Category Archives: GLBT documentary

“COMING OUT”— Searching for Acceptance

comingout_poster“Coming Out”

Searching for Acceptance

Amos Lassen

Alden Peters was shocked and hurt by theseries of gay teen suicides so when he decided to come out himself, he brought a camera to film each conversation, hoping that this would allow him some control over negative comments. As he captured the various surprising reactions to his revelation. His film also consists of interviews with experts and ultimately he presents us with a heartwarming exploration of a common experience across queer generations. Everything is captured on film as it happened and we see and hear the raw, intimate moments when Alden reveals his true identity to his family and friends. The reactions, range from the painfully awkward to the hilariously honest. Peters’ story bridges generations and societal divides and the film causes us to think about what really means to live and honest life. His film takes us to a place of understanding and acceptance of self and community.

Peters searched for a film that showed the coming out process of coming out but he found nothing but fiction. Every coming out story was told in hindsight, and nobody discussed what happened immediately after coming out. He wanted to see that entire process. As he began planning how he would come out to his family and friends, he decided to make the film he wanted to see.

While this is a personal and subjective film, it also includes the voices of Peters’ entire family, his friends and the LGBT community. This could very easily be an academic film about social issues yet it is fast moving and certainly relevant to a young audience.

coming out

Peters included videos from LGBTQ youth from around the world to broaden the film. He also speaks to author Janet Mock, developmental psychologist Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, journalist Zach Stafford, sociologist Greg Hinckley, and YouTuber Kayla Kearney. In this way the film becomes a framework for LGBTQ youth to pay attention to digital community and issues larger than themselves as well as an accessible resource for families of LGBTQ youth and those unfamiliar with the LGBTQ experience. While making the film, Peters learned that people around the world wanted the same documentary to exist.

Peters wanted to selflessly make a film for others and found that it was much easier “to go through an intensely delicate, vulnerable process with a camera”. It’s what gave me support, structure, and safety.

“I found people to interview to add context to the personal journey. Zach Stafford, a writer for The Guardian, speaks about how LGBTQ youth use the Internet to explore their identities before exploring them in real life. Dr. Ritch Savin-Williams, a developmental psychologist, explains the fallibility of stage models of coming out. Greg Hinckley, a former sociology professor of mine, tells me to stop asking people what I should do next, and to instead go figure it out for myself. Janet Mock, author of Redefining Realness, discusses the importance of sharing your story. I reached out to YouTubers and included many coming out stories in the film, and spoke with Kayla Kearney, who came out to her high school at an assembly in a video that went viral.

The end of the film is a moment of comfort, a benchmark in the formation of my identity as a gay man. I’ve grown a lot since we stopped filming, but the resulting feature documentary depicts a complete coming out like never before. It’s the film I wanted to see years ago when I was alone in my college dorm watching coming out stories on YouTube.”

“In September 2015, Coming Out premiered at the DOCUTAH International Documentary Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. After each of the two screenings, parents came up to me in tears, sharing their gut-wrenching stories about their journeys accepting their LGBTQ children. I learned about suicides, children getting disowned, and families leaving their church to support their children. One young man told me his parents say they love him, but also include “but” afterwards. “We all have our own challenges we need to face,” he told me with a smile. Two parents shared a story about their gay son. After years of rejecting him, they finally left their church and embraced their son for who he is. I could see the pain and challenges in their faces and voices”.



“Stopping HIV: The Truvada Revolution”

A New Medication

Amos Lassen

Producer and Director Eric Leven’s VICE Documentary, “Stopping HIV: The Truvada Revolution” deals with Truvada and PrEP, a new drug that prevents HIV and have been approved by the FDA. Truvada is a medication that may be the first effective tool beyond condoms in preventing the spread of HIV.

Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981, medical researchers from all over the world have been searching for a means to prevent and cure HIV. The filmmakers speak with several activists and medical researchers beginning with Damon L. Jacobs, a proud advocate for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). The PrEP approach to prevention involves HIV-negative individuals taking anti-HIV medications in an effort to reduce their risk of contraction should they come into contact with the virus. Leading PrEP drug Truvada combines two existing medications – Tenofovir and Emtricitabine – ordinarily used to treat those already infected. When the FDA approved Truvada as a PrEP option Jacobs expected it would garner far more attention than it did. Disappointed but inspired, he has taken it upon himself to educate others.

