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out on a limb

Volume 15/Issue 15

Story-telling: Tutankhamen's Tomb

This week, I want to tell you a story about someone I know-actually, this is a story about someone I don't know at all. This person is truly a figment of my imagination, a fiction built upon performance and illusion. And I want to tell you about how I had an opportunity to glimpse behind the curtain of this person's facade...and about how what I found there was not a man manipulating a machine to make himself larger than life. No, what I discovered was a world unexplored, a relationship never offered...a life not revealed. But let me tell the story.

Everybody does it. We all have preconceived notions about how people are, about who they are, and why. Just think of the number of people we encounter in our lifetimes, but whom we never explore. We are satisfied to co-exist for a time in the same locality, until we move on to the next stop and someone gets on or off the vehicle of our lives.

Well, I had been occupying the same time and space with this person for over a year. Oh, I knew she existed, but I chose not to acknowledge that fact on a personal level. You could say we worked together. That's all-until one day last week when the curtains parted and we actually saw one another without all the camouflage-we were alien to each other until that point-until suddenly our eyes met and we traveled into each others' beings, if only for a moment.

I guess the distance between us was one of those things created by gay mythology and race. On the one hand, I, as a lesbian, believed that I had nothing to offer a person whose life was far removed from my own. She was a highly polished queen with the beauty and grace of a gazelle... I was a tomboy lesbian. Her clothing was straight off the racks of Saks Fifth Avenue and mine were direct from Eddie Bauer. She surrounded herself with an entourage of people and yet she always seemed alone. I was always busy, so a simple "hello" seemed to suffice each Sunday night when she came through the doors at Rubyfruit Jungle.

She never forgot to return my greeting, but that was the extent of our interaction. We just did not communicate. I wrote it off as encounters of the Third Kind: neither of us spoke each other's language.

And so it went for over a year...until recently. Then one night, in the midst of a crowd, I was bowled over by her honesty and her sincerity. She made me feel humble as she took my hand, turned the palm up to her lips and left the imprint of a kiss there. She then closed my fingers around that kiss...and I think I still have it. I only hope I can repay her in kind.

I met Teryl-Lynn Foxx in the newspaper-no, not in the personal ads. Actually, there was a lengthy article about her in the Times Picayune in 1994. There she was in 5 columns, smiling out from the front page of the Living Section. In the photo, she held her high school graduation picture-it seemed that a mother was proudly holding the picture of her child. In reality, the woman in the picture was the boy in the graduation tuxedo. She was he; he, she. They were one but they were also the two very separate sides of Terry Sanders. The headline read WHO IS TERRY? That's the question I have yet to answer.

Terry is gorgeous. The classically sculptured lines of her face bring to mind the Egyptian pharaoh royalty of 2000 years ago. She moves with the grace of a cat, and she guards her secrets as well as the Sphinx. Terry tells nothing...Terry is a mystery.

I read the newspaper article with great interest, trying to learn as much about her as I could... what she thought, how she viewed her life, what her goals were. In the two-page color photo spread inside Living, I saw a Terry who was confident and self-assured-visiting with relatives, shopping with her mother, performing on stage. I read her words recorded by the reporter, all very carefully chosen for the best possible reflection of Terry's happy life.

But I also saw the shadow-the ghost who stood just behind her shoulder in every picture, and I'm not talking about a photographer's double exposure. Something seemed ever-present with Terry, something she would not share, nor could the writer ferret it out in the article. From beginning to end, Terry was in control of what the public saw and what they "thought" they knew about her. Ah, Terry the grand illusionist! Now you see her, now you don't.

Currently, I have the pleasure of working with Teryl-Lynn Foxx both at Rubyfruit Jungle and at Some Like It Hot on Bourbon Street. She's a hard-worker, a perfectionist, a great comedian with split-second timing. She knows how to work an audience and she knows how to work her magic, because that's exactly what Terry does-she mixes talent with magic, practice with perfection, the real with the illusion. The only thing is, to me, Terry has achieved the miracle of transcendence: she IS a woman. And I wonder if it really matters that she was born with non-female plumbing.

You see, I have discovered in my life the very subtle difference between "what is" and "what should be." Sometimes "the what is" isn't and the "what should be" is real. I'm not talking about delusion here, I'm talking about what "feels" right when we close our eyes and ears to the cacophony of rights and wrongs about gender and sense what is true.

My senses tell me that the person I see nearly every night is a woman... one of the bravest ones I know.

Now, she will dispute all of this. I know Terry, and she will find much in this column to brush aside. But the truth about someone is made up not just of what they think about themselves... it is made of up, additionally, of what others think about them... and of how we relate to one another on this planet. With Terry, I am always just a little bit in awe... and a lot perplexed about who she is behind that smile and those brooding eyes.

We all enjoy Terry's talents and we shout our praise when she performs for us. But I think she also performs for herself. She puts on many, many costum es and many, many persona. She employs drama and wit, humor and pathos to keep us focused on her illusion... then she disappears. She is gone behind a screen that is both opaque and always changing. I must reiterate the 1994 question: Who Is Terry?

I hold that kiss she planted in my hand carefully in the hope that it will grow into a fine, productive association. The value in Terry is not to be taken for granted. No, I think it will take a very long time to discover her secrets, especially since I don't always know exactly what I am looking for.

As Howard Carter, the discoverer of Tutankhamen's tomb, exclaimed on that fateful day in 1922 when he got his first glimpse into its interior: "I see wonderful things!" And in Teryl-Lynn Foxx's case, the curse would be never to learn what those things are.

I'll keep exploring.

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