Back in the mid-1990’s
By David W. Jackson
The 2016 presidential election has concluded….FINALLY. The votes are tallied. As a nation, we must accept the results, support our new president and not be sore losers. We must move forward…with liberty and justice for all.
Thanksgiving has also just passed. And many of us take that spirit of thanks and turn our attention to use the year-end holiday season to spread cheer, give thoughtful gifts and attend joyous celebrations…regardless of religious or non-religious belief…or political persuasion.
Affirming that the U.S. is still a good place to be LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning), I’ve been reminiscing about the “good old days” when I was young, single, footloose and fancy free.
Times were a bit different for our LGB community in the mid-1990s.
For instance, the “T” was just beginning to get attention and traction in society. The movie The Crying Game came out in 1992 and was the largest commercial movie I can recall that presented a transgender lead character. Pretty ground breaking for its time. In another seven years Boys Don’t Cry debuted in 1999. It was based on a true story and adapted from the life of Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, and portrayed by Hillary Swank, who won the Oscar the next year for best actress.
Sometimes the mid-1990s seem like so long ago; but was it? For readers who may not yet have been born, I welcome you to time-travel with me to a time that has importance, no matter your age. Remember, we each stand on the shoulders of those who came before; their memories may have some import for you.
In 1994, I was starting a career employing skills attained while earning my BS in historic preservation. I had worked towards that goal since a sophomore in high school a decade before in 1985. After graduation in 1993, I had moved back to Kansas City, my hometown, and lived in an apartment in Independence with my second, steady boyfriend. But, the following spring, he broke up with me, and I, devastated, moved back home with my maternal grandparents in Raytown. Not wanting or feeling able to continue lying about my authentic gender orientation, I came out of the closet to my grandmother one night shortly thereafter.
I never said the three-letter word to her though. Grandma Pat started the conversation. She said she could always tell when I was depressed or sad because I would have my Julia Fordham or Out of Africa motion picture CDs on repeat. She was right.
I simply answered by saying, “I think you know that John and I were more than roommates.” She said, “I know.” “How?” I asked. “You had a two-bedroom apartment and used one room as an office; most straight men don’t share a bedroom. Besides, we’ve known for many years, but waited for you to bring it up.”
When I asked how she had known for years, I smile to this day about her reply: “Your grandmother’s been around the block more than once.” She then started to list other little clues through the years including, and again I smile with a tear in my eyes when she said, “Not many little boys who go to garage sales with their grandmothers to buy china and crystal with their allowance.” Ha!
My life changed in one night! A huge weight was lifted! It would be another few years before I would come out to the rest of my family. When I did, I got pretty much the same reaction. Everyone had known…except me.
Newly single, and to get out of the house and meet new friends, I joined a gay and lesbian affinity group at the Unity Church of Overland Park called “Free to Be.” Eventually, I became the group’s newsletter editor and enjoyed several years of fellowship and camaraderie.
One of my favorite memories were the year-end holiday parties that Free to Be would co-host with the gay and lesbian group at Unity Temple on the Plaza.
The parties were called “Thanksmas” parties because they always took place on a weekend night between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
One year, I had the bright idea of wearing a kilt (a party-length kilt that was much shorter than a Scotsman’s), Doc Martins boots, and a woman’s chain belt from The Limited of different sized crucifixes. Sacrilege!
In December 1994, I asked a seamstress to sew on some cotton-stuffed angel’s wings to the back of a festive, plaid vest. Both outfits were hits.
But, the crowning jewel for me was Thanksmas 1996. Once again, Unity Temple and Unity Church of Overland Park’s lesbian and gay affinity groups co-hosted the party. I decided to go in drag as “Miss Freeda Be.” She enjoyed a one-and-only-one night out on the town.
I had a “Miss Freeda Be” sash made, and my friend and boss at the time, Colette, loaned me a tiara. Another a friend of mine, Maurice, who was a real drag queen, loaned me a floor-to-neck, black-sequenced ball gown, wig, shoes, a clutch, and silk, and opera-length gloves. I only had to shave my armpits.
My date for the evening, Marty, had some drag experience, and he helped me dress and ‘put on my face,’ including long, thick eyelashes. As I recall, first I had to ‘remove’ my face before applying Miss Freeda’s.
It took some time, and I gained a huge appreciation for the professional entertainers! I also had to wear seven pairs of pantyhose to cover the hair on my legs. All that tight-fitting support—in the days before Spanx—kept me from having to ‘tuck’ (if you know what I mean)? One thing I did not have to do was to wear hip padding. Marty said I already had “child bearing hips.” I think, given the occasion, that was a compliment.
When all was said and done, I felt the part. I was elegant…for that one and only evening. From the comments that Thanksmas attendees shared, I was ‘believable,’ too. More than one admirer said I looked like Jackie Kennedy. That was a compliment!
That night ranks as an all-time favorite memory from my young adult life. Few life events since are recounted with as much vim and vigor.
Times have changed for Kansas City’s LGBTAIA community, and they continue to do so. Let’s affirm moving forward, not backward. But never hesitate to look back for perspective.
I hope some readers—young and mature—may share with me a random memory of a gay and festive year-end holiday experience … or any experience at all. I’d especially like to hear from readers who may remember the Thanksmas parties at Unity Temple and who may wish to add their individual memories to this not-so-long-ago festive time in Kansas City’s LGBTQIA history.
The Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) was founded seven years ago on Word AIDS Day. GLAMA collects and preserves all kinds of materials that help to document the Kansas City region’s LGBTQIA history. Personal memories, documents and photographs are solicited for conservation, and so that they may remain available to the public into the future. If you have anything that you think may be worth archiving, remember GLAMA.
David W. Jackson is co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA) and activist/archivist for The Orderly Pack Rat (orderlypackrat.com). To donate to GLAMA, visit glama.us, call 816-235-5712, or mail your items to: Stuart Hinds, c/o GLAMA, LaBudde Special Collections, 326 Miller Nichols Library, University of Missouri-Kansas City, 800 E 51st St., Kansas City, MO 64110.