“Jacobs invites viewers into his quarterly medical screening with Dr. Howard Grossman, the former director of the American Academy of HIV Medication who has been in the field since the dawn of the pandemic. The audience is walked through the PrEP exam, which involves a mouth swab and blood work to test kidney function and for STIs. Grossman also keeps tabs on potential Truvada side effects such as loss of bone density, decrease in kidney function, and gastrointestinal upset. He notes these side effects often go away quickly if they are experienced at all, and highlights the overall benefit of patients coming in more regularly for STI and HIV testing, which not only keeps patients on top of their sexual health but enables a more open dialogue about sex between patient and doctor”.

“The importance of education and open dialogue are common themes throughout this documentary that emphasizes the negative impact of judgmental attitudes towards sex as well as disparities in health care based on race and financial status. Representatives from New York’s AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Harlem United are just a few of the interview subjects that help shed light on the current state of HIV treatment in the United States in this frank and honest short film”.

“DRESSED AS A GIRL”— Another Look

dressed as a girl poster

“Dressed As A Girl”

Another Look

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker and director Colin Rothbart takes the men out of the female clothes and makeup and shows us the real people behind the much talked about East London’s alternative drag scene. We hear about overeating, gender dysphoria, egos and excess. He filmed this documentary over a period of six years and we learn of not only the rise and fall of this hugely popular gay club scene but we become privy to some personal, emotionally honest portraits of six individuals at the heart it. Basically it is all about friendship, life and going against the odds—themes that we can all identify with. I love that the film is being called “The frockumentary of the year” and what we see almost immediately is that the make up on the actors only can cover up so much and that there are serious issues hiding underneath. Even when the film seems to lose focus as it does a few times, it remains a lovely documentary of one of London’s lesser-known underground scenes.


The film is narrated by Jonny Woo and it tells the story of some of the most celebrated performers. Along with Woo, we meet Scottee, Holestar, Amber, John Sizzle and Pia. These are not exactly the kind of girls you would bring home to meet mom but they are hard working and have the battle cars to prove it. Each player brings his/her own challenges and past-histories to the table. Two of the most effecting tales are those of Amber’s struggle to transition and gain acceptance from her dad and Scottee’s attempts to get over childhood abuse and being set apart and made fun of.

London is a very special and wonderful city but it so much more than lights, arts, foods, spectacular sights and the queen. It has its own unique culture and within that culture is the East End London drag scene. By way of the film, we are taken on a colorful journey that follows key moments in the day-to-day lives of the cast members and their families. This is hardly your regular documentary fare.

Yoo guides us through the both personal and professional stories of himself and the others. He is a brilliant narrator and the keeps everything moving and lively—so much so that I just watched the film for the third time. It is not enough to meet the “girls”; we also meet their families who add to the stories we hear. The narrator keeps everything moving at a steady pace. But you must be prepared— with every positive and happy moment; there is usually a down moment to counter these. We hear of issues with booze, drugs, mental and emotional struggles, such as coming out and transitioning, and more.


I am not much of a drag queen aficionado but this film pulled me in completely and I must say that it is quite brilliant. The director decided to go into the cast’s personal lives with no barriers and at first we just meet each cast member and their drag personas. As the film moves forward we see layers being peeled back and we get to know each one a little more. By the time the film ends, we feel if we not only know the actors but that they are our friends. I really believe that this film sets a new standard for documentaries. I was totally fascinated by it. I was in love with the film from the moment it began and I sensed I would be seeing something very special and that is exactly what happened. The film takes in so many different genres that it is impossible to categorize— it is part glam rock, part new wave punk, part S & M with an excessively painted face and all fun. Let me add a bit of detail about the people we see on the screen.

Holestar is a woman who dresses up as a drag queen and is somewhat bitter she doesn’t get all the breaks she thinks she deserves; John Sizzle a very successful Drag DJ who is coming to terms with the fact that at aged 45 it is time he had another career; Dean is a burly butch man who transitions to ‘glutathione’ Amber literally in front of our eyes; and Scottie is a confrontational and dramatic performance artist who goes through a phase of making his audiences share his deep depression about the life he had with his parents. Woo also has had demons and problems. He almost died when his vital organs started to not work as a result of the terrible way he had treated them in the past. Today he is clean and sober but his performances have not suffered. He is the same as he always was on stage, I understand.

dressed as a girl semi poster

Opinions about drag queens are a dime a dozen and we all have them (opinions not drag queens). They are part of LGBT history and they are responsible for many of the rights we have today. They can be fun yet they can be mean and nasty. Some feel that they mock women and are harmful stereotypes. This documentary will challenge how you feel about drag— either positively or negatively. We become very aware of the personal challenges that the performers have faced and their dark sides are not hidden from us.

