I perform for all types of people and events. I have performed in McMansions where guests intentionally ignored the festivities just to be mean to the hosts (it was straight out of a “Housewives of DC” episode), I have performed at Baptisms (to honor a 1 year old), Russian Orthodox Bat Mitzvahs (where the rabbi told me after 1 song to stop performing), gay weddings, Bridal Showers, Corporate Parties, Drag Shows and even flown to Atlanta to surprise a 4 year old because the year before her birthday had been ruined when their house burned down.
Some stories are heartwarming. Others are sad and empty (like the Housewives of DC). But just this past weekend I met the most interesting people I have ever met.
Sam and Marisha contacted me a few months prior to perform at their wedding in DC. This wedding, however, would be unlike any other in that there would be no other guests in addition to me and the limo driver. At first one might think, “Who are these people?” and “Will the FBI discover my body parts later?” But after long conversations with them, I could tell they were honest and lovely people who simply wanted to elope. They explained it was a trans wedding, and that they were looking for a funny, queer positive performer. Well I’m the only lesbian Gaga in the world that I know of, so I was perfect for the job.
I arrived in DC at 10am but my suitcase with my costumes did not. The airline explained it would be arriving at the next flight at 430pm. The ceremony was at 1pm, we were to take pictures around DC in the afternoon, I was to perform at the Hotel George at 5pm and we were to have dinner at 6pm. This was a disaster and I assumed they would be angry and devastated. The limo driver and I desperately contacted every impersonator and drag queen in the DC area (there are…. like 4) and no one was awake yet or lived close enough to make a difference.
I arrived at the Hotel George and sheepishly called Sam to tell him I was going to rush around to local shops to try to whip together a make-shift costume. He was kind and patient and we got off the phone. Minutes later, Marisha called and said, “I’ve called to talk you off the cliff. We don’t care what you are wearing. This way it’s even better because you can just be yourself and enjoy the day.” I couldn’t believe it. Who were these people who flew me out here, paid my hotel and Gaga fee, and in the end just wanted me to relax and have fun?
I went up to their hotel room to meet them and we became fast friends. You know the kind of instant friendship where you tell your life story in the first hour? We ordered room service and shared stories and laughter like we had always known each other. So I felt no embarrassment when I asked, “Which one of you is trans? I can’t tell.”
Sam explained to me that he is not trans but was, in fact, born with intersexed conditions. The doctor made an executive decision that he was a girl and performed some sort of surgery ‘down there’ which left unexplained scar tissue. His doctors today suggest that some sort of unorthodox surgery was performed as they usually only see that type of scarring in African clitorectomies. His parents insisted on raising him as a girl and forced him to wear female clothing in public. Suspiciously his middle name is Stuart, which is also his grandfather’s first name.
He grew to be a 6’ ‘female’ Olympic swimmer who beat (most) all the other women, in part because of upper body strength and build. “I hardly ever had to kick”, he laughed. Needless to say he always felt like a boy but his family never supported this sentiment due to religious fears and condemnations.
Eighteen years ago he fell in love with Marisha who saw through his secret. “You are really a boy” she said. And 3 years ago, he finally had the courage to make the transition public. He is now a legally recognized 6’ man and you would never guess he had ever lived as a woman.
You think that is fascinating? Well you haven’t heard Marisha’s story yet. Her parents were both holocaust survivors--her mother part of the Warsaw Uprising and later a POW, and her father a Dachau concentration camp survivor. They met in immigrant housing in Argentina, married and had 2 children. Tragically, her father and an unborn were killed in a car crash when Marisha was only 6. Her mother was traumatized and had trouble managing afterwards. When Marisha was 11 they immigrated to the U.S.. By age 12, the state had taken custody and shuffled her in and out of foster homes and juvenile detention centers.
At age 15 a slave trafficker convinced her that her only road to freedom (a way to a job, a home and to leave the system) was to come with him. She didn’t speak English, wasn’t familiar with American culture and didn’t see other options. He kept her in a storage locker and abused her in every possible way. She bore a son as a result of his rape and the son was taken from her 2 years later. After 2 years and 8 months in captivity, she escaped. She had missed high school but passed the UCLA entrance exam by studying books she bought at garage sales. She graduated from UCLA, enjoyed a successful career as an anthropologist, and worked at the Smithsonian, the Los Angeles Festival and more.
“Wow. You both need documentaries made about you,” I said in awe.
“You put a camera in front of my face,” Marisha passionately said, “and I will get you a slave girl within 15 minutes. You go to the personal ads and ask for a girl who doesn’t speak English and is submissive. And then we will bust those guys.. her slave owners.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked. “Won’t they come after us?”
“I don’t care. I escaped so that I could help others. Most survivors of slave trafficking do not get out like I did. I have a number registered with the FBI as having been a slave. I have contacted them and the police several times. I know where my former slave owner lives. They can’t do anything unless I have proof without a reasonable doubt that he is still trafficking”.
Wow. These people are incredible. They are survivors. They found each other and true love. Let’s get them married! We head to the offices of Tiffany Newman, Marriage officiate of Marriage DC. Tiffany garnered national attention when she attended a rally in support of marriage equality. She held a sign that said, “Our marriage was once illegal too” as she stood next to her Caucasian husband (she is African American). Her business has been booming ever since and her ceremonies have a sweet, spiritual and all-inclusive sensitivity.
We all cried as they exchanged vows. Neither of them ever thought this would be possible. In the state of Florida where they live, it is illegal for someone who is born intersex to marry anyone… ever. After Obama passed DOMA, their lawyer recommended they get hitched in DC.
Next we took photos around the city. Sam has a great camera and I became the resident photographer. We got pictures in front of the White House, at the FDR memorial (which was extremely moving) and even in a lesbian owned coffee shop, where we enjoyed gourmet tea as we got to know the owner. It was a glorious afternoon where we all felt love and on top of the world.
At 430pm we went to pick up my suitcase at the airport. We rushed back to the hotel so I could do a quick change. There was free cake for all as I performed Gaga for Marisha, Sam, the hotel staff, and 20-30 guests who had been excited about this impromptu Gaga performance for hours.
The 3 of us got back in the limo and headed to Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, the most exquisite organic vegan restaurant I have ever experienced. We enjoyed a luxurious 9 course meal. It was some of the most creative dishes I have ever seen…. Green vegetable and apple sourbet, raw cocoa maple syrup fudge, goji berry spritzer and more. Perhaps I will write another blog just about that meal!
The owner, Elizabeth, begged me to sing. I relented and gave a performance. Everyone thought I was the real Gaga. One woman wouldn’t let go of my hand for 10 minutes while she told me my talent came from the heavens and to please take care of my body and not end up like Michael Jackson.
“So why did you want to elope?” I ask while sipping the most divine cashew almond soup on the planet.
“We have hundreds of friends and we love them all” they explained. “But sometimes you just want to spend the day with the person you love, and a sweet funny Gaga Impersonator like yourself.”
I laughed. “Well I guess after everything you’ve been through, you are entitled to at least that”.
And you know what? It was the most relaxed, heartfelt and sweet wedding I have ever been to.
But you bet I’m not done with them. This friendship will continue and we’ve got a documentary or two to make. Oh I’m not kidding. Their stories need to be told and somehow I am going to try to make that happen.