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Lorna Washington is one of the most established artists of the LGBT+ night in Rio de Janeiro. With decades of career, Lorna’s trajectory has recently yielded a cinematographic documentary. Intelligent, she talks about the most diverse subjects with authority, like someone who has a lot of history to tell (inside and outside the stages). Raised in Copacabana, she saw the birth – and also “death” – of several nightclubs aimed at the gay public in the 80s, but she never left the scene and continues to show all her talent and versatility to an audience that has been accompanying her for decades.
You are a veteran cross-dresser with decades of career. Do you think that cross-dressing art has lived better days, drawing a parallel between past and present?
Yes, we already live better days. We already had several nightclubs in Rio: in the downtown, in the north, in the south, there was a lot of jobs. I went from one club to another to do shows. Nowadays, we have at most one sauna to do; that are few, very few. There are 3 saunas here in Rio that are still doing shows, but this is when you can do it, because it is a very closed clique, it is very restricted, they are always the same. Not before, you had the discotheques, the nightclubs, the theaters. There was a lot of theater, too. So, nowadays, I always say that there has always been an average and for some time now. That average dropped and everything become very mediocre. This past week, it opened a nightclub and was closed the next day. It opened on Thursday and on Friday they already closed, here comes one of the partners who came from outside Brazil and did something outside, I don’t know what… But there wasn’t a “door” (reception with) drag in the house. It had absolutely nothing; a show, nothing. They think that opening the house nowadays is just making a good place and forget that there has to be something more attractive, always one more attraction for the show. It always has been like this, it doesn’t matter, what works is the show, there’s no way. And yet they think they are very modern – and I don’t see any modernity. Nothing, absolutely nothing, quite the contrary, everything is very mediocre.
How is your relationship with the other drags, like Suzy Brasil, Silvetty Montila?
I always got along well with everyone, always. For example, I introduced Silvety Montila to a nightclub that I used to do, called Gens, in SP. Until recently, before the pandemic, we had a live together and remembered this period in São Paulo, which was a very good period. And, with Suzy Brasil too, I saw Suzy starting, I have a very good relationship, because I like talented people. I never liked people without talent, so when there is talent there is mutual respect between people. When there is no talent, you simply tolerate that person. But there is respect between us, because we are talented thanks to God.
Was there a lot of competitiveness in the past, to throw under the bus?
When I started, it was in the middle of some cross-dressers who were already doing shows. I came from another lineage because I used to be a comedy girl. So, I was not a threat, I was the comedian in the cast and, after that, I started to make some club houses here in Rio, in the south zone. Then I went to replace Edy Star in the clubs he worked there in the pussy whores of Prado Jr.(in Copacabana) and also in the first break of Cinema Íris, always doing comedy. So, right after that, I ended up at Papagaio (one of the most famous nightclubs of the 70s) and I didn’t have any competition, because I had my dancers and there were always attractions that I called. We paid the fee and stuff. I had three people who worked with me, one was Marina Cuck, the other was Desiree (the old one) and the other was Chayenne Creck Creck. None of the three do shows anymore. Creck Creck lives in Germany, Desiree is in Italy, and Marina became Tom Rio, who is a makeup artist. I mean, I had this group of people that worked with me and others that I received. So, I never had this competitive feeling, because I worked Friday and Saturday at Papagaio and did it on Monday with Lola Montez at Incontrus. She was who received people, she who called people because I didn’t know almost anyone, because as soon as I started, I left the Alasca gallery, I went to do some shows, then I went to do a show at Prado Jr, from there I went to Cinema Íris, and from there it ended up on the Papagaio. At that time, I didn’t know what competitiveness was because I had my own cast, if it existed? Yes, it existed, but it didn’t reach me, because I was already at another level. I was kindly loaned by Ricardo Amaral, I was not a person who took my clutch and put it under my arm and went to do shows in places. I had my fixed spot, I had my dressing room at Papagaio, with all my clothes, ballerina clothes and everything else. So, competitiveness certainly existed, but I didn’t feel it because I kind of did my job there at Papagaio, which earned me a lot of cash, and I didn’t need to run from here to there, as I do nowadays. And nowadays there are these competitiveness, but for me I don’t even care, if there is, I don’t even know, because I’m so above that. I always say a phrase:“If you want me, invite me, because the dog who enters the church is because the door is open”. If you didn’t call me, it’s because you don’t want me, so I’m not going, I’m staying at my house, I’m doing so well.
