Father Tony

The Cheerful Miss Nikki Adams

Filed By Father Tony | May 06, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: broward house, Fort Lauderdale, nikki adams

On Sunday, April 3rd, in honor of her work at Fort Lauderdale's Broward House, the often crowned Nikki Adams was named a "Community Star of the Year" at the Pride nikki adams for cover.jpgCenter's annual "Stars of the Rainbow" awards ceremony. A new title, well deserved.

I recently sat down with the spellbinding Nikki as she told me her story. After adjusting the chronology and discarding any repetitions, it was clear that she would be best presented in her own uninterrupted and unflaggingly cheery voice.

"I was born in little Jennerstown, Pennsylvania in 1958. My childhood was really very typical. A brother, two parents, a nice nuclear family. My father, a car dealership sales manager. My mother, a housewife. Truly, I had no childhood trauma, although after 6th grade, my classmates recognized I was gay long before I did. I loved the school part of school, but hated the social aspect of it. In high school, the sport of the season was what you had to play. We had to walk over a loose stone road to get to the football field. On the way to and from that field, I would get stoned literally. In my sophomore year, in wrestling class, someone broke my clavical and did me the biggest favor of my life because I was able to sit out gym class from that day on."

"I knew I was different from the time I was very small. I just didn't know what it was. Probably around 13, I realized what gay was and that I was one. I dreamed of becoming Mrs. Davy Jones. After high school, I started waiting table. A cocktail waitress friend who was returning to Fort Lauderdale wanted a traveling companion. So I packed my bags at the age of 18. It was 1977. I wanted to study art. I moved in with my cousins in Sarasota. After less than a month, I came home to find all my things packed and placed outside on the porch. They peeked through the door to explain that I was just not right. I headed to Fort Lauderdale. When I unpacked, I found that those cousins had inserted a book called 'Straight'. Needless to say, I never read it. I burned it.

"I got a job selling encyclopedias. I lasted literally one day. Then I became a cocktail waiter at Merendola's in Pompano where Neill Martin, a singer, took me under his wing and turned me on to some of the clubs and shows. The first one I saw was Dana Manchester and I knew then that was what I was born to do. Dana has passed. She was one of my dearest friends. As is my drag mother, Tiny Tina.

"My first show ever was at a little bar on Dixie Highway called TB which stood for Thunderbuns. Needless to say, it was a dive. My first performance was 'Ring Them Bells' by Liza Minnelli. I wore a dreadful black pyramid dress from a flea market. The stage was a tiny triangle in the corner with a big column in the middle so you had to work one side or the other. In 1977, I entered the very first Miss Fort Lauderdale contest, and I won, and that was against some heavy hitters. It really wasn't much of a crown. More a tiara. I no longer have it. I do have several other crowns.

"Tiny Tina got me into a review called the 'Ted Larson's Foxy Follies', in Hallandale Beach. That is where I started in character illusion. I worked up a Streisand. I wasn't so hot, but I tried. When the show closed, I moved into the Windward Hotel in Miami Beach in a show called 'The Hottest Ticket in Town'. That was my drag college. We were 14 girls in that show. All of us lived on the property. On call 24/7 for rehearsals and whatever. My salary was $125 a week. That is where I developed my Shirley MacLaine character that I still do today. We did three shows on Friday and Saturday, and two shows Tuesday through Sunday. Romance? Nothing steady. I always thought I was destined to find the love of my life, but it never really happened. People talk about soul mates, but in a world of 6 billion, that's not so easy to find.

"The Windward had a fire that started in our dressing rooms. In an instant, a few years of costumes and accessories were all gone. The owner made us pad the insurance claim. He made us do a show after the fire. We did our 'Mahogany' number in remnants of burnt gowns. The Miss Miami Beach pageant had been scheduled for the Windward but had to be relocated. We were told that any Windward cast member who entered it would be fired. I entered and won. Next morning, I walked into the owner's office with my crown on and asked how we were going to proceed with the insurance claims. He threw me out.

"The following year I won Miss Florida. That is when my career truly took off. I traveled all over the states performing. Then Dana Manchester and I started to do shows together with two hot gay men from Atlanta, Ryan Wilcox and Chuck Blair. Ryan made costumes. Those were some of the best times of my life. Fond memories.

