OUT­SIDE THE BOX

The drag queen who changed my life

GA Voice - - LGBT ATLANTA - By BILL KAELIN

Not too long ago, in a neigh­bor­hood that now seems far, far away, I met my first drag queen, and my life would never be the same.

The year was 1996. I was shy, young, naive and new to the city. I didn’t re­ally have any gay friends and was in­tim­i­dated by the thought of go­ing out by my­self un­til I gath­ered some courage and went to a place called Club Kaya, a mas­sive night­club on Peachtree Street.

Ner­vous, I en­tered, or­dered a drink and found a dark cor­ner where I could sit alone and take it all in. Within min­utes a tow­er­ing, quite scary-look­ing blond drag queen headed my way. In­ter­nally I was plead­ing, “Please don’t stop at my ta­ble ... please don’t stop at my ta­ble.” I hadn’t no­ticed that all the cock­tail wait­resses work­ing there were drag queens. The one serv­ing me would be­come one of my best friends.

Tweeka Weed (the al­ter ego of the late John Bar­ber) was ag­gres­sive, for­ward, foul­mouthed and funny as hell from the get-go. When he plopped down on that couch to in­tro­duce him­self to me I knew I was hang­ing with roy­alty. There must have been some­thing about me that told him I needed a friend.

Tweeka took me on an ad­ven­ture that re­sem­bled scenes from the Martin Scors­ese film, “Goodfel­las.” He was a gang­ster. He was an MTV re­al­ity star who also had a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal science. He de­manded re­spect and the seas parted for us when we went out. We were al­ways on the guest list, we never waited in line, we al­ways had free drinks, free drugs, ac­cess to the DJ booth and en­try back­stage where all the real magic hap­pened.

The first time I saw John trans­form into Tweeka, I re­al­ized I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing very spe­cial. It was like watch­ing an artist paint a mas­ter­piece on a blank can­vas while lip sync­ing to Shirley Bassey’s “My Life.” The process inspired me so much that I ended up fight­ing for fair com­pen­sa­tion for drag queens work­ing in clubs, since all that cre­ative nip­ping, tuck­ing and paint­ing de­served top dol­lar.

Tweeka and his friends were streets­mart and coaxed me out of my own shell. If it weren’t for them, I would have never sur­vived in the night­club busi­ness. Those queens showed me how to stand up for my­self, how to throw shade, how to al­ways get my money and al­ways get my way.

Iron­i­cally, drag queens taught me how to grow some balls. My friend­ship with Tweeka al­lowed me the op­por­tu­nity to work cre­atively with drag le­gends like Kevin Aviance, Joey Arias, EJ Aviance, Celeda, Lady Bunny, Ni­cole Paige Brooks and many oth­ers. These ex­pe­ri­ences not only make me proud, but have also given me count­less hi­lar­i­ous sto­ries to tell.

I have long since left the night­club world, but love see­ing the new Leg­endary Chil­dren of At­lanta slay­ing the city with mem­bers Brigitte Rack­liffe, Edie Cheezburger, Vi­o­let Chachki and oth­ers. They have picked up the torch and made it their own, and are of­fer­ing us more than just pageant queens.

Our com­mu­nity and the world need to know that these kids are true artists. They have some­thing to say and are go­ing to serve it to you whether you like it or not. It’s nice to sit back, re­lax and watch the seas part for them now, liv­ing their lives like gay gang­sters and mak­ing Tweeka Weed smile down from Heaven, happy that the true art form of drag he helped cre­ate lives on to­day.

“Tweeka and his friends were streets­mart and coaxed me out of my own shell. If it weren’t for them, I would have never sur­vived in the night­club busi­ness. Those queens showed me how to stand up for my­self, how to throw shade, how to al­ways get my money and al­ways get my way.”

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