There was a rumor that the cross-dressers/drags didn’t like Laura de Vison, is that true? How was your relationship with Laura?
The problem that people had with Laura is that if you got there in Boêmio (a bar in the center of the city in Rio de Janeiro, where at night it was a nightclub) and if she was going to make a song, she said that you wouldn’t make that song, because it was going to do. It was as if the singer had recorded just for her. And she had an entourage that accompanied her, which put certain things in her head that she did not know of the truth of the fact, and allowed herself to be engulfed by the whispers of others. I didn’t know her personally, I knew she was in the Boêmio, she was there and I was at Papagaio, we both worked on the weekend. Then, what happened? She got into someone whisper and once a guy invited me (me first) to do a show called “A volta da Banana”, which was there in downtown. We were going to sing for an audience that would be the singers of Porgy and Bess, who came from the United States to perform at the Municipal Theater and he was going to do this ball “A volta da Banana” in them honor. He went to Papagaio, the fee at the time was 2,500 cruzeiros, it was a lot of money, and he told me he was going to call Laura to do it with me, and I said: “How wonderful, how great, she is a great artist, I really like her work”. He went to Boêmio that night, and when he spoke to her, she said she was going to do it, but when he said it was me, she said: “No! I don’t work with this fag, because I don’t like this fag ”- and she didn’t even know me. She lost, and then she tried to do it, and the guy replied: “No! Now I’m the one who doesn’t want it”. The years passed, I went to the Boêmio to watch, I never went as a woman, I went as a man once, and whoever worked with her was a girl who still continues to perform, who replaced Laura during her vacation, which was Magaly Penélope. She replaced Laura de Vison. She called me and called all the presenters that Laura didn’t call and it was an event: Meime dos Brilhos, me, Lola Batalhão and others she didn’t call. When Laura came back from vacation, she realized her mistake and started calling us. Then I went to do it in the Boêmio with her. The years passed, the Boêmio closed. The empire of Laura de Vison ended, because she called the shots there and she had to do shows in other places. She went there to do it at Incontrus (extinct gay nightclub in Copacabana), I think she did it on a Tuesday, I asked her to do Monday with me so she could call people to see her on her day. I was the only presenter who did that, because the others didn’t, because they still remembered her from Boêmio. I didn’t have this problem, because I worked at Papagaio, I didn’t do the Boêmio, we were two totally different stories. I had nothing against her, I never had, she let herself be carried away by people who worked with her, who didn’t like me and put it in her head, I realized that. Years passed, I was sick, I had a leg problem, she went to visit me at the Ipanema hospital and when she left, she visited me once a week, she put an envelope under my bed: “Oh, Lorna, here for you my daughter” (Lorna imitates Laura’s laugh). I said:“No, Laura, you don’t have to” and she replied “No, no … it’s here”. And left. The next week she did the same thing. I got out of the hospital, thank goodness, and that’s when she got sick. I went to visit her and had a very sad experience. To see that creature as it was, full of life… She was in bed at a Portuguese hospital over there in Tijuca. She was tied to the bed, she didn’t speak, she just let out a few grunts, it wasn’t even a scream, because she wanted to talk and couldn’t. She had an ischemia problem, I believe, and it was very sad, you see the person like that, a person like her, who was a great personality, who won an award even from the cinema, ended up like that. I never had anything against Laura, on the contrary. There was a time when she distribute candy at Le Boy, they didn’t even let her get to the microphone. You imagine what it must have been like for her as an artist, she didn’t even pick up the microphone. She was there at the door giving people candy, which Gilles (owner of Le Boy) asked her to do this and others even said “Oh, Gilles, let her pick up the microphone”, because it was another who also let himself be engulfed by whispers; and he wouldn’t let her. That is very sad.
