Ginny Tonic: The PopSmart Interview

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Ginny Tonic (sometimes known as Michael Howell) is one of the pack leaders of the East Point Possums (Possi?), who get together each year, throw one helluva drag ball, and raise lots of money for their charity of choice. This year’s beneficiary is the Jerusalem House, which provides more than half of Atlanta’s permanent housing designated for homeless persons living with HIV/AIDS. One of the show’s claims to fame was it was the first show that Gigi Monroe performed before she became Atlanta’s “First Drag Idol” winner from Charlie Brown, according to co-founder Rick Westbrook. Other famous names include Alexandria Martin, Owen McCord, Genre, and Summer Knight.

This year’s East Point Possums party will be held from 8-11 p.m. Saturday, June 14, on the East Point Commons in downtown — near the Corner Tavern, a major supporter of the event. The show also features such familiar performers as Prissy Scilla and the MC, Dina Daintymouth.

We had a chance to catch up with the legendary Ginny Tonic to figure out why the Possums make such friendly pets.

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How did you got involved with the East Point Possums?

I got involved in the Possums show about five years ago when I got to know John and Rick (co-founders Jeffrey and Westbrook, respectively). I had known Rick slightly in the 1980s when we both worked in the bar business, The fact that the show raised money for great charities drew me to helping, and I have been there each year since. Attendance has grown exponentially over the years, with about 500 to 600 attending last year.

The reasons we are not “run-of-the-mill” drag is because we remember who we are:

* We are Glamour Gone Berserk!

* We are Beauties on the Verge!

* Occasionally we are the Glamourous Ladies of Wrestling.

What is so special about living in East Point? It seems to have a little funky thing going on there. Why is that?

Living in East Point has been a real surprise to me as I grew up here and in those days it was the ’60s equivalent of today’s northern suburbs, a bedroom community for the major airlines. When my partner and I heard gay folks were moving here in droves, I couldn’t believe it. But the acceptance from all the groups here has been great.

What’s the most special aspect of your signature song, “Looking for a City,” in which you snap off your pearl necklace and skip to it like a jump rope? Does this song go back to your days at Backstreet? Or the Armory?

“Looking for a City” is a song I have performed since the beginning of the Armorettes in 1980. It has instant recognition and reminds a lot of the gay men of the happy partying at the Armory in days before AIDS robbed us of so many friends. The Armorettes were started by Greg Troia, manager of the Armory then, to improve Sunday afternoon business during pro football session. We dressed as cheerleaders and performed during halftime and after the game. The group caught on, and when football season ended we found so did the Sunday business unless the Armorettes were there. So I inadvertently began a career as a parttime showgirl. The jump rope of pearls began to keep audience attention during the song. Shtick, pure and simple.

How has Atlanta’s drag scene evolved over, say, the past 10 or 20 years?

Drag in Atlanta has gone from big show bars with Las Vegas-style shows and production numbers to smaller groups performing in smaller bar situations, and tend to be built around small, changing casts — rather than big casts, which varied only a little. Production values are not what they were. The Possums show seeks to entertain but not lose sight of the fact that no matter how pretty you try to be, you are still a man in a dress. But we still try to keep the campy humor classy. No gross-out humor just for the sake of shock.

Rick Westbrook says you tell folks your drag mother was the Whore of Babylon. Are you that old?

No, I am not that old and Rick is evil to attribute to me his own geneological pedigree. He has done drag a looong time. I heard the back-up dancers in his first show were eaten by the unexpected visit of a hungry T-Rex. I can only quote that as gossip, but I never heard him say it wasn’t true!

Apparently there will be competition this year from the East Point Villagers, who are a bunch of drag kings. Is this going to be some kind of “Sharks vs. Jets” situation? Will there be blood?

The Villagers are great ladies and we never rumble. This could be because they remember the first thing anyone learns about being gay: Never — repeat, never — screw with a drag queen!

(Photo courtesy of Lyncel)

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