06.28.18 Tampa Bay Bureau Chief’s Desk

By : Ryan Williams-Jent
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You can ask any of my friends or family, here at Watermark or otherwise, and they’ll tell you it’s no secret that I love drag.

I don’t do it myself, given my penchant for facial hair and the amount of foam it would take to give me a proper backside, but it’s something I’ve respected for most of my life. It’s a love and respect that began in 1996.

I was serving my best Ohio pre-teen realness, likely clad in an “X-Men” tee, husky jeans and my (free with the VHS) “Free Willy 2” necklace, when I discovered “The RuPaul Show” on VH1. At 12 years old, I’d found the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.

I was conflicted for quite some time, given that I was already in love with Zack Morris from “Saved by the Bell” and I didn’t want to upset him. I was already competing with Kelly Kapowski and that was hard enough. Young and naive, it wasn’t until later that I realized the glamazon before me was actually in drag and that I could continue writing “Ryan Morris” in all of my notebooks.

At the time, RuPaul was one of the first openly gay talk show hosts. Whatever your feelings are on the entertainer, the cultural phenomenon of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” or drag in general, that’s an important part of our history and I’ll always love him. He introduced me to an unapologetic love and openness that spoke to me in ways I didn’t yet understand, opening a door for me to a wonderful and important side of the LGBTQ community that I now hold so dear.

While the list of LGBTQ icons that have impacted our community before and after RuPaul is as extensive as it is fabulous, the fact that a drag queen played such an integral part of my introduction to it kick-started my affinity and respect for the art form.

Queens have played a pivotal role in our shared LGBTQ experience, from Stonewall on, and they continue to play a key part in my own journey. I have quite a few friends who perform in drag, be it casually or professionally, and their advocacy and dedication to the LGBTQ community is unparalleled. They’re always on the front lines, ready to fight for what is right and looking fabulous while they’re at it.

Oh, and my husband does drag. So there’s that.

He’d mentioned while we were dating that he’d always wanted to try it before turning 30, something I never put much stock in or cared about. You only live once and like I said, I loved drag and I love him, so to each their own.

It wasn’t until after we were married that he tried it for the first time, something I often joke he only did after I put a ring on it. He did it for charity, and still does, but the most interesting thing that’s come out of it to me is the first question that I always get about it: “How does it make you feel?”

Does it matter? Most folks don’t ask to be rude, and some ask to be funny. But he’s my husband, he’s advocating for charities across Tampa Bay—almost always for free—and it makes him happy. Who cares how I feel? Besides, he looks great and people buy him drinks, so in reality my wallet’s winning.

Which is nice, given how expensive drag is. We used to have a second bedroom, now a large walk-in closet. Our eventual house will have to have a third room just for Miss Dixie.

My husband doing drag has also afforded me the opportunity to get to know multiple queens throughout Tampa Bay in a way I hadn’t before. I see their kindness and dedication up close, and I know what they go through to perform and look as amazing as they do. I’ve never respected it more.

In this issue, we take a look at some of those queens, both here in Tampa Bay and over in Central Florida as we examine the relationship between drag mothers and daughters. In Arts and Entertainment, we check in with political commentator Sally Kohn about her new book and vocalist Andy Bell about his work with Erasure.

In news, we celebrate the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the AIDS Health Foundation’s new healthcare center and the raising of the Pride flag in St. Pete. On the flip side, we examine a Pride flag’s vandalism in Central Florida and review a Pulse survivor’s concerns about Disney.

We strive to bring you a variety of stories, your stories. I hope you enjoy this latest issue.

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