|vThough drag is alive and well in SF â€” as witnessed by Johnny Ray Huston, columnist Pollo Del Mar and Riley Manlapaz embracing Goldie Award-winning performer Monique Jenkinson (a.k.a., Miss Trannyshack 2003 Fauxnique) â€” the citytyâ€™s 2009 Mr. & Miss
Notorious Sainted Glamazon About Town
Filled with evening gowns, tuxedos, big hair and rhinestones galore, the Mr. & Miss Gay San Francisco Pageant certainly sounds incredibly fun and glamorous.
After all, to wear either title, one gets to represent our glorious metropolis, still considered by many around the world the Mecca of North Americaâ€™s greater LGBT community. As a result, I would think competitors for both titles, especially drag queens looking to make a name in our City, would be lining up for a chance at the sash and tiara. Instead, much to the surprise of many, this yearâ€™s pageant was cancelled outright. The Imperial Council simply didnâ€™t have any applicants.
OK, to be completely fair, according to reigning Emperor Paul â€śMakaâ€ť Poole, one candidate was registered. However, it left the Council to make what reigning Mr. Gay SF J.P. Soto called a â€śtough decision.â€ť On November 2, the organization â€” which took over the formerly independent Mr. & Miss Gay San Francisco Pageant a number of years ago â€” voted to forego this yeararâ€™s event.
Instead of the pageant, which has crowned a male contestant and a drag queen or transgender female candidate for the last 36 years, the Council announced via Facebook a â€ścelebration and step-downâ€ť party for this yearâ€™s out-going titlists. Hosted by J.P. and his Miss Gay SF counterpart Charisma Glitterati, the event is scheduled for Friday, November 13, at Deco Lounge.
Still, news of the Mr. & Miss Gay SF Pageantâ€™s cancellation left many in the community abuzz. As the cityâ€™s longest-running drag pageant, it has gained a reputation as two of the Bay Areaâ€™s most coveted titles, its inability to take off this year unquestionably proves a tremendous blow to the Cityâ€™s Imperial Council.
As the â€śMother Courtâ€ť and flagship of the International Court System, an LGBT fundraising organization which started in San Francisco some 44 years ago and has since grown to include more than 70 independent â€ścourtsâ€ť in three countries, people look to San Francisco as an example. This appears to be an undeniable step backward for the reigning Court and local system as a whole.
For some within the Imperial ranks, canceling the pageant must be looked at as a crushing strike to their individual egos. To others, however, the systemâ€™s inability to foster interest in Mr. & Miss Gay SF â€“ which behind Emperor and Empress are arguably the local Imperial systemâ€™s most prestigious titles â€” provides a genuine cause for alarm.
One person who has never been afraid to speak his mind on such matters, which has often led him into direct conflict with members of the areaâ€™s Imperial Council, is Emperor XXXVI â€śJohn-Johnâ€ť Weber. A former Mr. Gay SF himself, in the days immediately following the announcement that this yearâ€™s pageant was canceled, John-John lashed out at the Councilâ€™s â€śfailure.â€ť In an email dated Nov. 5, he states, â€śI am utterly disappointed that our organization and [eight] plus Board members cannot get it togetherâ€ť to make people excited about the Mr. & Miss Gay Pageant.
As John notes, this failure canâ€™t be blamed on lack of interest in drag pageants. Just two months ago, the AIDS Housing Alliance crowned Raya Light winner of its fourth-annual Desperate Divas Pageant. In July, five contestants vied for the Grand Ducal Council-sponsored Miss San Francisco Gold Rush Pageant won by Anjie Myma. Nearly a dozen girls are on-board for the Dec. 19 Trannyshack â€śStar Searchâ€ť contest at DNA Lounge.
â€śWe need to take a long, hard look at ourself and organization,â€ť John-John urged in what can only be seen as a scathing indictment of the status quo, â€śFresh ideas and approaches must prevail.â€ť
In the past, John-John has often railed against the politics which seems to plague the Imperial Council. Throughout his reign, he frequently butted heads with Empress XXV Marlena, whose Hayes Valley bar provides the hub of most Imperial functions. Earlier this year, John even called on the press to uncover the political inner-workings of the organization when the Emperorâ€™s Council failed to elect him Chairman, a position traditionally given to the out-going Emperor.
These politics tensions, assert some (including myself), are at the root of the Mr. & Miss Gay SF woes. While on one hand the pageant opens the door to fundraising and social opportunities for contestants â€“ a fact I certainly found to be true when I placed 1st Runner-up in 2006 â€“ unsuspecting competitors can also find themselves suddenly thrust into behind-the-scenes drama they didnâ€™t anticipate.
Iâ€™ve seen first-hand the kind of scrutiny my friends Mercedez Munro and BeBe Sweetbriar went through as Miss Gay SF. Though neither would say it in this forum, I can only imagine it made their respective reigns less enjoyable than a more supportive, collaborative environment might. People, especially in the drag community, notice these things and talk. Soon girls who might at one time have considered the pageant wonâ€™t.
â€śPolitics is a huge part of that group, and itâ€™s something they appear to have no interest in breaking away from,â€ť Mr. Gay San Francisco 2007 Johnathan Gaffney has no problem sharing. â€śBeing Mr. Gay was a wonderful experience, but I was disappointed with the organization when I actually got involved. I wished more for it â€“ and I still wish more for it.
After winning the pageant because of a desire to get more involved in local fundraising efforts, Johnathan was soon discouraged by the Imperial Councilâ€™s politics and, even as a title-holder, frequently felt like an outsider at its events.
â€śItâ€™s a group that stays within its own, and itâ€™s very hard to get within that group,â€ť said Johnathan, reinforcing what many also believe to be the biggest obstacle facing not just the San Francisco Imperial Court but also many Court systems across the country. â€śThey suffer from an inability to bring in new people through their own failure and lack of outreach.â€ť
â€śI can see both sides,â€ť admits Paul Poole, who lost the Mr. Gay SF pageant to Johnathan, then went on to be elected Emperor shortly more than a year later. (Iâ€™d imagine he can, as I remember Paul also feeling like an outsider in the organization at one point.) Claims by people like Johnathan are nothing the Emperor has not heard before, and he says heâ€™s working to overcome those during his reign.
â€śWeâ€™re looking at the problems,â€ť Paul said, â€śAnd seeing how we can fix those.â€ť
Meanwhile, Paul is calling on the Imperial family to pull together to keep situations like the current Mr. & Miss Gay SF debacle from happening in the future. By working as one, rather than pointing fingers, he hopes to make progress â€“ but itâ€™s been slow going, he acknowledges. Still, he insists the pageant will return â€śwhen the timing is better.â€ť Dates early in 2010 are already being discussed.
â€śWhat this should be about is helping the community and giving back, not about politics or any of the rest of the things people have made these titles out to be over the years,â€ť he stressed to me during one of our near-daily chats. â€śIt should all be in the spirit of being part of something greater than ourselves, representing our community, raising money and having fun.â€ť
Somewhere over the years, though the glamour has remained, that element of fun seems to have waned. The giddy, playful spirit with which I imagine this pageant was started in 1973 seems to have somehow been forgotten. When Mr. & Miss Gay SF returns in 2010, thatâ€™s what Iâ€™d encourage it to bring back with it.
Evening gowns, tuxes, big hair and rhinestones are welcome. Leave the drama and politics at home.
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