That Time I Created a Country

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That Time I Created a Country

I don’t know about you, but I’ve become far too apathetic with the State of this Union. Especially with certain persons in the highest offices in the land. Protesting and petitioning, while an invaluable element of a democracy, seems to fall on deaf ears. And I’m far too much of a lady to become an anarchist. Instead, I’m going to start my own country.

My quest began one Friday night. Tired of going out and spending someone else's money, I decided to stay in and play video games. This one allows the player to rule over a fictional Caribbean nation from the Colonial era all the way to the modern times. You build houses for your citizens, provide them with jobs and, through their hard labor, earn revenue for your country. You can also siphon off some of the nation’s funds into a Swiss account, in case things go a little sour. The result? I was able to maintain my position as La Presidenta over the course of the game! (Though the 1920s and ‘30s were a bit of a mess. Good thing the military remained on my side!) My citizens loved me! I had the television on to BBC World News. It was on the hour when they began with yet another event in the world of American politics. El Presidente of the United States had once again done something outrageous. I rolled my eyes. Really. Fucking. Hard. What an ass, I thought.

After pouring another glass, I flipped through the channels. Settling on HBO’s Vice News Tonight, their last segment was a bit interesting. An international conference in Georgia concluded earlier in the week. Men and women of various shapes and sizes, some bedecked with glittering tiaras, others with medals and sashes. No, Queen Elizabeth did not travel to the South. It was a conference of micronationalists. Presidents, Grand Dukes, Queens and Emperors of self-created countries. Some claiming territories on Earth, others in the Universe. One had land that could fit in the palm of your hand! Could I do the same?

The following day I gave up on brunch and began researching the subject. I found out the micro world of micronations was bigger than I imagined. Over the course of two centuries (if not longer), micronations have risen and fallen. Some are formed simply as a political demonstration, others exploiting international treaties and agreements. The Principality of Sealand was founded when a soldier-turned-sovereign prince claimed an abandoned offshore platform off the British coast. Others are investing in land development. But could the cash-strapped Kingdom of Ortensia do the same? 

With finances drastically short, the search for unclaimed land was mute. However, I was to take the example of so many micronations and simply lay claim to some land. The grand duchies of Flandresis and Westartica have claims to territories in Antarctica. The Kingdom of Ruritania, meanwhile, claims a residential property in Georgia (its queen regnant, Anastasia, was hostess for the international conference of micronationalists.) But I had a rented apartment in the United States. I knew that wasn’t going to bode well – President Trump would order an invasion in minutes! But that gave me an idea. Throughout history, dominant powers like England and Spain invaded territories already inhabited by populations. Could the Kingdom of Ortensia do the same?

I looked to the Caribbean for my new kingdom. Despite its unusually strong hurricane seasons, the region is otherwise quite enjoyable. I spent days looking for potential land to claim as my own. Sadly, many of them were either well-guarded or were allied to Great Powers. Then I looked at Haiti. It was relatively defenseless, and its former ally in the United States has soured since Trump’s inauguration. It was perfect was a perfect opportunity. I found an uninhabited island situated between Haiti and Jamaica. Discovered by Colombus in the late-1400s, Navassa Island has since been claimed by both Haiti and the United States. I laid claim to the guano-infested island and renamed it St. Elisabeth's IslandThe Kingdom of Ortensia was born!

Mon petite royaume - the unoccupied Navassa Island, situated between Jamaica and Haiti. 

Mon petite royaume - the unoccupied Navassa Island, situated between Jamaica and Haiti. 

Though I loved my infant country, naming her after me just seemed a bit much. And the Kingdom of Ortensia lacked a certain…je ne sais quoi. The time had come to find a proper name for my country. Researching and spending hours online, I decided to take the easy route and used a country name generator. After five random attempts, I settled on one: Legialle. It was different. It sounded a bit chic. And it definitely sounded French. #sold. I began writing and thinking how my idealized nation would function. 

It was during this process I realized an important element of nation-building. Nationhood isn’t defined by the dirt underneath them, though it certainly adds flavor to the mix. Nations are formed out of a desire to be free from oppression. They are born out of a determination to see a group thrive and flourish. Nations are formed out of ideals and thoughts. Nationhood is all about identity, and how we see ourselves in the world. It is why Mexicans, Haitians, Americans, and Catalonians fought (and fight) for independence – because they see no space for them in the greater polity. 

Perhaps that is the reason micronations are formed. Not out of self-glorification (though some may exist), but because their leaders cannot see themselves in the society of their mother country. One can see why the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands has maintained a ‘war’ with Australia due to their lack of equal rights for the LGBTQ community. As a black, first-generation Trans-American, I cannot always identify with current American culture. And I am not ignorant of the increasing efforts by American leadership to limit the rights of people like me. Why not create a country where I can be treated fairly and justly?

Not to say I am abandoning the country I grew up in. For better or worse, this is my country. I may not always agree with its leaders, but I believe in its ability to change lives. It has inspired generations of peoples from all over the world to seek a better life and opportunity. It has inspired people to pursue democratic, rather than authoritarian, regimes. Presidents come and go, but the notion of America as the bastion of democracy will always - hopefully - prevail.

Official Flag of the Kingdom of Legialle 

Official Flag of the Kingdom of Legialle 

As I embark on my nation-building, please feel free to see what’s going on via the country’s website at www.royaumelegialle.com. I'm interested to see how far I will go. After all, it's not like I have nothing else to do!

(But seriously, there's a lot of things going on in my personal and professional life. Save that for the next blog!) 

#GawdSaveThisKween

XoXo,

Ortensia the First

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National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out Day

Over the weekend, I received an email from a trans youth. She wasn’t from the area, but had nevertheless heard about me. (I assumed she browsed through my Instagram feed, which, admittedly, isn’t the best.) After a brief introduction, she explained to me she reached out for a project in preparation for National Coming Out Day. She asked me about myself and where I wanted to be in the next five years. It left me a bit dumbfounded. Mostly, as I don’t have a one-year plan, let alone five. Nevertheless, I began writing about my personal experiences.

Growing up, transgender was a word I kind of knew. My aunt was transgender, and a beauty at that. (I blame it on the high cheekbones.) Besides her and her coterie of friends, the term and figures of transgenderism were few and far between. Transwomen were pantomimes in film and television. Though one could argue they were slightly classier on Ricki Lake than Jerry Springer. And literature? None that I could remember. Despite the negative portrayals of transwomen in art and in life, in my heart and soul I knew I wanted to be like them. Even at a young age, I felt the desire to express myself not as a femme, gay male but as a woman.

It wasn’t until my teenage years that I began exploring the gender boundaries. As a high school freshman, I packed a pair of pumps in my bag and wore a halter top underneath my shirts. Coincidentally, I was forced out of the proverbial closet around that time. I was returning home from school when my mother discovered my diary. After reading an entry which detailed a slight interaction with a guy at high school, I was surprised to discover my mother was happy for me. She was happy to see her child identify as ‘gay’ – but it was a whole other perspective when identifying as transgender. Nevertheless, I ever-so-lightly pushed gender conventions. I would take a step further my sophomore year and began wearing girl clothing outside of school. But it was an incident on Valentine’s Day, 2002 that changed things. Though it pains me to write about the details of that night, it was an event which affected me personally and psychologically. I had no choice but to go back into the closet. Out of fear. Out of necessity. Out of the need to survive. It would take another fifteen years before I would step out of the (trans) closet again.