Whether you’re a fan of drag or not, this is a film you should see. It is important to remember that the actors we meet here are real people who may not fit into any of the boxes society has to offer. Here we see a world that is both complex and shallow, a world that has its stereotypes but remains unique, thought provoking and egocentric.


women he's undressed poster

“Women He’s Undressed”

Orry-Kelly, Costume Designer

Amos Lassen

“Women He’s Undressed” is Gillian Armstrong’s documentary about three-time Academy Award Winning Costume Designer, Australian born Orry-Kelly. A very young Orry George Kelly left Australia for the US in the 1920’s to find fame and fortune on Broadway. His career as a chorus boy did not last and after having dropped too many female dancers on stage, he decided it was time to retire. He got a job painting murals in a nightclub and this led to him designing costumes on Broadway. His boyfriend,

Archie Leech wasn’t having much luck as an actor and was trying to get cast based upon his good looks. In the 30s, Kelly moved to Hollywood and eventually became the head costume designer at Warner Studios where he stayed until 1944 having been expected to work on as many as 50 movies each year. The stars loved and he gathered raves in his work from the actresses he created costumes for.

At about the same time, his boyfriend also found some success now as Hollywood took to his handsome good looks and he changed his name to Cary Grant, but the two men soon split and went their separate ways.  Orry-Kelly added the hyphen to his name to make himself sounded more glamorous and grand and he was very open about his sexuality and was in fact quite brazen about it, whereas Grant lived ‘sort of’ in the closet.  He lived with actor Randolph Scott for a decade and even when the studios made Grant marry (for the first of three times) he simply moved his bride into the house he shared with Scott.


What makes this documentary unique is that it is as much about the man as it is about his career. We see Orry-Kelly as a man with a zest for life. After leaving Warner, he did some of his best work as he worked at Universal, RKO, 20th Century Fox, and MGM studios. He won three Academy Awards for Best Costume Design—“An American in Paris:, “Les Girls” and “Some Like It Hot” and was nominated for a fourth for “Gypsy”. Many of the movies (285 of them)54 that he designed costumes for went on to become classics of American cinema. He designed for all the great actresses of the day, including Bette Davis, Kay Francis, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Hepburn, Dolores del Río, Ava Gardner, Ann Sheridan, Barbara Stanwyck, and Merle Oberon and he created the clothing for two actors, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis for their cross-dressing scenes. While he loved excess in his personal life, his costumes were filled with color but he did not use ruffles or frills. For him, less was more.

The film has interviews with fashion icons Jane Fonda, Angela Lansbury, June Dally-Watkins , costume designers Catherine Martin, Ann Roth, Kym Barrett, Michael Wilkinson, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Hollywood identities and historians including director/producer Eric Sherman, Hollywood fixer Scotty Bowers, Leonard Maltin, David Chierichetti, Marc Eliot, William J Mann, Jean Mathison, Larry McQueen and Barbara Warner Howard (daughter of Ann & Jack Warner).

In “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) Orrie-Kelly worked with Cary Grant for the first time. The two men had shared an intimate relationship some years earlier lasting 9 years. The details of this relationship forms a large part of the narrative. We get a keen sense of the history of the times and the Studio’s objectives to create the beautiful American Dream but that dream clearly did not include homosexuality.

We see a bit about his relationships with Jack and Ann Warner, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and hear from a huge range of talents including June Dally-Watkins, Ann Roth, director Eric Sherman and others. The film is filled with energy, passion and a keen sense of this non-conformist rebel and artist, who lived his life according to his own code of integrity.

Director Armstrong takes the concept of Kelly’s identity a step further by having part of the documentary made up of actors playing Kelly, his family and famous Hollywood friends, reading notes and book excerpts throughout.

Darren Gilshenan plays Kelly who’s presented as putting on a one-man show of sorts, rowing a rowboat in the afterlife. Since Kelly isn’t actually seen in photos or footage until the final reels, Gilshenan becomes synonymous with the role, making Kelly his own.

