My last name is Hunt. When I was in third grade, the other boys at school found another word that rhymed with Hunt, and that was what they called me. Back then, I was a sissy boy who got beat up, a lot. And by the end of third grade, that four-letter word that rhymed with Hunt, was what all my classmates called me. It became my name.
I was a strange boy. My greatest childhood memory was finding a pair of emerald-green satin pumps in the back of my mom’s closet. The closest I came to personal power as a kid was when I stole those shoes, put them on and tip tip tipped down the sidewalk of my suburban neighborhood. Which of course didn’t help with the beatings up and my new four-letter name.
So, I grew up with a name that held a great level of shame for me. Eventually I went to New York and left my entire name behind to go in search of a new one.
Everything changed when I came to New York. And one night in particular enlightened me. It was a Tuesday night in 1994, where I was up-in-pumps (drag), feeling wild and reckless. I ended up stranded in the Meatpacking District wearing only a bra, red-hot-red panties, a blonde wig, black fishnet stockings, a sparkly, violet sequined hat that once belonged to Marsha P. Johnson, and a stolen pair of Vivienne Westwood high heels.
I was stranded and half-naked. But then I found a leopard-spotted fur coat in the garbage. I put it on and tip tip tipped through the cobblestone streets, where I stumbled upon a door with a long line of beautiful people that wrapped around the corner, a little red velvet rope, and a Catwoman-like door girl named Kitty Boots who let me inside the nightclub Jackie 6O. Hello.
Inside that nightclub were drag superstars, downtown artists, and sexy go-go boys proudly wearing t-shirts that read, I (Heart) Trannys. Then a tall Queen with jet-black hair, dressed head to toe in black leather and gun-metal-lipstick-painted lips, spotted me from across the room. She walked over, eyed me up and down, and called me that name — the word that brought back all my childhood shame. I got heat in my nerves, and up the back of my neck, and along the hairline of my platinum blonde wig.
But then she explained something to me.
That Queen was the Misstress Formika. And that night, she explained to me how, amongst the sisterhood, that word was the highest compliment a Queen could pay another Queen. She was giving me approval. This information transformed me. I had walked into that club wearing garbage and internal baggage, and I left proudly embracing it all.
I know that owning a word and stripping it of its negative effect is not a new idea, but that moment changed the way I heard and used language. Now I could own this word — amongst other past slurs against my sexuality — with pride and power.