"All along I had a solo career. I've played Panama, and one Halloween, I played a straight club called Snappers in Aruba. It was full of Dutch sailors, and all of a sudden those sailors were carrying me all over the club and when I sailed by the manager, he yanked me back into the dressing room and said "That is soooo not safe".

"How did I start working at Broward House? I was shooting a series of commercials for Georgie's Alibi when my friend Terry DeCarlo came up and said they just lost the person who was helping them put on an event and they were desperate. A little light went on, and I said perhaps you could throw my name in the hat. The Executive Director of Broward House just happened by Georgie's for a drink at that moment. They hired me as Community Liaison, and that was two years ago. I've helped produce the annual gala. This year the theme will be "The Cotton Club - The End of Prohibition". I am also in charge of our donor club, the "Spirit of Hope" society. I also do "Broward Bares It." My job is to raise money for Broward House, and to build awareness about HIV.

"It's very hard to put me in a box. I don't like categories. My life is full of color, not black or white. People ask me 'Are you a transsexual or what?' I say I don't want a label. I'm just living every day as a woman. I like that you say I am not what you expected. See? You put me in a box! Was I ever tempted to have 'the surgery'? No. No implants. I did go on hormones once, but they made me crazy. I guess I'm just too normal.

"My life is an art form. I have an aversion to the word 'drag' because my predecessors built the field that was always known as female impersonation. Yes, we called it drag among ourselves, but I would much rather be called a female impersonator. I think 'drag queen' is demeaning. Good knows I've worked condos, rest homes, theaters, straight and gay clubs, and all kinds of crowds, but the common factor - the artistry - is the convincing illusion. It isn't just moving your mouth. It's emoting. Today, it's just flash and the more sequins the better, but back then, Dana could come out in a JC Penney's outfit and still you were mesmerized because it came from deep within.

"I've been in Fort Lauderdale for 34 years. No big plans for change. I have my shows. My life is quite full right now. I got this job. I don't plan for the future. That's been my life. I've never truly had a plan. I throw things out to the universe and leave it open so that things can happen, and they do. They always have. And when something good comes along, I'll take it."

(A version of this profile appeared recently in South Florida Gay News.)

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"No. No implants. I did go on hormones once, but they made me crazy. I guess I'm just too normal."

So, people who are on hormones are, what... abnormal?

I also find it kind of disingenuous to say "no implants" when she has clearly been pumped with silicone. Again, I have an issue with people who are winners in drag beauty contests and pumped, by example encouraging young transgender women to do the same (if they want to be "winners"). The culture of pumping is highly dangerous and a practice which needs to be discouraged.

Dear Ginasf, interesting that you mention that. When I interviewed her, I scrutinized her features and suspected cosmetic adjustment. Later, when I researched her, I found that she always, even when she was much younger, had that structure, that facial composition. Sometimes, when we rush to judgment, we are wrong. She is an exceptional and stellar person.

I think she meant Nikki's breasts, Tony. Many drag queens get unsafe silicon injections instead of "implants" because it's so much cheaper. It's a thriving and deadly underground business in drag circles and with some trans folk as well.

Bil, My guess - and I was too polite to ask her about it - is that there is no augmentation of breasts. With Nikki, it's all about artistry and illusion so I do not think it's fair to assume that she has injected anything anywhere. I asked Nikki to give me a pose like DaVinci's Mona Lisa. I know countless gym bunny/muscle boys who, if asked to do the same, would instantly produce a respectable amount of cleavage.

I know countless gym bunny/muscle boys who, if asked to do the same, would instantly produce a respectable amount of cleavage.

It's all that testosterone converting to estrogen helping them out with their girlish figures. Aromatase inhibitors would help with that:


gender schmender

I'm not taking about her boobs... they might just be a result of a short time on estrogen and taping cleavage. But you're absolutely not correct about her face. Look at: http://queermagnet.com/qmw/?p=6678

I've known a LOT of transgender women who've been pumped and know natural bone structure vs. pumping. It's epidemic in that particular pageant scene and even more so in the south.

