What a Drag

One of S.F.'s favorite queens reflects on the passing of Tammy Faye Bakker

If there were one sure way of knowing where a celebrity stands in the gay community, it's when, upon their passing, a shrine in their honor pops up spontaneously on the corner of 18th and Castro (also known as Hibernia Beach). It was no surprise to me that one dedicated to Tammy Faye Bakker appeared this week. True, it wasn't the avalanche of cards and bouquets that followed the death of Princess Diana, but there it was nonetheless.

Tammy Faye was officially a Gay Saint.

Why this outpouring of grief? Tammy Faye was extraordinary in the truest sense of the word and, of course, gay men have a long history of idolizing extraordinary women.

Tammy Faye (sort of) fit the Tina Turner mold — the spectacular show woman who can survive anything and emerge like a Phoenix from the ashes. Growing up poor in small-town Minnesota, she met her sleazy first husband Jim Bakker in Bible school. They went on to become Christian broadcasting pioneers in the 1970s, only to lose everything in 1987 amid sex and finance scandals. With her husband in jail, her daughter having run away from home, and her son strung out on drugs and alcohol, Tammy Faye the Survivor moved on to the second act: Gay Icon.

I remember how the Castro Theatre audience roared during the screening of The Eyes of Tammy Faye when she gave her makeup tips (without a touch of irony) on camera. She didn't need to draw on her eyebrows anymore as they were permanent, and she didn't bother removing her eyelashes anymore — she simply waited until they dropped off and then replaced them. Now, therewas someone this drag queen could relate to!

Not long after that, I was again in attendance at the Castro Theater when she appeared there in person to be interviewed on stage. It was great seeing her, but I was struck by how bizarre her life was, having gone from her religious empire to this, a traveling show pony. When, during the Q&A, an audience member grilled her on her true feelings on homosexuality, she seemed visibly uncomfortable, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the old girl.

Whatever her beliefs, what endeared her to us gays (along with her plucky attitude) was her style. With her animal-print jackets, gaudy jewelry, and caked-on mascara, she was a fashion disaster we loved to emulate, and was once quoted as saying, "Without my eyelashes I wouldn't be Tammy Faye; I don't know who I'd be." You just couldn't invent someone like her — she was one in a million.

As the promoter of Trannyshack, I've seen countless queens get up on that stage and impersonate Tammy Faye, and she'll forever be a drag queen touchstone along with Liza and Dolly, et al. I think she would have wanted it that way.

 
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