Disasterina and Sleazy Manzini: Tomma’s Real Life Drag Parents

Let’s just call this “the big reveal!” I’ve been holding onto this news for a few months, but now that The Dire Deeds is published at last, I can finally make this announcement. You see, in my “Acknowlegments” I have thanked Disasterina and Sleazy Manzini for agreeing to become Tomma Bedlam’s Drag Parents.

L to R: Disasterina as a Rock Goddess, Sleazy Manzini, and Tomma Bedlam. Rendered via HeroForge.

So how did this happen? And why? It’s a long story, my Droogies, so settle in.

It starts with one of my Guild of Ornamental Hermits characters, Tomma Bedlam. Ze entered the first book, The Dire Deeds, as a wisecracking, kind-hearted, red-headed performance artist and flashy dresser, best friend to Babe Bump and Oyster Olson. This trio performs most of the first person narration in this urban fantasy series. In Tomma’s very first scene in the book, as a mock disaster victim during a “community emergency response team” drill, ze displays zir large personality even while pretending to be mostly unconscious (with a “fractured umbilicus”) while carried on a surfboard to the medical triage tarp (Chapter Two: The Drill in Hermitville).

In the beginning, I described Tomma’s background as a performance artist and ‘zine writer. In the book, Tomma and Babe (who is a neo-burlesque artiste) often perform together as dancers. They are frequently campy and funny. Even so, I missed something about Tomma’s creative life that should have been very obvious.

Drag Muses for an ornamental Hermit

While writing The Guild of Ornamental Hermits books, I’ve had a variety of muses who have inspired me. Puddles, the Sad Clown with a Golden Voice, was a major inspiration for my elf, Parsifal. Angela Mae, a bellydancing clown with the S.F. Bay Area band, Gooferman, was an inspiration for Parsifal’s daughter, Breadcrumb. Transgender actor, Will Krisanda, had an impact on Oyster Olson’s personality development. And so on. There were even times when I “cast” the “movie” of The Dire Deeds with existing actors and performers as the “faces” of my characters. (Now I make HeroForge portraits of them.)

Sometime during the pandemic lockdown, and while I was finishing the third book (The Queerest Quest), I became a fan of Dragula, the Boulet Brothers’ wonderfully twisted reality drag competition. And that’s when it dawned on me. OF COURSE Tomma is not just a simple punk rock performance artist. So much about Tomma simply screams “drag”–both onstage and off. Drag was definitely part of Tomma’s identity.

Naturally, while watching Dragula–and living in near total isolation to avoid contagion from a disease that was killing a lot of people in my age bracket (at least at first)–I got a little obsessed. I began to have my favorites: Vander von Odd in Season One; Disasterina, (The) Dahli, Victoria Black, and Biqtch Puddin’ in Season Two (okay, I liked Erika Klash and James Majesty too); Landon Cider, Louisianna Purchase, Evah Destruction, St. Lucia (Saint), and Maxi Glamour in Season Three; and Dahli, Saint, Sigourney Beaver, and HoSo Terra Toma in Season Four. But one person stood out for me even among all these talented people: Disasterina. And it wasn’t just because of what she brought to Dragula in terms of talent, wackiness, kindness, and class–no, there was so much more!

Disasterina’s YouTube channel impressed me, for one thing. She created My Drag is Valid, a YouTube show that featured other drag artists talking about their work, thereby boosting other performers and uplifting the community in general. Then there was her pre-pandemic AIDS Lifecycle video (public spirit!), the Dubious Dance Duel videos, the Cybernetic Circus videos, Sado Trash Tales and of course the series, Sado Psychiatrist (which made me break down and get Amazon Prime so I could watch it). Disasterina’s podcast, Tasty Earbits, is over-the-top wacky and riveting, and also features other drag artists and creators!

I haven’t even gotten to Disasterina’s numerous hilarious and raunchy music videos yet. Some of my personal faves: Why Won’t You, a cover of I’m NOT in Love (featuring a bare-chested photo of The Witcher), and a bewitching cover of Look Back in Anger which makes me feel confused, but in a very interesting way. Then there’s her CD with songs like Sometimes You Feel Like a Bitch, Treat Me Like Trash, and Very Boy Theme (obtainable through her Cold Sluts on Fire Etsy Store). I can’t tell you how many times I sped along the curving road next to the shores and cliffs of Clear Lake, heading to the grocery store sixteen miles away, blasting Sometimes You Feel Like a Bitch. It was one of my few pandemic thrills… (Yes, your options for fun do shrink during a pandemic in a place like Lake County, CA.)