Yes, I'm disgusted that we have to have these discussions and pick apart her body, but this is an important public health issue in the trans community and a number of transgender women die each year from pumping (and many more develop granulomas or have to go through horrific procedures to get migrated silicone out of their bodies). And they're continuing to get themselves pumped with industrial grade silicone so they can win little trophies handed out by shyster promoters who exploit the participants' need for approval and acceptance.

Ginasf, I'm well aware of those photos. I think they prove my point, not yours. You say you are disgusted by having to pick apart her body. I don't believe that. No one asked you to do it. You chose to do it because you had an issue you wanted to trot out at the expense of someone you don't know. I think your comment is rude, self-centered and inappropriate, and exactly the sort of waste matter that makes me regret coming here.

Your issue about pumping may be valid but you have no business plastering it over the face of someone you don't know. If you really wanted to make your point as would a polite adult, you'd have contacted her privately, asked her about it and then written something thoughtful and informed. Shame on you. Your comment is just another hit-and-run.

Your need for fabulous entertainment is more important than whether transgender women are suffering and dying because of pumping silicone. Got that. Promoting people who've gotten pumped (and don't fess up to it to discuss its medical realities) is like promoting cigarettes to teens because they make you look so cool.

You should have made a simple apology for your rude comments. Not to me but to her.
I regret bringing Nikki into this place because of degrading people like you. Have you ever bothered to think about the feelings of someone who is the subject of a post? I doubt it. You understand only the shoving match and brutish behavior. I feel sorry for you, but I also see that there is no point to continuing this conversation.
I do feel strongly that you should apologize privately to Nikki Adams.

4 or 5 months ago I swear there was, literally the exact same story in Bilerico. Two gay entertainment writers had a profile about a trans woman who did drag (and was also extensively pumped). I could have exchanged the names of the two subjects and the articles would have been identical, including the vapid condescending language used.

Had they EVER written about the trans community before? No. Has Tony ever written positively and supportively about the trans community and our issues before... not that I've ever seen in the 3 or 4 years I've seen his blogging. My problem isn't with her... she sounds like a survivor and she did what she had to do. And no, I'm not going to apologize to her because she knows the truth of what I'm saying about pumping and those pageants. My problem is with a gay non-trans man trying to portray the trans community with little thought about what other issues it raised (or even why he's selecting this "female impersonator entertainment" portion of the community when he's ignored us or been unsupportive in past). That these pageants, which are overwhelmingly owned and controlled by gay men, encourage pumping and give nothing back monetarily to the contestants they exploit. Sorry, but when I hear people thoughtlessly speak about this reality with blinders on, I'm not going to be quiet.

I found Nikki's story to be interesting. Sure the remark about being normal is something I could interpret as dismissive and possibly offensive. I'm not too upset about that, though, considering her own context. I won't question the roundness of her features. Her personal business is her business.

It is possible for a male assigned person to have secondary female characteristics. I know people who had mastectomies when they were young. I also know it isn't that uncommon for teenagers to have breast reduction surgeries to "normalize" their body shape. There are probably quite a few people who are born with various intersex variations who have never been diagnosed.

This video of a Howard Stern "small penis contest" is a very good example of people who seem to have a male sense of self but who also have female secondary characteristics and primary sex characteristics that would be considered intersex characteristics by many. The person with two different size breasts seems like he could have been born with a mosaic chromosomal variation. It is very interesting because none of them seem to lack self esteem. Here's the link to the video but to really understand what I mean you have to go to about the 7:00 mark to see the three people who won to really understand:


I truly enjoyed meeting Nikki through your beautiful online portrait, Father Tony. what a lovely person. As someone who has spent a lot of time reading trans history, Nikki's story reminded me poignantly of Esther Newton's famous Mother Camp, the oneness of the gay world and lack of identity divisions that have so plagued us in the latter years, and the original meaning of the word "transgender" from the late 1970s (the opposite of today's). Thank you for giving us Nikki's indominable spirit. We could sure use it.

Om Kalthoum | May 7, 2011 11:33 AM

Thanks for this portrait. I really enjoy reading personal histories of those in our community, particularly from people who have a little mileage on them. People who've been around the block a few times often speak to me in ways that the young 'uns can't. I also liked the "in their own words" style you used.