Friday, March 27, 2015

From the Archives: "Just Call Me Ron B." An interview with Entertainer, Actor and LGBT Activist Ron B.

From the Archives:

"Just Call Me Ron B." – A Candid Interview with Ron B, the Entertainer, Celebrity Impersonator, Actor and Activist
Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine

Many may know Ron B. from her appearances in Law & Order and Angels in America, or Broadway plays like She Got Away. Others may have seen her perform as Tina Turner at Oxygen in the Village or for children with HIV/AIDS in Staten Island. Many more may be familiar with Ron B.'s activism work. But who is, really, Ron B.?

Ron B. performing. No Boundaries--Up Close and Personal. I photographed the taping of this show in October, 2015, at Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.
Ron B. performing. No Boundaries--Up Close and Personal. I photographed the taping of this show in October, 2015, at Photo by Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved.

“I am a lot of times unsure, a lot of times creative, many times sensitive, but most of all, I think it’s the transition within that kinda makes me almost the mother figure for many who are underprivileged," Ron B. candidly answers, "because most of my life I had to fight for what I believe in. And I continue this [emotional and spiritual] fight to bring myself to the being the Great Creator [the power above all of us] wants me to be.” 

A New York native, Ron B. is also a Native American. As a child she could not identify with her heritage...maybe because there weren't many Native Americans at the catholic school she attended at the time. Ron B. rediscovered her heritage only later. “What changed my mind was my mother’s strength,” the entertainer explains, "she telling me that [I should be proud of who I am]." It was Ron B.'s Native American heritage that gave the performer strength in the chosen career.

Ron B. started acting while working as a booker, assisting in the casting department. Someone saw her and thought she'd be perfect for a role. Over the years, Ron B. took many roles playing a male, and also female, Native American, and also a Sicilian character. Maybe the most inspiring "role" though is that of Tina Turner impersonator.

“She has been [the] inspiration in my life,” Ron B. comments talking about Tina Turner. Ron B.'s connection to the singer is multi-layered--Turner's physical resemblance to Ron B.'s mother, the abuse both women--Turner and Ron B. (Ron B. has always felt like a woman, trapped in the male body)--have experienced in their lives, and their determination not to allow anybody to break their spirits. "I think that it's the most important thing in a trans person's life, because so many people try to break your spirit, to make fun of you, degrade you, and you always feel you're alone," Ron B. confesses.

The Ron B. people know today is really "a catalyst" of everything that defines her as an entertainer, actor, celebrity impersonator, activist for the rights of people who have been discriminated against, and trans individual. The transition has started early on in Ron B.'s life and it's ongoing. “I think many transgender people feel that way very early in life,” she comments. “I think at the age of three I felt I was different. Didn’t understand it [at the time], but [it] always was different.” Ron B.'s "culture shock" happened when she was 12, when her mother found a diary in which Ron B. was writing about her crush on a boy sitting in the same class, as any girl would have a crush on a boy. "I was so shocked, I didn't know what to say," the entertainer recalls. Yet the weigh lifted off her shoulders when her mother, always "the driving force" in her life, accepted her child regardless of how Ron B. felt and encouraged the future entertainer to follow her dreams, to become all that she could become. Ron B.'s father was a different story.

“Gender-wise really should be between the ears and not between the legs,” Ron B. comments. That is important because many transgender individuals tragically take their own lives because they’re not accepted within their family circles. Only recently people have started to come to terms with the trans community, though many still consider trans-individuals "freaks" or "street-walkers." And Ron B. is determined to prove these theories wrong and show the truth about the trans-individuals, that they are productive citizens of the community who ask to be respected.

Transgender individuals have to deal with the fact that they are trapped, uncomfortable with their own bodies. Many, like Ron B., try to deny this feeling yet, by denial doesn't make it go away, but rather turns it into a shadow, always following them. Denying one’s true identity can also lead to depression. It took Ron B. many years of therapy to get to accept the real person within. The entertainer suggests professional help to any young person who may think is transgender. 

Ron B. is thankful to all the medical professionals who are willing to help the trans-individuals. She's also thankful to the many individuals she'd worked with over the years. One of the many ways of giving back to the community is through her new show to start shooting at the end of May. "No Boundaries is my baby," Ron B. explains, "that was conceived in Staten Island, in 2005." No Boundaries served as a vehicle for Ron B. to deal with her assault from the previous year. The show was canceled after 12 episodes, but fortunately, now it's coming back to life, having Ron B. not only co-producing and hosting, but also as a technical producer. No Boundaries also offers accomplished and also emerging artists a platform to showcase their work. It's ready for shooting at the end of May, on location in Staten Island and at Manhattan Neighborhood Network studios, in Manhattan.