There are moments I wish my aunt would see the person I am today, the woman I have become. She, nor myself, could have dreamed of the progresses the trans movement has made in such a short time. Each day, transwomen and men coming into their own – living their truth – is a testament to the times we live in. Every day, people are able to share their stories to millions around the world. Celebs and common alike, they present stories on a multitude of platforms. From YouTube Channels, to Facebook Pages and Instagram feeds, transwomen and men are able to reach audiences instantly. And the pantomimes of yesteryear have become empowering figures. Advocates and activists, performers and politicians, warriors and writers. You’re never too old to have new role models! Transwomen in art and literature have become less of a comedy and more compassionate. We are not merely background characters in shows, but have been given our own voices. Transwomen are positive role models – dare, I say, heroines – who grace the pages of fashion magazines and the shelves of bookstores. What a marvelous age we to live in.

I have never been more confident to be trans. Most especially as I’m not embarking on this path alone. October marks my tenth month in my transitioning, and my third going full ‘T’. It has been the greatest accomplishment in my life. To live fearlessly, with dignity and humility, is a profound achievement. And the support I receive from my family, friends, workplaces, and the community has been tremendous. While fortunate enough to be in the place I am today, I am also reminded of the pain and struggles of being transgender. The progresses made during the previous Administration are quickly being erased by the current one. Military bans without just cause. Removal of workplace protections without reasons. Limiting health protections without justification. Denying our very existence as Americans. Life can be even worse for my brown and black trans siblings. It is not uncommon to hear stories of rejection. Tales of ridicule. News of abuse and deaths. At the time of this writing, over 20 transgender individuals have been murdered this year in the United States. Overwhelmingly, trans people of color. The world can be brutal. Nevertheless, there exists allies in unforeseen places. I have send and hears many who once derided our community as depraved, and now hold it in high regard. I have witnessed opponents transform into our greatest supporters.

Today is National Coming Out Day. Coming out to finally live in my truth, there is no better reason I celebrate this year with pride. Though many in our community commemorate the personal progresses we’ve made, we should also remember there is still a long road ahead. And, as it appears under this current sociopolitical environment, that road will be a dangerous one. So I ask many of you today to continue to think, act, and live for change. Reach out to advocacy groups. Sign petitions. Call up your local, state, and national representatives. Defend those who are defenseless. I ask you to look through the eyes of a trans youth. See the hopes they have for the future. That should be your inspiration. Anyone and everyone can fight for fair and equal rights.

At the end of the email, there was one thing I didn’t answer. Where did I see myself in five years? I still didn’t have a one-year plan, let alone five. But one thing was certain. I entered six words to conclude a lengthy email:  

To become a creative voice for change.

 

Kiss Kiss, Dahlings, 

Ortensia

Performing Fashion

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Performing Fashion

The Man Who Defined Fashion - Christian Dior

The Man Who Defined Fashion - Christian Dior

"Without foundations,” Christian Dior said, “there can be no fashion.” Fashion. The word itself evokes different feelings, images, and sensations. It conjures up sumptuous and spectacular gowns woven by personalities big and small. Cristobal Balenciaga, Coco Chanel, and of course Dior. Fashion evokes the styles of legendary women. Princess Grace. Jackie Kennedy. Audrey Hepburn. Fashion is an industry steeped in human history as much as the psyche. Behind the textiles and silhouettes is a performance of fashion. I’m not simply referring to the catwalk, either. Fashion exemplifies who and what we are. An extension of our selves. It can boost the confidence of the wearer, inspire jealously or admiration of onlookers, or indeed anger a nation. When Dior unveiled his first collection on the morning of February 12, 1947, it was hailed by fashion’s elite as the ‘new’ look – while his fellow French compatriots considered it extravagance in a time of great austerity. Who could believe that fabric has such power! Performing fashion is more than just wearing clothes – it is the desired perceptions of who we are and how we want to be seen. It is constructing an identity.

From classical Greece, to modern Manhattan, the way we dress can represent more than our social, ethnic, political, regional or national identity. The beret is considered a symbol of French identity, despite its Spanish origins. Though lambasted as such, headdresses like the burka are not exclusive to Islamic beliefs. White gowns were associated with early 20th century suffragettes, while black is a staple for…well…pretty much any New Yorker. Fashion can be a great unifier – or divider. Regardless of backgrounds and affinities, as the summer draws to a close, closets all around the county begin the seasonal changeover from summer to fall. Bright, floral prints are exchanged for more earthy tones, while heavier fabrics slowly but surely re-enter the fray. For years, it has been something of a ritual. The Changing of the (sartorial) Guard, if you will. And while many will be transitioning their wardrobes from one season to the next, my own transition has placed me to start anew. Navigating unknown waters – and closets – can be a bit treacherous.

New Hair, Don't Care! (But I really do!) 

New Hair, Don't Care! (But I really do!) 

After two months going full ‘T’, I knew the time had come to get rid of clothes. After all, they represent a former state and stage of my life. But if I were to take Dior’s cue, there certainly wasn’t much foundation to stand on. A few leggings, several (gender-neutral) shirts, and all my drag outfits. After the panicking and one (or two) tears, I realized there was nothing to be saddened by. There was no need to worry about the few outfits for daywear. No need to fret about the lack of workwear. This was an opportune moment to buy clothing that matched my personality and my new gender! To reinforce my personal brand of Ortensia Èstelle de Loren. And, let’s be frank, who doesn’t love a good shopping spree?! With an undisclosed amount of money, I relied on three main sources: Family & Friends; Retail & Thrift stores; and the Web. Of all the women in my family, the one I knew I could turn to was my mère. A fashion muse in her own right, my mother ranks among my fashion influencers. I remembered her closet fondly. The times I spent surrounding by fabulous gowns and suits as I browsed through her Vogue magazines. My mother has since become one of my biggest supporters: from my early months as a drag queen, to the early weeks as a transwoman.

“You don’t need everything to be so damn tight!” she exclaimed one Sunday afternoon. After many pleas, she agreed to grant me access to her chamber of fashionable secrets. Among the prized possessions were at least three dresses; suits cut in the same shape and in a variety of colors; multitudes of pants and skirts; jewels belonging to my late grandmother (another fashion muse and influencer); and half a dozen bags. The price tag? Zero dollars! After all, a daughter’s new path is best laid with free things! The Pierre Cardin dress an exception, and suits that could be worn to work, I still felt my new wardrobe lacked my identity. So I ventured to the next place I thought I would never trespass – the brick-and-mortar retail shop. Things have certainly changed since Cher and Dionne walked the malls. Not that I loathe going into shops. I just hate gate going to otherwise drab malls! Nevertheless, I ventured to several stores in the area. Chains and otherwise. After a weeklong venture, I could find nothing. NOTHING! Either the fit was too odd, the cut way different than on the mannequin, or the price tag too much for the quality. Pacing and judging, I gave up on the likes of NY & Co., Lane Bryant, and others. The time had come to go online. And it was anything but underwhelming.

