Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Hiding My Candy: The Autobiography Of The Grand Empress Of Savannah

This book was written by a one-of-a-kind class act. A performance artist who is her own body of work. As a performer, she does more than wear glittering gowns, dance & lip sync. She banters w/ the audience. When speaking of herself, she does so w/ a disarming irony that has become her trademark. With infinite grace, her brand of female impersonators is a tribute to women - not a parody. As seen in The Midnight Between Good & Evil for one w/ class and sass, here is the REAL, TRUE story Hiding My Candy from The Doll herself: The Lady Chablis.

Originally born Benjamin Edward Knox in Quincy, Florida on 3-11-1957.  Living with his Grandmother, Anna Mae Ponder. The quiet dignity that prevailed in his grandmother's world set the tone for the way they lived. She didn't believe in raising her hand or voice. His real mother was only there a few months after giving birth. A few months longer than his father. His mom had moved to Chicago to go to nursing school. Often being told, her ambitions were understandably accountable for her absence. She may have called often, but never returned until Benjamin was 9. That's 3 years prior to his father's first appearance. From infancy to age 6, Benjamin's companion & protector was his mother's sister, Aunt Katie Bell. Although not in poverty, his grandmother struggled while raising 3 other daughters + him. The family wanted for nothing. NEVER taking a handout from others, aside from his grandmother's employers.

It wasn't just care they got from their grandmother, her GREATEST gift to the family, aside from care, was the support she set by her nurturing of friendship and her charity towards others. Being  taught early that it doesn't cost a penny to be nice and what's returned in the bargain is priceless. She made damn sure her daughter's knew that there was a future for them, and that's why her daughter's all went to college. Benjamin's grandfather had passed away 10 years before he was born. His grandmother was one to feed anyone who was hungry. The spirit in which he was raised: Open doors. Open hearts. Open fridge. A MAJOR preoccupation was the local Baptist church. Sunday services were a MAJOR part of their lives. An all-day affair that was just fine. It was an opportunity for Benjamin to perform. He was an usher and impressively an Assistant Superintendent Of The Sunday School. A kid expected to make ALL speeches in front of the crowd. EVERYONE LOVED it. The keyword for it was: performance. This was where The Doll learned to monopolize an audience.

Benjamin Knox
Benjamin was the first openly and flamboyant gay person he knew of in his hometown. He was protected by his family. His grandmother's bound-less love for him would never have allowed her to harp on the fact of making drastic changes. No matter what everybody else thought, Benjamin was really a lil' girl with candy. His childhood world was so tiny that not until junior high did he ever have a reason to cross Highway 90.  Their new house was destiny enough for The Doll. His grandmother preferred her entertainment from a radio which was glued to a gospel station. Nature was Benjamin's best friend and his sense of amusement & curiosity - long before the candy. The little creek behind their house transported him to other worlds within his imagination. As much as he loved his grandmother, Benjamin needed a male role model in his life. Becoming more conscious when they moved to their new house. Acknowledging something was different about the household that was only filled with women.

John Berendt
In the company of a man, Benjamin would be jumping up & down, swishing about and flirting up a storm. Sexual attraction hit Benjamin early. In his grandmother's way, her sweet & subtle reminders that it was all right to be helpful, just not too domestic were that one day he'd assume the responsibilities of manhood. A gentle request to find something boyish to occupy his time with. Boyhood seemed like a fine way to start. Benjamin couldn't tell you very much about his father. He was called by the name Frank, which is the name Benjamin used as his own in John Berendt's book. His dad came into his life on a visit once to Quincy when he was 12. Brief & awkward. No affection or feeling whatsoever. Too much time had passed. The next thing he knew, Benjamin was being sent to live w/ his father for the summer in New York. He did NOT like ANY of his son's femininity. You could tell. He lived in the Harlem area of New York City. That summer in 1969, it was just the 2 of them plus his dad's girlfriend in a cramped 1-bedroom apartment.

On the entertainment front, Benjamin's father's patience was thin, so he decided - on his girlfriend's assistance - to enroll his son in a sewing course at the Harlem Institute Of Fashion. A friend of her's was an instructor there, suggesting it to his father. Benjamin was being taught lessons that would come in handy later in life. Due to being a kid and not really knowing him, he felt uncomfortable and was ready to be home at a moment's notice. Benjamin wondered if being at his dad's was an invite or a force by his mom. To this day, Benjamin/The Doll has NO lingering feelings for his dad. They never got to KNOW each other. When his dad died of cancer in 1984, his funeral was the next/last time Benjamin would see him again. He only attended due to being his only child and what Benjamin was taught was proper. The family of the deceased persisted on making a scene due to a demure little black dress that proved complimentary that Benjamin tastefully wore for the woman he would become. Benjamin began crying and left the church. Following him from behind was an aunt who tried to comfort him. Benjamin thought his dad KNEW of his son/lil' girl.

He spent his entire childhood withholding hope of his mother's return w/ a photo. His mother & father went their separate ways after she was pregnant, divorcing a few years after he was born and she was living in Illinois. All of Benjamin's memories w/ his mom was one winding & turbulent tour down a path of misery. When she finally returned, Benjamin was 9 and his mother was pregnant. She had an uptown woman's attitude, which impressed, but also mildly scared Benjamin. His grandmother had no idea what was in store to return her grandson to his mother. Benjamin wanted to stay put, but his grandmother thought it was best he return to his mother and her new husband. Benjamin's 4-yr-old younger half-brother, Jerome plus a third on the way w/ her husband. (His mother had 2 other children, both of them older. 3 children total w/ 3 men to match the name.)

Benjamin's mom practiced nursing at Sunnyland Hospital in Tallahassee and also ran a jukejoint. His mom's husband had his own dry cleaning business. The only conversation between Benjamin & his stepfather was when working at his stepfather's store, praying at dinner or at church. Most of his affection was shown taking Benjamin to Shoney's for a burger or a ride on Sunday's in his car after church.  Given the treatment of a stepchild. Due to the food, clothing & shelter he was given, for Benjamin, it must've been some kind of love shown; not just a sense of duty shown. That's what Benjamin thought.