Thanks to Disasterina’s channel, I also discovered the work of her wife, Ave Rose, creator of Sleazy Manzini, who is…well, let’s just say, if you’ve ever been identified as female at any stage of your incarnation, you’ve undoubtedly met someone like him, in personality if not in garb. Aside from her comedic artistry as Sleazy, Ave Rose is also an immensely talented singer, performer, actor, artist, poet, and writer. Go to her website, please. You will be staggered at the beauty of what she creates. And her book, Will Not R.I.P., is horrific and heartbreaking. She’s a fine writer.

In addition to having created Disasterina, her boy self Treiops Treyfid is an artist, musician, and writer. I am the happy owner of one of his Shadow Puffs paintings (below).

In other words, the two of them–together and individually–have produced so much that I’ve enjoyed in the last few years and brought joy and curiosity to me at a time that was indeed most dire!

As you can imagine, it was a great thrill to have them as guests on my own Love’s Outer Limits podcast (with co-host M. Christian), Oct. 6, 2020. Honestly, it was amazing.

The Impact on Tomma

Once I had this revelation about Tomma’s background, it was obvious to me that ze needed a drag geneology, a set of drag parents. It’s not enough for zir to channel a cover of Jayne County’s cover of Night Time while on stage with The Incredible Unstrung Band (The Perilous Past, 4th book in progress). Did I want to make up a drag mama and/or drag papa for zir? I could have done that easily! I certainly have no problem with creating characters! However, I began to fantasize about how Disasterina and Sleazy Manzini would be the perfect drag parents for Tomma. Admittedly, that kind of fantasizing takes a certain amount of nerve. It’s even kind of embarrassing. But what the fuck.

Plus the idea of real life people “adopting” characters as if they are real, is kind of cool, doncha think? As a writer, I am already sitting here, deeply involved with all my Hermits and Elves, and with Lucky LaFey and his brood, and with Vesta the giant kundalini-generating Salamander, and everybody else, as if these were real people (and a Salamander) in my life. (So the pandemic had an impact, okay? Don’t be judgy.) Why wouldn’t I wish this joy onto someone else? Plus, Disasterina and Sleazy Manzini are just too brilliant! Why wouldn’t I wish that kind of joy on Tomma?

Jump forward in time a bit, and yes, Disasterina and Sleazy Manzini have agreed to adopt Tomma as Drag Spawn. In addition, they are kindly offering to do a bit of book promotion as well. I am extremely grateful and so glad they like The Dire Deeds!

So, life is beautiful. Reality is enhanced by fiction! And sometimes they do schmoosh together in the strangest ways. Yesterday, a man at a Lughnasadh celebration in Eugene told me I had six dragons, and a baby griffin, hovering around me. I wanted so badly to ask, “Is one of them a salamander?” but I thought it best to not encourage him.

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Magical Mentoring in The Guild

Here are the Elves (on the right) and their human students (at left). Artanaro Nar and Who’s There work with two Hermits each. Hamfast started working with Frank first, but when Frank leaves in the second book, Hamfast ends up working with the newest Hermit, Sophie Lokisdottir. The rest of the Elves teach magic to only one person apiece.

In The Guild of Ornamental Hermits fantasy novels, these Elves have also worked with one or more of the ancestors of each of their human students, dating from the 17th century onward. These ancestors were members of the Twelve Families who helped the Elves to found the ancient mystery school, The Guild of Ornamental Hermits. Sophie Lokisdottir is the exception. Hamfast has not worked with her ancestors.

All character images created via HeroForge.com.

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QQ Excerpt: Lucky LaFey: Character Sketch

Lucky LaFey is a new main character who appears in the third volume of The Guild of Ornamental Hermits series, The Queerest Quest of the Guild of Ornamental Hermits. This third book takes place in Lake County, CA.