Not long ago, a well-known drag declared in a live that he no longer made fat jokes in his shows due to a criticism that a spectator made after a show. How do you analyze the politically correct in humor today?
Darling, we are going back to the AI-5 era, because nothing can be said. You can’t say anything and you can’t be you. People are castrating artists of all kinds, because they are curtailing our freedom of expression. You, today, cannot say anything, absolutely nothing. On Facebook there is a bunch of fake news, a lot of things that if you say a “son of a bitch” or a “fuck you” they cut you out for an week, make you punishment, as if you were a ten year old child or a little child who is learning to speak and the mother says “don’t say that” and spanks the child. So, this politically correct… I don’t know what is politically correct. For me, politically correct would be people not dying in line at hospitals waiting for surgery, not being contaminated with Covid, things being closed, but everyone having decent money to be able to stay in their homes, service providers. This to me is a f-word. This is a phobia for me, and not saying that a person is fat, because she is really fat, you see that she is fat, damn it! To say that a person is black, she is black, or the person is a fag, is a fag! Is poor? Is poor. What will you do? Are you going to lie to the person? So you mean you have to live a lie? And can’t the artist speak the truth? Do you have to tell a lie? So, things are very difficult, right? I see it like I said before, the average is down. Things are very mediocre. Many uninformed people want to act like the informed one in the room, do you understand? Too many people who do not read. The vast majority of people do not read. They don’t know what a book is. If you ask what was the last book they read, they will not be able to tell you, because they have not read any. They have this immediate communication from the Internet, Facebook and nothing else. They have no foundation. They are all superficial and feel they are all masters of the truth. It’s complicated.
You were the first artist of the LGBT night in Brazil to talk about HIV and AIDS, right?
What motivated me to talk about HIV in the 80s when I started my line of shows, was exactly to see my friends die. People were not diagnosed at that time, because doctors were blind, nothing was known about HIV in the 80s, which was in the AIDS boom, and I saw people die. I saw people get contaminated. I saw people languishing. And, I felt that I had to do something and it was my duty as an artist, as a person who had a microphone at hand, I couldn’t just shut up. I couldn’t just do a show, talk nonsense, show off the pretty dress and say nothing, let it go, run wild. So, I embraced the HIV cause. Until today my social death started in that period, when people said I was HIV since that period, so as I was bitten by the solidarity mosquito, I did not consider any of these observations and moved on with my life. And I have not stopped being supportive until today. And what drove me was exactly that – watching people die, they didn’t even have a diagnosis of life, but they did have a diagnosis of death.
Is it true that you were the first person in Brazil to be tested for HIV in the country?
Yes, I ended up becoming an HIV reference in Brazil because of my activism. I was already doing volunteer work with the doctor Márcia Rachid there at Gaffrée and Guinle and I worked at Papagaio. One day she received a visit from a Brazilian doctor who was on loan from an American university and he was taking an HIV test that was 100% correct, because at that time the tests were not very “right”. The probability of error was very high and his was 100% effective. He came to me through Márcia and asked me if I could talk to the people at Papagaio that he was doing this test and that he needed volunteers and stuff, and I talked to people that worked at night. At the time, we had the Roxy Roller (a skating temple located in Lagoa in the early 80s) that was working and had several rooms there, and we got a room for him to be able to do the tests. People didn’t even have to give the name, he would give the person a number if he wanted to know the result. And to set an example, I was the first person to do it. I did it, I went ahead of everyone, I went there and did the test, then I said “Look, I just did it, I still came with the bandage on my arm”, to show that I had done it, so that’s why.
