Last Sunday I went hiking with the goal of reaching the Alta Mountain peak but we turned around at Rachel Lake because my hiking buddy was sick. You can also hit Lila Lake or Rampart Lake if you want to extend this hike. I highly recommend this hike, especially if you are with people who aren’t in the best of shape or are just getting into hiking. There are some steep spots towards the end so you do break a little sweat if you are moving good. You don’t need boots for this hike and a pair of tennis shoes work just fine. (I used my Brooks Pure Grit trail shoes.) I got warm during the hike but put on pants and a jacket at the lake cause it was fairly chilly despite the glaring sun.
Most of the hike is pretty flat but it’s long enough that its worth the drive. It’s great for people who are in the Ellensburg area or just over the pass on the west side because it’s right smack in the middle. Try to get their early though because parking is tough. Its a pretty popular spot! It takes about 45 minutes to drive their and this hike took about 4 1/2 hours of my day, travel time, stopping to eat time included.
There are camping spots near the start of the hike but camping is not allowed on or near the trail
I have been itching to write this blog on what I believe is one of the most important and relevant topics I have covered to date. The Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide hit just as I was getting ready to leave for Miss Washington. The timing of this announcement could not have been better as I was working on a blog from the LGBTQIA perspective.
The idea to write this piece came from my involvement with the Wounded Warrior Project. Through this organization I was able to connect with a group called the *Imperial Sovereign Court of Tacoma. This organization is similar to the Miss America Organization. Instead of a Miss Washington, they have an Empress and Emperor. The current empress is Empress 36 Mulan Rouge Bradshaw Beaute. The current emperor is Emperor 36, Jimi Cricket Beaute. The organization hosted a drag show called “Rockin’ with our Heroes” that raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project. It was here that I learned of a drag queen that wasn’t present named Brooke Lynn Bradshaw. Brooke Lynn (who was Miss Gay Washington 2014-2015) had an interesting past that didn’t exactly fit drag queen stereotypes, she was once in the Coast Guard. Obviously once I heard that news I was drooling for an interview.
Edward Perez has lead a colorful life. Like many 20-somethings, he got to a point where it felt like his life had lost direction. Edward just quit his job, got out of a bad relationship and living in his native California just didn’t seem to be a viable option anymore. While watching TV, Edward heard the term “homeland security.” Not knowing what that meant he looked it up and a Coast Guard ad popped up on the site as a link. Edward clicked. Three days later he was in a recruiter’s office. Two weeks later he was being shipped off to boot camp.
“It seemed to answer everything that I needed at that time,” Edward reflects.
Perez joined the Coast Guard in 2005. He finished his Coast Guard career as an Operation Specialist or E5. Edward loved the job and he loved what he was doing but in the end, the military lifestyle wasn’t for him. While the Coast Guard once answered the questions Edward was asking, eventually he got to the point where he wanted to something he wanted to do, as opposed to something he had to do.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wasn’t repealed until 2011, 9 months before Edward would get out of the Coast Guard. Because of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Act, Edward had to keep much of his life a secret. The punishment for “getting caught being gay” was harsh. Immediate expulsion and no benefits whatsoever. Drag made his secret even harder to keep.
Edward’s first contact with drag was at an S&M bar called Miss Kitty’s. Edward didn’t know what type of bar it was until he got there. People were paddling themselves and Go-Go dancers clad in leather filled the bar. Needing a minute to get some fresh air outside, Edward exited the building only to find himself surrounded by men dressed as drag nuns in what he described as a terrifying experience. These women were a part of the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a charity group that is quote well known in the drag community. Edward did not realize this interaction was only the beginning of his drag experience.
In 2010, Edward met who would become his drag mother. A drag mother is essentially whoever put you in drag for the first time. They are usually the one to help someone new to drag figure out how to put on makeup, choose what clothes to wear and pick a name. A drag mother will often pass along their own last name. In Edward’s case, his drag mother didn’t have a last name to pass on, so he created his own. He already liked the idea of going by Brooke Lynn and it was his drag mother’s idea to separate the two to make the name a little more unique. Bradshaw is a reference to Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City. Brooklyn, New York, Carrie Bradshaw from New York.
Before meeting his drag mother Edward was very introverted.
“The hottest person could be staring at me and I would ignore them,” laughs Edward.
