Little Codes

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 16 No. 3, "Mint Juleps, Wisteria, and Queers." Find more from that issue here.

I am not the oldest queen in captivity, but I do have a good memory. It all started when I was going to the dancing bars (which they were never called) in New Orleans in the 1950s and ’60s. There were always two rooms. The first room was a bar where we used to love to drink champagne cocktails (really champale) and just hang out. The back room was for dancing. Of course, we were all breaking the law; I mean, two men or two women dancing together in public? God should strike us down! 

I can still hear “La Bamba” or “Two Silhouettes” blaring on the jukebox, and us doing see-saw drugs. You could get busted for just being seen in public with — are you ready? — painted eyebrows. 

Or how about entrapment? You could sit with a policeman all night long and have him buy all your drinks, but you didn’t dare walk out the door with him, because that’s when they would grab you for intended prostitution. I mean really, I didn’t intend to, I did

In those days we were all very promiscuous. I used to love to look for those tell-tale signs like a pinky ring, seersucker suits, gold neck chains with a sea horse hanging from them. You get the idea. Little codes. 

The things I don’t miss are running away from the police (in springalators, no less), with a drink in one hand (never spilling a drop), and your purse in the other. Sometimes it would take an hour to get one block since you had to hide in doorways and under cars. And the so-called “straight” gangs who were always beating up on the “faggots,” but if you met them one-on-one they begged you to take them home. And sneaking into newsstands to buy magazines of male models that weren’t even nude! And going into a department store to buy drag that you claimed was a present for your mother, sister, niece, or friend, and never letting them gift wrap it, saying you would do it yourself when you got home. (Isn’t it funny how so many mothers had such big feet!) And being hit in the ass by a policeman’s night stick and being told, “Get off the street, fruit!” 

The police would back the paddy wagons up to the doors of clubs and everybody, I mean everybody, went to jail. They stripped you, and if you didn’t have on three articles of clothing that were indicative of your own sex, you were in serious trouble. Can you imagine a man wearing a single earring in those days? 

One hero from that era was Judge B. We used to get busted for anything and everything, and Judge B. would dismiss the case and turn on the bench to just read the riot act to the arresting officers. Then Mr. D.A. would harass us even more! 

I miss some of my friends from those days, like Rowena, Donna Lisa, Ray St. Cyr, Mr. Boobie, Donnie Jay, Dani, Hot Ice, and so many others. I can remember the nights we would all get in drag and drive to Lake Pontchartrain to eat boiled crawfish. Talk about stuffing your face! We would sit there and go through trays of those critters, and by the time we finished none of us was very pretty, but we didn’t care!