Perhaps Mother Fortune shined upon me. I was thoroughly surprised by my online results. Amazon has been my new fashion destiny. Swing dresses. Pencil skirts. Opera gloves. Evening gowns with décolletage, others meant for business. I’m in absolute heaven! Shoes, admittedly, have been a hit or miss. While some designers were successful, others were more than difficult to navigate. Praise Prime returns! For the court shoe enthusiast (pumps, in American vernacular), I would definitely recommend Shoes of Prey (shoesofprey.com). What can be better than buying shoes? Buying customized shoes! I have no regrets.

Glossing through Alexander Fury’s book on the House of Dior’s collection from 1947 to the present, I realized I’ve been unconsciously fascinated with the dressmaker’s New Look. The art of ultra-feminine and ultra-luxe, the styles of the 1940s and 50s recall a time I didn’t experience. However, the nipped waist and padded hips recall a world very present to me – the world of drag. There is no greater representation of performing fashion than through the art of drag. Throughout history, drag queens have been entertainers as well as agents of social and politics issues. Despite some men and women – both straight and gay – who abhor drag for its flamboyant and, oftentimes, confusing display, drag queens have pushed the envelope as avant-garde artists with out-of-this-world personalities. And while being trans and a drag queen are not mutually exclusive, drag has nevertheless allowed me to be comfortable with who I am.


I may get a few looks while wearing a dress lifted by a tutu, but I also get many compliments. Onlookers – supporters and detractors – may find my sartorial choices one way or the other. It’s as much of their right as it is my prerogative. If Dior quipped that fashion lays the foundation, let everyone build their own. It's more than just the body and fashion but the value one places on oneself. The ability to walk out the door and show yourself to the world. Fearlessly, and with confidence. A person of great confidence does more good when they can also inspire future generations to love who they are, what they do, and where they go in life.

And that's more chic than any label.

Kiss, Kiss Dahlings

Ortensia

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Power of the Female Gaze - A Curators' Talk

Power of the Female Gaze - A Curators' Talk

Alison Saar, 1956–. Tango (detail), 2005. Courtesy, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. 

Alison Saar, 1956–. Tango (detail), 2005. Courtesy, Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester. 

Earlier this year, I had the absolute pleasure to work on an exhibition in Rochester. The Power of the Female Gaze looks at female art and artists, looking at how women depict other women. It was a fascinating project, and am so grateful to have had the chance to work on this project. We were also asked to present a lecture on the exhibition. And it was certainly powerful. While I don't have any videos, I hope the script is equally enjoyable!

 

The Power of the Female Gaze touched me deeply. It presents women of extraordinary abilities, as well as women in their everyday lives. Women whose names are left on the tapestry of history, others known to us only through stories told by our mothers and grandmothers. 
 
For a novice curator, to curate for an art museum is an extremely rare opportunity. I am forever grateful to Jess Marten for allowing me to take part in this exhibition. I didn’t really know what to expect, or what would be expected of me. And I am sure there were moments Jess wanted to strangle me after last-minute changes to our meetings. (I sincerely apologize!) Nevertheless, between work and school, Jess understood – to varying degrees – and allowed some flexibility. Days were booked in advance to work through art in storage, while additional research was conducted off-site. Some of the artists were quite familiar to me. Georgia O’Keefe. Faith Ringgold. Mary Cassatt. Others, not as familiar. Suzanne Gutherz Warriner. Niki de Saint Phalle. Maria Katherina Prestel. I was also surprised to discover local artists. Hildegarde Lasell Watson and Kathleen McEnery Cunningham were two phenomenal women who married into two prominent local families. Coincidentally, families who also endowed two area museums – one being The MAG. 
 
The museum’s collection goes beyond what’s on display. There are thousands of objects within their possession, many older than the museum itself. It was awe-inspiring to be so close to medieval relics, unique sculptures, and contemporary paintings. By comparison, kind of like the scene in Devil Wears Prada when Nigel takes Andy through the fashion collection to try on new clothes and accessories. Yes, dahlings. It was that fabulous! 
 
While we were curating our female narrative, I was curating a narrative of my own. Late last year, I openly acknowledged my transsexuality, and began the transition process in January. At first, I was afraid. From the first visit with my doctor, to the first estrogen shot (which hurts like hell!), to signing papers to legally change my name, the thoughts of hate, fear, and violence were rampant. I was afraid of being rejected. Afraid of being ridiculed. Afraid of losing everything I had worked so hard for. The fear of being harassed in public places. The fear of being assaulted in private spaces. Fear limits us. It discourages us. It deprives us. It blinds us from walking down our path of life, and deafens us from understanding the lives of others. Fear is the greatest enemy of freedom. Like these female artists and their subjects, I refuse to let fear take hold of my destiny. 

I was influenced by the story of Joan of Arc, as triumphantly shown in Anna Hyatt Huntingdon’s sculpture, who bravely led forces on the battlefield. I was inspired by the words of Harriet Tubman, so dramatically portrayed in Elizabeth Catlett’s print, who said “I shall fight for my liberty, and when the time has come for me to go, the Lord will let them kill me." I was reminded of the legacy I inherited. Like the works by Valerie Maynard and Kara Walker, the lives of my foremothers were objectified, subjugated, and brutalized. But through their struggles they persevered, and never forgot the queens that they were. Their blood runs through my veins. 
 
This exhibition presents stories of women who defied the patriarchy and lived unashamedly. Who challenged what was considered normal, and treasured their unique selves. Mothers and mavens alike, they are inspirational to generations of women that have come, gone, and yet to arrive. It is also a reminder that, while we have come a long way to get here, there is still more work to be done. And we don’t need to be a wonder woman to take action. 
 
The Power of the Female Gaze is more than a narrative of female art and artists. It is a visual testament to fearless women. 

Swiping for Love

Swiping for Love

Sexy. Intelligent. Likes to eat bread! (Photo, courtesy of Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online.) 

Sexy. Intelligent. Likes to eat bread! (Photo, courtesy of Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online.) 

Almost twenty years ago, the world was introduced to four fabulous, single New York women. We rooted for, and cried with, the ladies of Sex and the City. How many drooled over Carrie’s closet, or made Cosmopolitans a drink of choice? (Guilty as charged, here.) They redefined how many viewed relationships in the new millennium. Just as we were getting over the show, there was another epic influencer on relationships – the wonderful, and hectic, world of dating apps.   

Technology is meant to improve our lives. Fuel-efficient cars keep us on the road longer, text messages allows us to communicate faster, and we are on the cusp of delicious ice cream with zero calories! The cell phone is one of many examples of technological advancement. When SATC first aired, cell phones were used to simply make calls. Today, we can book concert tickets, stream movies and music, all while sending money to the friend who paid for brunch. With the push of an app, we can order anything from cookies to clothes. All in the name of progress, we can also order a date. In the world that never sleeps, dating apps allow us to find someone anyplace, anywhere, at any time. With one swipe, we get to know someone even before meeting them. Inspired by the four fictional women of The City, I interviewed four women of this city.  