Edward’s drag mother helped open him up in ways he never imagined. Edward was the person who wouldn’t dance at a club unless he was surrounded by other people. Now Brooke Lynne takes the stage and everyone in the room can’t take their eyes off her.
Participating in drag while in the Coast Guard made “not telling” even more difficult. Although he didn’t have to fear the consequence of his secrets for very long, even after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, Edward was extremely private. Before the act was repealed he would hide his tattoos and try to come and go quietly. Even some of his gay friends didn’t know he was an aspiring drag queen. Even after secrecy was no longer a requirement in the military, Edward didn’t feel the need to waive a rainbow flag.
“It’s different for everyone,” notes Edward. “One of my good friends went out to the gay bar in his uniform and took a picture in front of a rainbow flag. To him he was proud of that where I didn’t care.”
Not to say that Edward doesn’t think gay issues are important. Edward believes there is still a long way to go as far as acceptance in the military. Certain branches are more accepting than others, though all could use improvement. While many are coming around to the idea of having gay soldiers, a soldier in drag would push some people way over the edge.
Starting out performing in small clubs, Edward would eventually go on to be selected at Miss Gay Washington for the 2014-2015 year. This pageant system is very similar to the Miss America organization and includes a talent, evening and interview portion just like MAO as well as an “all white” and “after dark” phase of competition.
Now a student at Sanford Brown studying fashion design, Edward’s interest in fashion design has proved useful in the drag world. Edward designs and makes most of his clothing. He even charges other queens and for his services. Edward’s drag style has gone through many different looks. Starting off with a sort of rocker chick vibe, Brooke Lynn has been everything from the classic pretty face to Goth. Brooke Lynn has branched into a more alternative look.
“It’s sort of like puberty, you think you know what you liked and then what you like evolves as you get older and go through different phases of your life, “Edward explains. “I am still trying to discover who I want to be. We are always learning.”
While drag has changed Edward’s life forevermore, this isn’t something he sees himself doing forever. While some perform drag into their 40s, 50s, even 80s, it’s not something Edward thinks he’ll have the energy to do. Drag is more taxing then one might think. It can take upwards of three hours to do hair, make-up and costuming.
“My favorite part about drag is taking it off,” Edward jokes.
Contrary to popular belief, at its core, drag has very little to do with sexuality. Straight men, gay men, straight women, and gay women all participate. Edward frequently gets messages from people asking for sexual favors and getting mistaken for transgender is the usual. Although some drag queens, such as Brooke Lynn’s drag mother are transgender many of them aren’t.
Though the transition from everyday citizen to drag queen can be a taxing practice, the transition out of the military to civilian life be twice as hard. In Edward’s experience, the hardest part was knowing how to use the resources available to you. There are resources for veterans but there isn’t a lot of clear instruction on how to use those resources. Edward thinks classes on how to access health benefits, GI Bills etc., should be required of veterans as they make the transition out of the military. Even after veterans figure out how to use their benefits it can take over 5 months before they receive the financial benefits. Filling the space between can be extremely difficult.
How can you help veterans? When you have a friend or family member on their way out, do some research to yourself on what their options are. The cultural shock of leaving the military is enough, figuring out a whole new system to live by is a headache many veterans put off. You can find information about military benefits here.
No longer Miss Gay Washington, Brooke Lynn Bradshaw is still making appearances. With the hope of continuing to educate gay youth about gay history and helping veterans where she can, Brooke Lynn still has a few years left in her. Follow Brooke Lynn on Facebook and keep an eye out for her on Capitol Hill and around the Pacific Northwest.
*The Imperial Sovereign Court of Tacoma, Diamond Empire of the Cascades, shall endeavor to create a safe, supportive, and social environment for members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Intersex, Transgender and Questioning community. We shall strive to create and support charitable, cultural, and educational activities, which promote a greater awareness and understanding among all peoples, who make up the rich and diverse community within our Empire, and to promote a positive awareness of the ideals of the International Court System. As serious as we work to accomplish our mission, we shall never forget to have fun while doing it by enjoying all the frivolity and creative outlets the Court encourages.
So far, most of the people I have interviewed for this blog have joined the military because they were searching for something. Maybe they felt lost, maybe they needed a clearer career path and skills to get there or maybe they were looking for adventure. For Dave Barksdale, it was family tradition. Just like his father and grandfather before him, Dave joined the Navy in 1985 and served active duty for over two decades.
