Since I’m suffering from blogger’s block lately I decided to dig back into the archives to find some of my better posts. In the spirit of the season of giving, here’s one reposted from November 19, 2002:

SupermodelTokien pointed to the cassette case with a long, polished fingernail. “Who is that?” he asked in Russian, referring to the androgyne with the massive jheri curls on the tape cover.

“That’s RuPaul. He is a man,” I answered. Tokien’s almond-shaped eyes widened in surprise. Transvestites were unheard of in Kazakstan, although I suspected Tokien had more than enough potential for dragdom. He was a lithe and graceful classical dance instructor in the small mill town, famed to have been the Soviet Union’s largest metallurgical production facility. Today the factories are obsolete and empty. There’s nothing much to do there anymore, and teens fill their time shooting up cheap local heroin with shared family needles and ogling the new Daewoo stereos they will never afford but could some day steal. Widowed babuska pensioners stuggled to get by, often only with the potatoes grown at their summer dachas.

My RuPaul cassette was one of the few things that kept me in Peace Corps for as long as I was. On particularly cold and grey days, I would liven things up by putting in the Supermodel of the World album, especially the title track, Supermodel. The phrase “You better WORK, bitch!” had special meaning to me, and often was the only thing goading me to work in the morning. I didn’t want to be there, I needed to be living elsewhere at that time. So the music took me where I needed to be, if only for a few minutes.

Every so often I would travel by bus from my coal mining city to the nearby metallurgical town to visit other volunteers. Most of them were English teachers in the public school system. Fellow volunteers Joel and Petra had met Tokien in their school. He was a refreshing change from the usual dour Kazak student or faculty member. Creative, and good in his craft, he was best described as fey. His swish was so wide that even Joel and Petra’s gaydar shot to red alert status. They knew I had few companions or other gays to relate to, so they made a point of inviting him to their party.

With the advance notice I packed my gay disco compilations and favorite RuPaul album for the trip, thinking Tokien would relate to the music. I should have known that he had received no exposure to such things. The RuPaul tape was a total shock to him.

“This man is famous in America?” he asked in surprise.

“Yes, fairly so,” I replied in Russian. “He’s had two hits so far.” I could see Tokien was about to ask for the cassette. In Kazakstan, loaning something to a friend meant that you basically gave it up. Nothing ever came back to you. However, I could always get another Supermodel of the World cassette, or even upgrade to CD. Tokien may never have another opportunity to find the album.

“Do you want to borrow it?” I asked Token. Speechless and glowing with glee, he accepted my sole source of sanity with graciousness. I never saw the cassette again, but I’m sure it went to a good cause. Perhaps today there’s a drag cabaret in some small Kazak mill town where an almond-eyed drag queen with massive Jheri curls encourages the metalworkers with the shout out, “You better WORK!”

6 Comments

  1. Tim Mc says:

    Totally made me smile this morning Jimbo, thanks!!

  2. Mari says:

    Hopefully, if he did go drag, he kept it to clothing and did not go all the way to emulate skin tone. In America blackface is a big no-no, even when you say you’re admiring the artist.

  3. jimbo says:

    With his Central Asian roots, he could pull off an exotic Eartha Kitt.

  4. mark says:

    ….Gurllll.

  5. mark says:

    Here’s wishing you a happy and warm holiday, jimbo. We miss you and your updates.