“I’ve been on Tinder for a little over a year,” Sara said. The 26-year-old East Ave resident prefers her men tall and handsome. Her list consisted of college athletes and aspiring businessmen, all of them in their late 20s and 30s. “This guy tried to convince me to f**k in public,” she pointed at one profile. She called it quits with the voyeur after two dates. Another notable was an database manager who, upon discovery, was long off the market. Her relationship with Tinder is now casual. And I could understand why. The app doesn’t take much effort. Swipe left for the guys you don’t like, right for the ones you do. Conversations were at a minimum, with casual sex being common. Like GrubHub, you could expect it thirty minutes or less.  

“I haven’t had more vanilla sex in my life,” Andrea, 24, admitted. A professionally-trained singer, she’s used the app for less than a year. Her most recent escapade involved a guy who talked a big game. Boasting about his manhood and virility, with pics to boot, she was convinced to go to his place on one Saturday night. Few inches short and three minutes later, her escapade was at an end. She tried to make up for it with another encounter, a friend with benefit who affirmed the problem lied with her. Her vagina, her high expectations. He was determined to prove to her wrong. The only thing he proved was taking advice from a FWB was as mute as talking to your dildo. Glancing through my Tinder list, I wondered how many of the guys were using the app to boost their ego. The ones who said ‘hey’ and stopped talking, or those who swiped right and never initiated conversation. Was I swiping in all the wrong places?  

“Guys are doing it all the time!” Michelle protested. “Why can’t I?” A 27-year-old retailer, she showed me her encounters on Tinder and Plenty of Fish (POF). Certainly not someone who has a type. Dashing men in their 40s and 50s were juxtaposed with twenty-something year old bartenders and grad students. While the conversations were minimal, the full-bodied and genital pictures certainly said a thousand words. I was quickly reminded of 16th century portraiture. Back then, suitors courting the attraction of a woman would send her a portrait. They were elegant, dashing, stoic – and at times not at all what it appeared to be. The same holds true today. With angles, camera sticks, and filters of many sorts, we self-curate our image to maximum effect. While it may not be the everyday look, we desire to have our ideal image liked, loved, and shared by the (un)known masses.  

There's the money shot! (Photo, courtesy of Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online)

There's the money shot! (Photo, courtesy of Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online)

As I uploaded pictures on Plenty of Fish, I began wondering what my pictures said of me. Smart and sexy? Dorky yet conceited? All I could do was wait and see how guys would respond. So, I waited. And waited. Within three hours, there were four messages. Then eight. Then twenty. Different app, same responses. Guys looking for something casual, or brief introductions without a conclusion. I hoped the other apps would be more worthwhile.  

“I wasn’t searching for anything in particular,” responded Nadine. The 32-year-old professional was not on Coffee Meets Bagel too long when she met Garrett. Their first date was over coffee, sans the bagel. “We talked for what felt like hours,” Nadine said with a smile. But it was his dimples that won her over. After a second date at a local sushi joint, and a third at an art gallery event, the two became a couple. They regularly spend time at her Southwedge apartment, while she travels to Buffalo at least once a month to have dinner with his family. She left me a little more optimistic about dating apps.  

After a week exploring the app, I connected with one who said more than one sentence. ‘The Bartender’ was in his mid-20s, dark hair, cute smile, worked at a popular restaurant and cocktail bar. We talked about a variety of subjects. He loved art; I loved art history. After two weeks of exchanging messages we decided to meet in person. After all, who could say no to free cocktails?  

I was looking good and feeling gorgeous that Friday night. We briefly talked in between him serving drinks. The bar was packed and, yet, he only had his eyes on me. I was four Cosmopolitans down when something struck me. I never did the ‘full disclosure’ statement. Shocked, and slightly embarrassed, I excused myself to make a fake call. I returned to the bar, told The Bartender a friend was in need, and promised him I would call later. Whether it’s the virtual scene, or the real one, dating while trans can be a little tricky. Disclosing your identity gets various reactions. There will always be guys who will refer to you as a ‘dude’ upon presenting the truth, grind his teeth, and walk away. There are some who take the (somewhat) high road and become jovial, but keep a respectable distance. There are guys who will take a genuine interest. And then there are guys who simply fetishize being with a trans woman. As the taxi drove away I wondered which type The Bartender was. A text he left went unresponsive for about an hour.  

With forty minutes left, I tried to gather my thoughts over a cocktail at a popular gay bar. Waiting for the bartender to pour me a drink, I observed a few men glued to their phones. The yellow and blue color pattern indicated they were on Grindr. A popular gay dating app, connections usually vary from casual hookups to long-term relationships. As I glanced over the shoulder of one user, the screen flashing with naked and half naked pics, I was reminded of something. We take a risk on a package being delivered on time. We take a risk on getting to our destinations safe and sound. We take a risk on hoping technology will not fail us at the most crucial time. We take a risk on finding someone – online or off.  

On my way home, I responded to The Bartender with my full disclosure. I patiently waited for a response. Twenty minutes went by. Then another twenty. Perhaps, I thought, I was a bit too much for him. I decided to take my mind off everything and walk the dog. Returning back to the apartment a few minutes later – walking a pet in heels is never easy – I was about to take a shower when I noticed a text message on my phone. It was The Bartender. Lengthy, but overall positive. Instead of sending another text I decided to call him. He came over that night and we sat and talked. And, while nothing more happened after that, we nevertheless remained at the friend status. Without the fringe benefits.  


Dating apps, like Sex and The City, have influenced a generation of lovers and lovemakers, dreamers and hopeless romantics. While still a bit of a mystery, I’ve come to realize they give us the greatest freedom. Now, more than ever, we can be true to ourselves if we desire to be. Beyond the full or half (naked) photos, past the filters and camera sticks, we can lay out all the cards on the proverbial table before the first date. I decided to change my profile summary and ensured my full disclosure was on the table. Let the other person choose to stay or walk away. I will never be too sure of their motives. But I do know mine. A kiss on the first date, sex after the third, and the possibility of something serious after the fifth or sixth. Looking for a date is going to be tough in this city.  

Looking for love? Well, that’s going to take a bit more than swiping right.   

Kiss Kiss Dahlings,  

Ortensia

 

Mrs. Kasha Davis: The Mother of Drag(ons)

Mrs. Kasha Davis: The Mother of Drag(ons)

Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online, 2017.

Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online, 2017.

The central tenet of drag is the ability to take on the presumed habits of the opposite sex. It is always mesmerizing to see the transformation. While the art of drag has been around for many centuries, it is within this century drag has garnered a global attention. This is due in no small part to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Since 2008, the show has gone on to produce nine seasons – with a tenth season already in the works. (Several of our local queens are applying; let’s hope to see one of Rochester’s own!) Many contestants have gone on to careers in entertainment, journalism, modeling, and business. Moreover, the show has added yet another dimension towards LGBT acceptance in mainstream media and society. Queens across the country apply for the show every season, but only a few get the callback. And for those that do it is a rewarding experience.  

