Excerpt from Kalina Isato's Walking With the Best of Them

This is an excerpt from my best-selling book, Walking With the Best of Them, written in 1995.
I hope you will find it as inspirational as I have when I wrote it. I cry a good cry every time I read it.
To order a copy of the book, please click here.





Can a Heterosexual Man Be Fierce and Fabulous?

Everyone told me I'd fail.

"You're not gay," they said.

"You have to be fierce. You have to be fabulous," others said aloud, mocking me.

"Okay, if you know so much about being fierce and fabulous, then teach me," I said to my deterrents.

They all laughed in my face. No matter if I was in or out of my femme clothes, they still laughed in my face.

"Teach you what?" one of them said with his nose cocked up in the air.

"Teach me to be like you. I want to be fierce and fabulous."

"You can't teach a straight man to be fierce!" another one of them exclaimed.

"On the contrary," I replied. "I think you can. And I'm going to prove it by winning the Henri David Hallowe'en Ball. As a female impersonator. The best female impersonator."

This sent much laughter into the mind of the flamboyant queen I was talking to. He laughed so hard he almost fell off of his chair. He was mocking me like no other. What could I do but stand my ground and smile confidently? I had to prove him wrong. I had to prove them all wrong. They were not "reading" me, like the harmless banter of a gay man gently teasing a member of his "family." They were insulting me. I was not a part of their family, so they assumed I did not have what it took to succeed in their game.

Can a straight man be considered fierce? Can a straight man be considered fabulous? Is being fierce and fabulous only reserved for the gay man?

"Oh, you won't win," one of them said. "The winners of the Henri David Ball will prepare the day after the previous ball. They just spend all of their time preparing to win the contest for the coming year."

That described me. By entering the contest twice, I knew what the winners of the female impersonation contest wore. I knew how they should act. I knew I shouldn't try to dress to look like a female character, like Cleopatra or Elvira. I had to dress like an elegant woman, a first-class beauty pageant. Hell, I had to be more than beauty pageant. I had to learn everything about being female and I had to display my talents for all to see during a mere 30 second period while I walked the runway, perhaps for five or six minutes if I got to the finalist round.

"Why do you want to do this?" a gay man asked me. He was talking down on me.

"I want to prove that it can be done by a straight man," I replied.

"You're crazy," he said.

"No, I'm ambitious," I said.

He agreed.

Maybe I was a little crazy. You have to be in order to succeed at something most people would never even dare try. I had already done what I thought was necessary in school. I won my awards. I earned my degrees. I achieved everything I had set my heart on in school. I reasoned that if I possessed so much dedication to succeeding in school, I could apply this dedication to something totally nonscholarly, something artistic. To me, female impersonation was an art form, the art of appearing and acting like a woman. I knew I could do it. I knew I could be the best at it.

"You're way out of your league," the gay man finally said.

Maybe so. But that didn't stop me two years ago when I first stepped onstage at my first Henri David Ball. I was awful. I tried to look like Cleopatra, but failed miserably. I was jeered at. I stumbled onstage in white opera pumps with 5-inch gold-spiked heels. People laughed at me and I knew I deserved every insult. I was not fierce then. I was not fabulous. I was a nobody in this game and way out of my league.

But, the one thing that made me pursue the goal of winning the contest was the fact that, deep down inside, I knew I would be a natural at female impersonation. I was a ham. I liked acting like a fool in front of people. I remember a high school drama class play I did with a friend in which I played five different characters. People couldn't follow what was going on because the script was so badly written, but the 36 people in that class loved my character impersonations.

One of my characters was "Old Man in a Jail Cell." I really got into the part! I contorted my body and emitted sounds of angst in between my lines. The character was in jail for over 25 years. For a few minutes, I was having so much fun acting like an old man in a jail cell that I actually got lost in the role and a couple of friends had to shake me out of my delusion. It's scary how certain actors can get caught up in their art like that.

I apply the same philosophy and skills to female impersonation. Every time I go out dancing in nightclubs, I get into my role as a lipstick lesbian brunette bombshell. I want men and lesbians to approach me. I want them to want me. Only I know that they could never have me.

I had studied the female body for years and this was my chance to imitate it, to show off my immense knowledge of feminine image in front of hundreds of onlookers. It was pure exhibitionism.

"Oh, I just love that dress..." Vicki said again, snapping me out of my menagerie.

"Thanks. I love your dress, too! My God! Look at that!" I motioned with my hands at her lean figure.

She had a woman's body most men would crave for.

"And, you!" I exclaimed to Vicki's friend, Melanie. "Let me see the back of that dress!"

Melanie spun around.

"Ohh, it looks gorgeous!" I exclaimed. I really didn't get a good look at it.

"And who did your hair?" I asked Vicki.

"I did," she replied.

"It looks absolutely wonderful," I remarked.

It was all lies, but it was psychological warfare. I learned about sneaky underhanded tricks like this from sports competition books. The trick is to make your opponent drop his guard in any way possible. Arnold Schwarzenegger always got his opponents to laugh when they were up on stage with him during the posing rounds of a bodybuilding competition. He would tell jokes and his opponents would laugh so hard they would lose their concentration during the posing. In my case, I had to flatter my opponents as much as possible so they would get overconfident. Many of these female impersonators will try to do that to me tonight, so I had to stand guard and sling back some of the bullshit.

I told Mary that I had complimented Vicki's hair and she replied, "Really?! It looks like shit!"

That was too honest of an answer and, thankfully, Vicki was out of earshot.

I garnered a lot of praise from the people I passed. We passed by many older gay men who looked like they wanted to take me home. Hey, I'd agree to be their dinner date if they bought me new dresses and furs and dressed me up to look like Fran Drescher! Hee hee!!!

We found a set of four seats, three rows away from the stage. The midsized stage was surrounded by hundreds of seats. Like all of Henri David's previous affairs, this event was huge. Everything about it screamed, "This is the one hip place to be if you can't go to anything else this year."