Lucky LaFey is a drifter. He wears his mileage lightly though he’s travelled the roughest of roads. However his vocabulary is excellent and his manners are often soft and deferential enough to mark him as having come from “a good home.” He can say “ma’am” and “sir” without a trace of hipster irony. He’s insatiably curious. You’re as likely to find him in a small town library as you are in a big city pool hall.

Tall enough, slender but muscled, green eyes, an age that’s hard to pin down… Lucky’s been known to dye his long red hair jet black. He’s the handsome devil who breezes through town, dances in clubs, picks up odd jobs and odder people. He may break a heart or two when he leaves (but he’s never broken a family).

“What did you see in him?” (Besides that voice, those eyes, the hair, those oddly scarred lips?)

“I don’t know exactly, but I felt like he ‘got me’, ya know? He really got me!”

And she/he/they/ze will remember him for the rest of their lives.

Lucky’s a natural actor. He’s toured with regional theater companies, garnering rave reviews of his almost “chameleon-like” ability to really become the character. And yet, acting was never his passion–just another way to meet people and pass the time. He’s picked up sleight of hand tricks with coins and cards and has a rapid-fire “patter” that’s both hilarious and beguiling. But that’s just a way to win a beer or whiskey on a bet.

Because he’s handsome and his hands are clean, some have mistaken him for a hustler or a gigolo, and tried to play him that way. Yet money never changes hands when it comes to Lucky and sex. Oh, but that’s not to say there’s not a transaction involved! It might be “that ring you’re wearing,” or “my friends and I could use another round” or even, for those “lucky few,” “tattoo my name on your ass so next time I see you, I’ll know you really love me.”

And then he’s off in the night, laughing. (Someone told me once there’s a secret Reddit group for people who’ve gotten those tattoos.)

His own tattoos are faded: a snake biting its own tail on his left bicep, a wolf on his right,  and over his heart, a small skull with half the face of a girl. If you could lift Lucky’s hair from the back of his neck, you’d find a tiny broken heart, but few people have ever been allowed that liberty. Lucky might let you get close, but not that close.

Sometimes you might find Lucky among the “Burners” or hopping trains with young nomads like “Sock Monkey” and “Crash.” He’s learned that people are friendlier when he sits on curbs with a kitten (he loves his animals and always finds them good homes). To hear him tell it, Lucky’s been “a ski bum, a surfer, a demolition derby racer, and a line cook at some top New York restaurants.” He claims to have been married (twice) but never talks about his wives or kids. He plays the guitar and sometimes you might find him sitting in with other musicians in some scruffy bar, or strumming it pensively, alone under a tree in a park.

Don’t offer him a cigarette when you sit down to listen. He gave it up years ago, after that trip to Tibet.

To hear him tell it, Lucky’s been everywhere and done everything. He’ll talk of having one memorable night with Janis or that time in Paris when he posed in drag for Brassai. And then he’ll look you in the eye and laugh, daring you to challenge him (“You couldn’t have! You’re not that old!”). The funny thing is, you almost believe him! He makes you want to believe…

So perhaps it was inevitable that the lanky sweet-talking drifter known as Lucky LaFey would find his way to our new Hermitville Magic and Arts Collective. I found him one morning, comfortably asleep in the hammock that hangs on our wide front porch, with only a backpack and a paperback book for company. I stared at him. He was improbable. His bright red hair caught sunbeam light and threw it back like prism sparkles. And then he yawned, opened his emerald green eyes and grinned at me. It was a look from someone much bigger than a human soul. My heart pounded and all I could think was, “Here comes trouble…”

Lucky LaFey, aka Norse Loki, as rendered in HeroForge.com.

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Oyster Olson – Humble Bluesman Turns Wizard

Oyster Olson is a resident of the fictitious Hermitville Farm and Arts Collective near Pahoa, Hawai’i Island. He is one of twelve “hermits” (musicians, artists, and oddballs) invited to live at the intentional community by the founder, winery heiress Ginger Croom. At the beginning of the book, Oyster has been a resident at the farm for about six years. And he’s probably the most introverted member of the community at that point.

Oyster didn’t start out in my mind as a main character in my work of fantasy fiction, but he, along with Tomma Bedlam and Babe Bump, have grown to become the three main human protagonists. Babe does most of the first person narration, but Oyster and Tomma also narrate chapters, and the friendship between the three is one of my major pleasures in writing this story.