That sense of duty connected Benjamin to extreme paranoia that as a 10-yr-old was confusing & insecure. He figured his stepfather's biological children had it GOOD in favoritism as far as a pecking order went. Christmas was always seen as a religious holiday: Church w/ NO EXTRAS. One particular Christmas, Benjamin finally got up the nerve to ask his mom for a bicycle he wanted so badly, a girl's bike w/ no handlebars. It must've worked. Finding it miraculously under the table. He FELT all of their love right there. But, he wasn't unable to ride it for the next 2 months. He was ecstatic! After preparing himself, the bike & making it his style, he was riding it w/ glee & happy to be free. If he was more careful on that first day, he was sideswiped by a dark-green flash of machinery that totaled the bike. But, Benjamin didn't suffer so much as a scratch.

Benjamin always wanted a party similar to what was seen in The Mickey Mouse Club. For his 11TH, his mom actually threw him a party! After having invited guests, planning & decorating, there it was: a birthday party. For his gift, he'd asked for a record player and there it was. Before the party began, his mom told him to leave. Probably a distraction, but NO! When he eventually got the record player, he couldn't use it due to no money for records. Due to a harsh reality, Benjamin's childhood devoted to fantasy, aside from school. Always good grades. When he got to Quincy Junior High in the 6TH grade, Benjamin's love for school came to a screeching halt, thanks to a teacher who taught a class KNOWN w/ all boys. Benjamin was hitting puberty.

The teacher HUMILIATED Benjamin in front of the class due to his sexuality. He had never heard the word homosexuality before. He was so humiliated he fled the room in defeat. Going to see his English teacher whom he was close to. The English teacher left her room to confront the other teacher. Ordering an IMMEDIATE apology.

For Benjamin's mom & stepdad, the shame factor was too great to bear. They took to "exorcising the demon seed from him" w/ the fiercest of lashings. Only the outside bruises healed. A preamble to what would be constant for the next 6 years. Very routine. The whole neighborhood could hear EVERYTHING. "Trying to make a boy out of him". They never actually spoke of the beatings - Benjamin & his mom. As time grew, he could SEE her guilt. Leading to her drinking. Benjamin is the only one who respects his mother, out of all of his siblings, who respects his mother for who she is. He was able to let it ALL go, forgiving herself for what she did KNOWING he can't forget. NOW, she shows gratitude & pride of what he's done w/ his life. Benjamin is GRATEFUL! Whether it's The Lady Chablis or not, he KNOWS that for the first time, his mom TRULY loves him.

Benjamin first began window-dressing his own brand of femininity at the age of 14. There were girls who provided The Doll w/ a detour to her personal destiny and, ultimately, some serious access to the ladies room. He began cross-dressing at the age of 14, first as an experiment that rooted from rebellion against his mom. Building his wardrobe as a matter of course. The girls, the Reeves sisters, provided guidance/support within his fashions. Initially, his change was something he wanted to play w/ privately. When he finally got up the nerve to attend school in his lil' girl pantsuit w/ handbag in tow, Benjamin discovered most of the teachers actually liked his look. After their amusement, maybe even attempting to hold back a giggle. They were TRULY marveling at their bravado, even if it publicly re-enforced the teachers announcements.

No one sent Benjamin to the Principal's office, even within reason. A year or so later, no compliments could make him want to stay in school. Lipstick became a FULL time refuge. Benjamin began skipping class on a regular basis to practice applying makeup. He was depressed most of the time because he wanted his femininity FULLY visible. NO appearances in front of his mom & stepfather. The day he received his last beating, Benjamin's mom had left for work early and arrived home to see him in FULL drag, drinking his stepfather's beer and entertaining the boys next door in the middle of the living room. He remembered begging her to stop. His sister, Cynthia, took him in for awhile after arriving at her door: a blood-soaked transvestite-in-training and worse for the wear. He told her about the abuse. ALL 6 years worth. She was as sympathetic as could be; considering being cut off from financial aid from their mom. Leaving Benjamin a couple of weeks of the hospitality to find his next move.

Not far from his mom were the projects. A neighbor of his mother's noticed Benjamin crying. After hearing of his troubles, he couldn't take it anymore. Connie, the neighbor, was like an answered prayer. Taking him back to her place and calling his mother. His was GOING TO stay w/ Connie. Connie didn't seem to care he was gay. From that day on, she supported him in every way. Connie was the mother Benjamin wished he had. This particular time in his life gave him the advantages of freedom he could never experience before. Connie was carefree & independent. She never once left him forget that he turned out to be the child she'd longed to name. So Benjamin took "Chablis" w/ her blessing & gratitude. He told her he'd find good use for it someday. He wasn't working or going to school, but Connie'd give him some pocket money whenever she could. Whatever she had, she shared. Connie was being "kept". Treating Benjamin like her own child & responsibility. NO OUNCE of negativity. ALWAYS positive!

It was like Benjamin was back in the love & arms of his grandmother - but w/ Connie. Through Connie, Benjamin seen right then what a MAMA was supposed to do/be. Showing a MOTHER'S love, including making a spare room into Benjamin's room. He felt he had won the lottery. A room the color of heaven w/ the quilt to match. Connie taught him to organize & display his closet. He had one album Make It Easy On Yourself. Although having the freedom to dress as he pleased, Benjamin did keep a reserve suit & tie in his closet to wear to church w/ Connie. Out of respect for Jesus Christ, he'd never go to church dressed as a girl. That would've been too much even in an era of gay liberation. Nowadays, there's no hesitation to be in the church.

Outside of church, Benjamin was ready. From head to toe! That's how often you'd have seen The Doll combing the boulevard of Quincy. NOT GIVING A SHIT what others thought, including his mother. On his journey to self-awareness, Benjamin had begun hanging out w/ a girl who eventually became his first real female mentor. She lived directly across the street from where he lived in the projects w/ Connie. Miss Rhond, as Benjamin called her, whom was 8 years older. What Benjamin loved about her was that she always made him feel genuine. Always using proper prefixes. Acknowledging the woman he was becoming. She gladly coached him in the many ways a gal withholds her mystery. Miss Rhond taught him what he needed to know.

