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Don’t Ask Don’t Tell wasn’t repealed until 2011, 9 months before Edward would get out of the Coast Guard.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.