Actually the beginning started in 2005. Lucinda Holliday first approached me and my then boyfriend about promoting a pageant called Miss Gay Western States America. She said, “Go to Miss Gay America and then decide for yourselves if it would be something you want to do.” I really wasn’t keen on the idea. Why would I want to be involved with drag queens? I know nothing about them and frankly the ones I had seen up to that point scared me! So off we went to Little Rock, Arkansas and amid the rainy weekend, I was captivated by the talent, the glamour and the entertainment of it all. That year we saw Raquel Chevallier being crowned and the rest is history so to speak.
Fast-forward two years later. By then we had already received Regional Preliminary of the Year for Miss Gay Western States (by MGA 2005) and was honored to see our first contestant, Luscious, win Miss Gay America. We were presented with the opportunity to promote Miss Gay Arizona America and immediately we said, yes. Why wouldn’t we want to promote this pageant? Up until then we had been successful and we had formers as “friends” and really what could be different!? Boy, was I in for a rude awakening and a quick slap to reality.
August 4, 2007, Tucson, Arizona- that night at the Leo Rich Theatre we enjoyed the stepdown of Miss Gay Arizona America 06/07 Mikaila Kay and witnessed Mya McKenzie win the crown on her 2nd attempt. Looking back, that night was a prelude to a lot that would transpire throughout the next few months. Figures lurking in the shadows, waiting for us to fail or waiting for me to be vulnerable enough to not notice. About a month after MGAA 2007, I broke up with my boyfriend of 7 years and started my journey of permanently living in Phoenix, Arizona. I cannot say how thankful I am to Mya for helping me pick up the pieces and really looking after me during that time. She really had to convince her then partner, Toby to allow me to live in their guest house but at the end, that experience is what really made me a better and stronger person. This pageant was also the first time I really got the chance to meet some amazing contestants and to start to really build bonds with them. This was also the year I met the person I have always said was “The One That Got Away”, Naomi St James. More on her later...
In October 2007, I traveled to Miss Gay America in Memphis, Tennessee. That year we had 4 contestants (Mya McKenzie, Jessica Deveraux, Alina Malletti and Mikaila Kay) competing for the title. By now the ex-boyfriend agreed to still go to MGA and support the contestants that we had gained together. Little did I know he had planned to attend MGA with his new boyfriend (a month after we broke up). After I recovered from the slap to my cheek (although I needed up in a better place, more on that later) I still had to focus on those 4 contestants competing. I will always remember Luscious during that week and the love she gave to me, even when she tried to focus on her step down. I will never forget being in the dressing room as she started her give up I started crying, no balling my eyes out listening to “Everything Happens for a Reason”. I am not sure if the world knows how much Luscious means to me. But if you saw me that night, tear stained face and all, you would probably be able to paint a clear picture. At the end of that night, my 2nd contestant would be crowned Miss Gay America 2008. Former Miss Gay Arizona America Mikaila Kay! I don’t remember anything from the point when Larry & Terry called out, “First Alternate to Western…” The rest is a complete blank. I remember walking back to Mikaila’s room and seeing Luscious in the lobby yelling, “There is something about Western States!” After going back to Mikaila’s room, we told her she had to go downstairs and mingle, she looked at us and said, “I don’t have any other dresses. All I have is my gown and opening production dress.” So opening production dress it is! What a fun, memorable and life learning week. I think that week was preparing me for the challenges of what I had to face when I returned back to Arizona…
I can honestly look back and say I would not have survived my first year without Mya McKenzie as Miss Gay Arizona America. She was just as “new” as me and we really had to navigate the roads of Miss Gay Arizona America together. There are some moments when I wish I was able to give her a “better” year, a “better” step down, a “better” experience but I think we were put together for a reason. She was the ONE person that always said to me, “Daniel, don’t let them bring you down. People are afraid of change. They are not afraid of you, they are afraid of what you can do to make things different.” I had never thought of it that way. From promoting city prelims ourselves, to having male interview in the guest house, Mya was with me in every conceivable way that year. She to this day continues to be one of the most reliable formers that we have. I can count on one hand the prelims she has missed since 2007 and I wouldn’t have had that any other way because, like many will tell you, she will tell you what works and what doesn’t work. Her opinion in my eyes is more valuable than gold!
This was also the year I was approached by someone who has also been a very valuable friend and confidant, Joey Saputo, Big Booty Judy! We started this crazy journey months apart but he was very instrumental in making sure I kept focus and I kept my sanity. I shared early on with Joey my vision for Miss Gay Arizona America and he made sure that the vision I had never left my sight even when there were so many people waiting for me to get off track.
That year I also allowed myself to really be a part of the Miss Gay America family. I was able to finally have a conversation with a long time MGA promoter, Roger Dimick. He, along with Tillie Lane from Oklahoma, really intimated me when I first went to Miss Gay America. They were both promoters that I looked up to and wanted to mold MGAA after. I was honored to judge Miss Gay Maryland America for the first time that year. I accompanied Mikaila Kay, Miss Gay America, to Baltimore, Maryland and that is when my love affair for MGMA began. I met so many amazing people… Josie Foster, Joanna Blue, Jason Kueberth, Eric Gabbard, Sabrina White, Miss D Meaner and the list goes on. They really made me feel like part of the family. Almost more part of their family then the unwelcome feeling I was getting in Arizona. There were times Roger would sit me down and listen to my frustrations with promoting Miss Gay Arizona America. He always knew how to put things into perspective and really hammer home that “they don’t need to like you but they need to respect you and vice versa”. Those words have always stuck in my mind. A lot of how Miss Gay Arizona America is run today are due to me being able to be a part of the Miss Gay Maryland America family so early on in my career. I owe Miss Gay Maryland and Roger a lot more than words can say! That year I was honored to be able to crown, Tatiyanna Voche as Miss Gay Maryland America! There are not enough words to be able to write down to explain the admiration I have for Tatiyanna/Jonathan. We quickly became fast friends and that friendship has really endured the last 10 years. Through Miss Gay America, breakups, new relationships, family events and everything in between, he has always been someone that I can call and our conversations pick up where we left off. Miss Rawhide will always have a BFF in Miss Fish…always!
I was able to also go to New Orleans twice during the year. Once was for New Year’s/my Birthday with Nicole Dubois. Sharing a room with Nicole is always an adventure, and this time was no different. Between shopping at Saks, to eating at La Madeline, Miss Rawhide and the hiccups, it was probably one of the funniest birthday celebrations I have had. I was also able to attend and judge Miss Gay Louisiana America (2nd time) that year. It was always amazing to see Mikaila at her MGA prelims. I know she was young, fairly new and sometimes not well received but if people looked beyond that, she was a dynamic and entertaining performer.
So in a very small nut shell, this was my first year promoting Miss Gay Arizona America. Like any first time promoter, there were lessons learned, bridges to cross and bridges to burn. I really don't think I am prepared to take on this venture alone. Looking back there were way too many forces and individuals against be from the beginning that I could have given in and allowed myself to fail. But I remember telling myself one night, after hearing hateful and harsh things being said about me (from people in the community), "You are not one to break. They will not break you and if it takes 20 years, they will respect you!"
In September I will post Chapter 2008, where I take a closer look at the challenges and triumphs during my 2nd year of promoting Miss Gay Arizona America.