Initial Thoughts on the Mueller Report

Slumping over in his chair, Trump exclaimed, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked” when Sessions told him that a Special Counsel had been appointed. (Page 290)

Trump, with the help of Attorney General William Barr, have succeeded in spinning the report thus far, and first impressions are important. However, Trump is certainly not out of the woods. For starters, the obstruction of justice section of the report references prosecution of the president after he leaves office, and Trump’s activities are currently being investigated by the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C., the Central District of California, the offices of the Attorneys General for New York, Maryland, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, the FBI, the CIA, the District Attorney of New York City, various House committees…

A few initial takeaways from the report:

  • Mueller says lies by Trump associates to Congress and special counsel “materially impaired” Russia investigation.
  • Everyone except Trump now agrees that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” This report vindicates the Intelligence Community.
  • Mueller says Russian intelligence targeted Clinton’s personal office within five hours of Trump publicly requesting it on July 27, 2016
  • Trump, Jr. just barely avoided indictment for violating campaign finance law when soliciting dirt on Clinton. Mueller determined they likely couldn’t prove willfulness and that the value of the solicited information exceeded the legal threshold beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • The Trump Campaign knew about Russian interference and expected to benefit. They did not alert authorities.

Bottom line: the President tried to cheat in order to win the election and then repeatedly tried to end the investigation into his actions, which is why he exclaimed, “I’m fucked.”

I still believe his first take was correct.

No apologies from the Queen of Controversy

No Apologies

Queen of Controversy Janessa Highland showed up to a benefit this week and was told she wouldn’t be allowed to take the stage unless she made a public apology for sharing her story about the venue’s dressing room ceiling collapsing on her head, and for airing her complaints about the crumbling back wall that allows rain to pour in and mold to grow.

“It would behoove you to reach out and apologize” another entertainer suggested.

“Over my dead body!” Highland replied.

A Failing Facade

Maintaining our LGBT community’s  tattered facade is critically important for an entertainer, lest you get blacklisted, and often critical to that task is covering for the bad behavior of others. But the veneer was ripped off this past week as controversy swirled over Pride’s proposed admission charge, unleashing a flurry of strong opinions and bold proclamations which made it seem for a moment that Highland’s bold style was suddenly in vogue, even if we all knew better.

One of Pride’s media partners took to Facebook for late night rants about conflicting drunken directives and claims of contracts being terminated, while  behind the scenes reaching out to shore up the support from former foes in the event the organization bit back (even while allowing those former foes who assured him support to be trashed by Pride’s attack dog on his own thread). Others who do little else than condemn the Facebook drama of others were suddenly in they eye of the storm, posting their own drama filled statuses about what they claimed to have seen and heard.

Now that the dust has settled, a compromise has been reached, and everyone appears to have made nice for the time being, I reached out to Highland, the villainess many in this city love to hate,  to get her thoughts. I told her I found it noteworthy that she didn’t have much to say during the uproar.

“That’s an issue I just stay out of unless it involves me personally because I just don’t care enough, but yes, every year I’ve performed for Pride for free and they’ve treated the queens like trash.” Highland began. “I’ve gotten into it with them every year.”

Highland brought up the conflict-plagued VIP tent, where she and the Queen of Pride were turned away last year.

“They said it was because the tent was closing early due to the rain, but while arguing with us they kept letting others in.”

She said entertainers then tried to get backstage to gather their drag before the rain hit, but were denied entry until the main act was no longer on the stage.

“We asked to just retrieve our items so they did not get ruined. We were barred from entering back stage until another Pride member spoke with the headliner who was surprised we were being denied access to our items.”

Rejection & Reflection

“I miss the days when drag was about advocating, entertaining and being the voice for those who may not be able or willing to speak up. I’m worn out by the politics and St Louis’ demand that everything remain politically correct. Drag was never intended to be politically correct. Drag queens throughout our LGBTQ history have been the first to stand, the first to throw bricks, the first to push the boundaries and demand acceptance for not only themselves but the community as a whole. I’m not sure what has happened. I’m not sure where we got lost, where the activism and outspokenness has disappeared to. I’ve always been loud, blunt, and headstrong. This has allowed detractors to paint me as the ultimate villainess, which I jokingly accept and even perpetuate at times. In reality it’s exhausting. Anyone who has taken the time to get to know me can tell you I may have a sharp tongue, but it comes from having a passion few others rival. I want the best for all of us, and until we all speak up issues of mistreatment will never be addressed.”

