidney matched Nunn’s on all seven points.

“We assumed I would donate mine for use elsewhere,” Harrover says. “It never occurred to me that we’d be a match. The odds for that are off the charts.”

“See what happens when you live together for so long?” he chuckles.

Just six months after entering St. Paul’s program in 2007, they were on the operating table. They were the first direct living donor pair in the program. “It was all fairly miraculous,” Nunn understates.

Four years later, both men are doing well. Although officially retired, they both continue to work: Harrover does the occasional contract job while Nunn is currently on commission for an art project at the new convention center hotel. Outside of any official work, each interjects their quips about home, life be it cooking together or working on the lawn.

The obvious question for them might be “What’s the secret?” But they don’t see it just that way. Their relationship boils down to the obvious virtues of trust, respect and compromise.

“Selfishness doesn’t rear its ugly head in this relationship,” Harrover says. “You just have to be willing to accommodate, support and encourage what the other is interested in.”

Nunn agrees. “I would not be doing what I’m doing without his support.”

Nunn says if there is a secret, it’s akin to the dynamic on a playground: Like each other and share. If you don’t share your whole life, there isn’t a relationship, he says. At this point, Harrover says it would be impossible to separate. On paper, they are so intertwined with their house and financials, he jokes they are “Siamese twins.”

They’ve witnessed a lot in their decades together, including something they never expected to come to pass in their lifetimes: Same-sex marriage. Coming from a time when just being gay conflicted with moral codes set by their jobs, they wonder over the progress made in recent years. (They were officially married in Boston in October 2009.)

“I’m confident that it will happen for everyone,” Harrover says. “I’m sorry that it’s moving at a glacial pace, but it has that same inevitability as a glacier. We’ll get there.”

But nothing compares to the bond Harrover and Nunn already have, a shared intimacy few couples could imagine. Same-sex marriage was merely unlikely; what they have experienced is miraculous.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Master of HIS domain

Ben Starr, the recently out Dallas cheftestant on Fox’s ‘MasterChef,’ camps it up on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition series

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

…………………….

MASTERCHEF
Airs Tuesdays on Fox (Ch. 4) at 8 p.m.

…………………….

When Lewisville-based travel writer Ben Starr auditioned for Fox’s MasterChef, he doubted they’d be interested in his style of home cooking. But not only did he make the cut, he’s been one of the more memorable cheftestants — just this week, he had the judge’s favorite dish.

The series is only halfway through, but for Starr, it’s already made a huge difference in his life: It forced him to come out to his parents just last month. We talked to him about the experience and his favorite meals.

…………………….

You’ve been struggling since you wowed the judges at your audition. The audition kinda set me up to expect that I would do well in the competition, but we spun pretty quickly into an emphasis on gourmet cuisine, which is not my thing at all. My street tacos were a little bit spiffy, and I am extremely well traveled, but I tend to eat peasant food even when I travel. I was seeing all these people around me making restaurant quality cuisine and trying to compete on their level. Nice to make a good ol’ catfish in a skillet.

What was the hardest challenge for you? The biggest challenge has definitely been psychological. I’m competitive by nature and I want to feel like I’m competition, but I was surrounded by chefs that were a little more connected to the Food Network that I am. They’d use words like umami [a Japanese word for a savory flavor] and I had to go look it up. There was a common lexicon among the contestants about what these famous chefs I’ve never heard of are doing in their restaurants. I felt like an idiot stumbling around in the dark. That started to leak into my cooking and I began to question, “Is this sophisticated enough? Is this even sophisticated?” The episode this week was a turning point. I felt like for the first time I’m back in my own element.

You certainly have made an impression with your outfits. I don’t wear those hats at home, though I do wear an apron, just for practicality. But [the show] has started this storytelling legacy — people expect me to wear them when they come over. My mom made me the pumpkin hat and apron. Actually, she made me five or six pairs to wear. That’s why you always see a different one on me each episode. I was going through them.

Was wearing them part of a conscious effort to stand during the auditions? I am fairly myself, though I had to set myself apart that wasn’t just about food. I needed to be someone [the judges] remember when they go home at night. That’s why I talked about my rural upbringing, because I thought it would generate a memory.

