Friday 1 May 2020

Interview with Dina Jacobs

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Dina Jacobs, a Hawaii entertainer, a star at the famed Chicago drag club, The Baton Show Lounge, proud holder of 70 beauty contest titles, and Houston’s Grande Dame of Drag. Her biography "Forever Her Mother's Son: The Dina Jacobs Story" (2020) was published a couple of months ago.
Dina, You look fantastic! What is the secret of your beauty?
Dina: Actually, I'm very fortunate. My Mom and Dad had great DNA. This year in February I turned 73 years old. I've been doing shows since 1964. I started my career in Honolulu, Hawaii, and I worked as a female Impersonator for 56 years!
Monika: You began your career in The Clouds, a gay bar in Honolulu where all artists performed live. Do you remember your first show, dress, or reaction of the audience?
Dina: During my first show I sang live and I did emceeing, it was also the first time when my Mom ever saw me as a woman. Back then we didn't have any pantomime, so you either danced or you sang. We had a three-piece Orchestra all the time. That is how it was in 1964 and continued until I left in 1970.

Courtesy of Dina Jacobs.

Monika: What was your mother's reaction when she saw you on stage dressed as a woman? Was she surprised?
Dina: I think my Mom was surprised that I look halfway decent but when the first time she saw me I had already left home. To be quite honest, I had run away. Actually, it was more than her because my two sisters came to see me, too. Anyway, it was shocking to see my Mom there, so I left the club.
Monika: In the late 1960s, you moved to California. You did not want to stay in Honolulu?
Dina: After my career started in 1970, we were asked to do a show in Los Angeles, and I wanted to see what it was like outside of Hawaii. I liked living on the mainland where it just seemed like there was more to do. So I decided to stay. I often go home back to Hawaii and visit my family. They're all there.
Monika: How did you start there?
Dina: In Los Angeles, my first job was doing a show at the Redwood Room. It was a small little intimate club, and the people there were just really really appreciative of what we were doing.
Monika: The trans community must have been much bigger in Los Angeles than in Honolulu...
Dina: Well, the trans community in Hawaii was much bigger and was much closer than any place or any since then that I've ever seen! The Hawaiian queens were also a close-knit group. We all supported each other.
Monika: At that time, was it difficult to buy hormones? I guess it was helpful to have so many trans sisters around ...
Dina: Actually, hardly anyone back in the '60s knew about hormones. We just did drag. You need to realize there was no way of finding information on becoming a woman. Back then, we had to hide most of our time. Except for the shows, we had to hide our daytime drag. So if you passed as a woman it was fine but you couldn't walk around looking half half. They would not like that, and the police would take action and arrest you.
Monika: It must have been hell for all girls that did not pass. Was it possible to have any cosmetic operations?
Dina: Yes, but it was very expensive back then. In addition, there were not too many doctors who would actually do that. Our job opportunities were limited to just drag shows. Back in the sixties and seventies, nobody would hire you if you were gay or transgender. Basically, they were afraid of all the problems that it would entail.
Courtesy of Dina Jacobs.
Monika: How did you prepare for the shows? Did anyone help you with dresses, hairstyles, and makeup?
Dina: When I first started, it was really hard because I didn't know anything about makeup. I lived with six other queens. We all shared wigs and make-up tips, and that's how I really learned everything. They taught me my professional creativity too.
Monika: Who was your fashion or music inspiration?
Dina: Actually my fashion sense came from magazines. I wasn't looking at the pictures; I was looking at the clothing and how it was prepared, and how all matched.
As far as music is concerned, I loved such women as Sarah Vaughn or Nancy Wilson that could really sing. Their voices were seasoned the older they got, and I really appreciated that.
Monika: After a couple of months in California, you ended up in Chicago. How did you find the job at the Baton?
Dina: After spending six months in California, I went back to Hawaii, and then I got a job in Minneapolis. We traveled to Canada then back to California, and then we went to Chicago where my girlfriend, who worked with us in Hawaii, told me about the show at the Baton. She asked me to audition because there was an opening there. So I turned up there and the next week I got the job!
You have to understand that at that time there were no live singers. I was able to sing, so in Chicago, I was the only real singer! In other words, I was a novelty act because I could sing! 

Monika: How did the other Baton girls welcome you?
Dina: The Baton girls were wonderfully accepting. Being from Hawaii, I got along with all of them, every single one. It was a very tight-knit show, and I got along with the owner Jim Flint.
Monika: How were the girls selected at the Baton? You mentioned already singing skills.
Dina: Well, I can only answer for how I was selected because when I came in at the store, the show had already started in 1969. So I really don't know how they were selected but the Baton had some incredibly talented girls, among them Audrey Bryan, Peaches, and Lady Baronessa (Miss Gay America 1974).
Monika: I was reading somewhere that the Baton girls were so talented and beautiful that they used to receive many marriage proposals from the audience. Did you get them too?
Dina: Oh no girl, that's funny, no, I got no proposals. I had a boyfriend but I got no proposal, and I don't know of any other of the girls. I think that's a myth.

Monika: Have you ever got married?
Dina: No Sweetie, I have never ever even thought of it. I don't want nobody to hold me down.

Courtesy of Dina Jacobs.