All of the other female impersonators came in large groups. I even saw the familiar Asian female impersonator entourage from last year and the year before. There were about seven of them and one dressed as a man. He must have been the boyfriend of one of the girls or maybe the manager or pimp of the group. I caught him and one of the impersonators laughing at me, not once, but twice. They even went so far as to point directly at me while sitting just a few seats away. There I was, minding my own business, sitting alone and sipping my third and final screwdriver and I see a couple of laughing hyenas jeering at me. It was just more psychological warfare.

"I'll show them. I'll show those assholes," I thought.

I told Mary about the group of Asians laughing at me, jeering at me. I told her it didn't bother me one bit.

Last year, it would've bothered me. This year, I felt confident that I was going to take it all home. Mary congratulated me on a personal accomplishment: total confidence in myself.

Julie walked over and sat beside me.

"There's your biggest competition so far," she said, remarking of a tall Asian boygirl in the entourage. He was beautiful. He had an Asian-African thing going for him. His face was more beautiful than mine because his jaw was tapered, but his body didn't hold a candle next to mine.

Almost all of the Asian female impersonators wore plain black evening gowns. That is, everyone except for one of the winners of last year's Henri David Ball. Last year's winner for "Most Believable" wore a plain black evening gown. This year, he wore a stunning lime green sequined dress with multicolored peacock feathers that got more than a few glances of admiration.

But, my dress was more beautiful. My dress was fire engine red and was decorated with four different kinds of sequins and looked as if it was tailored to fit my body. I convinced myself that I wore the best-looking evening gown that night. It was the gown of a winner.

"I think I may have seen a couple of other decent competitors," Julie said.

I wanted Julie to scope out the party for the very best female impersonators. If I couldn't beat these people on looks alone, I had to perfect the rest of my package in order to beat them. I had to walk better than them. I had to act better than them. Knowing how to walk, act, and pose is every bit as important as having a pretty face. I wanted to know exactly what my competition was like so that I would know how much juice I should turn up to compete against them.

A videographer approached me and told me he remembered me from last year's contest. He remembered exactly what I was wearing, which was kind of scary if you think about it. He told me I looked great, the best one so far, and that I had a shot at winning the title. I thanked him and smiled. He took plenty of pictures and videos of me for his personal photo and video albums.

The stageshow began promptly at midnight. A huge foam egg opened up and King Henri David popped out. The usual entourage of scantily clad males surrounded His Majesty. For a few moments, he stepped behind the dancing fluorescent light partitions and walked out again with an entirely different costume, a purple and black Arabian-style costume with huge shoulder pads that extended at least ten feet across and a headpiece that made him stand at least seven feet tall. Contests for the Most Elaborate, Most Hysterical (a woman dressed as a man doing a handstand and taking a whiz), Most Horrifying (a big skull), Most Erotic Fantasy (some nude S&M people), Best Period Costume (the 50's look with three of the six men in drag), and Most Original were announced and held. The female impersonation contest would be next.

I had to go to the restroom to fix my makeup, to make sure my padding looked excellent, and to take care of business. Mary accompanied me and we made sure that my look was perfect. We walked back and were just in time for the contest to begin.

Mary wanted to walk ahead of the pack, but I stopped her.

"Hey, what are you doing?!" I whispered aloud. "I told you at home! I don't want to be first. I can't be first! I don't even want to be anywhere in the first half! Let everyone else go ahead of me!"

Mary started moving me to the back of the pack.

"No, no! This isn't right, either! The winner of any contest I've seen is usually towards the end, but not one of the last few."

Ha. As if my logic had any real basis! Still, I continued with my reasoning. I convinced myself it was good reasoning.

As I stood in line, Mary grabbed me and stepped me aside.

"What are you doing? Let go!" I demanded.

Mary whispered to me to look at the contestant behind me. A tall female impersonator in a long black dress and sheer black shawl with multicolored beaded sequins stood there. He stood towering over me like a predator secretly going in for the kill. He noticed me looking at him and turned away. I looked at his nonmatching silver opera pumps.

"He was in front of you before," Mary whispered in my ear. "When he saw you, he moved behind you."

Whenever a contestant moves behind someone else he thinks he can beat, he hopes he can outdo the person or persons in front of him. If the person in front of him messes up, he can capitalize on it by making himself look better to the audience. It's a technique many top notch female impersonators use to win contests.

"You !@#$% drag queen in a cheap black dress," I remarked about him to myself. He was already way too tall at six-foot-four and those silver heels he wore didn't help his image. He needed to be about a foot shorter to look more believable. The only thing that was glamorous about him was his hot pink lipstick, the same lipstick his friend wore, who was a couple of people ahead of us. His friend looked like a cheap South Philly slut with a huge square jaw and the same bad taste in evening gowns and shoes.

I smiled at the tall drag queen and he smiled back. I moved several people behind him.

"Let him have his glory behind several other victims," I thought to myself. "I'm better than him."

I'm better than him?!

But, never once did I convince myself of it. Never once did I accidentally step into the pit of conceit. I had to keep my emotions in check. I didn't hate anybody. I couldn't. I didn't really know anybody there. And, quite honestly, in my mind, I worked harder than any of these contestants to achieve my goals. Other people may have spent more money. Other people may have made money off of female impersonation. I did it for the sheer fun of it all. I did female impersonation because I love to do it, not because it's a necessity. That kind of thinking probably helped me to think, look, and act like a winner.

One by one the female impersonators stepped onstage. I saw everything from my vantage point. Everyone cheered for the Italian contessa in fuschia. Hell, I even cheered for him. I cheered for my Renaissance friends.

Considering most of them were not professional female impersonators, they did a wonderful job. One Renaissance woman in particular, the statuesque Jessica Brandon, is always the epitome of grace and elegance, a great role model for all crossdressers.

One female impersonator displayed his boob implants underneath a very sheer body stocking. He lurched forward as if he was some sort of elegant swan. He wasn't. The crowd was silent.

