As the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, the concept of the American Dream was sacrosanct. The belief that every American has a fair chance at success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. The notion that, through grit and grind, upward mobility lies ahead. How far that dream is from truth. For many, hard work is just a part of a harder life. We often find reprieve through our icons: figures who we looked from afar and idolized. Celebrities who have inspired us - for better or worse - to become the persons we are today. Mine were real life heroines like Elizabeth I and Joan of Arc, or larger-than-life characters such as Carrie Bradshaw and Karen Walker.
A celebrity in her own right, Kim McEachern – better known as Miss Deelicious – has been a staple in the local drag community for over a decade. I first met her three years ago when I took the stage for the very first time. She encouraged me in my craft, my aesthetic and, yes, my makeup! But I never knew who she was. I knew few details of her life behind the costume and the stage. After begging and pleading with her, Deelicious finally allowed me to interview her. On a cold, wintry day in March, we sat down for coffee at Ugly Duck on a Saturday afternoon. Even after going out the night before, she still decided to get 'dolled-up'.
Born in 1980s Long Island, Deelicious grew up with her parents and six siblings. Kim moved to Rochester with her mother shortly after her parents separated. It was against this backdrop Kim came into her own person. “I always realized I was different, and always realized I liked boys,” she grinned. While she ‘came out’ as gay in sixth grade, in middle school she began wearing girl’s clothing and growing out her hair. Hiding the clothes from her mother, she packed them and changed at school. A string of events one Halloween night changed things. Dressed up as her icon, ‘Lil Kim, she went out with friends. “I wasn’t going out trick or treating,” Deelicious said, admitting she had been doing so up until her mid-teens. Paths crossed as her sister was leaving their mother's house, who immediately called her mother. Thinking right on the spot, however, Deelicious had a good cover. Her mother, however, was not so easily convinced. Her mother threw out her clothing and, even worse, forced Kim to cut her hair. Forced to adapt to the situation, Kim found solace in a local group.
Since 1996, The MOCHA – Men of Color Health Awareness – Project has been a staple in the black queer community. Providing resources for HIV/AIDS prevention, they also were a de facto after-school center for many youths in the community. Deelicious's first time entering there left a great impression on her. Among those who supported her was Fatima, the first transwoman she’d ever met. “She was just so comfortable being herself; there was no shame in her game. She was the ultimate diva!” By random coincidence, Fatima knew Kim's mother. Through the program, Kim encounter a plethora of individuals in Rochester and Buffalo. It was through MOCHA she regained the confidence to show herself to the world and, at sixteen, truly started living her life.
Beginning her transitioning at sixteen, it was at this time she started going by the name Kim. She also began experimenting with drag. Her first gig was at GQ (now Tilt) Nightclub. “I felt like I was really around people I could identify with…I thought the queens were like me!” Hosted by Dee Dee Dubois, her first performance impressed the queens. Eventually, she became one of the regular performers at the establishment. She later became a co-host of the Salad Bar Revue with Ambrosia Salad at Nasty D’s (now 140 Alex Bar & Grill). Co-hosting increased her brand's recognition and, through it, attracted a large following. After years of working between both clubs, Deelicious was offered her very own show in early 2010s.
“That was my proudest moment," Delicious reminisced. "After all I went through, after fighting to make myself known, the moment I accepted the hosting gig I knew I made it.” For almost five years, Tilt’s Mighty Deelicious Show featured some of the area’s best performers, with local and national talents gracing the stage at Rochester’s best Saturday drag shows. In addition to her show, she remained a fixture at the weekly Tilt-a-Whirl Drag Show, hosted by DuBois, as well as performing at various venues throughout the area. From college shows to private parties, she became a well-known figure in the drag community. Born out of a desire to be an entertainer, this was a triumph for Miss Deelicious. “Throwing a party. Performing for the people. Doing the damn thing on stage. It’s all I ever known!”
Her increasing fame also attracted some detractors. “I’ve always been treated differently as far as I can remember,” she recollects. As one of the highest-paid performers in the city, as well as gaining exposure beyond the LGBTQ community, there were some who envied her success. “I would never say it was a race issue, but there were those who did not like seeing a confident, happy, and successful transwoman of color.” She began noticing the varied reactions of co-workers and performers. What started as slight impasses gradually turned to overt forms of disrespect. “When you get poked at again and again, you can’t just sit there and take it anymore. And I couldn’t.”
After ten years as a performer and hostess, the self-proclaimed ‘Chocolate Brownie’ left Tilt Nightclub in March of this year. She cites artistic differences between herself and senior management. Despite changes, she was nevertheless flexible. But in recent weeks and months, she felt the show’s direction went contrary to her original concept. “It was about originality, uniqueness. Things were not turning out for the best.” As a transwoman of color, she has been a role model for many in the community. Most especially, for the LGBTQ youth of color.
Growing up, I didn't have role models who looked like me. Sure, there were few iconic black women in media: Ororo Munroe (X-Men's Storm), Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan (Star Trek), and the all-female cast of Living Single. But that was it. And there were no prominent transwomen back in the day. The few I can recollect were secondary characters, often but not always referenced in a comedic fashion. I even remember episodes of Ricki Lake where the audience had to figure out if guests were transgender or not! It was a bit degrading, if not downright embarrassing. Things have certainly changed since my youth. In the past eight years, we have seen the emergence of transwomen celebrities, authors – even politicians. Transsexuality has, in such a short time, shifted from the unknown to an element of mainstream society. Despite attempts to rewind the progress made, transwomen of ordinary and extraordinary qualities are refusing to back down. Nowadays, I don't have to envision strong, courageous black transwomen of color. I am proud to say I know a few.
“Although my name was on the show, it was more than me." Deelicious said. "It was one of the few venues drag queens and kings of color could show themselves to the people of Rochester. It gave them a chance to show themselves to the world!”
When asked about what the future lies, she paused and looked out of the window. Sipping delicately on her cappuccino, she turned back to me and smiled. “The world is your oyster, love muffin!”
For more information on Rochester's own Chocolate Brownie, as well as her upcoming events, visit www.missdeelicious.com
Originally printed in April, 2017 issue of Rochester Woman Magazine Online