Among Rochester’s queens, we have had three performers get the chance to sashay down Ru’s runway: Pandora Boxx (Season 2), Darienne Lake (Season 6) and, last but not least, Kasha Davis (Season 7). My apologies – MRS. Kasha Davis. As ‘Queen of the Cul-de-Sac’, Mrs. Kasha Davis (MKD) has been a staple in Rochester’s drag community. Named after a poodle and a street in her hometown of Scranton, PA, MKD is agal who loves to be on the stage and perform. And she has a massive following around the town and the world. Her persona is inspired by a slew of women in her life, including her mother and grandmother, as well as classic actresses such as Lucille Ball – an actress she admired since a child. Her charm, wit, and jovial nature is what brings this motherly persona together. It certainly is a far cry from her upbringing.  

“I grew up in the 1970s and 80s where you couldn’t be gay,” Mrs. Davis recollected. As Edward Popil, growing up in Scranton had its drawbacks. Partly Ukrainian and Italian, the pressure to conform was prevalent. “For the majority of my life, until the age of 28, I was in the closet.” Married firstly to a woman, Popil found the situation discomforting. But there was always something in the back of his head which never wavered: dreams in which the name ‘Steven’ appeared. “My God you can’t be dreaming of your love,” Davis recalled. “Are you sure it isn’t Stephanie?” Finally, after many years of marriage, Edward divorced his wife and moved to Rochester in 1999. It is here he truly began to live his life – finding love and, later, marrying a man named Steven.  

 

Rochester is also where Edward explored the world of drag. Popil, then director of DialAmerica, had a passion for theater. But the demanding hours limited his opportunities. Although he frequented the drag shows at Muther’s (the locale now occupied by Skylark Lounge), Edward never thought of doing drag. A trip to Provincetown with Steven forever changed their lives. It was there they discovered the local drag icon, Miss Richfield 1981. With her large hair, oversized glasses, and quirky outfits – think Phyllis Diller meets Pee-Wee Herman – the queen left a lasting impression. Popil recalled how her personality, rather than her appearance, garnered attention. “She’s making people laugh and, through her humor, she has a genuine message!” On their trip back, the two began creating the now iconic Kasha Davis.  

Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online, 2017.

Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online, 2017.

The honorific ‘Mrs.’ was not applied until much later on, bestowed unto her Muther’s club owner/drag diva. It was there Kasha began to develop her persona. She preferred acts that she enjoyed – classics by the likes of Ethel Merman, Liza Minelli, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee – rather than performing Top 40 numbers. Kasha smiled, “There I was doing my first two songs: ‘Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise’ and ‘I Enjoy Being a Girl’” Among the cast was Aggy Dune, the ‘Duchess of Drag’. Known for her impersonations of popular female artists, Aggy needed someone to fill in a spot at the last minute. Impersonating none other than Tina Turner, MKD garnered much acclaim. It was on that fateful night the Big Wigs drag show got its start. And it wasn’t limited to the clubs and bars. Kasha reflected, “Aggy’s dream was to expand the audience – to be more than just the late-night club act that is hidden,” Kasha reflected. “We realized that dream together.” Starting at private weddings and events, they have since taken the show across America. Beginning this season, Big Wigs is now in-residence at Blackfriars Theatre. The demand for Mrs. Kasha Davis has rapidly increased. But with the popularity came a personal reflection.  

“Addiction is something in my family,” Kasha said. “And in a lot of people’s lives.” It was during her many travels and performers she came to realize her addiction to alcohol. Now two years sober, Mrs. Davis is not one to be shy about it. On the contrary, she celebrated it. On a satirist and comedic level, her one-woman act ‘There’s Always Time for a Cocktail’ reflects on her personal life. From growing up in Scranton, to finding herself through theater, and the courage to come out to her family. Towards the end of the show, she reflects on sobriety. “I don’t need to be ashamed of it,” Kasha grinned. “I certainly wasn’t ashamed when I was drinking!” In ‘It Takes a Lot of Balls to Be a Lady’, she celebrates the fun, wittiness and carefree aspects of both drag and life. Moreover, through the use of social media, Kasha humorously addresses her struggles. Not surprisingly, it has been well-received across the globe. “What is the better gift of helping someone else through your own experience?” MKD is humbled that, through her appearance on Drag Race, she now has an elevated platform to speak from.  

Auditioning each season of the show, Mrs. Davis never gave up. She rejoiced, “I believe in order to get anywhere in life, you have to be a pain in the ass!” And getting on the show was a victory. A touching moment came when she discovered the studio used to film the hit show was also used for some of the earliest episodes of ‘I Love Lucy!’ In Season 7, Kasha and thirteen drag competed for a cash prize of $100,000. Sadly, she did not come out on top. “So many people have come up to me and tell me I was robbed,” she reminisced. “I was robbed? I was given a gift and it has been the most amazing blessing!” Since her appearance, MKD continues to travel to Hollywood where she works on various projects – in addition to traveling the world as her drag persona. “I believe in the power of thinking positive,” Kasha affirmed. “If you want success you have to allow it and you have to verbalize it.”  

Positive affirmations includes continued performances on the stage, becoming a household name via commercials, and a chance at competing on RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars. Of course, social media continues to play a big part in the MKD brand. “You have to be on social media now,” she proclaimed. “It’s your opportunity to do a show 24 hours a day!” Similar to queens of another sort, Kasha believes drag artists are celebrities in their own right. With bigger-than-life personas, people realize their dreams and desires through what queens are doing. It is for this reason she upholds a caveat: to be careful of what is posted online and how performers are portrayed. Not only are adults looking at drag queens as role models. “There are young boys and girls watching us,” she said. “I didn’t have those role models.”  

 

Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online, 2017.

Lush Light Photography for Rochester Woman Online, 2017.

Despite her international fame, Mrs. Kasha Davis has not given up on the local drag scene. In addition to Big Wigs, she hosts a monthly brunch at Edible’s Restaurant on University Avenue. Bringing in a variety of performers from the area, her desire is to ensure an active and cooperative community of drag performers. “Just getting us all together and celebrate our uniqueness,” She said. “It’s not always a competition – everybody can be successful.” Indeed, such comradery is what has allowed drag to last throughout the ages. Drag is historic, mythical and mystical. Ancient legends tell of gods who baffled their opponents in the guise of the opposite sex. Shakespearean female roles were always played by men, with at least one play placing drag as a central theme. While vaudeville popularized drag in the late-Victorian era, the conservative movements of thirties forced it underground. It would take icons such as Divine and RuPaul to bring it back into mainstream society.  

Rochester, too, has made its own drag her-story. Miss Gay Rochester is one of the oldest drag beauty pageants in America. Over the course of its near fifty-year history, among its reigning queen is Mrs. Kasha Davis (2008). As she and many others can attest, the vibrant history of drag is a continued medium in which art, fashion and, most importantly, life’s celebrations, converge. As RuPaul famously said “everyone is born naked; the rest is drag.” 

Check out kashadavis.com and follow her on social media (@mrskashadavis) for a listing of her performances.  

Kiss, Kiss Dahlings! 

-Ortensia 

 

 

My Actual Birthday...or Vive la Reine, Part Deux

My Actual Birthday...or Vive la Reine, Part Deux

Courtesy of Lush Light Photography 

Courtesy of Lush Light Photography 

Fear is the greatest enemy of freedom. Fear limits us. It discourages us. It deprives us. It blinds us from continuing down our path of life, and deafens us from sharing and understanding the lives of others. Fear of taking a chance on love. Fear of taking a job across the country. Fear of the unknown. Fear of those who ‘look’ or ‘act’ differently. Fear is a killer of living one’s life.