The sound of Miss Rhond's voice signaled the start of a new day's escapades. It was Miss Pee-Wee's Playhouse, a room that became a shrine to Benjamin's maturing process. Exploring himself without explanation. Needless to say, Benjamin was losing scholastic interest fast. Benjamin wanted adulthood & FAST! What he was now tasting was ANYTHING better than he knew up until then. After the trauma he endured w/ his mother, his teen years were going to be his time to relax. Benjamin was in the 9TH grade when he moved in w/ Connie, which hurt her to see Benjamin gave up in his sophomore year.  She couldn't force him to go. He would go anywhere but school. Ultimately, he chose to leave.

Around this time, Benjamin would get involved w/ other boys in town. The kindly folks in Quincy already KNEW who & what he was. ACCEPTING him for who he is. Working his God-given talents to the Max. Enhanced now by the magic of Miss Rhond, Benjamin's cosmetic transition was all but complete. There was no question The Doll was coming of age, just in time for her 16TH birthday.

Just being herself at age 16 meant lots of solitary hours figuring out how to resolve what The Doll felt was right about herself, so it could be understanding to others. Benjamin was different from most other members of his natural sex. He was born a woman. The Doll educated the folks of Quincy who'd begun to accept her visible femininity. At least appreciating what made her different. He was perceived as a girl 'cause she carried herself as one. If she was seen as odd, she was likably odd! She would spend her Saturday nights when she was 10-or-11 helping her mother out, so she wouldn't be seen leaving the premises - since she was breaking the law bootlegging. Providing the booze run for Quincy's Finest, her mom's first customers. Nothing changed in the last 6 years. Benjamin was obliged to their local political, whom wasn't looking for a pint of gin when Benjamin would come, courteously offering her a ride of her choice. The politician was wanting himself some of The Doll.

In exchange for these "sessions", the politician would give Benjamin $10 or a carton of Winston's. Apart from the politician's privacy, Benjamin also wanted this official as a repeat customer, among other WELL-respected members of the community. These were the folks who taught him about grown-up physical expression when he decided who & what he was going to be. The Doll was something they definitely knew they wanted. It was a very consensual learning experience that occurred for a couple of years during the prime of her burgeoning girlhood. Benjamin never actually lost his virginity until the age of 21. What he enjoyed as a teenager was a kind of physical exploration. Plain and simple.

Benjamin was also known for the occasional lapse of judgment w/ the law. Mostly caught underage drinking in a bar. One other time was for petty theft. Benjamin's first significant bit of grand larceny was not without a judicial consequence. After recently getting her ears pierced by Miss Rhonda, you can't go on w/ the starter earrings forever + they go with so few outfits. She needed to sparkle, but also needed a job. What's a girl to do when she hasn't made a penny from tips? She trots over to the department store and steals herself a big, fat pair of gold hoops similar to Cleopatra Jones. On the advice of someone along w/ her after looking for the right pair, she just opened her purse to give her new earrings a free fall. Benjamin's stealing tactics sadly came in second to the one she was with.

Benjamin's criminal stage was over in the flash as security cornered her, snatched her purse and retrieved the earrings while the salesgirl called the police. Her only impulse was to call her her grandmother, who was forced to leave work and hightail it over to the juvenile court. The Doll was never sorrier than the day her grandmother told the judge to leave Benjamin right where she was. Not once did her grandmother come to visit. Not a letter. Nothing. A lesson well-learned. Never wanting to hurt her grandmother, The Doll vowed never to steal again.

Jail wasn't so bad for Benjamin. While the legal system treated Benjamin like a guy, the inmates sure didn't. Before that, she never knew if her allure was on account of Miss Rhonda or if it was of her own fashion sense. In jail, she had to reply on herself for makeup techniques. There were inmates that were looking out for him. She was released after 25 days on good behavior. Returning to Connie's just in time for the Christmas holiday. During her stay with Connie, Benjamin had a mild fling w/ a man who had himself a fling on The Doll. Problem was he was married w/ 3 kids. She made a rule to only see him every other weekend. Life for The Doll was becoming one, big scandalous soap opera filled w/ mischief. The Doll was one who TRULY wasn't one to hold her liquor well. Due to a bad experience, she learned to hold herself well. After that experience, he KNEW he had to get out of Quincy.

Proof of that theory was realized 10 years later when The Doll went home to see her family and dropped in on Miss Rhond. Miss Rhond looked horrible and The Doll could TELL she was on crack and an alcoholic. It was heartbreaking. There was MORE to the world than the juke joints of that Florida town. When she came back to Quincy, Benjamin was convinced life could get better elsewhere. She was getting restless staying w/ Connie, but it wouldn't be the last time he'd ever see her. Life evolved their discovering themselves. Connie, due to her religion, now condemns the very thing she once encouraged. To this day, they can't even talk about it.

After leaving Connie's, Benjamin moved to Tallahassee to live w/ her Aunt Katie Bell for about a year 1/2 when she was 16 & 17. She always had a room for Benjamin. Coming & going as she pleased. Taking off to Miami one weekend. After getting a little carried away w/ a boy, a gun was pointed to his head. After The Doll tricked him w/ sage wise advice, he let her go. Warning her not to hide her T (her Truth) like that again. TRULY SHAKING Benjamin to her core. After returning to Tallahassee, The Doll restricted herself to the safety of the gay clubs. His first was The Fox Trot, where she met the person who would impact her future rivaling what his grandmother & Connie did for his past. His real name was Cliff Taylor, but Benjamin would later know him as Miss Tina Devore.

Cliff Taylor was the first guy Benjamin ever met in Quincy who dressed up. Miss Tina Devore was about 7 years older, who was just starting in drag entertainment when they met. Benjamin had never heard of drag himself at this point. Hanging out w/ Miss Tina any chance he could, whom seen Benjamin's fascination w/ performance in a skirt. Miss Tina introduced him to the idea that he would have what it takes to perform onstage, if he was willing to learn the ropes. Benjamin was almost 18 at the time. When Miss Tina returned from one of her many trips to Tallahassee, she offered to let Benjamin stay w/ her if she ever considered moving to Georgia. After going to his Aunt Katie, it was time for him to move on! If anything happened, he had Aunt Katie Bell to fall on. Arriving in Atlanta in 1974.

