Kari Lydersen on Miss Ketty | Bleader

Kari Lydersen on Miss Ketty


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The Windy City Times reported last week on the death of 64-year-old Ketty Teanga, a longtime performer at some of Chicago's LGBT nightclubs. "Miss Ketty," the name under which she performed, was profiled in a 2006 Reader piece by Kari Lydersen, who followed her travels from Latin America northward:

Ketty Teanga learned to dance in a drag show in Puerto Rico in the 60s. Then a slim teen increasingly uncomfortable in a male body, she did salsa dancing dressed in skimpy women's outfits, the closest she could come to looking the way she felt. "There was no silicone, no hormones, nothing," she says. "Everything was illusion—fake wigs, fake titties."

She came to Chicago in the 1970s.

When she arrived in Chicago she couldn't find a drag revue in any of the Latino clubs she went to. "Only in American clubs," she says. "There was no acceptance by Spanish people." In the early 80s a coworker took her to El Infierno, a gay club at 28th and Sacramento in Little Village. It was owned by Juan Alanis, a flamboyant, well-loved man who dressed as a woman called Juanita Banana. Teanga got along well with Alanis and persuaded him to let her host a drag show at the club. "I sang, but I sang very ugly," she says. "But I made the show by taking off my clothes. I had a beautiful body then—skinny!" She daintily lifts one pinky finger.

At the time Little Village was working-class, macho, and homophobic, but Teanga's show packed in so many people Alanis moved the show to a larger club he owned, the inconspicuous, dingy La Cueva, which had opened in 1972. According to Teanga and other longtime patrons, La Cueva was one of few public places where gay Latinos could feel comfortable being out, but straight men also went there to ogle the transvestites and elaborately costumed transgender performers as they sang, danced, and lip-synched to Mexican and Puerto Rican music.

Read the whole article here. Last year Achy Obejas wrote about La Cueva for Triquarterly—her piece "Juanga Forever," which is included in the forthcoming volume Windy City Queer, is available online here.