Life is full of fearful moments, but I felt I’ve lived in fear for the greater part of the past fifteen years. Whether it was pursuing a degree, or living on my own, I was afraid at every step – and continued to do so even after the accomplishments. Even though there were people telling me of my intelligence and strong disposition, I never truly believed it. Chief among them was my grand-mère, Elisabeth. Since my grandmother’s death three years ago, I light a candle for her every 17th of May (or close to the day). It was the last day I spoke with her before her untimely death. My grandmother always guided me through every step of my life, a constant inspiration and one of my proudest advocates. No matter what, she was always there to support me. She never doubted my potential to myself and the world.  

Fear nevertheless manifested into the 3 ‘S’s: self-belittling, self-doubting, and self-devaluing. I never celebrated an accomplishment for as long as I could remember. And there was never a time I did not truly appreciate a compliment, often if not always making a joke at my own expense. But how much a difference a year makes.

Within the past year, I have never felt more accomplished for the achievements I made. Sure, there have been a few bumps in the road. But I am simply…not fearful anymore. I have nothing to be afraid of. It is as if my eyes opened to the future that I can make, a future that can be shared with so many others. Realizing that, I have become more accepting of who I am. When one is without fear, one has the greatest euphoric experience.

In December of last year, I finally decided to take the next step. I began hormone replacement therapy, and am more proud to say I am transgender. And while I am still in my infancy on this path, a fearless woman is in the making. Enemies be damned!

More and more, I’ve started to treat birthdays like my second (third, if you count my drag debut) as a do-over. Another anniversary of one’s birth comes with it a wealth of knowledge and certainty. This year certainly no different than the before. And yet, it is something new. It is a celebration of my rebirth. A celebration of a new path. A celebration of being true to myself. And there’s no better celebration than that.

XoXo Dahlings,

Ortensia

 

 

Image courtesy of Lush Light Photography

Image courtesy of Lush Light Photography

The ReDRAGucation of Miss Deelicious

The ReDRAGucation of Miss Deelicious

A phoenix always rises from the ashes. Read about Rochester's own 'Chocolate Brownie'! (Photo courtesy of Lush Light Photography). 

Y3 - VIVE LA REINE!

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Y3 - VIVE LA REINE!

It's been an amazing, beautiful, dramatic, traumatic, educated, and enlightening three years. I've made some friends, made more enemies, lost a few on the way and gained some more. I've learned to respect myself, accept my faults, and learn to never doubt myself or my skills. I've learned to embrace my strength, have grown wiser, and become more courageous than ever before. Most importantly, I've learned to live in my truth - to be free and love the woman I'm becoming. Here's to a FABULOUS three years of Ortensia, and to many more years to come!

Vive la Reine! 

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La Cantina Drag Brunch - Post Recap

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La Cantina Drag Brunch - Post Recap

The four ladies of La Cantina: Jenna Vixen, Miss Deelicious, ME, and Kiki BananaHammock!  

The four ladies of La Cantina: Jenna Vixen, Miss Deelicious, ME, and Kiki BananaHammock!  

A-effin-mazing! What a time. The food? Great! The drinks? Awesome! The performers? AMAZING!!!! Have to thank Havana Cabana for allowing me to coordinate this event, and always happy to have Miss Deelicious on the mic! If you missed it, no worries! Stay tuned for more drag brunches in the coming weeks. 

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I Am Not the Enemy

I Am Not the Enemy

Picture this: Friday night cocktails in late-February with my sister. The weather is fierce, but not too frigid. And I'm just trying to get a Cosmo. After one of two (or three or four) glasses, my eyes began roaming. While observing, women twirling their hairs and seductively sipping their cocktails, I frequently became recipient of their cold stares. And I wasn't the only one; my girlfriend, who is a little more comfortable with public gazing, also took note. Was my nose running? A spill on my gown? I turned to my friend for guidance and, she quipped, it's because I have something extra down the belt. Despite a graduate degree and a taste for strong drinks, as a trans woman of color I am often relegated to one of three archetypes: the sassy, black girlfriend; the queer friend to be doted on, affectionately known as the 'gay' best friend (GBF); or the sexualized being with a few kinks. It's the last which brings a lot of derision from cisgender women. Will I go out my way to snatch your gentleman? Will I bat an eye towards your date when if he looks my way? Will I take your husband into the bathroom, expecting him to... appreciate my worth? No. No. And only if he's paying! Just kidding. All I want to do on a Friday – or any other day which ends in 'y' - is enjoy a cocktail at the end of the day.

Ladies, trans women are not the enemy. No doubt, there are some who wish to be the ‘other woman’. But for many – yes, I'm willing to speak for the masses – we only desire to be respected for who we are and how we live. And, yes, at times, we desire to take a bite of that sweet, delectable apple. What red-blooded American woman doesn't appreciate a fine-crafted man in a tailored suit? But even when it looks ripe for the picking, we do know the pains of biting into a rotten apple. Apologize in advance if the root of that tree is yours.

My cisgender sisters (may I call you sisters?), all trans women want is to be appreciated. To show up to a party and feel like a princess. To be admired and adored. Every woman – cis or otherwise – understands that. So when a trans sister enter a room, don’t deride. Value the risk she takes to compose and present herself in a public space – one that isn't always the safest. Socialize with her, get to know her, and understand the life and love she shows to the world. Don't try to dim her light. Don't wish her the worst. She simply wants to celebrate the achievements she has accomplished, and tell the world the accomplishments she desires to achieve.

She doesn't want to be your enemy – but she is wanting a friend & ally.

XOXO,

Ortensia

 

Originally printed in March, 2017 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine Online

RWM Announcement

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RWM Announcement

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I am beyond thrilled to have my own column in Rochester Woman Magazine. Now to figure out to write...Any suggestions?  (Don't mind the name change. I will explain that another time!)

 

 

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No Chocolates, Just Cocktails

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No Chocolates, Just Cocktails

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I hope everyone has a FAB Valentine's Day. Single, dating, divorced, or just having an affair (kidding!), don't forget to treat your loved ones with something edible...and something kinky! ;) 

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The Doyenne of Flatbush: A Tale of a Black Courtesan

The Doyenne of Flatbush: A Tale of a Black Courtesan

“Mistresses were hidden away and summoned for sex. Prostitutes were given little cash for their whole body, to be thrown back into the streets. Courtesans were bestowed with luxurious gifts, large home, and desired for their mind and body.” - Marie-Cécile Louvais

Courtesans might be an ancient profession, but for Marie-Cécile Louvais her life as one was more than historic.

Born in 1942, Marie grew up on the Caribbean island of Haiti. The youngest of seven children, the family lived in a one-room apartment in the northern village of Milot. Nestled below the Citadelle Laferrière, her family fell on hard times during the global economic depression of the 1920s and 30s. Her father resorted to alcohol, and was known for being a strict disciplinarian. For the most part. Marie, admittedly, was never a victim to his tirades. She believed her complexion was a factor in her upbringing and, to a greater extent, her later success as a courtesan. “…being of fairer skin in Haiti meant you were more likely to be accepted in Haitian society. You were likely to get a desk job rather than work with your hands. You could marry into an affluent family. Skin color meant everything.” In her teenage years Marie’s beauty blossomed. Her looks drew advances from many local men, but also ridicule from many women and her sisters. At 16, her mother decided to send her off to Port-au-Prince to live with her grandmother Louise. It was here she learned the art of courtesan-ship.

