The Word On Art

WISDOM FROM THE DRESSING ROOM: Sage advice from our Drag Elders

By Patric Stillman

In the vibrant tapestry of the art world and our greater LGBTQ+ community, intergenerational connections serve as vital threads that weave together past, present, and future. These connections not only bridge the gap between different epochs of expression but also serve as conduits for the transmission of knowledge, wisdom, and experience.

The AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s tragically took many mentors from the community, disrupting the passing of knowledge and experience. Today’s generation stands as one of the first to benefit from the generation who survived, inheriting the wisdom and experience of those who paved the way for our community. This passing of the torch allows us to honor the memory of those who came before us while also charting new paths forward.

This month, The Word on Art looks beyond the surface of drag to ask for guidance from local community trailblazers. Within the vibrant LGBTQ+ community, four remarkable elders stand as beacons of wisdom. From the dazzling stages of San Diego’s nightlife to the forefront of community activism, these individuals have not only captivated audiences with their performances but have also championed positive change.

“Live at the end of your imagination.” – Sister Amanda Reckinwith 

AJ Turner is also known as Sister Amanda Reckinwith, The Scarlet Harlot of San Diego’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  Sister Amanda offers care and service to San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community.  She lives to be a force of positive change.  Her message is one for everyone who feels like an outsider in today’s world. > IG @sisteramandasd

“Be authentic. Live at the end of your imagination. Live in the moment.  You got to go for it and don’t be afraid.  You have to own yourself, own it, own it, own yourself, own every single action! Don’t apologize for wearing a hot pink sweater because (of what) everybody else thinks.

Now, I wear something that’s a little too feminine, and people love it. I think why didn’t I (in the past). I should have done that. I should have embraced it. I should have followed (this advice) way back then. But I was so scared of what everyone thought of me. I got ashamed. It’s taken me so many years to live authentically, at the edge of my imagination. You’ve got to go for it.”

“We’ve got to unite. We’ve got to go back and become one family.” – Franceska

Franko Guillen, the outspoken female entertainer known as Franceska, is firmly rooted in authenticity.  Franceska’s intentions are deeply rooted in serving the HIV and Latin populations. By amplifying the voices of those often marginalized and overlooked, he strives to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances. 
> IG @guillenfranko

“Be respectful of everyone, agree to disagree, do not get into fights or altercations with anyone, do what you do from the heart. If you feel in your gut that something is being said to you that is not right, don’t fight with them. Just let them know you don’t believe in that. Just walk away. Respect each other. The reality is we’ve got to unite, we’ve got to go back and become one family.”

“Respect. Whatever you do, do it in respect and with respect.” – Norma

Norman Braxton, Empress 35 of the Imperial Court of San Diego and San Diego’s first Black Drag Queen stepped onto the stage in 1973.  Norma’s journey as a drag performer began during a time when “cross-dressing” was still considered illegal, making her presence on stage groundbreaking. Celebrities visiting San Diego clamored to see her onstage and Norma’s professionalism carried her through the years of societal changes. > Facebook @norman.braxton.31

“Whatever you do, do it in respect and with respect. There are a lot of people out there who don’t give a damn about anything. They seem to be thinking ‘I’m gay and I don’t have to respect anyone.’  The community is very different from where I come from because of my age.  Right now, there isn’t the respect that we had for older gays and people in general. Respect each other.”

“Embody the culture of yes.” – Tootie Nefertootiee

From cigarette girl to diva hostess, Tootie Thomas known by the stage name Tootie Nefertootiee embraced herself and the world we live in through community service. Championing inclusivity and acceptance, she challenges stereotypes and fosters a more equitable community for all.  She is not afraid to use her platform to amplify marginalized voices. > IG @tootiedotcom

“I think for young people who are just starting, do what you love, make yourself useful and get involved. Go be of service to somebody.  That’s how I got sober, with that whole thing came this idea of serving others and really putting myself towards the back. It has allowed me to be of service to a lot of different causes and people and groups, and that opened up my horizons when I do that. We are stronger together.”

These perspectives remind us how important it is to make everyone feel valued and included. They show that when we embrace our differences, respect each other, and stay true to ourselves, we bring our community together. Let’s learn from this and work towards a world where everyone is celebrated for who they are. Amidst the clamor of TikTok trends and Twitter feuds that dominate our digital lives, it’s essential to remember that we’re all connected. Let’s keep striving for a future where acceptance and authenticity shine in every part of our community.