Bay Area Reporter
Issue:  Vol. 36 / No. 4 / 26 January 2006

TGs celebrate at Cotillion

If you had a fur coat, this was the night to wear it. If you had never worn a dress before, this was the night that demanded a trip to the mall. And if you were ever afraid to wear that dress in public, this was your chance to strut across a stage to catcalls and cheers from an equally bewigged, sequined audience.

For Saturday, January 21 was Cotillion, Transgender San Francisco's 21st annual gala and pageant competition for Mr. and Ms. Transgender San Francisco, at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason.

This year's performers, in keeping with the "Hooray for Hollywood!" theme, included impersonations of King (or Queen) Henry V, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland. Hosts for the night were Lenny Broberg and Donna Sachet.

The theater wasn't full, but it was mighty convivial.

Sachet, clad in her trademark full-length red satin gown that matched the drapes behind her, played diva to the hilt. Her gold reading glasses came off and went on so slowly and so many times that the crowd howled when Broberg, eyes twinkling, pulled out a pair of his own to mimic her. No one escaped the hosts' mirthful wrath.

"My therapist called," said Broberg, after the mini-skirted Carmen Monoxide, also known as TGSF President Roxy Carmichael-Hart – the show's writer and director – finished her air-guitar routine. "He's offering us a group rate."

Only four contestants competed; the judges outnumbered them. Katra Briel, Jennifer Anderson, and Lisa Dummer competed for Ms. TGSF. Sydney Anderson Mason, the only man competing, seemed assured of victory in his category, but the emcees announced he'd still have to pass a minimum-score muster.

Just like Miss America, these contestants weren't judged by glamour alone. The winner becomes the face of the transgender community in San Francisco. Forty percent of their score was based on interviews.

"I have values that I want to be raised," said judge and former contestant Patricia Kevena Fili. "Commitment. Service."

The other 60 percent was kitsch and glitter, with a good dose of introspection. Mason played "Julia Chilihead" on a makeshift "Trans Can Cook." Briel, in clanking armor, rallied the trans troops with a regendered St. Crispin's Day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

"We few, we happy few, we band of sisters," she proclaimed. "For she who fights with us today is indeed our sister. Be she e'er so vile, this day shall gentle her."

Briel, an elected TGSF board member, won Ms. Congeniality.

Anderson, also on the board, donned the tiara of Ms. TGSF. Mason became Mr. TGSF.

"I'm excited and relieved," Anderson said afterward. "The last few nights I've been awake at 4 a.m."

This night wasn't all pageantry. Amid the glitter, the organization gave its annual awards to those who have contributed exceptional service to the transgender community. California Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) appeared as well. Dozens of people were acknowledged and cheered.

For some, being out was old hat – and Cotillion a clear excuse to buy a new one.

But for others, like Rebecca, 38, the Debutante and Guys' Walk in the show's second act marked their entrée into the world as the proper gender.

Rebecca, a Silicon Valley web developer who asked that her last name not be used, said she had only gone out in public as a woman once before – just that week. Friends pressured her into walking at Cotillion.

Inexorably, like every woman who's ever been crippled by stage fright, she realized she had nothing to wear.

That is, she had women's clothes, but all from the Internet. Clothes from the Internet don't always fit quite right, the six-foot-something woman said.

Dressed as a man, Rebecca went to the mall as early as possible, hoping for relative privacy. She eyed the packed racks, brushing the dresses with one finger.

"I was freaked out," she said.

An angel of a saleswoman picked up on her problem and started pulling dresses off the racks.

"Are you going to try this on?" she said.

A few dozen men and women strutted across the stage, in the annual Debutante and Guys' Walk that symbolized coming out.

"Tonight is part of the journey to being loved as who you are," said former contestant Kara Flynn.

Some, like the impossibly big-haired Blanche Du Bree of Manhattan, worked the emcees, worked the crowd, kissed everybody, and twirled off. The crowd loved those divas. Some, like Rebecca, in a long, dark purple gown, made one dignified pass across, and the crowd loved them, too.