In fact, many people thought you were living with HIV and recently you clarified that you were not. Do you think it happened because of your pioneering spirit of talking about HIV on gay night even in the 80s?
Without a doubt, people have killed me since the 1980s because they thought because I embraced the cause of HIV I was[supunham que] HIV. Of course: gay, black and doing a show, what will you think? Promiscuous – of course, who is advocating for his own cause. If you embrace the cause of cancer, people think that the cause of cancer that you are embracing is beautiful, you are going to see people there. If you embrace the cause of children with microcephaly, people think it is beautiful too, but if you embrace the cause of HIV, people immediately put you on the level of promiscuous, because AIDS is linked to sexuality. And as people are not well resolved with their sexuality, they are very concerned with the sexuality of the other and think that the other has become contaminated because of his promiscuous life, and it is not quite like that. There are several ways to get HIV and that is not through sex, but that is exactly why, they started killing me since the 80’s. I’m so worried that I’m not even going to drink my tea.
What is the future of the gay night in Brazil? Most LGBT+ nightclubs closed, mainly in Rio.
I believe that everything started to fall, to become very mediocre, when the open bar started. The open bar ended the night in Rio and people think that open bar is great because it will fill the club – it won’t. It will be a loss for those who are opening the house, because people drink from throwing on the floor, they drink to throw away, and what happens? Everything is like a snowball, right, they also don’t pay attention to the show. So, it’s no use, you can go from rhinestones from head to toe to make a stunning number, you can sing, you can take a jack-fruit from your ass, which won’t do any good, because the people won’t care. And there is also the advent of the internet, as I said in some of my interviews. You have a phone in your hand where you can access the largest museums in the world, now, then, in this pandemic period, you can access the best and largest museums in the world, but which is the most visited website? The one about pornography. So what happens? People are at home, with the phone in hand, you access the phone, you have sex with someone on the other side of the world, in Arabia, China, the United States, Venezuela, right here on your corner. You make out with a person on your corner if you want to through an app. I mean, you don’t have to leave your house to make out with someone anymore. The other day I was seeing, a friend of mine was saying to me that in the app, there is one that you hook up with a woman, that the guys are married and go to your house, they ask for your address and go to your house. Do you think that a person will waste time going to a nightclub to see a show, if what he wants is f *? Imagine, that’s why it ended and it’s ending more and more, that is why.
You were the subject of a documentary, what was your reaction when you watched the finished documentary?
As for the documentary, I never thought that I was going to have… first I never thought that I was going to do anything, right. I never thought, because everything I did, I always did because of my desire to be doing something to help myself and help others, and when the documentary happened, which I saw ready, I found it very interesting. I was very surprised that some people gave testimony in the film, because I didn’t know that there were these people in the documentary. I never put my nose onto the documentary at all, the only thing I asked the directors is that I wanted them to interview my hospital nurse, who was Mônica Matosinho, it was the only thing I asked for. All the rest they did it. I didn’t put my nose onto anything at all, because if I don’t know how to cook, I’m not going to go into the kitchen and get into what he is doing. If I don’t know how to change a light bulb, I won’t call an electrician and keep poking, telling him to do this or that, just as I don’t like someone involved when I’m going to do my show, unless it is some expert in this to be able to say something, give me some tips that will be positive in my show. So, I didn’t get involved. When I saw it the first time it was a short film, then it was a medium, now a long film. I saw the short and the medium, the long one I haven’t seen yet, which is the last one now, I didn’t see how it is, but I liked the other two a lot, I found it interesting what they said, the things that came up. It was good because I saw things there that I haven’t remembered for a long time. And, I find it interesting as a register for other people to know things you have done, people who have passed through your life. I found it very positive, not only for me, but also for other people to know some things in our lives.
Follow Lorna Washington on Instagram.
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