Although several other clubs in town have occasional drag shows, the main commercial venue is Lips; and on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays Tootie brings in other drag queens from the community “to do numbers and stuff like that. We want to reach out and embrace everybody, you know?”
I asked her how many drag queens she thought there were in San Diego.
“Well, I’m amazed because I meet new girls every week. I can’t believe there are that many drag queens, but there are. There are the ones that work and live their lives like that, there’re the ones that just do it once in a great while, and you have the young crop that is coming up who are just trying it out for the first, second, third time maybe — they’re still in high school or just getting out of high school. So, we’re here, there’s a lot of us. And there’s a greater sense of permissiveness. Places like this allow that, which is so great. Drag is a very familial kind of thing, we pass it down from generation to generation. I mean, I have a dress that was given to me by a drag queen who is no longer doing drag. She gave me one of her old dresses that she danced for — a sheikh back in the ’70s with — so it’s passed down from generation to generation. Sometimes somebody will come in and maybe they’ll look a little rough or something and one of the girls will say something like, ‘Oh my God, look at that one.’ Well, I’ll be very quick to take them over on the side and go, ‘You know, these people are like totally welcome here, and we need to make them feel that way.’ Because there is no place else you can go and feel that.
“But the work and the lifestyle — it’s not for sissies, that’s for sure. It’s pretty tough when you get down to it. We spend six hours in high heels, and yes, we have to put up with a bunch of crap from people too. So it’s tough that way too. And some drag queens find it particularly hard. When I had my own show, I had a Marilyn impersonator who constantly went back and forth about loving it and hating it because of the stigma that it has, or the stigma that it gave him as a gay male. I hate to see people go through that kind of angst. You know, why? That’s not life. Enjoy what you’re doing, and I mean, I totally enjoy this.
“We get tons of goofy people in here. That’s what gives me fodder for my show, it keeps me going, and I’ve never had a really bad experience with anybody. I have seen where people come in and maybe they’re not happy with the person they’re with and therefore it translates over to their energy during my show, something like that, but I’ve never had anybody who was like vehemently negative about drag queens or gay people. Well, once, there was this guy sitting up by the stage and he did not want to be touched by anything or anyone — and you’ve seen how I go around the audience, and we all do, you know — well, when I get a guy like that, you have really opened the floodgates, okay? Because number one, I am still a man in a dress, and I am going to push it, all right? So, I will tell everybody — see that guy over there? That’s the one you want. And I’ll tell them on the microphone so he knows to get ready, baby. Well, that guy gobbled his food and he got the hell out of here, but I think everybody else in the audience saw how he acted and realized how ridiculous that was. Maybe there were some other people who came in with that same attitude but saw how stupid it was on somebody else and left here changed — maybe.”
Because of her work at the club and with Uptown Toots and her other jobs, Tootie tends to be in drag from morning to night. But most of the drag queens at the club, she told me, “live their lives as boys all day, then they throw on a pound of makeup and two pounds of powder, and they’re here ready for work looking glamorous.”
And there are several others at the club who remain in drag all day because… Tootie toys with the word “transsexual” but doesn’t like it. “It’s hard to say, well, they’re like women, because it’s not like they’re like women, they’re like guys, but they identify with women more. I would say that they maybe enjoy their masculinity and their femininity, but they identify with being a woman more.”
Tootie makes many of her dresses but buys them as well. “You always go to the closeout racks, because that’s where you find the flashiest dresses. I’m an incredible bargain hunter, and I will find things and I will never pay more than $20 for anything. And I have beautiful gowns, honey, I mean gorgeous, but I’ve never paid over $20 for any of them. I have a wardrobe that would make most girls just like salivate.”
She is also always on the lookout for clothes for the other drag queens at Lips, whose personas range from the glamorous to the campy. In New York, Tootie told me, the queens tend to be campy. “But here at Lips, we kind of have to mix it up, we have to be a little bit more fishy.”
Fishy, I asked?
“Well, if you look good, you look fish, girl.”
But buying clothes can present difficulties. While Tootie herself wears a size 8 dress, another drag queen at Lips, Angelica, who stars in a comedy act, wears a size 16 dress and a size 13 or 14 shoe, which can mean a lot of Internet shopping.