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Detroit’s ‘drag queen’ Natalie Cole a black role model

By |2018-01-16T12:45:16-05:00February 22nd, 2007|News|

By Kimya Afi Ayodele

In this third, and final, installment of unsung African-American same-gender loving and transgender heroines and heroes in honor of Black Herstory/History month,
I introduce you to Detroit’s own, female impersonator Natalie Cole.
Living one’s life, in one’s entire unique splendor, takes pride and it takes courage. I believe all who do, are living herstory/history makers. I don’t think this any more evident then in the Transgender community. The transgender community, or “T” community, is very near and dear to me and this series would not have been complete without including them. At my previous place of employment, I had the wonderful opportunity to love and learn from many young, African-American “T” girls who I believe are in desperate need of mentoring from role models that “mirror” them. It is with them in my mind, and on my heart, that I am writing this story.
Living and experiencing possible discrimination based upon one’s gender identity or one’s gender expression can be quite challenging, and even more so, within one’s own cultural membership group. In the words of Natalie Cole, “The African-American gay community and the African-American ‘T’ community need more togetherness.”
It is my hope that by spotlighting the life of one person, I will introduce the life of a woman who I believe lives her life everyday as one of these positive mentors and role models. It is also my hope that the stereotypes and stigmas within the African-American SGL community will be reduced so that the necessary dialogue and acceptance needed to foster the togetherness that Cole speaks about can begin.
On Feb. 3, I had the double first-time experiences of going to the Rainbow Room and of observing a “drag queen” show. I also later learned that this year marks Cole’s 25th anniversary as a female impersonator and her sixth year with the Rainbow Room where she performs every Friday and Saturday evening.
She very graciously invited me to arrive at the club early so that I could speak with her before her performance. As I sat in her dressing room and watched her add the final touches to her already natural beauty, I asked Cole to talk about whatever she felt comfortable sharing as it related to her journey. She shared that while a freshman in college studying special education, she began female impersonation. She further stated that in 1985 she began female hormone treatments and has been living her life as the woman she is ever since.
A close high school friend suggested the name, Natalie Cole, and after a performance at the now closed Famous Door club, her career was off and running. Cole has many awards sponsored by other clubs, including, most recently, Ms. Gold Coast 2006-2007. She is also employed as a female and has worked as a caregiver for those living with developmental challenges and disabilities for the past 10 years. Additionally,Cole adds that it was definitely a struggle for her family to accept her at the beginning of her journey, but the family, which includes her mother, a sister and a brother, are all very close now. She also has a 23 year-old daughter.
My final question to Natalie Cole was what words of wisdom and advice could she give to young, African-American “T” girls and these are her words: “Always be true to yourself, be safe and be knowledgeable about diseases, especially HIV.”
Indeed.
With that, I was off to take my seat in the loud, thick smoked bar amongst the diverse crowd of folks warming up to one another and their drink of choice. Meeting Ms. Cole, and then watching her perform, in all of her statuesque beauty, was definitely an unforgettable experience for me!
Please join me in acknowledging, celebrating and honoring the herstory making Ms. Natalie Cole! Thank you for joining me over the past three weeks. I certainly hope that you have not only learned about someone that you did not know, but that you were also inspired by their life to live your unique life to its fullest.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.