The Last Queen of Greenwich Village

From The New Yorker:

Joseph Touchette, who may be the oldest drag queen in New York City, has lived on the corner of Bank and West Fourth streets since 1956.

Daniel Penny
June 25, 2017

The wedding of Joseph Touchette, better known as Tish, was typical for New England in the years after the Second World War. A minister officiated; a hot buffet was served; a friend provided an apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, for the honeymoon. What was unusual was that Tish was the bride. His groom was Norman Kerouac, first cousin of Jack, and most of the guests who gathered at the reception hall outside of Providence were friends from a local gay club. Gay marriage would not be legal for decades, and even weddings staged as campy jokes were almost unheard of—but Tish’s friends had insisted. “That wedding bullshit was all started by a bunch of lesbians,” Tish, who is ninety-three, said recently. Some friends who worked at a Pawtucket bridal salon had offered to outfit the bridesmaids and to provide Tish with a lacy white wedding gown. “It was the first time I ever dressed in drag.” Seeing himself in the mirror, made up with rouge and lipstick, he was pleased with the results. “Somebody said, ‘Tish, you should be a female impersonator,’ ” and he agreed.

Tish, who may be the oldest drag queen in New York City, knew he wanted to be an entertainer from an early age. He grew up in Dayville, Connecticut, the eldest of seven children in a French Catholic, blue-collar family. Following his marriage to Norman, whom he met one night at an underground gay bar, Tish worked factory jobs and took dance and singing lessons at a prominent music academy in Providence; on weekends, he played the local clubs. After a few years, Tish and Norman broke up, and Tish decided to move to New York to focus on his career. “A drag queen is an amateur—a female impersonator is a professional,” he said. For forty years, Tish sang, danced, and amused audiences at clubs, many of them Mafia-owned, across the city and along the East Coast. “They would book us for a week and pa-pa-pa-pa, we’d stay for six months.” He remembers his audition at the Moroccan Village, a popular club on West Eighth Street during the nineteen-fifties, for which he sang “You’ll Never Know How Much I Love You”; he believes he got the job on the strength of his voice. “When the queens saw me taking out my dress in the changing room, they said, ‘You can’t wear that!’ What was good enough for Pawtucket would not work in New York.”

Since 1956, Tish has lived in a one-bedroom railroad apartment on the corner of Bank and West Fourth streets, across from a former travel agency that was later a Taoist decor shop, then a Little Marc Jacobs, and is now shuttered. He pays two hundred and fifty-six dollars a month in rent, and relies on food stamps, social security, and the nominal fee he charges an aspiring actor and chef, Derek, who sleeps on a pullout couch in the living room. (Derek’s name has been changed for this article.) Above the couch is a wall of framed photographs of Tish—you can recognize him by his nose, which is shaped like a teardrop—wearing blond wigs, long gowns, and feather boas. In other images, he is dressed as a man and wears his bleached hair in a pompadour. Beneath these photos is a small framed poster from a nineteen-sixties travelling act, “The French Box Revue,” in which the female impersonators are arranged in a grid, labelled with men’s names: Mr. Dayzee Dee, Mr. Jackie King, Mr. Bobby Dell, Mr. Tony St. Cyr, and Mr. Tish. As George Chauncey, a historian at Columbia, explained in an e-mail, female-impersonation acts were very different from contemporary drag shows, which are as much about creating queer communities as they are about entertainment. Clubs like the Moroccan Village generally attracted “heterosexuals looking for novelty” who were “astounded and fascinated by the beauty and glamor of the performers and their uncanny ability to ‘pass’ as the so-called ‘other sex.’ ”

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A Reminder That Russia Is An Authoritarian State That Terrorizes LGBTQ People

From Huffington Post:

Donald Trump, Jr.’s excuse that “Russia mania” only just began last year is incredible.

By Michelangelo Signorile
Jul 14, 2017

A bakery recently opened in Moscow, one of five owned by a Russian businessman, German Sterligov, whose four other shops are located in St. Petersburg. As Masha Gessen reported in The New Yorker last week, all five bakeries have signs in their windows that read, “No Fags Allowed.” The Russian media, Gessen notes, have “generally paid more attention to the stores’ high prices than to the signs at their entrances.”

While this might seem horrifying and far removed from American reality, let’s not forget that the U.S. Supreme just decided to take up a case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a baker in Colorado essentially wants the right to do the same thing based on his religious beliefs, having turned away a gay couple who sought a cake for their wedding ― before they even discussed the design of the cake. This and several similar cases were previously rejected by the court, but with Donald Trump’s court pick Neil Gorsuch, a hardline “religious liberty” crusader, having recently the joined the court, it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the court now decided to take it up.

That said, though LGBT rights in the U.S. are undeniably in danger of being rolled back in the Trump era (as I warned earlier this week),  they are light years from where they are in Russia, where queer people are terrorized daily under Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Queer people are terrorized daily under Vladimir Putin’s regime.

It’s an issue that has received international media attention for several years. Protests and pride events are banned, and those who’ve organized have been regularly beaten and jailed by police and thugs whom the police allow to engage in violence with impunity. I’ve interviewed Gessen, a Russian-American journalist, from Moscow several times over the past few years, publishing those interviews here on HuffPost, including when she was part of a protest in 2013 at the Russian parliament, the Duma, and was violently attacked herself.

As Gessen described in the New Yorker last week:

L.G.B.T. people have been a prime target of Kremlin propaganda since 2012. That year, Putin returned to the Presidency for a third term, amid mass protests. In response, the Kremlin started queer-baiting the protesters. A succession of cities and, eventually, the federal parliament passed bills banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” Television presenters raged against imaginary homosexual recruiters of Russian children…Vigilante groups that entrap gay men online and then humiliate and torture them on camera now operate with impunity in many cities. According to Immigration Equality, an American organization that helps L.G.B.T. asylum seekers, Russia has consistently been among the top five countries from which their clients flee; hundreds of people have sought asylum in the United States and in Western Europe.

The videos of gay men being held captive, raped, tortured, and attacked by vigilante groups have gone viral over the years. President Obama spoke out numerous times against Russia’s brutality against LGBT people, and it was one of the reasons he cited for having boycotted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (while sending openly gay athletes to represent the U.S. instead), a time when major corporations from McDonalds to Coca-Cola found themselves under attack and mired in PR crises because of their sponsorships of the games.

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