The irony is Highland,  who between her outspoken ways and deranged fans is known as high drama, has found a safe haven in the bars famous for being low drama, including Bar: PM and Bubby’s.

“I am lucky to have some very close sisters and am privileged to work at some amazing venues who have opened their doors to me and accepted me as I am, controversial moments and all. I can not express enough my gratitude to Bubby and Sissys, The Bastille, Martha’s Vineyard, Bar Pm and the other venues that invite in and allow me to be myself.”

This past week was indeed fascinating, but it’s easy to speak your mind in the safety of an angry mob. Queen of Controversy Janessa Highland speaks out when it’s neither safe nor comfortable, which is why I wanted to give her the last word on this tumultuous week.



Our Fallen Embassy: Revisiting the Former Clems

Friday afternoon Troy Skaife took his Friday Social Club happy hour group to the bar formerly known as Clementines, which was the oldest gay bar in the city when it closed in 2014. Clem’s was considered sacred ground by many, and since the change in ownership I’ve thought of the building as a fallen embassy, trying to not even look at it much less revisit it.

But I decided if there was ever a time to go this was it, since many friends of mine attend these happy hours. I dug through my archives and pulled out the December 2014 issue of Vital VOICE, where I had a piece about Midnight Annie, the drag queen whose ashes were long entombed in the wall. While uncertain how it would be received, I felt compelled to impart a sense of history on the new owner and staff, and hoped they’d find it interesting. 
The bar is beautiful and familiar, and the happy hour took place upstairs, which was just an unused apartment during the Clem’s days. The bartender serving us was young and attractive, with a shaved head and muscular physique, and while not talkative he was efficient, relaxed and professional. The drinks, however, were nothing like the famously strong Clem’s cocktails. 
The balcony, once the most coveted and exclusive spot for LGBT people during Mardi Gras–which was also the only time it was used–was open to anyone. As the regular bar patrons arrived it felt they were either consciously or unconsciously engaging in dominance displays, trying to “hetero” the place up in response to our group, yelling at the game, repeatedly blowing air horns, etc. There’s a chance they would have been just as loud and rowdy had we not been there, but soon it seemed our entire gathering had taken refuge (video) on the balcony. 
I went downstairs to look for whoever was in charge, and found a group of three employees at the main bar, which wasn’t busy at the time. 
“Did you know there was a drag queen entombed in that wall over there for many years?” I asked. 
“Say what?!” one exclaimed, but after that burst of surprise I lost their attention instantly. 
“This is an article about it you can ready sometime” I said as the man behind the bar took the magazine and set it down without comment. 
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the story of Midnight Annie, below is an excerpt from Delusions of Grandeur

Midnight Annie’s Final Performance

I almost didn’t go to closing night at Clementines, and Ray didn’t plan on going either. It was a Monday night, I’d spent all of my time there since Wednesday, and I thought it would be too sad. Around eight, however, I decided I would always regret not going, and since I was going Ray came out as well. I walked in, and on the glowing dry erase marquee near the pool table I wrote “Going down with the ship.”

The bar was crowded but not overly so, and the characters there were the ones who really loved the place. The spirits were higher than expected and the camaraderie was simply incredible as old friends hugged, laughed, and made toasts. Miss Davey, a daily regular who had his own hot pink goblet and had been too upset to be interviewed over the past several days, came up and gave me a hug.

“I’m really sad, but I’m going to be ok” he said, smiling.

When owner Gary and his late partner Jim bought the bar in 1985, they held their first drag show with their friend Midnight Annie as the headliner. Unbeknownst to her they billed it as “Midnight Annie’s Final Performance” to make it more of a draw.

“Would you quit telling people this is my final performance?” an exasperated Midnight Annie kept admonishing.

She carried on there for many more years, and even after she passed she was still a draw, remaining among us in the wall.

I was less than a foot from Gary when, in the final hours, he took the mic, and the quiet, introverted man who’d hardly said anything over years gave a rousing farewell speech, and the whole place stopped to listen and applaud. He spoke about how much times had changed since the bar opened in 1978, and changed for the better. He spoke of the historic old brick building which was erected in the 1860s. He said all drinks were on the house until the last bottle was dry, and then he then brought up Midnight Annie.

“I always say my only child was a seventy-five year old drag queen” he began, and then announced “And she’s leaving with me. Ladies and Gentleman, next to Jan is Midnight Annie!” and I’ll be God damned if he didn’t have Midnight Annie’s dusty urn, complete with the yellowed and water stained label, sitting on the bar with a cocktail!