Several famous cases of openly gay actors are mentioned, particularly silent star William Haines who, when talkies took over, was forced out of Hollywood for refusing to date women. Other costume designers, like the famous Adrian, married women and lived false lives of domesticity. Kelly refused to date, and because he was so beloved the studios allowed him to be who he was, so long as he didn’t flaunt it. With Kelly’s personal life the film gets particularly interesting.

“MADE IN BANGKOK”— Meet Morgana

made in bangkok“Made in Bangkok”

Meet Morgana

Amos Lassen

Director Flavio Florencio has a new film about Morgana “a transgender soprano with a relentless determination to fight against social stigma and family prejudice to the attainment of a universal milestone: the self-assertion of herself as a human being with dignity socially recognized. To this end, he embarks on an odyssey with lights and shadows to try to build an identity persecuted throughout his life, an identity made in Bangkok”.


This is a film that we will be hearing a lot about.

“SCRUM”— Playing the Game



Playing the Game

Amos Lassen

We do not know a great deal about rugby in this country but it is probably safe to say that most of us do not think of it as an emotional game. We now see with this film that it is not only emotional but it sometimes can be something of a microcosm of gay life. After all there is camaraderie, camp and bitchiness as well as lots of mud. There is also bullying, rejection, being lost and found right along with a rough, tough contact sport.


One of the purposes of sport is to being people together and Poppy Stockwell’s film shows just that—we see unity and sportsmanship is different ways than we have seen it before. We meet the Sydney Convicts who are rugby champions and devotees, hard-core sportsmen and gay men. With the Bingham Cup looming, each player must fight for his place on the squad – determined not to be benched. “Scrum” follows the team in both the lead up to, and through, the competition. We see via slow-motion camera work, the ferociousness of the sport and with each touch down another stereotype is destroyed. Everything here is dripping in both sweat and masculinity. Within the locker rooms and in quaint cafes, we get to know the team more intimately. The film focuses on just a few members of the squad and in this way we get a more detailed, intimate look into their sport, their struggles and their sexuality. An eccentric Irish man, a gentle Japanese giant and a ruggedly handsome Canadian are at the center and focus of this celebration of both sport and self that is powerful and personal. We hear the banter and mischief (as well as the occasional intimate moment). which our director beautifully captures but never invades. The characters bring the charisma and comedy that comes together eloquently in each intense sequence of the film.


This is a simple story told well and it is a sports movie with a lot of meaning. The film breaks down preconceptions and reminds us that we are not defined by our sexuality het it is very important in terms of who we are. We see that homosexuality does not mean compromising on masculinity (even though we should all already be certain of that). This is a film about men who play rugby and their homosexuality brings them closer together as teammates and friends. We meet men who are liberated through the acceptance they feel within the Sydney Convicts. The Bingham Cup, if you remember, was founded in memory of Mark Bingham, one of the victims and heroes on board the hijacked flight 93 on September 11th 2001. In his honor, this international, gay rugby tournament was born and I am pretty sure that he would be very proud to see the dismissal of gay stereotypes that we see here.

“IN THE TURN”— Meet Crystal

in the turn1a

“In the Turn”

Meet Crystal

Amos Lassen

“In the Turn” is about Crystal, a 10-year-old transgender girl growing up in rural Canada, as she deals with the difficult and complicated world that surrounds her. At school she is tormented by teachers and peers alike and she faces daily assaults in the form of insults and physical altercations. This not only weighs on her but on the stability both emotionally and physically of her family.

The film follows Crystal’s journey as she and her family struggle against prejudice, hatred and ignorance. After she was not allowed to join local athletics teams due to her gender, Crystal and her mom discovered the Vagine Regime, an international queer collective of roller derby players made up of people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and identities. The Vagine Regime not only accepted Crystal, but actively supported her journey and because of it, Crystal emerges from exclusion and becomes empowered.

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All of us are certainly aware of the importance of a community where we can feel at home in and that understands us. For transgender children it is that much more important. Director Erica Tremblay brings us a wonderful film that deals with that and with so much more.