Just a year before, Haiti elected a black populist - Francois Duvalier - who promised to take the country away from the mulatto elite and redistribute it to the black majority. While the capital itself was panicking after an unsuccessful coup to overthrow the President, in the hilltop town of Petionville, all was well. Indeed, the wealthy town was worlds apart from the majority of the country. Marie’s grandmother worked in the house of Marianne de Guyon, a wealthy widow with a title and connections in social circles. (Some families were ennobled during Haiti's brief, but multiple, experiments with monarchy.) Madame de Guyon was also a former courtesan in her youth. She took an immediate liking to Marie and decided to take the young girl under her wing. Besides learning the art of pleasure Marie also received an education – something she would not receive under normal circumstances. “I learned history, politics, English, and Spanish. I was to be woman of quality”. The widow unofficially adopted Marie. Her ‘second mother’ was the key to the world of Haiti’s exclusive elites.

 

Social clubs, like the Cercle Bellevue, welcomed many Haitian elites.  (Marie-Cécile Louvais, seated.)

Social clubs, like the Cercle Bellevue, welcomed many Haitian elites.  (Marie-Cécile Louvais, seated.)

Her first “contact” was Alphonse, a sugar plantation owner. Their first few meetings were uncomfortable for Marie. A man old enough to be her father - if not her grandfather - they found a mutual love of literature. “We had many discussions on philosophy and literature,” she said. “I could never forget Alphonse: riding in his car with him and attending private gatherings at Cercle Bellevue. Those memories will always be with me.” As expected, the relationship reaped many rewards – the family’s debt paid; shopping trips to the fashion houses of Paris; fine furnishings at her new Petionville residence. Once accustomed to wearing dirty shirts and skirts, she was one of few women in the country to wear Dior. One of her most treasured pieces was a gold leopard brooch decorated with emeralds and rubies. But the relationship with him was mere business and, after three years, she moved on other gentlemen. A handsome Cuban official, a Haitian general, and a high-ranking government minister. But her last contact was one that was most memorable. In a photo was youthful Marie on the arm of a short, stout man with square frames and gray hair. To most individuals he was simply another man. To Haitians, however, he was the face of fear – Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, president of Haiti, and leader of one of the most brutal regimes in the country’s history.

Marie, then 24, and Duvalier, 59, first met at a banquet hosted by Guyon in Petionville in 1966. “There was an obvious commanding air about him,” Marie said. By then, Papa Doc is notoriously known for his authoritarian regime. He employed the Tonton Macoutes, his secret police, to suppress political opponents at any costs; few could escape their nightly assaults which included imprisonment, torture, or hacking families with machetes. A superstitious nation, Duvalier also used the Voodoo religion as propaganda and control over the majority of uneducated Haitians. But to Marie he was simply “sweet Francois”. She admits the relationship was nonsexual. Nevertheless, he offered her a lavish lifestyle: a mansion in Petionville and a retreat in Cap Haitien, a luxury car with a personal chauffeur, and shopping sprees to Europe and America. Such gifts were soon to cease.

When Francois died in 1971 his son Jean-Claude, also known as ‘Baby Doc’, became President. The 19-year-old inherited a poor country, but continued to spend lavishly. In a nation where many hoped to earn $500 a year, Baby Doc pent $2 million on his wedding and frequently hosted extravagant parties. He also employed torture as entertainment rather than political suppression. “There were things done to innocent men and women that it is too difficult to discuss,” a look of pain overcoming Marie's face. 

In 1984, Marie took the courage to flee the nation. It was during this time she met a man by the name of André Benjamin. Educated in France and trained to be a lawyer, he returned to Haiti in the early ‘80s to educate rural Haitians on the fallacies of the dictatorial regime. After fleeing Haiti in 1982 to Florida he returned secretly a year later to take his sister and others to the States; his sister, Anne, was a house-servant in Marie’s home. “André was a strong man and that is what I loved about him,” Marie said as she glossed over an album book. Flipping through the pages, one can see what made him attractive. “He explained to me it was unsafe to live in Haiti. At any time I could easily become [Jean-Claude’s] victim.” In the middle of the night the trio fled the countryside and Marie would leave the life and splendor she was accustomed to.

Philosophers, artists and poets fled Haiti during the Duvalier regimes of the second half of the 20th century. (André Benjamin, third from left.) 

Philosophers, artists and poets fled Haiti during the Duvalier regimes of the second half of the 20th century. (André Benjamin, third from left.) 

They arrived in Florida in September 1984 and moved to Brooklyn the following year. After settling, André returned to Haiti to assist in the underground emigration project. It would be the last time they were together: he was caught shortly after arriving back in Port-au-Prince and, according to some, was executed on-site or died in prison.

Few Haitians returned to the country after the fall of Baby Doc in 1986. Today, Marie lives in Brooklyn. She never married – “I never had the desire to,” she said – but treats local children as her own. Nearly 33 years after her arrival, two generations have come to know la doyenne de Flatbush. Her success as a real estate broker - tycoon, by some accounts - granted her access to the city's movers and shakers. Now living in a fabulous brownstone in Williamsburg, one can say she has become a success story in her second country. Marie says her survival was due to a natural gift of adjusting to what life throws at her. "I came to this country with a few dollars a three pairs of clothes," she boasted.

Anne Benjamin, Marie's former servant, now serves as a business adviser and confidante. “[Marie-Cécile] saved my life and gave me an opportunity to help others...there is nothing more I can ask for." In 2002, Anne advised Marie on sponsoring programs and organizations that help underprivileged women – a duty she takes seriously. Eight years later, after the earthquake which devastated their native country, Anne convinced Marie-Cecile to raise funds for the relief of her native countrymen. Marie-Cécile traveled back to Haiti in January 2011 for the first time since the Duvaliers were in power. (Coincidentally, 'Baby Doc' Duvalier, too, traveled back to Haiti at the same time.) She was at a fundraiser in Petionville when news broke out of Jean-Claude's arrest, charged with corruption. Marie wept with joy. "That was vindication for André's death and many like him."

Marie-Cécile never regretted her life as a courtesan. On the contrary, she found it empowering. “It is through our charms and wits that we can take down anyone – man, creature, nation,” she said as she clasped a bejeweled feline brooch onto her tweed jacket. “I believe it was Helen of Troy who was famous for that.”

America, Forever Beautiful

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America, Forever Beautiful

1964. That was the year my grandparents, with their one-year-old daughter and another on the way, came to the United States. A nation that was still mourning a loss of President - one with great hopes and dreams. A superpower challenged abroad, while racial tensions and economic disparity at home seemed to bring about another civil war. My grandfather could have had a better life in Zaire, or even Haiti, as a technocrat. Why did he choose this country? 