Had you watched the show before? Did you know what to expect? I don’t watch much TV, but this is not my first time being on TV, which is ironic because I abhor reality television —it brings out the worst in our culture. But I did Rachael Ray’s So You Think You Can Cook in 2007. The audience there was much more caring and nurturing than the machine on MasterChef, but I was a little bit prepared for the frank judgment.

I did not watch the first season of MasterChef, but my friend Karen Rutherford said, “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t audition [for season 2].” So I watched them all on Hulu. I just sweated my way through them. I knew how intense and stressful it is to cook on TV, and saw how brutal Joe Bastianich and Gordon Ramsay were with the contestants. I thought: Screw this. Then a few weeks passed and the terror faded [and I went through the lengthy audition process]. It was a lot of work — the most difficult full-time job I’ve ever had that doesn’t pay.

What’s your favorite kind of cuisine? While my DNA wants to say Mexican food — I had it in the womb six times a week — I am most intrigued by Thai food. It is so complex, yet so much of it is cooked on the street in a tiny little cart. From the richest to the poorest, everybody eats on the street.

How about a favorite meal? One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was in Egypt on New Year’s Eve in 2001. I spent it on Mount Sinai and hiked eight miles back down to the car for the drive back to our resort. [The driver] fell asleep at the wheel and we plummeted into a canyon. Eventually a camel train of Bedouins came by the bottom of this canyon. They took us onto the camels and rode four or five miles to their camp. All the women came out, killed a goat and started cooking while the men tried to pull our car out of the canyon.

It was a humble meal — just a goat stew and some flat bread — but the flavors were really intense and felt they came right out of the desert. I could not even communicate with these people who live in abject poverty, but still they were willing to kill one of their last goats and throw a big feast for us because it’s in their nature to be hospitable. I realized it was important to me to use food to nurture people in my life — I could never be a chef and be in the back. I need to be with the people. My partner is one of the main reasons I cook — we’ve been together eight years and I want to marry him one day.

Did you plan to be “the gay guy” on the show? When I was on [Rachael Ray] it was not addressed and I didn’t talk about it openly. At that point my family didn’t know I was gay — in fact, I didn’t come out to my parents until about five weeks ago. They were totally shell-shocked — they didn’t have a clue.

Maybe mom should have guessed since she made you all those hats. Ha! Maybe.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Weekly Best Bets

Friday 04.22

Life is a … oh, you know it
This doesn’t look like your usual Liza version. The Dallas Theater Center stages the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret, and by the looks of their ad campaign, it’s going to be sizzling. Sure Sally Bowles is the central character, but weren’t you always intrigued by the mysterious master of ceremonies? We’re even more so now.

DEETS: Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Through May 22. $10–$80. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

 

Friday 04.22

La vida out and proud
Not only did Ricky Martin come out in one of the most eloquent ways ever, he took to using his celebrity in advocating for LGBT rights. That only made him sexier than he already is. As if he needed to add to his hotness, he’s been baring a whole lot more skin lately — and we likey.

DEETS: Verizon Theatre, 1001 Performance Place., Grand Prairie  8 p.m. $40–$126.
Ticketmaster.com.

 

Saturday 04.23

Street art a different way
Before celebrating Easter in the Park, check-in to the Cedar Springs Art Festival. Local art, food booths and snowcones make this a must. Plus, it’s probably the only art fest with dance music.

DEETS: Cedar Springs Road and Throckmorton Street. 10 a.m. Free. ShopCedarSprings.com.

—  John Wright

What It Took To Get Davey Wavey To Go Naked In Palm Springs

"I think that gay men make nudity really sexual, and really cruise-y." Wise words of advice from Davey Wavey, who's enjoying some leisure time at a clothing-optional resort in Palm Springs, and has clearly devoted some deep thoughts to what it means to be naked, in public, around other gay men. "Nudism is about not objectifying the human body, but I think that gay nudity is the exact opposite." Cue Davey finally stripping down.


Permalink | 17 comments | Add to del.icio.us


Tagged: , , ,

Queerty

—  David Taffet