Crystal grew up in Timmins, Ontario a rural village and she knew that even though biologically she is male, inside she is female and more than anything she wanted to be able to show that. As early as five years old she spoke about suicide and actually spoke about being a girl as early as three years old. She transitioned while at school and was the target of bullies. Because of her living in rural Canada, youngsters do not have the opportunities for diversity like urban kids and act out how they feel by bullying. Crystal also faced prejudice from the school— her mother had to fight them for Crystal to be able to use the girls’ washroom and she was unable to continue sports, being told she wasn’t allowed to join the girls’ teams. Soon after her mother started playing roller derby, they learned about the Vagine Regime as a place for girls like Crystal who need a safe space. Crystal and her mother sent a letter to the organization and they were so touched by her story that they raised enough money to fly to Los Angeles so that Crystal could participate in a boot camp and play with other girls her age. We also get the stories of several other queer players from the Vagine Regime league and this demonstrates that there are plenty of people out there like Crystal and for her to know she is not alone.

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There are some really important messages here in this film. We see just how important community is especially for the young and transgender. We also see the importance of being authentic. While Crystal’s experiences were empowering, so is the film empowering for us. It is not often that we hear stories of people as young as Crystal and is important that we be aware. Additionally, director Tremblay lets every player tell her or his story as various rollers from the Vagine Regime provide tales that are very much like Crystal’s struggle for strength and confidence. Members of Vagine Regime discuss their coming out and evolution as queer players and we see that all voices are welcome. We hear of romance and families coming into being and about players who become mentors for others. Emma, another transwoman relates her story that is very similar to Crystal’s.

I found the film to be a celebration of diversity and I was very inspired by it. The fact that I have a transgender nephew also explains why the film is important to but it should also be important to all of us.  




“MALA MALA”—- Celebrating the Trans Community

mala mala

“Mala Mala”

Celebrating the Trans Community

Amos Lassen

In Puerto Rico, the trans community is in the midst of an ever-present battle both internally and externally. “Mala Mala” looks at that community and explores self-discovery and activism, featuring a diverse collection of subjects that include LGBTQ advocates, business owners, sex workers, and a boisterous group of drag performers who call themselves The Doll House. What we see is the fight for personal and community acceptance that has been met with highs and lows.


Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’s “Mala Mala” introduces its characters through slow motion with their names emblazoned across the screen. We see and hear them speaking about their identities, performing and frolicking. They are celebrated in the film as women who supply man with oral sex while on the road yet wear their best clothing to court to testify in an anti-discrimination bill. They are both sex toys and activists who perform sexually one way with their clients and the opposite way with their boyfriends.

The girls share the difficulty of getting a job, how they started their lives as males with the essence of females and their obsessions. There is something very special here—when the film was screened at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival it received a standing ovation. The stats are members of Puerto Rico’s transgender community. The star of RuPaul’s “Drag Race”, season 6, Ivana Fred is the island’s most visible trans activist appears here as well.


First-time directors Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini, took three years to make this film that brings together very different stories. There is Sandy, a sex worker from the rough neighborhood of La 15 and there is Paxx, a trans man who has no local support, for example.

As the directors worked on the documentary film, they learned how the lives and the dreams of these two groups of people ranged from wanting to be successful beauty queens to simply being able to pass undetected in the street as a woman.


The film follows a small group of very diverse and colorful subjects. Each of them has their own way of dealing with their situations in life. Soraya is an older woman who was one of the few who had not only had a complete sex change but also a new ‘birth certificate’ and strongly resists the term ‘transgender’. She “gender dysmophia”; Ivana Fred is a very glamorous trans spokesperson who spends her nights handing out condoms and lube to her friends who are sex workers; Sandy tells us what sexual services she will do for her ‘clients’ and those that she reserves for her boyfriend who clearly adores her. Queen Bee and Alberic Pradoc are drag queens that live as men by day and then transform into ridiculously glittering women at night to perform in gay bars. One of their number, April Carrion, succeeds beyond his wildest dreams and gets selected to appear on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’.  What we really see is the happiness and the optimism that the girls radiate.

Sophia from New York moved to Puerto Rico because she was told that she would have more sex there and now she has fully transitioned into a woman. There is nothing at all glamorous about her and she is quite plump but it is her ambition to be able to shop in the supermarket without creating attention. Then there is Samantha  who could only afford less-than-satisfactory black market hormones and has had to temporarily stop her transition. She is angry that society won’t accept her as she is.

