A Saga Interview: Liberty Belle, Queen Mother of Drag
By Nevin Jefferson
Drag Queens are the founding Mothers of the Gay Community not to mention the backbone. Female Impersonators who give an illusion of glamour, glitz, and ego for the sole purpose of entertaining are the founding Diva’s. For some, it’s a gift, art, and way of life all while looking beautiful. For other’s it’s taking to the stage with the hope of making at least one person smile. Then there’s Liberty Belle who appears at the Phoenix in Birmingham, Alabama 8 days a week who’s all of the above. Liberty Belle didn’t go around the block; she built an entire city block. She’s a part of the Gay History that you don’t hear about until now. Liberty Belle is roommates with the person who my friend Paul visited in Birmingham. He was fascinated with her stories, was blown away by her act, and thought that she’s be great for a Saga Interview. He was right! When I told Miss Liberty Belle that I wrote about positive things and interesting people in the Gay Community. She replied; “Your column must be a half a page.” I told the Grand Old Dame that it’s a page when I double space. A former Gossip Columnist for 13 years and currently writing a weekly newsletter, which is both a joy and pain in the ass. She undertook this task after the last gay rag became folded, bent, mutilated, and a gone staple. What a gal, huh? She does benefits galore to help a cause and speaks out on issues that affect the gay community as a whole. She’s billed as the oldest performer in the South East then opens with; “Welcome to my Nightmare” which sounds like my life in general. It’s also rumored that she cried when Dinosaurs died. Is she the world’s oldest performer? Let’s see, she took to the stage as Peaches O’Reily when Eisenhower was President. Everyone else from her starting days are either dead, retired, or simply vanished from this green earth. She has her own troupe aged 19-35 that she sees as a business that works out at the last minute. She’s a Chatty Cathy with a mouth of “dish” and one who speaks her mind. I didn’t get a chance to go through the questions as that I composed. I found myself taking notes as she told me about her life, one true love, 2 dogs, and 2 birds.
Nevin Jefferson/The Saga Continues…: How young are you?
Liberty Belle: Let’s not get into the age thing. With me, it all depends on the day of the week and who I’m talking to. It also depends on who’s going to be reading this.
NJ/TSC: This is for The Seattle Gay News and www.gaypride.com.
Liberty Belle: I’m 22! NJ/TSC: How do you define Drag?
Liberty Belle: It’s Burlesque at its best.
NJ/TSC: Tell me about your troupe?
Liberty Belle: They’re a bunch of back stabbing, vindictive, mean bitches who want me out of the way. I have to watch it about these girls because if I don’t I’ll be out of a job. They’ll kill for this job! I’ll be working at McDonald’s where my opening line will be; “Do you want fries with that?”
NJ/TSC: It’s a bitch being a STAR isn’t it?
Liberty Belle: It’s a bitch being a Bitch! NJ/TSC: How old were you when you first did drag?
Liberty Belle: It was 45 years ago.
Liberty Belle: Eisenhower was president, I was 15 wicked in new york and still in High School. Yes, that’s the year. NJ/TSC: Where did you make your debut?
Liberty Belle: Dilotco-S Bistro. I did a lot of jobs in the daytime too. I took my makeup off and went to High School. Don’t ask me how I finished. It just happened! I got my diploma in the mail one day.
NJ/TSC: And from there the next pair of pumps took you where?
Liberty Belle: I performed in Mass. State in Kingsburg, Manchester, Boston in the Combat zone where I was arrested, New York, and San Diego.
NJ/TSC: You were arrested? Was your act that bad?
Liberty Belle: Bad in those days clubs were raided by the police. They were after the Doctors, Lawyers, and people who would make a headline. I was worried about being caught because I was 17 and was still in High School. Also back in those days I performed in straight clubs with Drag Shows being considered as a freak show.
Liberty Belle: I took time off and went to Portland State. I was served in the Navy. I was stationed in San Diego where I got the urge to do drag. I went to the clubs and kept the girls company then got asked not to come back. I don’t remember the names of the clubs, but if you check my Navy records you’ll find the names there.
NJ/TSC: What did you get a degree in?
Liberty Belle: Journalism and Creative Writing.
NJ/TSC: Where did the chiffon flow from there?