"What the Hell is that thing?" I asked myself. He showed off his boobs and a big gut. Was he trying to look pregnant? What was he trying to prove?

"Okaayyy..." Henri said nervously. I don't think even he knew what to expect when this thing walked onstage!

A beautiful female impersonator sauntered gaily down the runway in a hot little multicolored sequined dress.

A large number of people applauded. Last year, I would've been nervous at the sight of someone like her. This year, I knew I would eventually get the same applause. I knew I deserved the same applause. Besides, her dress was too short.

One by one, the Asian female impersonators, all of the ones who had dared laugh and jeer at me, walked across the runway, interspersed between several Caucasian contestants. The Asian-African impersonator received considerable applause, but was a little too tall and muscular to be totally convincing, I finally realized. He wore a short bob hairstyle and had a very lean body. He was my greatest threat, Julie said previously. I no longer felt he was a threat.

I saw Miss Gay Pennsylvania and her protégé step onstage. Melanie, the student, received more applause than the teacher. Melanie actually wore a beautiful gown. It was black and sequined with a turquoise, green, and yellow paisley design across the front and back. He walked to the first turn and the applause stopped. I wondered why.

"Wait a minute!" I thought, checking him out for a few seconds. "He doesn't have a butt!"

It was true. He may have worn a showstopper of a gown, but he didn't have what it took to look great in a gown like that. His gown was fancier than mine, but my hips and butt filled out my gown and screamed, "BUCK ME! BUCK ME NOW, COWBOY!" so my gown ended up looking infinitely better than his.

Mary held my hand every step of the way as the line moved. I wasn't nervous, because she was giving me strength. I finally felt as if she was giving me not just 50%, not just 80% or even 90%, but a full 100% of her time, energy, and support for what I do. She loved me, so she had to accept me for what I was...

A crossdresser.

Mary supported me and that's all I had asked for. I was a crossdresser who was determined to go the distance and be the very best crossdresser I could be. This contest was my proving grounds. I had to prove it to the judges: to the Queen of Prussia JoAnn Roberts, to the great female impersonator Jim Bailey, to the radio personality Pierre Robert, to Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky and his wife, to the other contestants, and to the audience.

But, most importantly, I had to prove it all to myself. I had to show everyone that I had a great passion for my art. Fate makes everything fall in place, I thought.

"One thing I have which noone else can ever touch is my smile," I said to Mary in a last gulp of desperation. I was next in line to walk onstage.

I looked at Mary. She nodded and smiled.

"Mary, please meet me at the other side when I exit the stage. I need to hold your hand when I get off."

Mary understood. I walked towards the steps.

"Knock 'em dead, hon," Mary said, hugging me. "I love you."

"I love you, too, Mare," I said, looking at her. I wanted to cry because I loved her so much.

As I approached the short set of metal mesh steps leading to the stage, Henri David caught a glimpse of me, smiled, and winked at me. He had seen me before at parties. He had taken pictures of me at those parties. He knew me. I knew I could rely on his words to the audience to stir up some applause. I took my pie plate with the number 167 on it and held it in my left hand, making sure the number was positioned correctly. I was not nervous. I was not exactly confident, either. I just did what came naturally.

I walked up the steps with poise. I smiled huge. Henri described me as "a lady in red." Other contestants wore red; he did not announce them and describe them with such fervor. He played me up and the crowd loved it.

When I got to the top step, I stopped and smiled and was greeted by a thunderous applause. It was deafening! At that point, I knew I was good. My hard work all year had paid off. My hard work all my life had paid off. A little part of me said, "There. You've done it. This is exactly the recognition you had strived to achieve. You can go home now." Another part of me said, "No, you must go on. You must do more."

And more I did. I took my time walking down the runway. My body must have looked very realistic. As I walked, I could feel my hips sway from side to side as they should have. More applause. I smiled and turned my head from side to side smiling at everyone, but focusing on noone. For a brief second, I told myself, "You have the best smile here. You have the best smile anywhere!" That helped me move on. At the first turn of the runway, I saw my little entourage, Julie and Eva, the two friends who had agreed to see me walk in the pageant on this Tuesday night. They were smiling at me and I waved at them.

I made the first counter-clockwise turn and something caused the crowd to applaud. Was it my butt? Thank God I chose to wear my LTE's underneath this pantyhose! The combination was perfect. God was smiling at me. As I approached the second turn, someone in the audience screamed out, "Yeah! Show it all! Work it, girl!"

I stopped at the turn and turned clockwise to the audience instead of continuing down the runway. I raised my arms to waist height and spread my arms apart in a loving manner. The audience loved it. I turned 180 degrees and proceeded down the runway to the steps leading off the stage. I never heard the end of that applause. As I approached the judges, I saw JoAnn and Jim smiling at me. I waved and mouthed, "Hi, JoAnn!" and "Hi, Jim!" The other three judges never stopped looking, either.

I walked off the stage and into the sea of tall people. The numbers of the contestants began in the 120's. I don't quite remember how many people were after me, but I think it ran into the 180's. One of the security people in the exit area tried to move us all back a few feet. Everyone resented this woman. I saw Mary squeezing her way through the huge crowd of people. She met me by the exit staircase and held my hand as she had promised.

"You looked GREAT out there, hon!"

"I did?"

I knew it, but I wanted to be absolutely sure.

"YEAH! You took your time like we had talked about. You didn't rush things. You looked very poised. And your hips moved like there was no tomorrow!"

"Did I get a lot of applause?"

"You know you did! You probably got the most of all!"

That's all I needed to hear. I felt good about myself.

One of the last female impersonators I saw after me was the one who had won an "Honorable Mention" at Gatsby's Sunday night Hallowe'en Party (October 29) for "Best Drag." For those of you who don't know, Gatsby's is a gay- and crossdresser-friendly club in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. For once, I will recommend staying away from this sorry excuse for a club. Their "Best Drag" contest was won by two people who most likely worked in the club, one of them being the "Honorable Mention" I had just talked about. He wore the same exact outfit as he had on Sunday. Same ugly red bob hairstyle. Same big ugly nose. He looked like a beatnik from the 60's.

