Chapter 7

Vices and Virtues

One of My first bookings as a photographer in St. Louis was Mardi Gras in Soulard St. Louis back in 2014. I remember feeling like James Bond going on a mission to all these different areas in Soulard that needed to be captured. One of the best things about working in the media is that we usually get into places for free and get free food and drinks. I can still taste the hurricanes and the buffalo chicken wings. Alyssa Ermeling was working with me at the time. We became fascinated with New Orleans and often talked about taking trips worldwide and taking pictures of different locations.

In 2015, I lived with a friend in Soulard, and that is where my son Owen was conceived. I came back to Mardi Gras a year later and covered it again, but this time as House of Chuck Magazine. After that, I became even more fascinated with New Orleans; I began eating at restaurants that served creo and southern food. Finally, I decided to call my manager and ask her to work “New Orleans” into my up-and-coming tour. My son was born in April 2016, and I was due back on tour six weeks later.

When I began touring in 2016, I started having separation anxiety because I had just been taking care of him for the past six weeks. While I was in LA, the Pulse Nightclub shooting happened, and my manager changed my flight plans overnight. She called the Hotel to wake me up and get ready. I accompanied a local DJ, explaining that we needed to leave. She asked if we could see the ocean before we left. So we did, and it was my first time seeing the beach. It looked like I was looking into infinity.

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We then got on the plane, turning our phones into airplane mode and flying home. While we were flying home, there were publications in several media outlets that they busted someone with a bag of firearms. Of course, as soon as we got home, it went viral worldwide, and the LGBTQIA+ Community was in mourning.

The next stop on my tour was New Orleans, and we had a layover in Orlando. House of Chuck Magazine placed flowers and took pictures at Pulse Night Club. Then, we got back on the plane, and I visited New Orleans for the first time. Only one problem was the airline lost our luggage, but we were assured it would be delivered to our hotel within 24 hours. So, we immediately checked in and hit Bourbon Street right away. Things seemed quieter after Pulse, and everyone was living in fear. While I was covering The New Orleans Pride Parade, they had an inspirational tribute to the victims and the ones we lost during Pulse.

The next day was Father's Day, and I was away from my children. I began to remember when my daughter was born and how proud I was because her mommy and I wanted her so badly and for so long. I began appreciating my father, who was in the military. I finally understood how he felt being away from us all that time. My father was in the military for 22 years. Can you just imagine the bedtime stories he used to tell me? I brought them to life later for my kids with the power of my camera.

The several festivities that evening were not wild or off character. On the contrary, they partied respectfully that weekend. We got back to the hotel, and our luggage finally arrived, and we went back up to the hotel room. I started editing pictures and posting them on social media and fell asleep while sitting. We woke up the next day, and we took a tour of the Tomb of Marie Laveau in the St. Louis Cemetery. I knew more than the tour guide did about New Orleans throughout the tour, and I even added to some of his stories.

I don’t think that was worse living in the closet, being bullied by my family, or working in the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ Community. I got so tired of being falsely represented after a certain point, and I eventually had to create my magazine to control the narrative of what others were saying about me. I remember the story of Marie Lavae on my tour in New Orleans and how she did so much for the city of New Orleans. Unfortunately, her reputation was tarnished because of those times, and she was forever labeled as the VooDoo Queen.

I remember hearing how she started hearing the rumors of the VooDoo Queen, and she eventually played along. She had many children and grandchildren that looked like her. When people would come to New Orleans, they would often try to take a peek at the VooDoo queen at her home, and her kids and grandkids would dress up as the VooDoo Queen and scare people off when she got old and eventually passed away. Her resting place is ironically the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

We referenced her three times in our Drag series, at the end of season four of The Maximum Exposure Fashion Series in 2019 and Vices and Virtues in 2021. One day House of Chuck Magazine will travel back to New Orleans and tell her story.

I tried alligator that evening for dinner, and I was exhausted. I told my manager no more touring until the fall of that year. I covered many more groundbreaking events in 2016. Still, I was getting delirious because I felt I was covering the same thing over and over the years and began thinking about moving my career in another direction. When I went back on tour, the community was still in mourning. It seemed forever changed. I visited Dallas and Atlanta that fall, and then I was on break for the holidays.

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I finally ended the tour in April of 2017, and I started planning my vacation, where I finally divorced myself from everything. My manager joined me this time, and we visited all the areas we missed while I was on tour. It was nice to take a break and get some R & R. When we returned home, I returned to my insane schedule, and around July, someone sent me a video of myself and a few other famous members of The LGBTQIA+ Community. It was disturbing, and it made my blood pressure go up, and right then and there, I realized someone had it out for me.

The video circulated on social media for over a month, and over five thousand people viewed it, and nobody bothered to tell me. When I looked at the comments, I saw people laughing and making jokes. I reached out to the community leader, and everyone knew about it, and nobody even bothered to tell me.

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I have been working in the Information Technology industry since I was a child and used my skills to get the video taken down finally. But, after that, I didn’t look at anyone the same in the St. Louis LGBTQIA+ community ever again. So I returned to New Orleans at the end of the fall in 2017; I found the answers I was looking for, and when I returned home, I started to break away from The LGBTQIA+ Community.

I learned that the last time I was in New Orleans that I couldn’t trust anyone anymore, and I needed to watch my back from this moment on. In 2020, Jojo, who was over the big ball during Mardi Gras in St. Louis, was overrun by many corporate oppressors. So Jojo watched “Controversy” and “Roaring 20’s” fashion shows and contacted House of Chuck Magazine for help. I met Jojo at a magazine shoot earlier that year and told her I don’t care if it has any lines as long as I get to wear a crown.

Jojo told me that her ball got canceled. She was frustrated that they canceled her ball, slashed her budget, and told her that her event was not returning. I could relate to her. She took my hand and told me that there were dark forces around me and that my grandmother was standing over me, telling me I needed to leave St. Louis. Jojo decided to go virtual for her event for 2021 and wanted House of Chuck Magazine to direct the project. Unfortunately, I was almost hit by a car when we began production. After a long 18-hour shooting day with no break, all I did was get people complaining about what we missed.

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When I went home at midnight, I began seeing things and having flashbacks of the times I worked in The LGBTQIA+ Community. This project was very dark and scary, and the only thing I wanted to do was get it over with as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the House of Chuck Magazine team felt unappreciated throughout the production. We still had six more scenes to shoot, and I was not feeling well and started to have a problem with my eyes.

I decided to go to the eye doctor, and he told me I was losing my eyesight. I was devastated and told some of my friends, and they gave me a list of doctors. They recommended the surgery. I changed my diet and now take vitamins. Before I went in for surgery, they discovered something in my blood. The doctor brought me in for further testing, and they came back with a diagnosis of stage two prostate cancer. Despite the news, I went back and shot the final six scenes and premiered the film.

Jojo had a few critiques, but she told me the film did what it was supposed to do, and she cut off the head of her oppressor. I finally understood why she asked me to direct this film. The following week I went in for the first of three surgeries. After the surgery, cancer spread rapidly into my colon and intestines. The doctor told me I would be dead in six months and ordered six months of chemotherapy.

I told the doctor no, asked for a second opinion, and spoke to specialists that recommended a few experimental treatments that would help slow things down. But unfortunately, they quickly took a toll on me. So, after that scary project, I told House of Chuck Magazine no more dark projects. I quickly wanted to jump to another project, and thank goodness my friend and promoter in Chicago had just sent me an assignment. The show was a fashion tribute to the musical Grease. Unfortunately, I was due back in for a second surgery as soon as the project was completed.