The girls came together to create the Butterfly Trans Foundation in order to improve their lot.  They marched on the Capital they testified successfully before the State Legislature and that helped the passing of a piece of Landmark legislation to give their equal rights.  This was exactly what some of them like Sandy have always wanted; they could finally stop doing demeaning sex work and get real jobs like everyone else.


The tales that we see are an insightful look into a community that is either ignored by filmmakers or so completely misunderstood that they are portrayed unsympathetically. We see these stories with no commentary or moral judgments. We also do not see any curtailment of dreams or broken spirits. The cinematography is riveting and it captures both the bright and the dark in the girls’ lives.

As we watch, it seems, at first, that this is a colorful documentary about the Puerto Rican transgender community but it slowly becomes a celebration of solidarity and collective activism. Except for Paxx Moll, a woman who identifies as a man, the films’ transgender subjects are transitioning from male to female. They seem to be totally at ease with that duality, utterly unself-conscious even in mid-transformation.


jojo baby poster

“Clive Barker Presents Jojo Baby Without the Mask”

The Magical World of Jojo

Amos Lassen

Without question, Clive Barker is a cultural visionary who met Jojo, an artist who grew up in Chicago’s Logan Square and has lived and worked on the corner of Milwaukee and North Avenues for the last ten years. Barker became fascinated by Jojo and this documentary is the result of that fascination. Jojo leads a colorful and somewhat zany life in a world that is of his own making. He takes not only through his home that is filled with art and dolls but also through his creative process. He also shares his life with us that unfortunately has had some sad moments.


Jojo’s home and studio are in Gallery 352 in Wicker Park’s Flat Iron Building. It is the last of the galleries tucked away on the building’s third floor. Jojo tells us that where and how he lives is like being the piece of cheese at the end of a maze. Appropriately, Jojo has painted the exterior wall of his space as a giant piece of Swiss cheese. He tells us that he has been living there for ten years having started out on the third floor in an apartment he describes as being the size of a broom closet. (Gee, when was the last time you heard that expression “broom closet”?).He wanted to show people that you did not have to have a huge gallery and white walls, serve wine and cheese and have violins playing. I wanted to show that you could have a nice gallery in a tiny tiny space”. Earlier this year the building owner, Bob Berger, told him that he was no longer commercially viable and that he no longer needed the corner space. Jojo answered him that this film was coming out and Berger raised his rent by $650.

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JoJo Baby has had three heroes. One is Boy George, another was Jim Henson, who died too young and Clive Barker who came to town in 2008 and JoJo was going to do whatever it took to meet him. Barker eventually paid a visit to JoJo’s Closet, the gallery in Wicker Park’s Flat Iron Building, a place filled with JoJo’s plaster-cast erections, his hundreds of antique dolls, and dozens of his “children”—the fantastic but eerily verisimilar dolls he constructs from salvaged materials.

Barker was immediately taken with JoJo and his work that he commissioned a documentary on him and this is the result of that. Barker had some friends who were equally as passionate about enlightening the world to JoJo and his art, and along with a meager budget that Barker provided, the movie was made.


Jojo’s real name is Joseph Arguellas and he has been the unmistakable host of the Monday-night dance party Boom Boom Room. He gets double takes because of his costumes and make-up but it is all done in fun. One of three brothers, his father is a Greek immigrant; his mother a Lakota Indian mother who was a Bunny at the Chicago Playboy Club in the 60s. Jojo was somewhat attracted to the priesthood as an adolescent and studied for a year at Quigley Preparatory Seminary but then dropped out, having been advised, he says, that he was “too theatrical” for the school. That was the end of Jojo’s academic education. By the time he was 14 he was enrolled in beauty school and frequenting house-music clubs. A bartender at Kaboom in the West Loop suggested he use his resemblance to Divine, (he worked out an impersonation for Halloween). “I felt like through Divine, I got to become myself,” JoJo says. From that he got jobs performing and he was thought to be one of the original Chicago club kids. As he started  to realize his sexuality, he felt more and more estranged from his father and brothers. He got a job as a hairstylist and shared an apartment with Jeff-Free, Cookie Dough, and Trixie Thunderpussy—fellow underage club kids and he began performing. He began going out in three-foot platform shoes, elaborate face paint, and costumes notable for the homemade puppets attached to them. He also began performing with a stilt walker, Silky Jumbo, in a duo they called Super Luber Goo. A friend introduced JoJo to Greer Lankton, the transgender doll maker who feathered Big Bird for the 1985 Sesame Street movie. Lankton, a star of New York’s East Village scene who’d moved back to Chicago to clean up, invited JoJo to her apartment to learn how to make armature, or skeletal frameworks, for his dolls. “Ten years later, I was still there making dolls with her,” JoJo says.