Liberty Belle: I performed at Dahl N Penne-S for 8 years in Portland. I went to New York where I performed. This is where I met Divine who was a mean, evil as hell, nasty bitch. She told me that I was going to end up like her. I was small then and I’m small now. I told her no way! She told me that I was going to end up doing comic relief. I told her no way! I did later on because it’s more fun to do and you can get ridiculous. The bitch is dead now so, she’ll never know. It was there that I joined the troupe “All that Glitter Is Not Girls” from 1971-1976. This is when I began traveling a lot. I performed in Boston, Montana, New York, and basically all over. We traveled in cars, we didn’t fly first class because it was a poor act with little money. But, I love it. It’s serious fun! NJ/TSC: And from there, your heels clicked where?
Liberty Belle: I joined the troupe Cycle Sluts when I was performing in San Francisco. I was with them for 6 months. It was a gender fuck, high camp drag group with men with mustaches and beards. They were big burly guys who put on dresses, leather, and pink wigs and rode out onto stage on motorcycles. I was the smallest one who rode on the back of a cycle. I was also the comic relief and the pretty one. We traveled to Berlin, Japan, Germany, New York, and San Francisco. I also performed a lot overseas with this troupe. This is when I really started to do a lot of traveling which I loved to do. There was a lot of in-house fighting and ugly things going on backstage which caused the troupe to close down.
NJ/TSC: After pulling up your panty hose from this one where did you go?
Liberty Belle: I went back to San Francisco where I lived as a woman. People didn’t believe me, but I did! I was going to get a sex change operation but thought about it then decided that it was a dumb idea. It’s hard work to be a woman and doing all of the crap that you have to do to look beautiful.
NJ/TSC: Where did you go fully intact from there?
Liberty Belle: Back to Portland where I loved living and would be still living today if it wasn’t for my asthma. I wrote a monthly article for one of the Portland papers. I still performed in the clubs where I was blacklisted. I still went back! I used the stage name of Golden Goldie Gates. My asthma got worst with my ending up in the ER twice a week. My doctor told me either to move elsewhere or end up on a respirator. I moved to Birmingham, Alabama where I make it my goal to become the most known queer in Birmingham. It took me a week!
NJ/TSC: How’s your health now?
Liberty Belle: Now, I have emphysema!
NJ/TSC: Woah! You’ll be in my prayers for healing and comfort. How are you holding up?
Liberty Belle: I’m fine! I have to rest once and awhile.
NJ/TSC: Tell me about your children?
Liberty Belle: Well, I have two dogs that I tried selling to a Chinese Restaurant. No sale! I have two birds. I bring one of them into the kitchen when I’m frying chicken and tell him; “You’re next bitch!”
NJ/TSC: And you wonder why you don’t get a card for Mother’s Day don’t you?
Liberty Belle: The only card that I want is a plastic one with a no limit credit line.
NJ/TSC: When did you start doing benefits. Liberty Belle: In Portland, where everyone I knew began getting sick and dying. It didn’t have a name and was called the Gay Cancer. Doctor’s treated it like a cold because they didn’t know what it was. Once Pneumonia kicked in the person was gone with more joining them. Finally they had a name for it! I can’t do outreach help because you become involved and attached. The emotional trauma would kill me!
NJ/TSC: Tell me about your acts.
Liberty Belle: I do outrageous things! I do a number from the song; “It Should Have Been Me” in a Black Wedding Dress tearing up flowers. I came out as Cher in a wheelchair sing; “If I Could Turn Back Time” I was flown in a balloon over the bar. I do old show tunes in evening gowns. I’m the Mud Wrestling Champion.
NJ/TSC: What are the trade secrets of a Drag Queen?
Liberty Belle: Duct Tape, Saran Wrap, pencil it, and shadow. I’m going to write a letter of thanks to the Duct Tape people. It doesn’t hurt when you pull it off. I’m so small that I can use scotch tape.
NJ/TSC: Do you wear Victoria’s Secret or Fredric’s of Hollyweird? Liberty Belle: Neither! They’re too expensive.
NJ/TSC: Who makes up your audience?
Liberty Belle: My audience is 40% straight with the rest being gay. They bring their Mother’s to see me. Why would they do that? My own Mother didn’t’ like my act. She didn’t get it. I told her that the jokes were gay so of course she wouldn’t get it. If she did, I’d be worried! NJ/TSC: Is unsafe sex a problem in Birmingham?
Liberty Belle: Yes! People have gone back to square one acting like people did before Aids came along. I used to fill up the condom jar four times in an evening. Now I fill it every 2 weeks. I’m glad that they started testing in the bars. They do it with a swab and it doesn’t take long. I took one on stage to let everyone know that it didn’t hurt and not to be afraid to fill out the form. I told them to use the name John Smith. They’re going to be assigned a number anyway. Are you into safe sex?
