Billy Wilder’s film SOME LIKE IT HOT was a funny movie, but I didn't think much about men dressing up as woman, until my next-door neighbor asked me in his basement, “Who you think is prettier? Jack Lemmon or Tony Curtis?"
The year was 1964 and men in dresses weren’t supposed to be pretty to twelve year-old boys on the South Shore of Boston.
"Yeah, but if you had to make a choice, who would it be?" Chuckie Manzi was my best friend and this was a weird question.
"I pick Marilyn." She was the logical choice.
“Marilyn's dead and you wouldn't want to make love to a dead women, so if you were on a deserted island with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon and they were wearing dresses, who would be your wife?”
“I would kill myself before marrying either of them.”
The Catholic Church considered men dressing as woman an abomination, however the priests wore long black cassocks and while they were called robes, they looked like dresses to me and I kept my distance from the priests.
"You know they have a word for men who dress like women?"
"Drag queens." I had heard that term in school.
"Some of them are supposed to be pretty."
"Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are not pretty."
"You're no fun." Chuckie gave up on getting an answer, but we remained friends throughout the 1960s and our knowledge of drag queens expanded with Ray Davies singing on Kinks’ hit song LOLA, “She walked like a woman and talked like a man.”
“You ever see a man walked like a woman and talk like a man?” Chuckie's interests in the bizarre was more advanced than mine.
“Once at the Greyhound Bus Station.” I had been buying Levis at Walker’s Jeans on Boylston Street. They cost $6. “But he was obviously a man."
"How could you tell?"
"He had afternoon stubble like a man and the high heels hurt his feet.”
“I tried walking in my sister’s shoes. They were murder.” Chuckie liked to try on his sisters' clothing. I thought that it was weird, but I was in love with his youngest sister.
"Hers fit me best. Have you ever tried on your sisters' dresses?'
“Oh.” Chuckie sensed that this was a good time to end this discussion.
After high school we grew apart.
I attended a Catholic university on the outskirts of Boston and drove taxi to pay for an apartment near the campus. My last fares of the night were picked up in the Combat Zone; mostly go-go dancers, drunks, and a few drag queens from the Other Side. The trannies were good tippers and several were more attractive than the strippers from the Two O'Clock Lounge.
Most of of the drag queens fares went to hotels with straight men. Neither passengers spoke much en route and I couldn't help, but sing Lou Reed’s WALK ON THE WILD SIDE after dropping them off for a night of wicked sex in a cheap hotel.
In 1973 I didn’t know what a back room was, but a move to New York in 1976 opened my eyes, because sexual frontiers were blurred in a city where people changed sexes to suit their desires.
I frequented gay bars to pick up fag hags. My queer friends told these girls that I was a homo on the line. The fag hags tried to convert me to being straight. I played hard to get and they thought they had the cure. They were right, because I was mostly straight.
One night at the Anvil I was waiting for my friends for the New York City Ballet to end their wicked pas de deux in the back room. No girls were allowed in the bar, so I was surprised to see an attractive brunette sit next to me.
She looked like a top fashion model in her pink tube top and hot pants, except she was skinnier than any Vogue cover-girl.
A long lacquered nail touched my shoulder.
”Can you buy me a drink?”
The faux falsetto betrayed why the bouncer permitted her into the Anvil and I ignored her request.
“Do I have to beg you?” She twirled a strand of long brown hair around her finger. It was a good act and I laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, just thinking of an old song.” The Kinks' LOLA played in my head.
“Something you want to dance to, because I’m a good dancer.” She wiggled her shoulders like a Times Square go-go girl
"I bet you are." I signaled the bartender for two drinks.
“My name’s Dove. How you like to go in the back room with me? You can do anything you want.”
“Why? Do you think I’m unattractive?” Her lips pouted with disappointment.
"You're every man's dream, if I were that type of man."
“I know you’re straight. That’s why I sat here.”
“I thought it was to hustle me for a drink.”
“Fresh.” She slapped my hand. “I have my own money.”
She flashed a thick roll of twenties.
"I'm a kept woman by a very important person."
"Who's your VIP?"
A US senator from Dixie is my sugar daddy."
"If I told you, he'd have to kill you, but I went with him to Jimmy Carter's inaugural ball. Every man there was stumbling over their feet to worship my high heels. I had only eyes for my man and my sugar daddy loved me for it, but those Republicans liked me the most. They appreciate girls like me."
After that comment the two of us conversed about politics, love, and sex.
I wasn't in a hurry.
My friends were lost angels in the Anvil's snake pit.
An hour later I waved for the bill.
"Where you going?"
"Home." I lived in a SRO room on 11th Street and 5th.
“So I guess this means you’re going alone?”
I almost kissed Dove good-night, but shook her hands instead.
“Don’t be sorry, one night you and I will get it together."
"Never," I answered too fast to be telling the truth. Dove was prettier than most of the women in New York and twice as feminine.
She stood up to twitch a hip as a calling card for that future date in Never-Neverland.
Dove was not only patient.
She was persistent.
