Respect Your Elders is a monthly column in which Lou Barrett sits down with an LGBTQ+ elder in their community and gets to know them over a cup of tea. Or, a Zoom session for social distancing!
Carter Bachmann, age 64, was a real treat. He came out as a trans man earlier this year. Carter is funny, and a great storyteller.
“This is something I’ve waited for since I was six years old,” he told me before his dog, Kaia, started barking, and he had to tend to her. “My sister was my mother’s daughter. I was dad’s kid. His nicknames for me were sport and buddy.”
Like many of the people I’ve interviewed, Carter referenced Christine Jorgensen as the only trans person of note at the time he was figuring out who he was. So, talking about feeling different didn’t feel like an option for him.
Carter noticed his attraction to women as a kid, and kissed a girl for the first time at the age of eight. Carter told another story about a little who girl fell off the monkey bars and broke her leg. None of the kids on the playground knew what to do. Carter took the initiative to pick her up and carry her to the nurse. “I’ve always been taking care of people younger or smaller than me. It’s been like that my whole life.”
Carter’s first girlfriend outed him in high school, and his parents didn’t take it well. “They didn’t stop loving me, but they made things very difficult for me.”
He ended up moving in with his girlfriend for three months because of the friction their relationship caused with his family. “Right around Christmas time I started getting a big case of the guilts. I knew I should at least make the attempt to go to Christmas dinner. I called my uncle and he said you better get your ass over here or I’ll come get you.” His uncle knew Carter’s mother was heartbroken, and all she wanted for Christmas was to see her kid.
After breaking up with the girlfriend who outed him, Carter started dating a new girl. They’d often spend weekends at a gay bar that held weekly drag shows.
Carter became a regular at the bar, and became friends with many of the queens, including a guy named John whose drag name was Dana. Carter got t-shirts made that said Danamanians to support his friend and would join his friends at a table that ran alongside the catwalk. A dozen or so of John’s friends would sit there every weekend. “That was our table. Period. End of discussion.”
After a Saturday show, not long after Carter’s second breakup, John and Carter sat in the dressing room. John said, “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. Actually, no I’m not,” and started putting makeup on Carter’s face. He’d decided Carter looked like Liza Minnelli. John gave him a dress and heels and taught him how to walk.
“Oh, by the way, I’ve entered you in a contest. It’s two weeks away,” John told him.
“Oh my god!” Carter yelled out to me just as he had to John decades earlier.
On March 12th, 1978 he participated in the contest, and he won. That started his career as a drag performer. He didn’t need a wig. He just cut his hair, and did his makeup.
In 1981, in the middle of a recession, Carter moved to Cleveland to get better work. After couch surfing, he eventually found his own place on Coventry, right in my current neighborhood.
On September 27th, 1981 he met a girl through a friend. They all went out dancing together, and she and Carter hit it off. She was straight. One of Carter’s friends was her dance partner and decided to switch partners so Carter could dance with her. She was nervous, but they had an immediate connection.
They got married just three months later, and had been married for 35 years until she passed away almost four years ago.
Carter brought her into the drag scene. “Do you know like, everybody?” his wife asked after seeing how limitless Carter’s network seemed to be.
Carter’s wife, Ronnie, didn’t want him to do drag. “I was the masculine one and she wanted to keep it that way,” he explained.
A few months after she passed, Carter resurrected Liza Minnelli. One of his friends suggested he come to an event dressed as Liza. He did, and upon showing up to the bar he sat down next to Lady J., an famous queen in the local scene, who immediately told him he needed to be in one of her shows.
Carter started preparing and needed to pick a new name. He initially chose Terri Mann.
“That’s pretty plain,” a friend told him.
“Not if you introduce me right,” Carter added. “I’m Miss Terri Mann.”
After playing with Liza for a little bit, someone suggested he tried performing as a king.
At the time, he’d only done so once before, in 1979. This was my favorite story.
John’s manager told Carter that he needed him for a project. He needed Carter to play John’s date to a pageant, and John didn’t know. They got Carter a tuxedo and an old fashioned medical abdominal binder, and brought up a makeup artist from Miami to do his makeup with facial hair.
It took 4 hours.
“I went down. I got in the limo. Picked up John. He had no idea who I was.”
“Wow!” I laughed.
He said for the week prior, he stuck his face in the freezer and got himself a cold so his voice would be lower.
They did the promo and went on with the night. They took the limo and John invited him up still not knowing who his king was. “I knew all his moves. I knew his pickup lines. I knew exactly what he’d do when we got in, and he did not disappoint.”
Carter laughed. “He told me to make myself comfortable and offered a drink, and said I’m gonna get into something more comfortable. He came back and laid on the couch and was being all sexy and shit. I decided I had to tell him or this poor boy was never gonna talk to me again.”
Carter went back to the bathroom and took off all his makeup and the facial hair and put on a t-shirt and shorts. He went back to the couch where John had laid his head back, awaiting his date. Carter slowly walked up, and kissed John’s forehead, “John?” he asked. John jumped up, “What are you doing here!”
“Honey,” I told him, “I’ve been with you all night.”
To close, I asked Carter what advice he had for younger LGBTQ+ people.
“Having presented a woman, a lesbian, and then come out as transgender man… don’t be afraid. You’re not alone. We are worthwhile. We are forever. We are everywhere. All you have to do is look for us. Be who you are. Take the time to figure out who you are. Don’t take drugs, cuz they don’t help. Figure out who you want to be, and then be that. If you’re worried the timing isn’t right, wait til it’s right. You know you. You can still be you. Just remember, you’re not alone.”
Carter was so entertaining and had me laughing the whole time. Talking to him was a joy.