|The Rampart Drag
by Jamie Joy Gatto
Photography by Alex Gatto
Click on the Girls for a Bigger, Sassier Drag Show!
|At the rim
of the Quarter, an area possessed by misfits and frequented by the most
unusual people (even by New Orleans standards), the drag bars line up along
the edges of Rampart Street bordering Armstrong Park. Tucked behind mild
facades of ancient buildings and quaint corner store frontages are the
drag queen, CD, she-male, transvestite, show girl's bars.
Photo: Move Over, Dennis Rodman!
black girl hurries from show bar to corner bar, rushing on her clunky heels,
head erect, the look on her face a bit frantic, as she tries to hide her
worries behind a drag-punk exterior. The girls always seem to walk too
fast on the street and I wonder if they are in fear of getting beaten,
harassed, jumped, maybe even raped. Stonewall seems both decades and miles
away from the world of its own called "The Big Easy." This area reads more
like "The Big Sleazy."
Photo: A Footloose Girl with an Attitude
the girls are rushing from show to show, or maybe trying to stay indoors
to avoid the crime that sometimes leaks past Armstrong Park. Both local
and national news have made our park famous by announcing it as home to
the killing of tourists and the mugging of Opera and theatre goers who
stray past its historic gates. To look at it, by day or night, you'd think
it was a lovely park, the perfect place to wander in on damp New Orleans
evenings, to sit under great oaks by the water's edge and cool your feet,
or kiss your date, or stop to rest. What they don't put in the tourist
brochures is that just beyond the park's limits is a group of housing projects
where huddles of crack dealers and buyers pepper the corners and gun shots
fracture the quiet nights. They don't remind you that the park is home
to the homeless and junkies and all the bad things that go bump in the
night-- things that make tomorrow's headlines.
Photo: An Old Gal Sings The Blues
Park's deadly welcoming glow seems to wash out well before it reaches the
other side of the street, leaving the tiny bars on Rampart aglow in harsh,
yet dim streetlight. Tourists rarely wander the strip. I assume it's too
far from the stink and flash of noisy Bourbon Street to interest them.
So you usually won't see white kids in ball caps and college T-shirts wearing
out of season Mardi Gras beads stumbling drunk along its long corridor.
Lucky for them. Lucky for the girls, too, I guess. If I were a man in lipstick
and heels, I'd rather be faced with the occasional stray derelict wandering
in from junkie park than the fists of a young, homophobic fraternity drunk.
Photo: China Blue,
Miss Gay Universe 2000
stop on Rampart is Voodoo on Congo Square, a bar which takes its name from
the historic days when Armstrong Park was not yet built. Once upon a time,
it had been a place sanctioned for slaves. There the Africans would meet
on Sundays and sell their goods, dance rituals and celebrations, find community
in a life broken by slavery. Voodoo is the primary theme of this cute and
quirky little corner bar. The walls are covered in voodoo dolls and African
masks hang in the main bar. The Queens come in to relax, not to perform
in this place. It is also home to a large mural of an antique library,
walls painted with books and shelves and even a mantle filled with Voodoo
accessories and candles, all reflected by a mock mirror. Each painted book
has a tongue-in-cheek title and often locals have their own book-- one
painted by the artist to include their name, or hobbies, or an inside joke.
If you sit at the bar long enough, you'll often find someone ready to show
you their book and explain its history.
Photo: Drag Queen Wearing an Amazing Wonder Ring!
block, Footloose is home to endless parades of Dragettes flaunting their
trashiest best each Saturday night. They climb the tiny, foot-high stage
with a disco ball hovering precariously over their wigs and lip-synch to
every disco song ever written. The "men" in the bars stuff dollars into
the girl's gel nail claws as they gesticulate and mock-orate each lip movement
of the original stars. Never mind the popularity of "The Lady Chablis"
in the famous Savannah film, we have "The Lady Roget." There are no breath-taking
Hollywood-style starlets in size three wearing Armani and Mackie and Chanel.
No, these are true-blue, gritty and real, often huge and not afraid to
look like a Drag Queen. They are in too much of everything and yes, some
of them are truly stunning, but no one would ever scratch their head in
wonder as to their literal gender, although, respectfully, most are treated
as the ladies and hometown Divas they truly are.
Photo: New Orleans' Own: "The Lady Roget"
we attend the Footloose show, we're blessed with the presence of two drag
celebrities: China Blue, Miss Gay Universe and Felina Colby Shane, Miss
Gay United States Universe. They are the most glamorous, the most passable
and most certainly the best at entertaining us. I ask Felina about her
rather large breasts, wondering aloud whether or not they are created from
hormone therapy, but before I get the sentence out of my mouth, she is
popping her nipples out of her halter and offering me a real handful of
her smooth titties. She tells me they are made from silicone, but they
hang and sway like real breasts, not overly large or too taut. I'm impressed.
And I don't think it's a bit rude to ask, these women work very hard for
their look and for their titles. I'm not willing to undergo the knife for
looks, that's for damn sure.
Photo: Felina Colby Shane, Miss Gay United States Universe 2000
is sans surgery or hormones or anything but her expertise in make-up and
styling. She is a professional make-up artist by day and lives regularly
as a male. My wonderment is increased after she actually performs, showing
up on stage in a little black nothing with "Diva" written in sequins decorating
her hem. I am star-struck and truly smitten. She is perfection.
Photo: China Blue Serenades Felina (Now THAT'S an Ass!)
is T.T.'s, which isn't a drag bar, but it's home to some of the sluttiest
and skankiest gay boy activity you'll likely find in any bar on earth with
open French doors in an airy little Bistro style joint with aged brickwork
adorning the French Quarter walls. Clothing seems to be optional, and that's
not necessarily only for the dancers writhing on the narrow, nicely lit
bar top. Here you will find yourself an eyeful of just about anything sexual
and gay you desire, or a mouthful if that's what suits you.
Photo: An Offer in the Ladies Room
wander in and out of Donna's which is about the only straight bar in the
vicinity. It's often filled with brass bands and second-line marching bands
and lots of partying locals. When there is no music scheduled, the doors,
usually full of traffic and laughter, hang open and uninviting and the
place has the stale air of low class and haphazard, make-shift decoration
and care. When the bands within are disbanded, the place is nearly always
empty. At least you don't have to wait in line for a bathroom behind a
Queen who may be taking a while to powder her nose and Lord knows what
Photo: An Offer on the Dance Floor
Drag is truly home to no one in particular, but the Queens do rule. If
you find yourself strolling down the edges of the Quarter, that historic
thirteen square blocks of decadence, to a place where tourists rarely venture,
take a peek at the ladies of Footloose and tell them Mind Caviar sent you.
Tip your dollar, pay your respects, toast to all the work and guts it takes
to look that cheap.
Photo: Mind Caviar Staff
Meets The Girls of Rampart:
Click Here to see a full page of
Rampart Drag Shots.
Photo: Violet Shows off
her leopard pants as
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