Miss Tina had herself an apartment in downtown Atlanta. Although living w/ roommates, Benjamin still had to find a way to earn a living. The roommates introduced him to a career in prostitution. Learning the ropes watching them. After seeing a statute of the Virgin Mary on a John's dashboard, he began weeping. Dawning on her how sleazy this procedure was. After this one-and-only stint, he cried poverty to Miss Tina, whom understood. She suggested he do the upcoming talent show at The Onyx. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. As a talent, she sang Melba Moore. The Doll took home the first of her 4 crowns. As a result of her victory, a cameo spot at The Onyx once or twice a month. Gaining a whole new audience w/ tips and a new wardrobe. After one contest came the sponsor of another for Miss Chez Cabaret.

After having his get-up together, this was Benjamin's first professional contest w/ excitement and honor. Winning that too! An Atlanta gay magazine w/ photo & article was published about him winning this title. The Lady Chablis' first honor and first publicity clipping. Being hired at the Onyx took notice and have her as a regular cast member. Thanks to Connie & Miss Tina putting a new twist on the name, her stage name is/now The Lady Chablis. A faithful customer basis.The owner of the Onyx was a very bigoted white man who let it be known. Drag offered The Lady a legitimate way to earn a living not as an impersonator, but as a woman. One of the downfalls of being a performer was the commentary.

The Lady had a home and a job that first year in Atlanta. She was introduced to "hormones" from some of the prostitutes she knew. When she found out about them, she was more than mildly curious of how to acquire them. She was sent to a big midtown hospital to call a physician. After explaining what she wanted and being sent to a psychiatrist for a month as part of the deal/course. The psychiatrist determined what she was and wanted to be, only without the license to report to the doctor. Taking what medicines needed for the transition, based on doctor's orders. After the 2ND week of medicines, the doctor increased the hormone treatments. The Lady began noticing other changes to the body. Next came the electrolysis, but had to be stopped after they were too costly. Her name began getting out to other clubs in Atlanta, where they'd be hearing about The Lady Chablis. Chablis was getting noticed, building a reputation and somewhat of a following. After one more derogatory name calling, she wasn't seeing a penny more in her paycheck, she up & quit The Onyx.

Since The Doll had to make some serious decisions, she resigned herself to pound the pavement as a professional woman. Qualifying for a job was easy. The tough part was whether they questioned the name she chose to put on the application:Brenda Dale Knox. The truth was revealed to her employers w/ his SSN during tax time. She only had her name changed legally from Benjamin Edward to Brenda Dale for the last 5 years. The first job she got was at a restaurant called The Prince George Inn, also a gay-owned joint. A lot of other employees at the restaurant knew about her due to having seen her shows. Being a full-time woman wasn't a problem.

Having a little love affair w/ one of the waiter's going on at the restaurant. The Doll found herself slipping into love w/ him. Once word of the affair got out, the kids "teased" the hell out of her. He had turned away from her. The Doll was TRULY hurt due to really caring for him. This boy was Brenda's first significant & serious relationship. Brenda was caught in a whirlwind fantasy.

Brenda quit working at The Prince George Inn in 1975, having a break from the show world. The Doll had moved to Atlanta to seek her dream. Without another drag job lined up, Brenda went to work for Eckerd's Drugstore, again as Brenda Knox. Around this time, Brenda had moved w/ Miss Tina Devore to a new house in DeKalb County along w/ other drag kids. The first by herself place she ever lived in. Most of all, this afforded Brenda some privacy.

Miss Tina wanted Brenda to live upstairs w/ her, but Brenda needed to be alone. It wasn't that she couldn't live w/ Miss Tina, Brenda was no longer a "drag queen" professionally. She had separated herself from their world socially. This period of time was to be her hiatus from drag; lasting almost half a year. Soon after moving in, Brenda got sick and was laid up for a month in the basement. Her sick leave from work didn't extend to 3 weeks of downtime, so she had to quit her job at Eckard's. Soon, funds stopped coming in. After seeing how she was, Brenda's friend, Linda, was horrified. Linda picked up Brenda's stuff, put Brenda in a housecoat and took her to her place. Miss Linda in a 2 bedroom apartment. A real best girlfriend who began teaching Brenda the ways in a white-woman's world. With the last of a 2-week paycheck, Brenda took the opportunity to open her first checking account. For another job, enter Burlington Coat Factory Outlet as a salesclerk in women's coats.

Next thing Brenda knew, they were moving to an apartment complex called Regency Woods, real uptown. Encouraged by Linda's lush life and their surroundings, Brenda decided to get back to the stage, so she quit  Burlington and began her drag again w/ little contests here & there. Small titles gathered to jump start her abandoned career. After entering the Miss Dixieland Pageant, she won. The Doll was back! NEW & IMPROVED! That win lead to a job offer from The Locker Room. A new experience for her. A bathhouse. A job she looked forward to handling. As an employee/cast member of their show, Brenda was making $175/week more than at the Onyx. All she did back in 1976 was lip-sync and dance. Monologues would come in later. One particular night, Brenda was doing the show and afterward, this gay guy named Danny came up to her.

A fan had a friend w/ him who was leaving for the army. A straight guy who'd never been in a gay bar before. After seeing Brenda's show, he HAD to meet The Doll. The next week, that fan's wish came true! Coming back the following Saturday night, they talked and he couldn't believe Brenda was really a guy. The next thing Brenda knew, he'd come over to Linda's for dinner while she/Linda was out. The Doll was COOKING him a MEAL. The guy never joined the army and from then on they were inseparable. A few months later, he gave Brenda a ring that she CONTINUES to wear. A simple gold band she treasures today! He wanted to marry Brenda. It made her feel REAL! Brenda became the closest thing to family that he had. A + was that they were both making good money. They were both looking to start fresh, w/ having problems finding a place to get settled, Brenda left Linda to herself along w/ others, got a 2 bedroom apartment. Making it a fine foursome.