The thing that pissed me off about that Sunday night was I was clearly the best - everyone applauded me and no one for him or the "Best Drag" winner - but he and the other guy won the hundreds of dollars in prize money anyway! It bothered me when these people entered the drag contest at the very last minute. They were thrown into the contest by Christina Chase, David Blake, and Philadelphia clubkid extraordinaire, Natasha (nicknamed "Miss Clairol Number Nine" by one person and "the boy who spent thousands of dollars to make himself look like a girl" by another), who were all Gatsby's bartenders. The contest was obviously fixed.

The Gatsby's contest had left a very sour taste in my mouth, but I was not bothered by it the next day or the day after. I never lost my focus on the real contest, the important contest, the Henri David.

Mary was visibly more upset than I was after the Gatsby's contest.

"How could you not be upset?!" Mary said in disgust. "You should have won! You should have won!"

She said it over and over again, right after the contest and all day the next day.

I knew I should have won. Deep down inside, I knew I should have won. I could have used the several hundred dollar prize money.

"Those two winners looked like men... ugly men," Mary said.

"Maybe that was the point," I joked.

Mary was so vocal about her feelings that she booed at the conclusion of the contest. Christina Chase, the host, looked around and wondered who had booed. There weren't too many people around and I sat silent, minding my own business.

"It was her, the Chinese girl," a nasally high-pitched obnoxious-sounding voice said from behind us. The voice came from Talia, a self-proclaimed "fabulous" person and a fixture in the Philadelphia nightclubs. She had acted like an obnoxious twit during the contests, making catcalls at many of the contestants. If she had walked up onstage, I am confident that she would not have elicited as many cheers as she would like to think she'd get, especially with her long horse face.

Mary looked confused as many eyes darted in my direction. I was the only Chinese girl there. I sat there, but did not retaliate. I was wrongfully accused of far worse before. My mind was on the infinitely more important contest two nights away.

"Sorry," Mary whispered to me.

"That's all right. Talia will get her day. All of these losers will get their day. If they feel like rigging a contest so they could keep the prize money, let them have their fun."

"You won't take the prize away from anyone tonight," I said to myself, jeering at the redhead from Gatsby's as he walked the runway. I wanted to say it aloud like a flaming queen, but I didn't have to jeer at him loudly at all.

Several drag queens in the exit area were very vocal about that contestant's chances of winning this contest or anything remotely resembling a contest in the future. I pointed him out to Mary and she remembered the loser and laughed at him.

I'm glad certain drag queens didn't show up, not because they would've been stiff competition, but because I felt that they would have saved themselves plenty of embarrassment. A drag queen named Lady Di had entered as Diana Ross in the last two years. I am sure she entered the contest in previous years. He looks very convincing as Miss Ross from about 30 feet away. Any closer and his lack of image skills really begin to show. Lady Di has no sense of originality.

If you want to do Diana Ross, you had better focus on wearing something other than a metallic dress. It's been done to death. And, please! Lose the heavy glittery eyeshadow, metallic lipstick, 6-inch silver or gold heels, and faux pas foo-foo jewelry that would make even a snooty woman jealous. I never understood why most drag queens have to imitate somebody. I mean, aren't the personalities of these drag queens strong enough so that they could show themselves off as their own unique person? I guess not.

Lady Di does have considerable lip-syncing talent, though. He is part of Les Harrison's drag production company. On July 15, 1995, at an exclusive party to celebrate the second birth of the movie, The Queen, Les approached me and told me he remembered me from last year's Henri David Ball. "I remember that smile," Les said to me. "You may not remember me, but I remember you and that smile of yours!"

I didn't see any of Les Harrison's girls at this year's ball. I didn't even see any of Nick Fresci's girls, if Nick was there at all. I described Nick briefly in the prologue.

One of my gay friends tried to devalue the contest by saying, "You won't find many Black female impersonators entering Henri David's contest. They're just too fabulous. They're unbeatable!"

The truth is, last year and the year before, there were many Black female impersonators in the contest. This year, there were fewer, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that Black female impersonators were anything special. I was not impressed by the beauty of most of them.

My friend did admit that most of the Black female impersonators he had seen didn't fare well in the looks department.

"Oh, most of them are ugly," he said. "But, they look like women, though!"

They may look like women and they may act like women, but they're not unbeatable. They may be fierce and fabulous, but what's one way of beating a fierce and fabulous person? Answer: By being even more fierce and fabulous. A hundred times more fierce and fabulous.

The final contestant stepped offstage. We were all in a menagerie now, standing transfixed at Henri, our beloved host.

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen! It's been a tough decision so far and the judges would like to see some of the contestants again, so when I call out your number, please step onstage again!"

This was the moment everyone was waiting for. This was the moment of truth that would separate the good from the mediocre.

"The first finalist is... number 167!"

"That's you?!" Mary said looking at my number in disbelief. "That's you! You did it! You're a finalist!"

Something inside of me just didn't click. I didn't walk towards the stage immediately. I checked my pie plate number again: 167. I turned it towards me and looked right at the number: 167. I even turned the damn plate upside down to see if I had a different number... "L91". That wasn't a number. That didn't make sense. Heh... I was in a bit of shock. Number 167 was me. It really was me.

"Shit!" I said to myself as I scooted towards the stage. But before I got to the steps, my rhinestone tennis bracelet got caught on someone else's lace dress. He cursed me out. I untangled myself and proceeded to walk on. The other female impersonators around me looked either disgusted or indifferent. They were waiting for their numbers to be called.

I stepped onstage and the applause grew. I smiled the smile I was famous for. At least famous in my own mind. I couldn't believe I had made it this far.

Three other numbers were called. One of them was last year's winner of "Most Believable."

