Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July book of the month: The Lady Chablis; Hiding My Candy

Review by Sabrina Samone, TMP

Yes it’s that time again, another book to recommend and I have a confession; this girl hasn’t had time to do much reading outside of my Game of Thrones books. Been enjoying the southern summer weather and work. I had to go to my book shelf and dust this one off. It was published in the early 2000’s, but after having a discussion about so many transgender people not knowing that many transgender women and men choose to supplement their income with drag queen and king performances (or gender illusionist as I like to call trans-people who do this) at gay clubs, I realized Chablis’s life story is the best way to explain the struggles and contribution many transgender performers have made to Transgender visibility. I know Chablis and know how she has done her part in promoting equality within the LGBT community in her performances and there’s no person better to give in sight to this world, than a trans-woman of color in the south that rose from the dusty streets of Florida, to headline throughout the south, to grace the silver screen across the globe, than Chablis.
In Savannah GA, there’s only a few living breathing tourist attractions and for years that attraction has been the Lady Chablis and for the 500,000+ area, she remains the Golden ticket attraction in town. Chablis, who had been known throughout the eighties as a well known gender illusionist, later found national fame when she was featured as one of many colorful characters in John Berendts Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which was based on a true crime story within the LGBT community.

When the decision came for the book to be made for the big screen, Chablis was way ahead of her time and protested that no Cis-gender woman should play her, and that if anyone should play her, she should. She proved that when a diva puts her foot down, she gets what she wants and got the chance to play herself, a local transgender showgirl in the film based on the novel that was directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie went on to be a top ten box office hit in 1997. She accomplished something in Hollywood no other transgender person has yet to do, we are still dealing with Cis-women and gay men playing transgender when it’s time to cast a person to play a real life transgender person.

After the success of the film, many flocked to Savannah to see the “Doll”, as she calls herself, and the many places featured in the book and film. Next was the auto-biography of the “Doll”, hiding my Candy, with Theodore Bouloukos and introduction by John Berendt. It chronicles the life of a young transgender woman of color, who found her drag mother who would then, set her on the path to stardom. Before long, the Lady Chablis had a headline drag act replete with trademark saucy wit, down home wisdom and her famous line about trans and homophobia, “two tears in a bucket, mother fuck it.”

Not just a female impersonator on stage, or a transvestite or gay person, The Lady Chablis considers herself female. She lives visibily as a transgender woman after taking hormone injections to make herself more feminine. She's led quite the interesting life. This book, like the author, is raunchy. She holds nothing back. Her teen years of experimentation, her drug and alcohol use, jail time, show business - it's all here in detail. It's a world with which I doubt many of us are familiar with.

As a showgirl I had the pleasure of knowing Chablis for many years. She is as sweet and kind as she is sassy. The book is a real, humorous treat for anyone who is not familiar with that side of the transgender community, of transgender show girls. Through the book we get an intimate look at what it means to grow up in the south, black and transgender. Chablis, through her auto biography, shows us how she stood against racism and transphobia, in and out of the LGBT community during the seventies and eighties, in the south. We get a look at how a lost and confused young trans-girl can meet the right, positive role models and transform herself into a strong influential trans-woman of color. The book is called hiding my candy, but Chablis maybe the one to coin the phrase, hiding my “T” or my truth, a well known lingo among many transgender people when wanting to live stealth and hide their truth.

Quotes From the book, from Chablis

Chasing the Savannah Black Debutante’s Ball: “They were not what you’d call a Motown crowd…”

Dealing with Racism: “The Doll (me!) May be a heterosexual white woman in mind, but her black body and soul belongs to Miss Rosa Parks’s girl…”

Successfully hiding her candy, her “T” her truth: “The black folks can clock y’ quicker than the white folks, and children’ll getcha in a minute!”
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