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freaks

Memories of Christopher Lee

I didn't get to speak at Christopher Lee's memorial on Saturday. When I left, we had gone over the scheduled time by an hour and there were still people getting up to speak. I would have stayed but I had errands to run, too, and kids at home waiting for me. I'm glad I got to stay as long as I did, and see some familiar faces and reconnect, and hear the stories and witness the emotions. Christopher was a big presence, a multi-faceted one, and of course it was a challenge to capture him in just a couple hours on the back patio of El Rio. But we did our best.

I took one of his ties home. I can't explain why. I think the time has come to start putting up an annual Dia de los Muertos altar at home, and this will go on it.

So here's some of the stuff I didn't get to share at the memorial.

The first time I met Christopher Lee was when I was working at On Our Backs. He came in with stills from the movie he was working on, Sex Flesh in Blood. They depicted a woman and a trans man having vampire sex in a cemetery. It was seriously hot stuff. Could we use these in a pictorial?

My memories place me on the couch in the front lobby, as it were, of the On Our Backs office. The OOB offices consisted of three rooms, and the "lobby" was in the center, with a desk for our circulation manager and a couch plus coffee table acting as a waiting area. He spread out those stills on the coffee table and let us look through them. And by us I think I mean me; I don't remember where the other, more senior editor was that day but I'm pretty sure the first look was mine.

Nonetheless, we (I) communicated our excitement and then said we'd get back to him soon with details. And then came The Discussion. Because, after all, On Our Backs was "the magazine of lesbian sex," according to our motto. This was not lesbian sex. These models were not lesbians. Would it be OK with the FtM model to appear in this context? Would it be a misrepresentation of his gender, of what was going on in the photos? Was there a way to properly frame it without being disrespectful?

As I remember (and I may not remember well at this point!), our decision to run the photos came down to a couple of factors. Christopher Lee was bringing the stills to us. We hadn't solicited them. Obviously *he* was OK with them in the magazine, and we had to trust that he spoke for his model too. But more than that, where the hell else was going to publish them, back in 1998? What other venue was available to Christopher Lee and crew?

Besides, those photos were as hot as anything that had ever arrived unsolicited in our office.

So we decided to run them while making explicit the identity of the models in the text. We would weather any bad publicity we might stir up. We were On Our Backs, after all. Controversy was practically our middle name.

There wasn't any significant controversy.

This fact, my friends, is just one indication of how much has changed in the last 15 years.

In fact, I was thinking, while I listened to some of the other mourners speak at Christopher's memorial, how Christopher's work in some ways accidentally set up some of the problems we've since been grappling with in trans and genderqueer communities. I can't remember who it was on Saturday who said Christopher made FtMs look fabulously sexy and glamorous before most people even knew who FtMs were, but that's dead on. That's "Alley of the Tranny Boys" in a nutshell.

(Not to mention the use of the word "tranny," speaking of issues. Let's not go there right now.)

I have a lot of other memories of Christopher. On Our Backs was a sponsor of one of the early Trannyfests, and as a result we were given press passes and sat in the dark at the Roxie a lot. I remember that spotlight that folks were talking about on Saturday. It really did underscore the glamour and also the importance of this as an *event*. In other words, it worked. He invited me to launch parties and press parties and after-parties, and I went to all of them. (Once because I was trying to chase down Jade-Blue Eclipse so as to sign her model release for On Our Backs, but that's another story...) The next year I got to go to a conference room at Frameline and preview some of the festival's selections, again for press reasons. I interviewed Christopher for GettingIt.com shortly after I left On Our Backs; that link is here and I'm not responsible for the headlines :P. I ran into him a couple times at the Berkeley Farmer's Market, selling tomatoes bare-chested. We went to a baseball game together his treat if I recall; I left that memory at the Facebook page and I think you can read it here.

Christopher will always have a spot in my heart because of the way he managed to be both super-glamorous (yes, there's that word again) and completely accessible. He welcomed you wholeheartedly into his world, and he worked hard to make it as fabulous as possible for all of us. He was so fucking sweet, my friends. He was a sweet heart, space intended, and I will miss him and his presence in this world always.

Comments

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I never met Christopher personally, or professionally, but his work pioneered the way for the success of what we do at Pink and White Productions, and the fact that I make part of my living from porn featuring trans and queer bodies of all shapes and sizes is because people like him dared - and created a sustainable market for that kind of work. So. Respect. Mad respect.

I do miss 'On Our Backs'.
I am sorry for your loss. I never knew him, but I cherished his work. And also miss On Our Backs!