Monika: No dream of being a beautiful bride?
Dina: No, Sweetheart. I'm very content and happy with my life. At one point, I thought when I was younger that I would have loved to be involved in a marriage but I've faced so many trials and tribulations of my own that I don't think anybody could be part of that what I've been through.
I really enjoy the state of living my life alone. I have a lot of friends and family that are always there to support me and that is my marriage.
Monika: What happened to your drag career after the Baton?
Dina: Atlanta came calling! I worked there, then I traveled all over the world performing in South America, mostly in Canada, and eventually, I got here in Texas. I am immeasurably blessed, and I am happy about the fact that I can still maintain relevance as to what I do.
Monika: What was the most memorable show outside of the US?
Dina: I would have to say, San Paulo. We worked at Club Medieval. It was an incredible experience; every night it was packed, and that's where I met my boyfriend Jose. Nothing really ever came out of it except it was just a South American fling, I guess you call it. By the way, did you purchase my book?
Monika: I did not, I must say. Would you recommend it?
Dina: Well, it's honest. There's no way I would have been unreal about anything about my life. I've always been an open book to everybody; I have nothing to hide or be ashamed of. I think it's a good read, and it lets you know, especially people that are going through their own transitions, what we went through back in the day, so we could make it easier for most of the people in America, who cross-dress, who are transsexual, who are transvestite, whatever. Nowadays it's a much easier game for them.

Monika: You transitioned in your thirties. You did not regret doing this so late?
Dina: It was my choice to start at 30, I wanted to make sure I had a whole head of hair. I was not going to transition, and I had to wear wigs all the time. I just found it to be crazy and I had to do electrolysis. So I had to do it right, I mean I wanted it to be possible for me more than for anybody else.

Monika: At the time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you could follow?
Dina: Actually you know, I always felt like leaving my own life and doing my own thing. I didn't want to make anybody a role model; that would be asking for too much! So I decided to be my own role model.
Monika: What was your reaction when you heard about Stonewall?
Dina: In Hawaii, we were fighting way before Stonewall ever happened. We did it for our freedom and for our rights. When we were walking the streets there, we had to wear badges that said: "I am a boy". So Stonewall was basically important for America but we were already doing this in Hawaii.

Courtesy of Dina Jacobs.

Monika: Was it spontaneous or there was an organization that supported such actions in Honolulu?
Dina: It was pretty much spontaneous. We all knew what we were getting ourselves into, so yeah, there was no organization.
Monika: Someone counted that you won 70 beauty pageant contests. Do you remember your first pageant? What did you feel at that time?
Dina: It was a little pageant. It was named Miss Universe, and I was Miss Afro America 1968. I didn't care anything about being pretty, I just wanted the audience to see my talents at work. 
Monika: I guess your first "big" pageant was Miss Continental, right? You participated in three such pageants in the 80s ...
Dina: Yes, Miss CONTINENTAL was my first big pageant, I ended up 2nd runner up. But in 1981, I took over the MISS GAY USA! I've entered more than 80 pageants in my career, and I REALLY enjoyed doing PAGEANTS. I'm still at (73) doing PAGEANTS!
Monika: Amazing!!! Have you ever dreamed about taking part in a beauty pageant for cis-women? These days it is possible, though many people criticize it.
Dina: If they have one for older QUEENS... LOL

Monika: After many pageants and shows, you left showbiz to return to Hawaii where you reared the children of your siblings ...
Dina: Well, I returned to Hawaii in 1999. Unfortunately, I got deathly ill. Due to the fact that Hawaii has the best health services, I got well! In 2011, I was invited to Texas and that's where I'm at today. 
Monika: Do you still perform live? Where can we see you?
Dina: Yes I'm doing live shows in the Country and Western bar. I 💘 it!
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Dina: I've pretty much been happy ever since my MOM accepted me as Dina!
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls reading this interview?
Dina: Have HONOR in yourself. And be as TRUE as you possibly can be. YOU CHOSE THIS PATH IN LIFE, SO LIVE IT HONORABLY ... THANK YOU!
Monika: Dina, thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to you. Your legacy has inspired many girls before, and I am sure it will continue to do so in the future too.

All the photos: courtesy of Dina Jacobs (Facebook).
© 2020 - Monika Kowalska

Forever Her Mother's Son: The Dina Jacobs Story: A Walk Through the Life of a Transgender Drag Performer by Dr. Larry Dwayne Ponder
is available on Amazon.

Dina responded, I don't want my own club. I don't want that responsibility. What she thought, but didn't say, included thoughts about having received such a gesture, should the relationship not work out, where would she be then? Would I be in a hole? Would he no longer support the club? He then said, Well that is your loss.

For several years, Jerry would show up at the Miss Continental pageants and ask if she needed anything. Jerry once offered to pay for Dina to have a sex change operation. He said he would take care of whatever she needed. Dina thought about it but was afraid that the good feelings that she experienced and the feeling she had “down there” when she was aroused would be gone and she couldn't imagine not experiencing those sensations.

She decided that how she looked was more important than what was in her underwear. She concluded that a sex-change operation below the waist was not for her. She did not want it. She felt that she would always be her mother's son, no matter what was between her legs.

The excerpt from the book: courtesy of Dina Jacobs. 

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