Friday, July 30, 2021

Finding Herself in New Orleans

By Paula Gaikowski

Stana’s recent post about New Orleans jarred my memory and made me think of a New Orleans encounter I had back in 1977.

I was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1977 and it was an easy weekend trip to New Orleans for young airmen. The French Quarter was still filled with jazz bands and an eclectic mix of people from all over the country who came to find refuge from intolerance in their home towns.

Five of us crammed into a tiny Mercury Capri and headed to New Orleans for the weekend. We started to make the rounds Saturday night and ended up at Gunga Den, which to my surprise and well-hidden delight featured female impersonators. 

After one drink and a few curious looks, my buddies decided to leave. They were off to seek the company of members of the world’s oldest profession. I opted out and inconspicuously made my way back to Gunga Den to watch the show. These were girls who were on HRT, their bodies soft, curvy and feminine. As others watched in lust, I watch transfixed with envy, amazement and awe. This was the first time I actually saw a transgender person. This was real, it was possible, it could be. 

After the show I talked with a girl named Angel, who was from Indiana and was kicked out of the house by her father after being caught several times crossdressing. She told me her story, which is familiar to most of us – a little boy who just wanted to be a girl and tried to fit in. 

When she was 10 years old, she was admonished by her mother for trying on her clothes and using her makeup. Her teenage years were filled with crossdressing, confusion and domestic abuse. After graduating high school, things boiled over, so she visited a friend who had went to school in New Orleans. In the French Quarter she found a job tending bar and the kindred spirits at Gunga Den. 

I took in every word of her story as if she were a prophet. She was first person I ever met who was like me – a person from my home planet who spoke my language.

People didn’t come out as transgender in 1977. The word didn’t even exist then, but for the first time in my life, I could admit to another person my secret – that I wanted to be a woman. So just before leaving, I said, “Angel I am just like you.”

She smiled knowingly and replied, “You’re not alone.” 

I left Gunga Den and wandered the streets of the French Quarter finding sanctuary from the roaming ne’er-do-wells. I watched the sun rise over the Mississippi River, while running through my mind were thoughts of fear, hope and possibility. I couldn’t find my buddies, but met up with another group of airmen from Keesler who gave me a ride back to base.

I had a lot to think about – and still do.



Source: New York & Company
Wearing New York & Company


New Orleans’ Gunga Den
Professional femulators performing at New Orleans’ Gunga Den, circa 1975

6 comments:

  1. Paula, I was at Keesler in 1977 too, why didn't I go with you to N.O.? I did make it to the Zebra Club though. Lol. Hugs Allison!

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    1. Zebra Club was that outside gate 7????

      Allison let's talk!
      paua.gaikowski@gmail.com

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    2. I fondly remember my one visit to the My-O-My Club in the late 60s. That made more of a lasting impression on me than all the places in the Quarter!!

      Lee

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  2. AnonymousJuly 30, 2021

    In the mid 1960's the MY OH MY club in N.O. had some authentic, talented male impersonators, who put on a great show.

    BOBBIE

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  3. I went to Louisiana quite often back when my foot still worked. I went mostly for the music and dancing. When I wasn't linking up with friends I'd check out the drag shows -- and the Gunga Den was pretty easy to find. I found out about the TG/CD community from ladies at "The Den" and the times I went to New Orleans by myself after that I brought my clothing and joined them at a club in the Faubourg-Marigny neighborhood. I remember talking at length with this older lady named "Bobbi" who worked at the My-Oh-My Club in the 1960-70s. She told me it was top line drag with every one of the girls using their own voices, unlike the Gunga Den which was all lip-synch. I told her stories of my visits to the 82 Club in NYC and The Queen Mary in Los Angeles. I do wish I had been able to visit New Orleans when The My-Oh-My Club was open. It's been years since I was in New Orleans. It's a real "walkin' around" city and my foot won't let me do it any more. It's a city where we can wear whatever we want and we barely get a blink from other people.

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  4. Love the "Out and About Stana picture.

    I was in New Orleans in the late 90's with my wife to be. We went out to dinner in the French Quarter and at a biggish table were five ladies having a night out. The strange thing was that one was petite, the others larger and all wearing black dresses. They spoke Spanish and and there was something that wasn't quite right. A lady with her five "pupils" out for a celebration dinner? Had there been a smaller group we would probably have ignored them.
    We never worked out whether it was a group od females or just women out for an evening.

    but I was envious; to be an elegant lady in a swish restaurant! Now I have been out to lunch a few times, certainly had a drink on the terrace of a bar, been to cinema and theatre and shopped, beauty salon included, but not yet dinner with girl friends in a classy restaurant

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