Ceasar Hart reigns again at Neighbours as the club celebrates 29 years
by Gaysha Starr -
Special to the SGN
Most drag queens and Transsexuals grew up wanting to be beauty queens. As boys, they watched Miss America, Miss USA, and the big one - Miss Universe - and were seduced by the pageantry, sequins, and rhinestones. With no one looking, they put their face in their hands in surprise and disbelief, clutching their pearls and doing the 'elbow- elbow-wrist-wrist-wave' to themselves in the mirror. Little did they know they would actually have the chance to be a beauty queen, through drag or Trans pageants, when they grew up.
Here in Seattle, there aren't all that many drag pageants a queen can enter. It simply isn't a very big part of our community's culture. However, we do have the Imperial Sovereign Court of Seattle's titles, La Femme Magnifique Washington, and a handful of ethnic-oriented pageants, including Miss Asian Pacific Islander International, Miss Gay Filipino Community of Seattle, Miss Gay Latino, Miss Nubian Pride, and Miss UTOPIA.
Back in 1993 - before social media, YouTube tutorials on how to do drag makeup, and weekly drag cabaret shows - it was RuPaul, 'Supermodel of the World,' rather than RuPaul's Drag Race. If you were a new queen in Seattle you did not have many performance stages to break onto. You could compete in the Tuesday night Lip Sync Contest at the Brass Connection and/or the Wednesday Night Lip Sync Contest at Neighbours, just to win $100 cash. Maybe, if you were good enough, you could run and win a drag title. Back then some of the biggest names in Seattle drag were LaVanda Dela Rosa, Mark Finley, Kahlua Ice, Toni James, Marcy Kraft, Crystal Lane, Larry Lefler, Boy Mike, Pill Munroe, Hiram Starr, Coco Vaughn, and Zora.
In August of 1993, Neighbours Nightclub celebrated its 10th anniversary by creating Mr. and Miss Neighbours - the club's own drag title - to offer sponsorship and support for newer queens. Along with the now-defunct Brass Connection and Easy bars that sponsored their own titles that same year, the hope was that these titleholders would run for and win the annual Gay Seattle Pageant in November.
I had just started doing drag in April of that year and ran for the first Miss Neighbours against six other queens. I was thrown together that afternoon by my drag mother, Hiram Starr. Much to my surprise, I won - and yes, I did the obligatory face-in-my-hands-in-surprise-and-disbelief look. The Mr. Neighbours who was crowned with me was Christopher, a blond, blue-eyed country singer. He went on to win Mr. Gay Seattle and while I lost that night, what I won from the title of Miss Neighbours 1993 was much greater. I won a consistent home bar where I could really learn how to do drag. Nineteen years later, I have been able to make a second career of drag, hosting, pageantry, and community outreach and fundraising.
Fast forward to 2012. Some of Seattle's brightest names have all been Neighbours titleholders: Mark Finley, Ebony La Face Ice, Patrick Berringer, Shaka Kwan, Teriyaki Temple, JJ Temple, Sara Michelle Fetters, Regina King, Jada Starr, Layla Manila, William Pontius, Lily Armani, Julian Surreal Foxx, Dolly Madison, Ceasar Hart. Some of these past Mr. and Miss Neighbours went on to win prestigious titles including Gay Seattle, Gay Washington, and La Femme Magnifique International.
Members of this group have hosted shows at Neighbours and even appeared on television, written for national publications, been opening acts for professional entertainers - and combined, have helped raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for different charities. Not bad for a little bar title founded almost 20 years ago that proved to be a stepping stone for bigger and greater things.
'What makes this title special is that you can do whatever you want with it, since you don't have any formal duties but to represent the bar,' Miss Neighbours 1995 Ebony La Face says. 'You have everyone there behind you and if you work it right you can grow as an entertainer and so much more.'
Last Sunday night, Neighbours kicked off its 29th anniversary week by holding the 19th annual Mr. and Miss Neighbours pageant. The panel of judges included Miss UTOPIA Tanya Rachinee, community activist Victoria Victor, Neighbours hostess Roxy Doll, and two Neighbours regulars, Tina and Craig.
They judged six 'female' contestants - Eve Aulelei, Lady Wora Sahara, Kiana Manila, Katrina Dual, Armani De'Varoa Aulelei, and Mulan Rouge - in the categories of Club Wear, Talent, Formal Wear, and Judges' Question and Answer. In between each category, local entertainers including Pride Idol 2012 Chase, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, Miss Gay Seattle DonnaTella Howe, Aleksa Manila, Atasha Manila, and past Neighbours titleholders performed for the approximately 100 guests. At the end of the evening, Ceasar Hart was crowned Mr. Neighbours 2012, giving him his second win in a row, and Lady Wora Sahara was declared Miss Neighbours 2012.
Hart is notable as the first drag king to hold the title of Mr. Neighbours. In the past year, he has raised money for the Approve R-74 campaign for marriage equality in Washington state, represented himself and Neighbours at numerous college drag shows, and even led a drag king workshop at Camp Ten Trees, an LGBTQ teen camp, putting seven teen kings in drag.
'Nothing makes me happier than being able to spread awareness and make a positive difference in the community, especially for our younger generations,' Hart said after being asked to reign again, since there were no contestants willing to step into his large shoes. 'This year I plan on doing exactly the same things, only bigger and better.'
His new titleholder wife, Sahara, had only just decided to run in the pageant that same afternoon. An openly MTF Transsexual, Sahara married her partner, an openly FTM Transsexual, the day before the Neighbours pageant. 'I ran for the title of Miss Neighbours because it is all about human rights,' she says. 'My boyfriend and I have been together for four years and we are proof that it is about love, no matter what sex you were born as.' Sahara remembers hearing all about Neighbours when she was too young to go there, and says being able to represent the bar with Ceasar is a dream come true.
Steve Tracy, the club's general manager, says, 'I am so proud of everyone here at Neighbours. Our titleholders, staff, and entertainers past and present are so humbled to have been a part of Seattle's LGBTQ community for the past 29 years, and as we celebrate our anniversary this weekend, we know we have made it this long because of every person who has walked through our doors.'
For more information on Neighbours and the 29th Anniversary lineup, visit the club's website, www.neighboursnightclub.com.
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