By the time Lankton died of a cocaine overdose in 1996, JoJo’s dolls had developed their own singular style. Then some fifteen years ago, JoJo opened JoJo’s Closet in the actual broom closet of No Hope No Fear Tattoo in the Flat Iron, paying $50 a month. Later he moved into a larger space on the building’s high-visibility corner. In 2005, after a series of complications from a brown recluse bite—which he describes in anguished detail in the documentary—JoJo’s mother died. In her honor he legally changed his name to his stage name, JoJo Baby, which was her pet name for him when he was a child. Later that year, JoJo was diagnosed with testicular cancer and HIV. ” He underwent surgery and radiation therapy for the cancer, and then started a regimen of HIV drugs. In the film, we see his hands shale as he mixes his medication cocktail. I understand that the shaking is a side effect of the AZT in the cocktail.



JoJo’s health is relatively stable now. But, he says, “a common cold could still knock me out, which is why I trap myself in my box with my dogs”—a pair of three-legged rescue Chihuahuas named Sir Leftalot and Venus de Milo. He still hosts the Boom Boom Room in full regalia. Now his primary income is a monthly disability check. He’s always working on dolls and commissioned costumes, but more often than not he winds up bartering them or giving them away as gifts.


Documentary filmmakers Mark Danforth and Dana Buning spent two weeks with JoJo. The film follows him as builds a seven-foot Marilyn Monroe doll, gets tattooed, and dressed up for Boom Boom Room. Jojo tells us that he is more confident when he is dressed up even though money is tight when his income is his disability check.

I’ll close by saying that this is quite a film about quite a character and you do not want to miss it.




back on board

“Back On Board: Greg Louganis”

A New Documentary about Greg Louganis

Amos Lassen

Greg Louganis is a legend in the America because of becoming the first man in Olympic history to sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympic Games, winning four golds, along with five World Championship titles.

He has also become another in that he has been (and still is) a trailblazer in the gay rights movement and being one of the most high profile figures living with HIV. “Back On Board: Greg Louganis” takes a look at him.

The synopsis reads like this: “Now 55, Greg Louganis was adopted before his first birthday and grew up in Southern California, taking up diving at age nine. Throughout a difficult childhood, he was forced to deal with depression, bullying and prejudice.

‘Louganis won the silver medal in the 10M Platform event at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal at age 16. In 1978, his diving skills earned him a scholarship to the University of Miami. Three years later, following the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, where Louganis would have been the favorite in two diving events, he returned to Southern California to finish his degree and diving career at the University of California, Irvine.”


“He became a full-fledged international diving star in 1984. At the Summer Games in Los Angeles, Louganis won gold medals in the 10M Platform and 3M Springboard events. Four years later in Seoul, he became the only male diver in history to win those events in back-to-back Olympic Games.”

“In one of the most notable moments of his storied career, Louganis suffered a cut on his head when he hit the diving board during a preliminary round of the Seoul Games, but went on to win his gold medals days later. Though the American public originally lauded Louganis for his competitive spirit, it was not known at the time that he had tested positive for HIV six months earlier. When Louganis later announced that he was HIV-positive, it sparked outrage over his original non-disclosure of the virus and sparked a nationwide conversation about HIV/AIDS and sports.”

“Greg Louganis announced to the world that he was gay in the mid-1990s, but it was a not a well-kept secret in the diving world before that. During his dominance in the 1980s, many sponsors knew of his sexual orientation, which limited his marketability – just one example of the homophobia and hateful rhetoric that followed him long before and after his official announcement that he was gay.”

“Ending a prolonged absence from the diving world, Louganis has returned to mentor the next generation of American divers. e offers unprecedented access to the Olympian as he struggles with financial security and reunites with the sport that he once dominated, but did not feel accepted in. The film examines the good times and bad times, including the choices, relationships and missed opportunities Louganis has experienced throughout his career as a sports pioneer”.

The film premiered on HBO in the US on August 4th and is currently running there.