At the start of the book, Oyster is shy, reserved, and somewhat unfocused–unless he’s playing music! In the second chapter, during the farm’s monthly “Community Emergency Response Training” (CERT) drill, Oyster has trouble remembering the meaning of the triage colors* (red, yellow, green) as Tomma, participating as a mock “disaster victim,” is carried to the medical tarp on a repurposed surfboard. Babe notices his distraction, but also takes note of his “swoony” brown eyes.

Oyster is a talented multi-instrumentalist. He plays blues harp (harmonica), synthesizer, keyboards, and even harpsichord, with The Incredible Unstrung Band (the farm band). While skilled on keyboards, his real joy is playing the blues on his harp. At one point in the book he’s delighted to find that Babe recognizes a Charlie Musselwhite tune that he’s playing (Sorcerer’s Dream). Babe, a neo-burlesque artiste, tells Oyster that she’s been a fan of Musselwhite since her teens, and that blues and burlesque go together like “poke and poi.”

Oyster is a transgender man. He’s been keeping this private at Hermitville for personal reasons, but eventually confides in Babe, who is very out as an intersex rights activist. (Tomma, a gender variant person with ze/zir pronouns, figured out Oyster’s secret on zir own, but discreetly never mentioned it.) One wonders why Oyster didn’t confide in Babe and Tomma before, but as I said earlier, the guy is shy!

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1

Oyster’s growth in the book is a result of his growing friendship and intimacy with Babe and Tomma, along with his training in magical arts, and through the magical, multi-dimensional challenges and dangers they all face together.

If I were to cast Oyster’s part in a movie version of the book, I know exactly which trans male actor would get the part. He’s a little younger than Oyster (who is in his mid-40s), but could definitely carry the role. He’s got the right look and “vibe.” Just add a few gray hairs…

*Red-Immmediate Care, Yellow – Delayed Care. Green – Minimal Care. When I lived in Pahoa, HI, I took the CERT training. I had also taken it in Albany, CA.

Intersex Characters in Hermitville

Babe Bump, the book’s primary narrator, and Frank Talk, one of Hermitville’s fine musicans, live in bodies that have intersex variations. However, Babe and Frank each deal with a different set of circumstances, as the intersex variation of each character is different.

Babe was born with partial androgen insensitivity. Fortunately for Babe, her parents resisted medical and social pressure to force genital surgery on her. She self-identified as female at an early age and so did not want androgen therapy at puberty. If you want a simple label, you can think of her as a woman with XY chromosomes. Babe is generally “out” as an intersex person as she is an activist for intersex and trans rights (as well as a well-known neo-burlesque performer).

Frank keeps his condition relatively private, but confided in Babe during the first few months of their residency at Hermitville. Frank has 47 XXY chromosomes, which is known as Klinefelter Syndrome. Most of the other Hermits don’t know, mostly because Frank doesn’t think it is any of their business. He is a performer and he focuses primarily on his music.

Though I am not intersex myself, I included intersex characters in this book, as well as other gender variant and sexually diverse characters, for several reasons – including my background as a sexologist and commitment to sexual and gender rights, and just a general sense of fairness. In the interest of greater visibility, more such characters need to be included in a majority of written and filmed materials. However, characters with such variations do not necessarily need writers to be hyper-focused on the variations, either. This is just be a part of who they are, not the totality of their identities or the totality of how we view or understand them.

So, even though this is fantasy fiction (I’m not an Elf either, but I’m writing about them), I am hoping to do my part to help heighten visibility and awareness for a number of different types of people who are marginalized, including many people in the LGBTQIA etc. categories. The struggles that Intersex people face are almost beyond imagining (including forced surgical mutilation) and yet are very little known to the general public.

I encourage readers to check out these links:

United Nations Intersex Factsheet

Organization Intersex International USA and the Intersex Campaign for Equality

Mx. Annunaki Ray is an intersex activist with many incredible links and blog posts. Check out the page on links for intersex allies, including this printable PDF from OII.

Below is the symbol for Intersex Awareness Day (Oct. 26) and Intersex Day of Solidarity.

flag

Finally, if a movie is ever made from this book, I would want intersex actors to play the intersex characters, trans actors to play trans characters, and so on – so all these folks could get more work!

An infographic created May 29, 2022.