My grandparents tried to provide the best for their children, though 1960s & 70s Brooklyn was very different than today's hipsteristic atmosphere. (Not to mention sending their children to boarding school in, of all places, Haiti!) For them, like so many immigrants and refugees, America was a land of opportunity. A land of great promise. In an era of dictatorships, U.S.A. was the torchbearer of the 'free world'. That tall, statuesque woman nestled in New York Harbor, who once greeted immigrants from Europe, stood more than a symbol - she represented a guarantee for many who desired to start anew.

Paul Stahr's depiction of Columbia, the personification of the United States, reaching out her arms to the world's tired, poor and huddled masses. 

Paul Stahr's depiction of Columbia, the personification of the United States, reaching out her arms to the world's tired, poor and huddled masses. 

This country, born by immigrants seeking refuge from religious oppression and desiring political and economic stability, were unaware of what experiment they were to begin. Unaware they were to lay the foundation of a glorious enterprise. Unaware of the destiny for millions - willing and, sadly, unwilling - to take part in creating this land of opportunity. And from it birthed the American Dream. A dream that is not always fulfilled, but something that is much higher than ourselves. 

Despite its faults and failures, historically and contemporary, America has and will be the land of glory. Where the children and grandchildren of immigrants can get a free education, a hot meal, and continue to make it in the world. Our 44th and, interestingly, 45th American Presidents are a testament to that promise. 

America has born great leaders as well as great thinkers, educators, social activists, and more. When we forget our past, we forget the path we are going. And more and more, we have lost all hope of continuing this great experiment which began 410 years ago. We've become so divided on issues, closed ourselves from others' opinions, that we forget our differences allows us to continue the American experience. Those of different color, cultures and creeds, of diverse sexual, gender, and political identities, is what makes this country. Respecting the dignities and lives of our fellow countrymen is what makes this country beautiful, allowing us to live and prosper is what makes us great. 

We as a nation have fallen on the ground. All that is left to do is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and never give up our inalienable rights of 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'  

 

XoXo,

Ortensia

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A Letter to Last Year

Dear 2016: 

 What. The. F*ck! I have no words for you. I would say you really had it out for me but, no, you really had it out for us all. Totally blind-sighted the world with Brexit, U.S. elections, deaths of our beloved celebrities...and winner of Rupaul's Drag Race All-Stars. I mean, REALLY 2016?! When we first met, I thought you would be my dream year. The year I would have it all. The year I would have figured it all out. The year I would look to the future with optimism. LIES! ALL LIES! You stole and cheated me with a grin on your face. You left me alone on New Year's Eve feeling naked and downtrodden. No wonder I found comfort in food and drinks. You may have broken me, 2016, but you have not rid me of my existence. From my mistakes, I have grown from them. From my faults, learned. You will not blow out this candle! 

Forever your Ex, 

Ortensia

2016 In Review

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2016 In Review

From top left, clockwise: strutting down the runway at Fashion Is A Drag; Queens for Christmas Drag Brunch flyer; the six inspiring ladies of Inspired Queens Drag Brunch; featured photo in August's Rochester Woman Magazine (courtesy of Lush Light Photography); posing - like a lady! - at Cover Girl: Put Your Best Heels On!

From top left, clockwise: strutting down the runway at Fashion Is A Drag; Queens for Christmas Drag Brunch flyer; the six inspiring ladies of Inspired Queens Drag Brunch; featured photo in August's Rochester Woman Magazine (courtesy of Lush Light Photography); posing - like a lady! - at Cover Girl: Put Your Best Heels On!

From the bottom of my bosom, thank you all for participating in the events over the year. With your support, we have been able to put on fabulous and oh-so-chic festivities. We hope you have enjoyed these joyous occasions throughout 2016. It has been a pleasure coordinating them! 

You and 200+ guests filled the Memorial Art Gallery's ballroom at April's Inspired Queens Drag Brunch. (And, if I may add, tipped VERY generously!) The first ever drag brunch at the gallery, eight months on and I still hear from people reminiscing the event! Among the wonderful sponsors who presented the brunch was Rochester Woman Magazine. In August, we teamed up for Day of Empowerment: Fashion Is a Drag! which featured local queens Miss Deelicious, Paige Sulay and Wednesday Westwood. Some of the queens were also published in the magazine's August issue (including yours truly!) I may not be a supermodel, but there's definitely some potential to be a cover girl! October's Cover Girl: Put Your Best Heels On, at Edible's Restaurant, was all about awareness and fundraising for Center for YouthWe concluded the year with a more intimate affair during December’s Queens for Christmas Brunch at Label 7. I am happy and honored to have shared 2016 with you.

Get ready for exciting events in the upcoming year! 

XoXo, 

Ortensia

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Thanksgiving Sloth

Thanksgiving Sloth

Overworked and stuffed, Thanksgiving was nevertheless a fabulous affair! Time to get back in shape - mentally and physically - and prepare for the next venture!

Perhaps after this last piece of cake. I promise!

- Ortensia

Queens for Christmas

The gatherings. The meals. The snowflakes on the ground. (Or, at least in Rochester, the lack of snow.) ‘Tis the Season! Come celebrate with your family and friends at Queens for Christmas Brunch on Sunday, December 18th. Two holiday-themed drag brunches at 12pm and 2pm, featuring a delectable buffet and amazing drag shows hosted by Miss Deelicious. We are excited to get into the holiday cheer!

Use the code HolidayCheer from now until Sunday, November 27th to save $5 off your tickets. Head on over to https://queensforchristmas.eventbrite.com today before this deal ends!

Get ready for a festive and fabulous brunch. See you on December 18th!  

XOXO,

Ortensia de Loren

Seven Days Later...

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Seven Days Later...

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This election year has certainly been one of the most divisive since the mid-19th century. (Lincoln, anyone?) And the results continues to divide, rather than unite, this country. Many have expressed their grief online, while thousands across the nation have protested on the streets of many cities. Meanwhile, others have been encouraged - emboldened - to take the victory as a sign of a new society. A Republic for which the rights of 'Others' are being threatened. Pride flag burnings; swastikas strewn on walls; and the most horrific and derogatory words thrown at those who may not represent the America of days past. Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words certainly hurt us. 

We should not see the actions of the few represent the 'silent majority'. We should not believe Trump's supporters are 'deplorables'. We must not uphold the notion that making America Great Again means breaking down the civil and social justice systems that so many have fought hard for. A Trump victory is not a triumph of the alt-right or the establishment of a fascist regime. We have guardians in both parties who will be damn sure to protect our experiment with democracy. All I can say is to have strength, wisdom, and courage for our loved ones. And to have pity. Pity on those who will never celebrate the victories of the minorities. Pity on those who will never cheer on the accomplishments of those on the periphery. Pity on those who will never understand your pains, sufferings, and your overcoming the obstacles laid before you. 

  The Trump Presidency and the Republican Congress are at a pivotal moment in American history. A time to either bring the country together under the auspices of the Grand Old Party, or to create a new ideology. To change the politicking of Washington, or to stick with its traditions. To lead Americans of different colors, cultures and creeds into the 21st century, or to recede it back into the 19th. The decisions may be his, but the choice - in four years - is yours.

You decide. 

 

 - Lady O

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