San Francisco Sentinel

January 5, 1990

Bay City Beat

‘She Who Would Be Empress’

By Doris Fish

Of all the many ridiculous ways to waste time, running for Empress ranks up there with housework. Although I’m no expert on housework, I’m pretty proficient at ridiculous time-wasting projects so I guess I should know. Why anyone would want to run for Empress escapes me. (Being the Queen and a self-realized Goddess, Empress-envy has never plagued me. Besides, I don’t think I would win!). And why anyone who is belligerently the antithesis of a typical Empress would subject herself to the process is a really big question.

In pre-Stonewall and pre-Cockette days the Empress was it. It was not only politically correct (by mid-sixties standards, the Imperial Court was pretty radical stuff, after all the Emperor and Empress were gay elected officials). It was the height of camp and a lot of fun. It’s still pretty camp although now its really serious and politically questionable.

This week I got a peek into the workings of the Imperial Court, and it was fascinating. I was the guest of Miss Romé at the oral interview to determine her suitability as a candidate for Empress. How she got that far is beyond me! I thought it was pretty darn nice of then to even let us in the door!

Romé was “dressed” in little bits of old tattered sequin remnants that did not cover anything much. I thought I was pretty incognito in a casual slack suit with a Christmas sweater but I was “sprung” immediately by Lily Street who, like all the Imperial Court, was gracious and polite to everyone. With us was Greg Taylor, would-be Emperor, sporting a pussprint pajama suit and a shaved head with little pink rollers glued across the top.

All potential candidates were ushered into the back bedrooms, which were absolutely spotless like the rest of the apartment and decorated in a style I once eschewed but now aspire to. Glorious hors d’oeuvres were brought to us and Romé was even allowed to rest her half exposed butt on our host’s bed.

The Imperial Board was nine members strong with two observers. The oral interview started with a speech by co-chair Ginger, disguised as an old man in a little grey wig, who tried as politely as possible to point out to “She Who Would Be Empress” that she looked like shit. The others then all had a turn at her; did she realize how costly running for Empress would be, how much time it would consume, that many fine hotels like the Sheraton wouldn’t allow her in dressed like that, that a trip to Alaska might cost $3000, and did she own any gowns?

Miss Romé had the balls (and you could probably see them, if you had the stomach to look!) to counter that she felt insulted by their reluctance to accept her style of dress as an alternative Empress look. Her garish and crudely applied makeup, her tattered black stockings and gloves and her natural unkempt long hair (not to mention her public hair) were no reason to think she wouldn’t be a viable candidate. I could see that the board was not moved, while I was reeling from the realization that the Empress would win nothing but the temporary title and a great deal of expensive obligations.

It was not surprising to learn that both Romé and Greg were deemed unsuitable as candidates, while all others present were accepted. My favorites were my former landlord Simeon Traw for Emperor (as landlords go he was a saint!) and Tatiana for Empress. Tatiana is the quintessential gay Empress. She has a commanding presence, a cool and regal demeanor, though not haughty, and, I suspect, a very big heart.

The 1990 Imperial Campaign is underway, and while most of us consider it an unbelievable anachronism, it’s really quite harmless and a lot of fun (sometimes it’s more fun to be serious) for the participants. Booze-pushers love it, wig stylists and dressmakers love it and the many AIDS groups that benefit from it love it. So why is it that I find the whole business a bit scary? The fascist overtones of creating an Imperial Court in a democratic community are disturbing, but I think it’s the arch-conservatism that seems to pervade the Court which I feel so uneasy about. The dress code is just a symptom of an elitist group which seeks to discriminate against poor eccentrics. While I had no desire to emulate Miss Romé’s style, the Imperial Board of Trustees were getting away awfully close to emulating right-wing fundamentalists. If they weren’t gay, would these people still be pro-gay?

Would I? Would you? When we place ourselves above the least of our sisters we really lower ourselves.