Gulp. Did I think I was sunk? No. I wanted to give this effort tonight my all. I had worked hard to get to this point. That person would not make me sweat. Not one bit.

I stood at the edge of the stage, the same place as when my number was first called. I kind of froze.

Last year's winner walked up onstage with an attitude. He was the second number called. He was fierce and he knew it. Lime green sequined dress with multicolored peacock tails. He garnered much applause. To an Asian man, he was a little Asian heartthrob. But, his smile was nowhere near as good as mine.

"I still had that," I thought. "Even if I don't win, I still have my smile." But that negative thought didn't last very long in my mind. I wouldn't let it. No, I had worked way too hard to get to this point and that little man in a green dress wasn't going to take my moment away from me ever again.

Not ever again.

Deep down inside, I knew I was prettier and more beautiful than he was. I had the teeth. I had the green eyes. I had the dark chocolate hair. Honey, I had the dress, period. I was fierce! I was fabulous! I was more fierce and fabulous than he was!

"Walk that way! Over there!" he motioned with his tiny arm. He walked and talked as if he had been in contests all his life. In truth, he has. I've seen him before. He was awesome.

I said, "Okay," and walked over to the opposite end of the stage. Two other numbers were called, but I did not get a chance to see those two finalists. I didn't want to upset or delude myself at this point in the game.

"Now, girls," Henri started, "we're going to ask you to do an about-face... now!"

The other three turned, almost in unison, but in a counter-clockwise direction. I turned clockwise like an odd duck. Was I entirely in the wrong? I looked over to my right where the other three were. The judges were on the other side, so they probably didn't notice if I did, indeed, mess up my turn. I always thought you did a turn clockwise.

Thunderous applause. Was any of it for me?

One of the judges then motioned for us to turn again, but he motioned his arm in a clockwise direction.

We all turned clockwise in unison. This motion made total sense out of what I originally did. I was the only one who turned correctly, I thought.

When you turn to show all of your body, you eventually end up with a 360 degree turn. I was the only one who displayed a full 360 degree turn. The others showed two 180 degree turns around the same pivot. A full onequarter of your body is not displayed when you do two 180's around the same pivot than if you did a 360. I prayed that my logic was correct. I kept smiling, but my mouth was trembling. I held my smile. It was awkward, but I held it and prolonged it for all to see. I looked around and smiled. A beautiful girl has a beautiful smile, I thought.

I kept smiling and smiling and smiling.

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen, we're now going to ask the girls to walk down the runway for one final look."

Shit. I was the first one! I had to lead the way. Last year, I would've choked. I would've gotten jeered at.

But not this time, I said to myself. Not this time. Not ever again. The little demon that would haunt me and tell me, "HA HA HA!!! You're not good enough! You can't really do this!" never once bothered me up until that moment. I was totally at ease up until that point.

"You're ugly," I heard a little voice say inside of me. It was the voice of a childhood bully. A little Irish boy always said I was ugly, but I never knew why he said it. I never called anyone ugly. I never bullied anyone in any way, so why was I bullied? I didn't deserve this treatment, damn it!

Another childhood bully said the same thing. Her snobby little voice was inside my head telling me I was ugly, too.

But, I wasn't ugly. I never knew why they said I was. Maybe they were prejudiced. Maybe they were jealous. I was Asian. They were both Caucasian. My old Brooklyn neighborhood was never conducive to freedom of expression, religion, or race. You can say that my self-esteem, with regards to my appearance, was shot to Hell when I was a kid. Even my mother was very negative about my looks when I was young, but she later confessed that she said all of that to keep me "in line" and out of trouble with girls.

I was raised to be a brainiac, not a prettyboy. This was odd because both of my parents grew up being very popular in school because of their looks. They were not brainiacs. Far from it. They were pretty people, at least when they were young. In fact, my mother admits she married my father solely for his looks. How shallow! And when a mother tells her young pre-teen son that he is not good-looking, not in the very least, just to keep him "in line," how should the poor kid react to that?

Answer: The kid ends up believing it for the better part of his life. The kid's demon grows and sits on his shoulder like a bad wart, a constant reminder that tells him, "Hey, you'll never get anywhere big. Just keep me on your shoulder and I'll make sure you live a mediocre life." But I was far too good to keep this demon perched on top of my shoulder. I knew I was. But, for the longest time, no matter what I did, no matter how much I tried, the demon just wouldn't go away. He always came back. Mocking me. Whispering negative thoughts to me in the voices of the bullies I grew up with.

I walked and led the other three. I let my hips and my butt do the talking. I didn't practice my walk as much as I could have. I knew that, if I had practiced it to perfection, I would've messed myself up trying to imitate a bunch of prearranged moves. I would've looked robotic. I just moved naturally. I walked to the midway point of the first turn. A ton of applause. Was any of it for me? At that point, I didn't care, but, deep down inside, I did. I really did.

Three quarters down to that first turn, my mind went hazy and my fingers trembled a little. My eyes blurred a little and I said, "Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" to myself several times. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. I was starting to believe that I didn't deserve to be up there.

The demon was starting to bite me and I couldn't stop it. He perched himself on top of both shoulders and bit into my back. If I stopped in midstep and broke out crying, I'd be finished. The end of the contest and my chances of winning it. All of my hard work this past year would go down the drain.

A few steps from the end of the runway, my feet wobbled once, then twice. I felt a sharp pain shoot through one leg as I faltered and tried to regain my composure. I felt last year's winner behind me snicker. I felt all of his buddies who laughed at me prior to the contest snicker in the audience. Worst of all, I felt the demon laugh at me. I could feel his fangs dig deep into my neck and I couldn't do anything to stop him. My heart was racing!

I was about to cry.

The demon was starting to bite into my heart. My smile faltered and I felt it. I felt as if my mind had stopped working for a brief second. Something was holding me back. The videographer who had rooted for me earlier probably saw my emotions behind his lens. A sharp pain was manifesting itself in the very center of my soul. For a brief moment, my head turned to look at the exit. I wanted to leave the stage at that very moment. A lone tear started forming in the corner of my right eye. I looked down. I was finished. Kaput. History.