Entering the Fleet Reserve midnight, January 31st, 2009 at the rank of Chief Petty Officer (E7), Dave’s active-duty career has been a colorful one. Serving on seven different ships in his career, Dave’s specialties have ranged from fire control to air search and missile Guidance RADAR systems to Tomahawk missile systems. His experience and skill set have taken him all over the world, from Mexico to Australia to Japan to Kenya to name a few of the countries Dave has visited. He admits he has had too many deployments to count.
The chance to see the world gave Dave the opportunity to experience cultures and events that I have only read about. Dave has attended the Chinese New Year visited the tomb of Job in Oman and played hacky sack on top of a pyramid in Guatemala.
“Eating frankincense from a tree older then America blew my mind,” reminisced Dave.
Through his own selfless service, Dave learned lessons all over the world. Meeting the aboriginal people in Perth taught him to cherish what he has. In Dave’s experience, people were generally friendly and happy to see him and his fellow sailors. Immersed in dozens of cultures throughout his career has given Dave a unique outlook on life.
“Even in the harshest countries you could always find someone who had no political agenda and would welcome you with open arms,” remembers Dave.
Despite his incredible experiences, a life of military service is never just fun and games and certainly comes with its challenges. Serving during a time when the internet was not what it is today, a sailor survived on snail mail, with an emphasis on the word snail. Mail came but once a month on average and learning of family events so delayed could be agonizing. Even after Dave was married, a new wealth of challenges was brought on. Though a sailor’s work could be dangerous in itself, one of the greatest fears is that something would happen to your family back home leaving you unaware and helpless for a month or much longer.
“Your heart and soul always long to be near those at home,” explains Dave.
Although family at home was a distant thought, each sailor walks away from the Navy with a new family. As Dave and many veterans will tell you, one of the best parts of the military lifestyle is the unbreakable bond you form with your newfound brothers and sisters. Combat only makes these bonds stronger in the moments when you truly have no one else to rely on but your shipmates, overcoming that adversity creates a deep love that lasts until your last breath.
Despite any challenges one faces in the military, Dave recommends serving to anyone, even if only for a couple years. Although a military career might not be for everyone, the experiences are invaluable.
In Dave’s opinion, the Armed Forces are receiving the best support they have ever known. Unfortunately, there will still be those who refer to Dave and his comrades as “baby killers” with some opponents of the military not being above spitting on servicemen and women, for the most part the public appears to support the military. Dave points to ignorance as the greatest threat to the military and believes there have been great strides made by to the public to better understand what the military is doing, hence offering more support.
Like I’ve heard so many times before, one of the greatest struggles veterans face is getting on their feet after serving. Dave told me stories about retired veterans passing away for what appears to be no apparent reason. Whether it be suicide or simply wasting away, it’s extremely difficult to adjust to a “normal” society after living in a high stress and structured environment for so many years. As civilians, it is our duty to do our best to understand and learn about their experiences, recognize extreme signs of distress and offer support and opportunity through jobs and training so that veterans feel as comfortable as possible in the civilian lifestyle.
One topic that has and will always interest me is women in the military. Dave admits that in the beginning of military genderization he was against it. He saw women in supporting shore roles only. After he had a couple female supervisors his views started to change, though there have been issues with fraternization among crews. As Dave notes, it’s very difficult to take men and women directly out of high school and expect them to keep their hormones in check. This can be a problem in any career field, military or not, but when men and women are stuck on a boat for months at a time, you can only imagine what might happen. Although many times, many of these cases are wanted by both parties, unfortunately, as we all know, the military isn’t immune to cases of sexual assault etc. But that issue is for another blog, at another time.
Dave has no problem with women serving in our military. He does feel that there will always be those isolated incidents between men and women no matter how much training you put them through. I met Dave through the Miss America program where he is one of Washington’s most valued employees. Dave believes in women empowerment and I am in awe of how much time he puts into volunteering to help young women such as I better myself.
Dave is currently employed by Boeing Commercial Airplanes as a maintenance technician. He also operates Depoe Barksdale Studios; a video and photography studio that has contributes to the Miss Washington organization but takes on other projects as well.
“A life of service is a life well spent,” are words of wisdom Dave lives by and his actions show he takes those words very seriously. He considers serving his country with honor and distinction his greatest achievement and he continues to live a life of service. With volunteering being his main hobby, (listening to Electronic Dance Music a close second J) Dave doesn’t plan on changing any time soon.