I refused her at the Mudd Club, Studio 54, CBGBs, Hurrahs, Xenon, the Kiev, and Dave’s Luncheonette.
"One night you and me."
And I thought never was forever, then on Halloween in 1980 I attended a black tie Paloma Picasso party honoring the NY Ballet at Danceteria on 37th Street. The illegal nightclub was packed with Upper East Side slummers and after an hour of cheap champagne I went to retrieve my leather jacket from the coat check.
While waiting in line a young ballet boy stumbled into me, however his clumsiness was not from too many drinks. A brutish six-footer shook the dancer by his tuxedo lapels. The stitching of the ballet boy's evening suit gave way and I slashed my arm down on his aggressor’s wrists, breaking the bully's grasp and the gay boy fled gracefully into the crowd.
“Why you do that?” the thug demanded with red eyes. He was on something. My guess was speed.
“Because I didn’t feel like being bumped into, while you beat up on a fag.”
“And what are you going to do about it?” His hands clenched into fists.
Boys from Boston didn’t back down and I lashed a right to his mouth. The punch staggered him, then he spit a tooth in my chest. I had a fight on my hands and not a good one. I threw lefts and rights faster than his counters, but my heavy opponent weathered the blows without any sign of damage and backed me up to the wall.
I was in trouble, but the brawl was stopped by two bouncers.
They knew me and threw the Jersey boy out of the club.
Two ballerinas praised my standing up against this gaybasher and I accompanied them into the street, where I waved down a taxi.
My hand never reached the air.
Something struck the base of my skull.
I fell into the gutter and pulled my arms over my head.
A second blow booted my ego past my superego into a green emerald pulsating with lightning every second. This was not a good sign. Finally someone asked with a Jersey accent, “Have you had enough?”
I had had enough after the first sucker punch.
The thug stood up with a chain wrapped around his fist and strode away the victor.
I rose to my feet shaken to the bone.
"Are you all right?" asked a young handsome photographer on the scene.
His name was Marcus.
"I think so." My teeth were intact and my nose was unbroken.
"He would have killed you if I hadn't have pulled him off." Marcus was clearly horrified by the damage to my face.
"I owe you one." I glanced in a car mirror. Blood drooled from a dozen cuts and my skull was swollen with blossoming bruises.
I took a taxi home and stayed in bed for a few days.
Every second I plotted my revenge, for while New York was a big city, the night life in 1979 was a small scene consisting of maybe 3000 people. I would run into the thug again and I started carrying a stiletto for my payback.
Two weeks later a transvestite trapeze bar called GG Barnums opened in Times Square. Dove's lover was part-owner and she invited me for a drink at the bar.
"I heard about you're saving that gay boy at Danceteria." She signaled the bartender for drinks. "You're my hero."
She was smoking a Virginia Slim.
“Heroes don’t get the snort beaten out of them.” My facial bones were moving back to their original positions.
“Well, you’re a hero to me and I’d love to show you how much.” The black Chanel dress revealed the best features of her Mia Farrow figure.
“Thanks, but I’m not really in a romantic mood.”
“I could change that in a second.”
Her hand caressed my thigh and she opened a Pond's Cream jar packed with cocaine shining with Bolivian pink.
"You, me, and an ounce of blow. How can you say no?"
"Not tonight." I rose off the stool.
“What wrong?” She was an expert judge of the mood of men.
“That guy who beat me up just walked into the bar.” I grabbed the knife in my pocket.
The handle was as cold as the blood in my veins.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Dove pushed me back down and puffed on her cigarette. “But I’ll take care of this.”
"This is something I have to do for myself."
"Believe me, it'll better this way."
"This better be good."
"Silly man, this will be bad."
Dove stole through the crowded bar like a serpent seeking its prey. She sucked on her cigarette, until the ember burned a fiery red, then Dove tapped the thug on the shoulder.
When he turned around, she stuck the cigarette in his eye.
Screaming he dropped to his knees.
Dove returned to me and asked, “Will you go home with me now?”
“How I can refuse.”
Nothing happened between us that night. The cocaine was too strong, but we necked and petted and groped without intercourse. It was better that way.
In the morning Dove left my apartment, whispering that that my erection dysfunction was our little secret.
"No, thank you, super-hero." Dove was a starlet of discretion.
GG Barnums lasted a half-year. Dove sold out her interest to the owners of Danceteria. West 45th provided a good venue spot for them to go legal.
Over the next months Dove dressed like a Park Avenue divorcee with nova blonde hair.
One day she told me that she was moving south.
"Big money." It was the haunt of the rich.
"The Senator isn't running for office and he wants to make me an honest woman."
"Perish the thought." Dove wasn't hung up about her mixed sexuality.
"Good luck." Being beautiful was a powerful card to play with the rich.
"Thanks, but I was born lucky." She smiled knowing the odds weren't in her favor, but they never are for girls like her.
And now everytime I hear WALK ON THE WILD SIDE I think about Dove, because she was everyone’s darling in the right mood and beat out Tony Curtis as my # 1 choice on a deserted island, although I couldn’t have foreseen that option in 1964.
Not even in my wettest dreams.