Another way Ron B. gives back is through her work with Heritage of Pride and, most recently, Stonewall Veterans. "They've been instrumental," the activist says, talking about those she's met through Stonewall Veterans. "They were the ones who were here in 1969. We all owe gratitude to them [because] without them we wouldn't be here as we are today."

Friday, March 13, 2015

From the Archives: The Secret of Picking Well - An Interview with NYC Author, Arthur Wooten

From the Archives: The Secret of Picking Well - An Interview with NYC Author, Arthur Wooten

The Secret of Picking Well: An Interview with Arthur Wooten, the Author of On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail

[Article originally published in Out IN Jersey Magazine]

Today’s gay fiction is almost overwhelmed by stories of the twenty year olds questioning their sexuality or the thirty-year-old successfully managing their careers, families, relationships and fun times. What we don’t usually hear is the voice of the middle age gay man who’s really trying to keep his career going and who, in Arthur Wooten’s books, also happens to be HIV positive, thus adding to the stigma. “It’s true and it’s sad. It’s really hard growing old and being gay. I wanted the middle age man to be heard,” the author explains the purpose of writing his books.

Author Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author
Author Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author

Wooten’s debut novel, On Picking Fruit and its sequel, Fruit Cocktail (both published by Alyson Books), tell the story of middle age Curtis Jenkins and his quest to find true love. Curtis’ story resonates with many of us. After all, like the protagonist, we’ve also experienced dates from hell or promising relationships that ended too soon and unexpectedly. And, just like Curtis, we’ve all dreamt to reach our ideals of love, career or life, in general. 

Birthday Pie, a novel by Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author
Birthday Pie, a novel by Arthur Wooten. Image courtesy of the author
The story of Curtis Jenkins is “auto-biofictional,” as Wooten calls it. “Look, he’s a writer, he’s gay. And although I’m much different from Curtis, when you write, every character in the book is part of you because it’s coming from your soul, your brains [and] your heart.” Wooten is as much Curtis as he is the delightful Mrs. J[enkins], Curtis’ mother, or his best friend, Quinn, or his quirky therapist, Doctor Tunick.  

In On Picking Fruit the protagonist has an unrealistic, fairy-tale idea of the perfect date, which may actually stay in the way of his finding the ideal relationship. In Fruit Cocktail, Curtis grows a lot, gaining a clear sense of himself. He realizes that, while playing the dating game, the question is not if he is good enough for his date, but the other way around. While there is no real resolution to the story, Fruit Cocktail allows the possibility for Curtis Jenkins to continue evolving and entertaining. And it does it not only on the page but also on the screen.

Wooten’s novels are being developed into a TV series. “I think that allows a lot of growth and potential for the development of Quinn and Curtis,” the author comments, “and not only their relationship, but the kinetics that they’re getting into.”

The show is titled after Wooten’s second novel, Fruit Cocktail, and produced by Charlie Sheen. The production company is part of Estevez-Sheen Productions, created by Martin Sheen (The West Wing actor) and Ramon Estevez (Charlie Sheen’s brother). The show is set to debut on cable TV. Rumor has it that, while he won’t be playing the role of Curtis Jenkins, Charlie Sheen would like to play one of Curtis’ crazy dates, in one of the episodes.

Fruit Cocktail is already structured for television and as it always happens in such situations, a few things had to be changed. So, because writing in television is a passive thing to watch, the on-screen Curtis Jenkins is a sought-after photographer. He is on the cover of Vogue and his pictures are in Vanity Fair and all the gay magazines, from Out to Instinct. But his successful professional life surrounds him with all kinds of wild and crazy people. The only remaining pillars in his life remain his mother, Mrs. J., and his best friend, Quinn. Curtis, the photographer, also makes new friends and meets new people, even dates with the potential of becoming soul mates. Yet, he is not devastated anymore that he cannot find the right person. Also, while in the books the character is in his late forties (and approximately Wooten’s age), in the show the protagonist is just approaching forty, “which is, in gay years, like over the hill,” Wooten comments.

The author has always believed in the synchronicity and serendipity of his novels. That’s how he explains On Picking Fruit and Fruit Cocktail being developed for TV. “Everything is a thought first,” Wooten explains this transformation. Same as in the book, Dr. Tunick advises Curtis “if you want something bad enough you must visualize it first.”

And as for the rest of us, maybe the best advice comes from Arthur Wooten’s own words. “Pick Well!” he writes, as he autographs his books.