The crowd went mad with uproarious cheers and applause.

On that final evening there were people in attendance who’d come to see Midnight Annie’s final performance back in 1985. After a thirty year wait, she and Gary Reed finally delivered with a closing number the city will never forget. 

Shortly after, I made my way to Nadine’s, where many others had also migrated. We talked about how going back there was like going back to your house a few years after you died. It’s no longer yours, and seeing the new inhabitants is disconcerting.  It felt we were trespassers.
Not only are Midnight Annie’s ashes gone, I can feel that her soul has moved on from that space as well.  I will continue to look away from our fallen embassy, preferring to remember it as it was. 

A Ghost’s Perspective

In the piece below I imagine hearing the perspective of a ghost.

I’m still not ready to talk about how I died. I’ve barely begun to accept that I have. Everyone acts like you’ll somehow fully understand it the instant it happens. One second you’re alive, the next you’re dead, and you’re just supposed to wrap your head around that jarring fact immediately. The same people who live their lives in denial about everything, including that they’re ever going to die in the first place, think you die and BOOM, you have closure. How many of you truly accepted turning forty or fifty? C’mon. Yeah, you went through the motions and you talked the talk, but how many times did you feel like you were looking at a stranger when looking in the mirror. In your mind you were forever 29, and it was constantly shocking to see you in fact weren’t.

But the thought is when you die there’s a beautiful white light and all you have to do is go into it. Well, that’s like telling an insomniac how simple going to sleep is. Going into the light is much like going to sleep in that it involves a process of peaceful surrender. In the same way sleep eludes many of the living, the white light eludes many of the dead.

I remember living in New York and reviling all of the gentrification going on around me. People with no reverence for who or what was there before just taking over the city. I got to go through those feeling times a thousand when I died. The first thing that happens is people barge in your house and just start ripping it apart, robbing you blind. Man, they go through everything, they’ve got opinions about everything, and then they throw half of it away.

My dog, he didn’t even understand what was happening and I was powerless to comfort him. His water bowl was too low, and he likes it refilled with fresh water a couple of times a day but nobody was paying attention. This house and all that’s in it is mine. I paid for it over thirty God damn years and it’s just taken from me by some young privileged fucks who decide my taste was horrible and they’re going to change everything about it. Picture sitting on your sofa one day and someone comes in and happily decides your house now belongs to them. That’s how it feels.

In retrospect it’s amazing how much the living take for granted. Being alive is like being a god, I mean the power you have is extraordinary. Do you realize how much energy it takes me to so much as make a floor creak? You can make someone happy or sad in an instant. You can displace water. You can inspire or horrify. You can use your hands to build something, or heaven forbid blow something up. The world cares about and bends to your needs. You can set boundaries and claim space.

I miss the tactile. Being able to touch another person, and being touched. I miss my body – what an amazing thing to have a physical body. I miss feeling the wind. I really miss hugging my friends and family, and being able to care for my dog. I miss people seeing me. I miss companionship.

I remember walking through nursing homes and seeing so many lonely people all in the same place, and wondering why they couldn’t provide one another companionship. That’s what it’s like being dead, only worse. I see other spirits, but we’re incapable of offering one another companionship. Unfortunately we’re not incapable of making one another miserable, though. Most chill, peaceful people quickly move on, so those of us lingering aren’t really a pleasant lot.

Every bit of unfinished business is like a rope tethering you to this life. If I could do it all over again I’d make sure to say everything that needed to be said, and I’d always forgive. When I was alive I never bought the saying that forgiveness is more for yourself than the other person, but now I know that forgiveness is a knife cutting you free. Here’s a tip: If you can’t let go in life, you won’t be able to let go in death.

I would never wish time away. I would spend less time worried about money and status. I’d take better care of my body and get more enjoyment out of it. I’d use my tremendous power to make a difference, knowing I only had a brief moment to do so.

I don’t want to cut this short, but I mentioned how other spirits can be a pain in the ass. Imagine spotting a celebrity on the street and having them actually talk to you. You as a living person are that celebrity, and when other spirits spot you actually focusing on one of us they mob the scene trying to get your attention for themselves.

You’ve got to …[inaudible due to static and background noise]… while it’s your turn.

I’m getting pushed, shoved, and drowned out by [inaudible].

Have to go.