After winning The Miss Gay World Pageant, Brenda knew it was time to take the action on the road. Play other drag clubs in big cities of the South. The new Lady Chablis had come back, slowly but surely. Traveling the south, including Savannah, GA. After being pulled over by a police officer in Alabama, of course, came in question of I.D., that said Benjamin Knox. Instant terror. She was arrested for "falsification of identification". The officer emptied her purse onto the hood of the car. That's just fuckin' great. Standing there w/ hands cuffed and tears down her face. Although someone else tried to take the rap, the officer whisked The Doll off to jail. When the owner of The Yum Yum Tree bailed her out 6/7 hours later, their friends held her all night and they just cried. They promised to take care of this incident for her. Bail was $20,000. To this day, Brenda's vowing to pay them back. At the court date, Brenda's name came into question by the judge. Due to lack of evidence for the cause of arrest, this case was dismissed! After all of that, Brenda was still Miss Gay World.

The Alabama incident w/ the law really got Brenda thinking about whether she could continue a public life in drag as The Lady Chablis or go back to living as Brenda. She also had to decide if she wanted to be a REAL woman, in the surgical sense, or if Brenda wanted to be a female impersonator, privately & professionally. Brenda had become very reclusive. Similar to a nervous breakdown cited from the trauma of Alabama. Beginning to worry about losing Kenny, who was mostly on the road, dealing w/ what happened to Brenda by herself. Friends did their best to hold her up, while recovering from the incident. Around this time, Brenda was going through her transition, Friends went to her for guidance. A large portion of her own depression centered on her indecision over who & what she was. It wasn't enough to call herself a "woman" when she couldn't physically prove to those in question.

The incident in Alabama was a TRUE wake-up call to REALITY. Brenda needed to go one way or the other QUICK! Putting ALOT of things into question. Whether or not to go back to being Benjamin. There was no such thing as in between. Brenda was beginning to feel as if she wasn't real or sincere somehow - as if she was fooling others. She felt she couldn't be both. One sex on top, another on the bottom. What's more important; your standards or society's? Brenda made the decision for herself. Others didn't have to agree, they had to respect it. It took moving away from Atlanta and coming home to her father's funeral before walking into her grandmother's house wearing a dress. Now she does. After her grandmother seen her in a dress and everything was cool, that was the only acceptance she needed. Everyone else after fell in line after.

Then religion came into it. After being comfortable w/ herself and the approval from those back home, Brenda didn't give a damn about others elsewhere. The only REAL approval was needed from HIGHER UP! After praying for a sign she was doing the right thing, one day all of the sex-change issues came into FOCUS! An operation wasn't the answer, Brenda was ALREADY a woman who kept her candy. An operation would just make things ANATOMIC'LLY CORRECT! She couldn't be the same Lady Chablis without her candy or anyone else, as well as the same person everyone else knew. She would be someone completely different. She would be just another fish. Never again would she be the unique lady she made herself into. After that realization, Brenda felt liberated! It wasn't a matter of yes-or no, she already was. Brenda was already a woman w/ her own personality. Stop playing the roles other people want to see. After that door BOOMED open, Chablis' humor emerged when presenting herself to the world. Finally, she was ready to go back to the gay scene, just out to the clubs; watching the shows, walking through the audiences: The Lady Chablis.

Easing her way back into it, The Doll was a REAL woman, unassociating herself w/ the stage life. Not letting herself on stage define who she is. After going out on the town w/ her fem'nine mystique to a new nightclub w/ friends, there was this table of guys next to them. They began conversing w/ them, agreeing to meet the following weekend. Brenda met and clicked w/ a guy, Shawn. Chatting on the phone. He was there for Brenda throughout it all. Brenda began referring to him as her drag son. After being invited/added to their revue, Brenda was asked to go w/ them for an opening night in Athens, GA to be a fill-in between sets. Their new name: The Men In Motion featuring The Lady Chablis. Someone got sick at the last minute. They couldn't cancel due to a contract. Brenda spoke up right away and brazenly stated she could go do the same as a replacement. Waiting for the day when it was her turn at the mike, now her number was up.

The following weekend, a new club was opening in Atlanta and they were booked to do the same number. This was the first time Brenda was seen w/ a microphone and a monologue. After that appearance, Brenda's phone was ringing off the hook. The Doll played for the crowds. The next thing she knew, the owner invited her back for an encore the following weekend - by herself. She tried her hand at flying solo. Now that rebirthed The Lady Chablis - the girl who could sing, dance & do stand-up. Whenever performing her monologue, she made sure to comb the audience for a victim. Picking on someone is part of the act. Looking for little things to poke fun at. If the joke isn't taken too well, she'll bring the joke back to where the joke is on her. She'll be one with the audience. The Doll makes sure she appreciates their patronage.

The initial visit led to a regular booking and the start of a fan club in Savannah. A few gigs led to 3 nonstop months on the road. FULLY BOOKED! Only glitch was that Brenda and her boyfriend, Kenny, never seen each other. On days she was off, Kenny was gone. Vice versa. Brenda's time had come. She reconciled her demons and sought & achieved what she wanted from a career. After being gone a few weeks, Brenda shot home to pick up some things before leaving that night. Kenny wasn't home. He was supposed to be, but never came home the ENTIRE weekend. Leaving NOTHING behind, no note; notta. Brenda canceled everything due to NOT moving from her position until Kenny came home and knowing he was alright. NOT showing up until that Tuesday w/ a look that Brenda had NEVER seen before. Questioning him once. Letting it slide. After making love, she asked him again. He had cheated on her and Brenda left him. She was crushed.

"It was never the same. You'll do anything for someone you love, except love them again".  - Maggie (Cher in Faithful)

Brenda was enraged! Busting him upside his head w/ an iron. While he tried cleaning himself off with a towel, Brenda looked at him with disgust. While she was HURT! beyond Hell, he dressed & left for the last time.

After that breakup, Brenda knew she needed to replenish and move on! Going back to the only constant in her life; the swing of the gay world. The show stage was where she belonged. Always a win with very few loses. Emotionally, she was lost. The gravity of what she'd done to Kenny sunk in, leaving her to feel suicidal for a month, Staying w/ friends to hide out to collect her thoughts in peace and not be reminded of her divorce. The upside was keeping herself busy w/ work and taking as many outside bookings as she could. Keeping her sane for the first month. Brenda couldn't hide out forever, needing to let friends go on w/ their lives, so she talked them into becoming her roommates at an apartment complex. At least something in her life went on without a hitch. Clicking well w/ new neighbors. Hiding her candy didn't always apply to a man. It became a way of life that infiltrated all avenues of her personal relations.