NJ/TSC: I’ve been celibate for the past 6 years.
Liberty Belle: It’s been 6 minutes for me. Actually I love to go onto the Internet where I can be 17 again. It’s the safest sex on the planet. NJ/TSC: Chat Rooms right?
Liberty Belle: Yes!
NJ/TSC: How does today’s generation compare to the generation of the past day?
Liberty Belle: They’re mean, don’t care, don’t get, and are filled with apathy. When I was protesting the sodomy laws no one showed up for the benefits or took on town hall.
NJ/TSC: What was your favorite era?
Liberty Belle: The 70’s and early 80’s when Drag made a comeback thanks to Boy George. People became more accepting of Drag.
NJ/TSC: Do you cook?
Liberty Belle: My idea of cooking is reservations. I dine at Mc Donald’s! I don’t cook! I’m not domestic and I’m not a homebody. I like to go out and have fun. I know that there’s a vacuum cleaner here somewhere but I don’t know how to use it nor do I want to. My idea of fine dining is a square fish sandwich, fries, and bourbon mixed with coke. Light a candle and you got a nice candle lit dinner for one.
NJ/TSC: What do you think of today’s Drag Queens?
Liberty Belle: It’s all ego! They’re too serious and they think that they’re on Broadway. They also have a bad attitude which I don’t put up with. I’ve shown one too many young Drag Queens the door for being rude and dishing out a negative attitude.
NJ/TSC: The latest crap being dished in the gay media is that the high number of HIV/AIDS and STD’s are a result from rejection and low-self worth and self-esteem. Care to comment?
Liberty Belle: Who wrote that article, a homopho? I don’t believe everything that I read in the paper or hear on the news. I used to work in journalism, so I know what goes on. The Gay Community is filled with self-hatred towards each other. They treat each other bad and it’s one big giant bitch!
NJ/TSC: How do you define yourself?
Liberty Belle: As a effeminate man who made a living from it.
NJ/TSC: Are you spiritual?
Liberty Belle: I’m a Wiccan! I don’t cast spells or anything like that. I believe in loving everyone with their doing the same. I’ve been a Wiccan since I was 15 years old.
NJ/TSC: Who do you want to see as the next President?
Liberty Belle: John Kerry! He’s going to be the next President.
NJ/TSC: What causes are you supporting?
Liberty Belle: Gay Adoption, Gay Rights, and Gay Marriage. I feel that Gay Marriage is going to be settled in the Supreme Court. Since your marriage isn’t recognized outside of the State where you’re married isn’t valid nowhere else it’s a waste of time.
NJ/TSC: How many relationships have you had?
Liberty Belle: I had one lover for 19 years who was killed in a car accident. His name is Robert and he’s the only man who I wanted to be with. Now, I’m not looking for a long term relationship. NJ/TSC: What type of man suits your fancy?
Liberty Belle: Believe it or not, an effeminate man. I dated a 22 year old effeminate guy for 6 months. We’re still friends. We went out to dinner dressed as two effeminate men with my looking like his Grandmother. Plus with an effeminate man I can double my wardrobe. I believe that you should fall in love with the type of person who you are. Someone most like you. You’re attracted to who you are.
NJ/TSC: You’re 22 today, so you two are the same age.
Libery Belle: I’m going to be 65 in November. And I’m still going to perform and do things to help people while enjoying myself. I’m still packing a bar. The bar where I perform holds 75 people and I bring in 300 people and have no less than 200. I host live shows twice a week where the Drag Queens sing in their own voice. They sing like women it’s not Frank Sinatra in an evening gown.
NJ/TSC: What do you like to do when you’re not onstage?
Liberty Belle: I love Pro Wrestling! I’m their biggest fan. I watch it and go to matches.
NJ/TSC: You’re amazing!
Liberty Belle: Thank you! NJ/TSC: How would you like to be remembered?
Liberty Belle: As the entertainer who wanted to make people happy. If I can make one person smile and feel good I did my job. On my tombstone I plan on putting; “I’ll be back!
In the olden days, the interview ended when the tape ran out. In modern times such as now the interview ends when the battery in the cell phone runs out. This concludes Gay History 101 on the life of a Drag Queen past, present and future.
© Nevin Jefferson, All Rights Reserved