And the demon would win.

Suddenly, something caused me to dart my head back up and it all became clear. I reached the end of the runway, stopped for the briefest moment, and caught sight of my little two-person cheering section. I saw Julie and Eva and I knew my destiny was clear. I knew I had to continue. I knew I had to win this damn thing because it was the one thing I had worked so hard to achieve this past year. I knew I had to show everyone that I was the best. Hell, I was walking with the best of them.

Yes, my destiny was never clearer than at that point in time when I saw Julie and Eva. I waved at them and they smiled and waved back. They gave me strength!

I looked around and everyone in the audience was smiling in the same way. They, too, gave me strength. The haze that enveloped me in the previous moments disappeared. My eyes no longer bothered me. I turned left 90 degrees and walked as majestically as I could. The crowd loved it. All of my months of preparation was paying off. All of my months of getting myself psyched up for this moment was worth it.

I was no longer afraid. I was proud to be beautiful. I was never openly told I was beautiful by anyone but my lovers in the past. Now I was considered beautiful by everyone in the ballroom. No, I was no longer afraid. Not anymore. It all became clear to me now.

I am beautiful.

I didn't need this damn red dress to prove it. I didn't need to look like a woman to be beautiful. I didn't need other people to tell me I was beautiful. I finally acknowledged that I was beautiful inside as well as out. Being beautiful inside is the most important "beautiful" of all. My heart and my soul displayed a passion for greatness... for inner beauty. I made it this far for a reason. I had the guts to do this. I had all the tools to do this. The guts and tools to be beautiful. And the will to succeed.

The blinding stagelights that had bothered me last year did not sway me this year. I welcomed the lights and smiled directly at them. They served to enhance my beauty. I radiated beauty in my steps and, for the very first time in my life, I felt what it felt like to be considered beautiful.

And, realizing this, that God-damned demon jumped off my back and flung himself onto someone else, far far away from me. The gnawing stopped and my heart felt at ease. I felt a great weight lift itself off my shoulders at that very moment.

Never had I walked with such clarity of purpose. Never had I walked in a more proud and poised manner. My green eyes sparkled like emeralds beneath the stagelights only to be accentuated by my regal smile, my cascading chocolate-colored hair, my sparkling rhinestone jewelry, and my stunning evening gown. I was a vision of beauty and I knew it. I heard the demon from afar and he said to me, "You did it. You made it as a finalist. That's all you had to do," and I quickly replied, "Fuck you. I'm going all the way!"

Fuck you, demon. I'm going to win this thing.

I made it to the second turn and thrust my pelvis backward as I had in practice earlier in the week. This forced my butt to shoot out a little bit more. There was no longer any pain in my steps. Rather than let my high heels conquer my feet, I made believe that my heels were an extension of my feet and my legs. I walked with a lightness that even took me by surprise.

I was meant to be here and I was meant to walk in high heels.

Never had I walked better. Never had my hips swayed and moved with such realism. I felt the realism. Everyone erupted in applause.

And, for the first time around the runway, I didn't question myself anymore. I didn't say to myself, "Was any of that applause for me?" because I knew the applause was for me. I knew that all of the applause was for me. Every pair of hands.

At last! I was fierce! I was fabulous!

I looked at all of the judges and they smiled. I looked at Henri and he smiled. In front of the five judges, I turned one last time and headed towards my original place onstage. I turned to look at last year's winner right beside me. His face was disturbed. Had I showed him up? Yes, I did. I showed them all up. Him and all of his jeering friends. I had walked with the best and I had beat the best at their very own game.

I smiled and smiled and smiled. For all of the hundreds of people to see. I smiled so much my mouth was trembling. The rest of me was not trembling, however, as I held my hands up in the same loving embrace as I did before, holding the pie plate up and praying that my number was positioned correctly. The crowd loved it.

I was nervous, but I did not lack confidence. This show of self-esteem must have shone through. I felt my body glow more brilliantly. Henri asked for the crowd's favorite and my number was screamed out more times than the other three numbers combined. I turned to look in the direction of the screamers and maintained my smile the whole time.

A Fantasy Come True

"And now the decision," Henri announced. "For 'Most Believable Female Impersonator'... number 167! Number 167 for 'Most Believable'!!! For 'Most Beautiful Female Impersonator'... number 133!"

I was a bit disturbed. I couldn't believe I had won... something. I had just hoped it was "Most Beautiful." To me, "Most Believable" was a second-rate award, second-place, if you will. I took the prizes bestowed upon "Most Believable," two tickets to see a new musical called Ruthless at The Society Hill Playhouse and a pass for 10 free videos at the local video store. Then, there was the trophy, but the trophy presenter didn't know which prize belonged to which winner. I think number 133 wanted my trophy and I wanted his.

Hey, I'd swap at that point. He got tickets to see Jim Bailey as Judy Garland, something I would have loved to see instead of Ruthless. The award presenter also handed us a whoppingly huge bouquet of squash and other assorted odd flowers all sheathed in plastic and wrapped in a big orange bow. I held everything in both arms praying none of it would drop.

As the two of us held our trophies, last year's winner approached me. He was not laughing or jeering at me
anymore. He knew I was now legit.

"Congratulations," he said. "You are beautiful," he said, emphasizing the word "are."

Apparently, he thought I had won "Most Beautiful."

We hugged. I got a feel of his tiny waist. It was smaller than any woman's waist I had ever seen or felt and I had seen and felt quite a few. Not only that, it was tight. He had an awesome body.

"You are, too!" I replied. "I remember you from last year. You won. You are so beautiful!"

I had to sling the bullshit. I finally realized he was going for "Most Beautiful," since he had won "Most Believable" last year.

"Where are you from? Are you from the Philippines?" he asked.

"No, China," I replied.

"China!" he said wide-eyed and in awe. "Ohh... China!"