Brenda's friend & roommate, Shawn, came to every show, brought her gowns & had drinks ready for her. They both had crushes on each other; completely harmless. He was the one who gave Brenda her first REAL Christmas. She was so impressed. Brenda & Shawn were so happy, forgetting her sadness over Kenny. During the course of her show life, Brenda found herself another lover that was WAY MORE abusive than ANY man she knew. Brenda was introduced to Crystal Meth. Becoming a love at first. Experimenting became a habit, hurting her cash flow. If Brenda wasn't going to be domestic any longer, she would have time to fill. Deciding to go into business for herself after spending her life picking up after others. Business caught on. Since "Crystal" couldn't do it herself, it was time to take on an employee. One who turned out to be a decent worker. The Doll started a cleaning service. Dividing up the work & pay equally. Brenda made $700/week total income: Spent as fast as it was made. More dresses. More drugs. To make up what was spent, Brenda added "dealer" to her resume. Money earned became money spent.

Drugs took over Brenda physically. She was a COMPLETE ADDICT w/ Addict-like behavior. For those of you who have seen & lived it, then you know where this is going. After Shawn put a stop to Brenda's drug-addicted rage, she broke down. Shawn put his arm around her comforting her. Taking a long drive to figure out what was next. She had to get out and start over someplace where temptations weren't so great. A friend from the past when she first moved to Atlanta was THERE FOR HER! Brenda's friend, Bill, took her to his home where his roommate lived as well. Bill had begun going to church on a regular basis. An open community church for ALLWELCOMING Brenda to their church w/ open arms. At first, it was STRANGE, but she had/did give it a chance. Being back in a small town was like being thrown in a drunk tank. Sitting on her ass, recuperating and taking her hormones.

Afte regaining her health back & traveling again, it was time for Brenda to move on. She was traveling every other weekend back & forth mostly to work at The Friends Lounge which needed a showcase host, due to almost closing before booking Brenda exclusively. Every time she performed, the place would be packed wall-to-wall just to see The Doll. After being recognized and the bar gaining success, Brenda was hired full-time employment, if she moved to Savannah, GA. Things were SET-UP for her if/when she moved there. For the first time in Brenda's career, she would be  the HEADLINER! w/ her own rules.

From the minute Brenda got to Glorious Savannah, GA, she felt like a gay man's movie star. Her celebrity was visible! No longer having anonymity, she has been recognized & fawned over. Brenda is an attraction, loving every minute of it. In a town the size of Savannah, it's kind of everybody knows everybody; so Brenda was going to take FULL advantage of it. Good for business as well. Whatever she said & went, the crowd was loving it. The Friends Lounge became the setting for The Lady Chablis's coronation as The Grand Empress. THIS was where it all kicked in for her, as well helping her political direction, if they didn't pay any attention to her monologues. Brenda moved in w/ Bobby Ray Benson; Helen Trouble as she was known. Bobby Ray was definitely a gay-community leader, especially in Savannah. She was from money and knew lots of politicians w/ connections, those who knew of her sexuality. Brenda's connection to Bobby Ray would only help her own career, or so she thought.

Bobby Ray gave Brenda the golden opportunity to become The Grand Empress. All sorts of folks were coming to her after the show; inviting her into their homes. Brenda was becoming so popular. Forget being Miss Gay World and the rest. This was so much bigger. Don't get her wrong! She has extreme gratitude. It was time to head back to Atlanta and let everyone know she was still around. After the way things were left, it was time to regain what was lost. She was BACK and ready to win titles. First she had to win the contest.

Wearing the same dress she wore the same year she won Miss Gay World, Brenda wore a black velvet Mae West number to go w/ her outfit - a real sultry look being for simplicity & elegency worked! Talent was performing Patti LaBelle's Little Girl. Making the stage hers. There was NO going back to a city she hated just to be left in the prayer line. This was The Doll's second coming. Talent portion was what won her the title. At The Friend's Lounge now, a new & improved Chablis stalked the stage, and a different following. Jesse McCabe became a loyal fan & customer, as well as a foundation for her in Savannah. When Brenda met Jesse in 1986, he had matured w/ her as a gay man. Watching him grow from shy to confidence in his sexuality. He was also one of those folks whom everybody liked. Jesse showed Brenda Savannah and introduced her around. Becoming a best friend who Brenda could let her guard down, Brenda was able to share the evils of her past but into DETAILS. With Jesse, Brenda could LET HER GUARD DOWN! Jesse loved her unconditionally. Something Brenda wasn't used to! due to overruling insecurities.

The Doll
There was something about Jesse that had ahold of Brenda. NOTHING came of it, but Brenda was nonetheless GRATEFUL for Jesse's laughter & friendship. The following year in 1987, Brenda discovered a new assortment of friends to clientele with. Ones who didn't take too kindly to illegal activities. They were the Savannah League Of Uptown White Women. (S.L.U.W.W.) Brenda pretended she was a Palm Beach socialite. After an incident at The Friend's Lounge, the owner of another location contacted The Doll to come and work for them. The owner was making a fortune off of the gay folks in Savannah now that his locale was the only game in town. While living in Atlanta, Brenda had done bookings for them. It was nothing new for her. A large portion of her friction w/ the owner was that he perceived she owed him something. He wanted her to be working ONLY at his location. St. Patrick's Day  was/is one of the GRANDEST celebrations/24 hour cocktail parties in Savannah, GA.

After losing a job and living arrangements, Brenda was stuck living w/ 2 lesbians who had a room on short notice. Although renting a room, she felt there wasn't any run of the place. The room she rented was it. After 4 months, there wasn't much Brenda could take anymore. Aside from minding her own business, the 2 girlfriends argued constantly. Brenda had gone out to bookings in the country. When she returned, the couple found a better place and turned their lease over to Brenda, being left w/ a huge empty house and no roommates. Plus having contractual troubles at work. She was being screwed over a deal. F*** that! A deal's a deal. What was she to do? Depression set in waiting for a resolution. And the hits just kept on coming. 1989 was just around the corner. After meeting a few friends for New Years, whom had scattered after her act, Brenda was asked to dance by a man. They danced the night away, stopping only to inform her company she arrived with. He just took the lead. Brenda knew what was in store. She was in heaven!