I couldn't quite understand what he meant by that, but I didn't really care. I was in a daze... in a little shock that I had won. I never got to see the fourth finalist. He walked off the stage quickly. Maybe he was distraught.

"Like I said, I remember you from last year," I said.

"I remember you, too!" he interjected.

"You enter a lot of contests?" he asked in his first sentence of broken English.

"No, but last year, I entered this contest and wore a short cocktail dress. I didn't know what I was doing."

He smiled and acknowledged that he remembered the dress.

"But, I quickly wisened up and said, 'I have to get a long gown this year.'"

"Yeah! Long gown!" he confirmed.

"Long gown!" I stated again with my fist up in triumph.

His friends walked over and one of the three congratulated me. They had a photographer with them who
took plenty of pictures and invited me to join them in their poses.

The one chosen as "Most Beautiful" walked up to me, faced me, and said, "Congratulations." I said the same to him and we hugged.

"He was believable, but not beautiful," I kept thinking. He had this look on his face that said, "Did Henri get our numbers mixed up?"

I stood silent for a few moments with my trophy. Pictures were taken left and right. I didn't take notice of all the cameras. My immediate goal was to find Mary. I walked down the steps with my trophy and bouquet and headed towards some familiar faces, the Renaissance girls.

"Congratulations," Jessica Brandon and Michelle Lynn said. Angela Gardner, Dina Amberle, and many other Renaissance friends congratulated me, too. Several strangers walked by and congratulated me, telling me that they had rooted for me. Me! Not for the other three, but me! I thanked all of them, but couldn't say anything else. I think I was still in shock that I had won.

"You think JoAnn had something to do with it?" I asked a friend named Jami who was a long-time friend of JoAnn's.

"Probably, but she didn't help me any," Jami said with a disturbed look on her face. Jami was quite discouraging some months back. She told me that no matter how hard I try to look beautiful, someone will always look more beautiful. I remember my mother saying the same thing about intelligence. I hated comments like this. Why are people so negative? I have always strived to banish this type of negative attitude by turning the other cheek and just going out and doing it, proving all of my critics wrong. Now I did it. I finally did it!

I set the trophy down on the chair closest to me. One of the Asian female impersonators who had very vocally poked fun of me earlier walked up to me, said "Congratulations" in his broken English, and wanted to see the trophy. I said sure, why not. He smiled at me, held the trophy up to read the inscription, and then proceeded to do the oddest thing. He was stroking the trophy from the base to the midsection as if he had wanted it... longed for it! I wanted to grab my trophy back and say, "Gimme that, you pervert!" but I refrained. Finally, he gingerly set the trophy back down on the chair he held it up from and smiled at me.

"I showed you and your jeering Asian friends, didn't I?" I said to myself, smiling back at him.

I turned back to my Renaissance friends.

"I knew wearing a red dress would help me win," I told Jessica, who was also wearing a beautiful red sequined dress. "Anybody could wear black or white, but notice all the applause someone got by wearing a red dress?"

"Precisely why I wore a red dress," Jessica replied. I nodded and smiled. Her friend was also wearing a red dress.

Mary ran up to us.

"You did it! You did it! You won!" she said with tears of joy. "When they called out your number, I cried out 'YES!!!' Everyone thought I was crazy for yelling out so loud, but I didn't care."

"Well, they said I won 'Most Believable.' That's not 'Most Beautiful,' so I really won second-place."

"Wait a minute! I thought you were 'Most Beautiful'!" Mary said shocked. "I thought I heard Henri David say that."

"Nope, and I don't know why I won 'Most Believable.' Wasn't I more beautiful? Wasn't the other winner more believable?"

For the first time in my life, I knew what the difference was. Last year and the year before, I wouldn't have known the difference. To me, being "Most Beautiful" was infinitely more important than being "Most Believable." "Most Beautiful" to me meant I possessed natural beauty... I had earned enough accolades in my life to prove that I had a brain. "Most Believable" to me meant I worked hard at looking like a woman, but I wasn't necessarily a beautiful woman. Let the true female impersonation artists secure "Most Believable," I always say.

"Well, I think you were supposed to be 'Most Beautiful,'" Mary said. "But, aside from that, you put me through a lot of Hell this past year, so I'm glad you won!"

Mary ribbed me.

"It's true," I said to everyone. "I did put this little lady through a lot of Hell."

Everyone smiled. Mary and I excused ourselves from the little gathering in order to look for Julie and Eva.

I noticed a lone pie plate lying on the ground... 145. That was my number last year. I remember throwing my pie plate down on the ground, too, after my heartbreaking loss. Last year, I didn't have a chance in my little black cocktail dress. I wasn't even a finalist. This year, I took it all home.

We squeezed through the crowds to our seats. Julie and Eva congratulated me. I smiled. I don't think even they expected me to win.

"You did it! I knew you could do it!" Julie screamed. I thanked and hugged her.

After the last two contests were over, I scooted back onstage to greet Jim Bailey for an autograph. I got him to sign my red satin purse in red ink! I told him I was a big fan of his and loved his impressions (he doesn't like to call his acts "lip-syncing," since he actually sings Streisand and Garland in his own operatic voice).

"Congratulations," he said smiling. "You did a good job!"

JoAnn walked up to me, smiled, and hugged me.

"Congratulations, kid. You deserve it!"

"Thanks, JoAnn!" I said, teary-eyed.

That's all I wanted to hear, that I did a good job and that I deserved to win. And it came from two of the best in the industry. Now I finally knew I was good. For the first time in my life, everything fell into place. Everything became crystal clear. JoAnn Roberts and Jim Bailey said I did a good job. To win accolades from the idols you've always praised and looked up to as a young adult is something very few people can ever hope to achieve, but I have done it. I had earned my honorary degree from the masters.

The three of us, JoAnn, Jim, and I, had our group picture taken by a few photographers.

"C'mon, let's get a picture of these three queens!" one of them said smiling.

After the pictures were taken, I was again in a daze. I walked offstage and tried to find Mary. I turned back to look onstage. JoAnn waved to me and walked off the stage and towards me.

"It was unanimous," JoAnn said. "You were 'Most Beautiful.'"

"But Henri announced me as 'Most Believable'?!" I replied.

"Ack... he did?" JoAnn remarked, shocked. "Then he got the two numbers mixed up. You were 'Most Beautiful.' The other one was 'Most Believable.' She had a very elegant look about her, so we all thought she should've won 'Most Believable.'"

"I was kind of wondering that myself," I replied. "And I think the other girl was, too. She was definitely believable. I wanted to be 'Most Beautiful.' I consider 'Most Believable' to be like second-place."

"Aww, you shouldn't think of it that way!" JoAnn reassured.

"Well... that's what I believe," I said.

"So that's why you didn't smile when you were handed the trophy!"

I nodded.

I suppose "Most Believable" would've been a great honor to many and more worthy than "Most Beautiful," but not to me. For a couple of days, the trophy's inscription irked me. Soon afterwards, I came to realize that an inscription on a material object meant nothing, in the same way that a college degree is nothing more than a piece of paper with your name on it. It's not the actual piece of paper that you should be proud of securing; it's the nonphysical idea that the piece of paper represents.

However, some people will cling onto a physical object moreso than others. Was I one of these people? I'd like to say no, but I can't, so I got Henri David to change the inscription for me. Was I so jumpy in replacing my damaged Master's degree from Penn which has had a gaping hole in it for over four years? Nope. It's still sitting in a paper envelope collecting dust. The trophy was worth more to me than my college degrees because it was earned by doing something I truly love. The college degrees were only important to me as money-makers and job security blankets.

"I'll bet his head's like this big right now," JoAnn joked to Mary, motioning a cantaloupe shape around the side of her head.

"Yep," Mary nodded, smiling.

"Hey! I heard that!" I replied, smiling again, and we all laughed.

"Bet my trophy's bigger and more fabulous than Miss Gay Pennsylvania's!" I said to Mary.

I knew it was.

"Yep, I'll bet it is," she replied.

"Time for a cheesesteak now! And some pizza!" I joked.

A costumed person nearby overheard me and laughed.

It was past 1:30am. We all had to go home. We all had day jobs or places to be tomorrow. Down the escalators to the lobby we went. My feet were killing me at this time. Holding a huge 30-inch trophy, an over three-foot tall bouquet of flowers, my purse, and other assorted goodies didn't help the situation any, either.

It was official. I was legitimately the "Most Beautiful Female Impersonator" in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area.

One of a group of four blonde female impersonators caught me wobbling in my heels as I walked towards the elevators to the garage. Hey, you'd wobble, too, if your shoes were just a tad smaller than the shoe size you normally wear!

"I hope you break a leg!" one of them said in a nasty, nasally high-pitched voice as we passed them by. "And take your girlfriend with you!"

Catty bitch.

It's this "Holier Than Thou" attitude that will always keep people like that from winning or achieving anything significant in their lives. I was not "Holier Than Thou." I knew I wasn't. If ever once I acted conceited, it was because someone had tried to ram his or her credentials down my throat. Like any competitor, I had to show him or her up by proving I had similar credentials.

I wanted to say, "You could learn a thing or two from me," but this might have elicited a brawl. I would've been prepared, though. I held a very effective battering ram, in the form of a three-foot tall trophy, in my hands now!

I had wandered into a world where few people, straight or gay, would dare enter. There will be those who will choose to discredit me and the hard work I have put into this contest. There will still be those who refuse to acknowledge that I am "fabulous." There will be those who will say, "Oh, the field must not have been so strong this year."

My reply to that is I have personally witnessed the field this year, last year, and the year before. Every field was of comparable quality. I would even go so far as saying that every year the competition gets stronger and more competitive. I've seen many of the same faces, the faces of winners and losers, winners in the minds of a few and winners in the minds of many. These people want to win and will try to outdo themselves and everyone else from the previous year.

I had beat them all. I don't consider winning the trophy to be my biggest accomplishment in this contest, however. Here are what I feel to be my biggest accomplishments in this contest:

  • I beat Miss Gay Pennsylvania. I also beat her protégé. Many female impersonators would consider them to be unbeatable. They did not even make the finalist round.
  • I beat several local drag queens and drag personalities. I beat the ones who were making money doing this professionally and were still not very good at it.
  • I beat all of the hormone-enhanced boy-girls and she-males. If you want to cheat and take hormones to win a contest like this, then my victory is proof that you can win by using what God gave you.
  • I beat the female impersonators who had legs a mile long and moved and swayed like perfection.
  • I beat last year's "Most Believable" and all of his chums who had laughed at and jeered at me before the contest. I proved to the dozen or so people in their entourage that I had beaten the very best they had to offer.
  • I conquered my greatest fears and reservations. In short, I beat the demon that was haunting me for a very long time.

I was the best in the contest. I was the best in a field of more than 60. The vote was unanimous that I was "Most Beautiful." A unanimous vote! Not only by the great JoAnn Roberts, but by Jim Bailey, the master female impressionist, and three other judges who studied me every bit as closely. I didn't realize just how important a unanimous vote was to me until I learned about it. But, there was one thing that was even more important.

It was the most important.

I had proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to all the party people in the great city of Philadelphia that, yes, a straight man can be fierce and fabulous, too.


Dear Reader: This story should inspire you like no other to be the best that you can be, but it's only eight pages out of my wonderful 96-page book called Walking With the Best of Them sold here at TransVamp Publications. If you love inspirational stories, you'll love this one. Like Tales of a Sexy Vampire and The Sexy Vampire Cookbook, Walking With the Best of Them contains more of the same insightful tips and techniques to help pave the way to your crossdressing success. In retrospect, I was a cocky little bitch when I was in my twenties, but I had good reason to be and I always backed up what I said or did with results. The fact that I always did so earned great respect from many of my peers, even from people who didn't like me.