When the night was over, he took Brenda home and seen her to the door. He carried her in his arms to her 3RD floor apartment. One thing TRULY LED TO ANOTHER! The next morning, they woke up in an embrace, After his fast departure, Brenda didn't hear from him for 3 weeks. The Doll was testy. Giving up after a week waiting by the phone. Calling her again the next day, he was returning to Savannah. He continued to call her every other day from that day on, but he never said exactly when he was returning. A couple of weeks later, Brenda spotted him on a night out w/ friends. She was SURPRISED! This guy thought Brenda was joking when she was SERIOUS. This was the first time Brenda FELL for a man. He had left her weak & vulnerable. Although catching on of being done dirty,

"There's no fortune worth the loss of a true love. Some things are priceless" - Mr. Donald Blakemore (Martin Landau in B.A.P.S)

Brenda may not have KNOWN him, as much as she loved their intimacy, she was weary of his trust. When she met him, Brenda could tell he was streetwise, which reminded her of herself. A perfect fit.

Brenda began to feel like a Mafia princess. On one of his trips to Atlanta, he was stopped for a warrant. On some level, Brenda KNEW he wasn't being straight w/ her. He wasn't out to con her. He was keeping her from his shady dealings. He STILL CARED for her. They still kept in contact. While he was locked up, Brenda had time to think about their relationship. Out of sight; but still in mind. Making sure she was out of town when he returned. When she returned, he was there. Brenda couldn't contain herself. Allowing her heart & emotions to take over. Two weeks later, he left for Atlanta, saying he would return in 3 days. Brenda never seen him again. She had to save face and lie in public to her friends. She had BIGGER things to worry about:becoming a PERMANENT fixture in Savannah's HISTORY!, thanks to a writer in New York. Enter John Berendt.

John Berendt & Brenda
After Brenda was pointed out for John, he informed her he was writing a book. Then & there, The Doll made up her mind to get herself into that book. As luck would have it, after leaving the doctor's office from her estrogen shots, Brenda spotted John. She coyly asked for a ride home. John was the perfect southern gentleman. He had NO IDEA about her T until her heard her name was Frank. It took him for a loop/minute. He was fascinated by The Doll, becoming to watch her show. She made him laugh. Whether good/bad mood, The Doll speaks her mind up onstage.

One day, John was delighted due to being invited to a cotillion that classy black folks throw. The way she seen it, the debutante ball was also going to be The Doll's entrance in black society. An opportunity that didn't come too often, and a chance to go back to her roots. But John didn't see it that way. He thought The Doll was out of her mind. What The Doll did at the ball has become LEGEND! She seen John's refusal as a challenge. Needless to say, The Doll showed up at the ball. She wasn't looking to create scandal. TRUTH BE TOLD, the ball was nothing more than a church social. That was the way Brenda felt. One thing going for her was STANDING OUT! In the middle of the atmosphere, Brenda began missing her family. To be there for her grandmother's birthday, Brenda took a weekend off heading back to Quincy. Introducing family to who she is now: Brenda.

After being pressed for a move to Columbia, South Carolina and a needed change of pace, Brenda couldn't have agreed more. With it being the state capital and a university town, there was a wider audience. What TRULY lured her into town was full-time employment at a brand-new spot, The Menage. After being asked to relocate and seeing it was a fair deal, Brenda knew she had nothing to lose. Jesse & Brenda agreed to start fresh. It was 1990. Although the drag bars were closing, it wasn't as glamorous as it had been, Brenda suggested others make the move as well. Assuring them employment w/ a regular gig at The Menage. They couldn't afford NOT to hire her. Things were coming together. Outlining the way things were going to be. For the first time in her career, she was headlining and actually producing an ENTIRE 3hr drag revue.

Brenda did a FIRST CLASS job. The Menage was open for 3 years before a new club put theirs out of business. The new club didn't have much regard for drag and didn't care much for The Doll. Only seeing her as a mouthpiece. 3 months after The Menage closed, where was The Doll to go? Ending w/ a violent altercation. Brenda was going to be damned before letting others beat her up. She was kicking ass. Folks were cheering and concerned for her from in/out of the club. Entrance being blocked w/ their battling. Fight inside that led to the streets. The clubs security came and pulled Brenda off of him.

This guy in the fight just happened to be a retired officer. After being referred the wrong sex on purpose, Brenda was taken to jail w/ a bail set at $250.00. Well reserved for a court appearance in revenge. When Brenda was in jail, she was figuring how to give the performance of her life. In court, Brenda was addressed by her male name:Benjamin Knox. A little confusion at first, forcing the judge to trip on her pronouns. Everything was right on point. The judge was completely flustered, Asking for a continuance due to still looking for a legal representation. A week later, she returned w/ a lawyer. Another continuance granted. After the 3RD time, they were COMPLETELY PREPPED! There was a 7 minute meeting in chambers. In the end, the case was dismissed. End of that!

During the time of business matters, Brenda wasn't working or booking much either. Thank the Lord for friends whom were there when NEEDED! When you're down, TRUE friends help you up! She was going through all of this brush w/ poverty and with loss, friends up & went to Florida on her. It was TOO MUCH for The Doll to bear. She began to question whether she had the mental stamina to endure a life on stage. The odds of SUCCESS seemed like a million to one at times. Brenda was no longer in Savannah. She was in Columbia scraping by. Then one day out of the blue, Brenda received a call almost 2 years after The Menage closed. A new bar was opening wanting Brenda to work for them full-time. Sure enough, Brenda was signed onto the new marquee.

By this time,Midnight In The Garden Of Good & Evil was in the process of being published by the fall of 1993. John Berendt would call Brenda regularly w/ progress reports, predicting something good might happen once the world met The Doll up close. In the meantime, Brenda was fixing to become a woman of independent means.

Although Brenda was supported through a financial dry spell, she was still coming to Savannah once a month to do bookings. The money she was making wasn't enough to support The Doll. After a new club called The Edge opened up, Brenda was back on top again. This was the most fabulous nightclub of her career, which paid well. After 3 years, Brenda had a HIT gig on her hands. Similar to the slump Joan Crawford had before Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Brenda let it be known she was looking for a new place to live. One night after her show, a fan mentioned there was a small house for rent, four doors from him, The next day, she took a jump over there to look at it. It was PERFECT for her. The part that interested her was that it was her home for so long. Brenda still has it to this day. It's her HOME! Soon more good things that came after.

The DEMAND for The Lady Chablis was picking up at a swift place. She was soon coming to a town near you! Miss Debbie was THERE for her! Debbie surprised her w/ a CHRISTMAS w/ what she had to utilize in their environment. Looking like Christmas at Sea World, Chablis was asked for marriage w/ an engagement ring. Brenda accepted! They didn't plan any details right away. They just didn't press for details. It was a wanting to do this! First asking themselves SERIOUS questions + other issues to confront. From permanent gender assignment to children. Though they still remain engaged today, marriage is still in the air. Brenda will FOREVER love her more than anyone else in her life.

In September 1993, John sent Brenda an advance copy of Midnight In The Garden Of Good & Evil as it rolled off the presses. This book took the world by STORM! After reading it, Brenda was a little shocked! After spending her ENTIRE life trying to hide her T, John had told the ENTIRE world; exposing Brenda. John wanted to know what she thought. She began expressing her apprehensions. John assured the book won't change anything. Only making Brenda better known. This was sure to be a good thing. Reviews from the manuscript had The Lady Chablis as their favorite character. All she had to do is be herself. Next thing she knew, Brenda was called by Good Morning America, to do a segment on John's book and they wanted to shoot her show in Savannah as part of it. She immediately called John. Brenda was SET on doing it. Now she had to make sure she dressed for it. Heading home to Quincy to her grandmother's expressing her joyous news. Sharing the stories of her growing celebrity. Her grandmother was overjoyed w/ excitement. She knew something GOOD would come out of it. Thanks to John, Brenda's next stop was New York. Exploring the city of Manhattan. Both Brenda & John.

A month later, John informed The Doll that she was featured in USA Today. The Doll featured in her favorite past times w/ a quote: "The Lady Chablis is preparing."

Brenda has taken her life for that journey to a state of respect. The drag profession hasn't yet achieved the understanding & respectability it deserves as an art form. There is an exception to every rule, Brenda has known 2 of them in her career. 1 of them was when it was the boss she went to work for in 1989. The other was for a white woman, who's passed on, but who, more than any other person, Brenda will always remember. After falling in love with her during her show, the boss called and asked to book Brenda. Thus began a professional & personal relationship she'll never know again. Miss Joan McCoy was a TRUE anchor for Brenda. Someone who TRULY touched Brenda. Intimidating the hell out of her. TOUGH AS NAILS! May not have been book smart; but KNEW art, culture, politics & history. Teaching Brenda way more than anything on PBS. WHAT YOU SEEN WAS WHAT YOU GOT! Illness began to take a toll on Miss Joan in the 8 years Brenda knew her. A disease called Lupus took a toll on her. Already a millionairess by age 30. A businesswoman who owned local bars. What Brenda loved about Miss Joan the most was hearing her talk. Talking w/ Brenda was like confiding w/ a friend.

Brenda was Miss Joan's #1 showgirl. Before anyone else took a booking, Brenda had free range on what dates on the calender she wanted. The friendship between Brenda & Miss Joan was one to be once-in-a-lifetime.

"All I know is, you only get a once-in-a lifetime buddy. Once-in-a-lifetime." - Stymie (Kevin Jamal Woods).

When Brenda was deeply involved w/ Crystal Meth and was about to be thrown out on the street, It was Miss Joan who came to her rescue. She was a TRUE supporter and taught Brenda what DIGNITY meant. Personal HONOR was hard to get from Miss Joan. She seen to it that Brenda received the kind of survivalist coaching she never had. She made sure Brenda thought about her priorities as a performer. You can't expect the same audience reception in applause all the time. A lesson Brenda NEVER FORGOT! Brenda NEVER KNEW of the pain  Miss Joan was in until the end when the club's atmosphere affected her Lupus. The loud, bright lights and music.

Miss Joan wanted to talk. Brenda always made sure the conversation ended w/ a laugh. Miss Joan would tell how much of an IMPORTANCE Brenda was in her life. Brenda was a companion Miss Joan could COUNT ON! Due to her suffering, Miss Joan was going to kill herself. She wanted Brenda to be there when she took her life. Brenda couldn't do it. She was by herself when she took an overdose at her home to put an end to her disease. Something Brenda TRULY REGRETS. One of her BIGGEST! Eating at her all the time. After hearing of Miss Joan's passing, Brenda was MOTIONLESS. She was numb. Feeling lifeless as though a part of her died w/ Miss Joan. Brenda couldn't cry due to hyperventilating from devastation. Only a month before Joan died, Brenda was taking bookings at another club in Augusta called Trixie's. That way she could be working and look in on Miss Joan regularly. What shocked her was that the club wanted to HONOR Miss Joan w/ an award for her good-doings within the gay community.

It was dubbed The Joan McCoy Humanitarian Award. Miss Joan met this news w/ her typical modesty. She met the award that night while limping up to the stage that night w/ her cane in sheer agony, just to have the pleasure of recieving the award from Brenda. That night was one of the proudest moments in her life. One of the proudest/most important accolades she left Brenda was one flawless memory. One who taught Brenda to be PROUD of who she is. She TRULY helped her see that. MORE than ANYTHING ELSE, Miss Joan made Brenda REALIZE she was WORTH something. She was the one who FORCED Brenda to return to Quincy in 1984 for her father's funeral. Something Brenda was ALWAYS GRATEFUL to do! Miss Joan helped Brenda see/do more than she ever could do!

Out of the gifts Brenda's been given, there was/IS reconnection w/ family back in Quincy. Brenda and her mother put their past aside and forged themselves a nice future. Miss Joan was Brenda's GREATEST examples of how never to let ANYTHING overcome your spirit. With all of the grace Miss Joan showed her, Brenda did the same. THAT is why she hides her candy. Other than what she's done medically; EVERYTHING about Brenda Dale Knox IS 100% REAL!

             The Lexicon was an index into the dialogue language to UNDERSTAND  The Doll!