Erica Pionke moved to Reno/Sparks, Nevada in March 2020 and is finally now getting out into the world and exploring all of its queer offerings with her hilarious and loving partner of 10 years, Debbie.
Erica is an avid outdoorsperson and a self-inflicted seeker of education. She works for the government, in realty, and has a history going back to her earlier years in law school, in real estate, zoning, and land management.
Little did I know, all those years, pushing the rink floor and the pavement on those rollerblades through the University of Illinois campus quad in Champaign, down the Lakefront, and all through that great city of Chicago that I would have to have that conversation with my parents that I was dating a woman.
Since then, I’ve rollerbladed the hills of Wyoming, the parks of Las Vegas, the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and now the Parkways of Reno/Sparks. Reno and Sparks have some amazing bike trails which double as rollerblading heaven.
Terry, from Reno 911 knew how great these streets are for rolling. Especially by the Taco, Taco, Taco.
Just this past weekend, I drove myself down to the Rosebud Nature Study Preserve at Veterans’ Parkway and Pembroke Drive in Sparks. There, I strapped on me ole trusty K2 blades and rolled for a pleasant 20 minutes south, over creeks, past fields of cows, passing underneath the Parkway, and to South Meadows Parkway, where the trail ended.
I could have kept rolling down the perfectly manicured, smooth sidewalks which line this southern part of Veterans’ Parkway, but I didn’t know if my new knee agreed. I had my ACL replaced this time last year and I’m still trying to figure out what it will allow me to do. I turned around and made it back to my car. It was about 7 miles in 40 minutes. Not bad. And I didn’t have to worry about traffic except at well-kept stoplights.
I hardly noticed the cars passing by. I saw a LOT of friendly bikers. It was one of the first beautiful days of Spring. I sang 80’s songs to the cows as I paraded past.
If you love the 4-wheeled boots like I do, I encourage you to check out some of these trails. Wear your brightest neon clothing and rainbows while you sweat and firm up that booty. See you out there!
When we moved to Reno in 2020, I decided that I wanted to connect with the local drag queens even while in a lock-down. It was a slow process, but once I found one on Facebook, I was able to find many. I’m not even really sure how, as sometimes they include their given name in their social media and sometimes they include their drag name.
But one queen who I picked up along the way was Cameron McMechen. I had the opportunity to see his pictures as he graduated from Paul Mitchell cosmetology school…IN FULL DRAG…IN THE LIGHT OF DAY.
Mamá, come through. You know I love anyone who can stick it out to graduate. Plus, I was like, “Oh, this queen is degree’ed legit.”
Cameron has been in Reno for 3 years. He came from Denver to dance at shows at the Eldorado here in town. He soon met his partner of 3 years after moving. His parter, Ferny Gonzalez, is his drag “sister”, Shania Twampson, both comprising the unstoppable due, The Twampson Sisters.
Cameron said he came out at 14, but he suspects his family already knew. His grandma brought rainbow cupcakes to the dance studio for his birthday in his formative years.
He considers his mom, his partner and his two roommates to be his chosen family these days.
He started doing makeup during the pandemic. During this time, he also started school and now does makeup and hair at BJ’s Hairshop. These Reno drag artists are not disappointing. Here are few examples of Cameron’s mad makeup skills.
Credit: instagram @maria_twampson
Most importantly, this queen’s moves are not to be missed. As a trained dancer, you can see Cameron’s work on his instagram dance page. He masterfully takes over the stage, from risers to floor and connects with his audience. His performance is well worth a visit to his next show and throwing down a few dollars.
He said the biggest single tip he has ever received was a $100 bill.
Check out the energy of Ms. Maria Twampson dancing in 8-inch heels to Ballroom Blitz by the British glam rock band, The Sweet.
Cameron said that his favorite part about drag in Reno is his fans. He loves the di-fierce-ity, getting to know the other queens, and being a part of the community.
I had the opportunity to interview Maria and Shania Twampson, aka the Twampson Sisters, this past week. They are a powerhouse couple.
The Twampson sisters are comprised of Ferny Gonzalez and Cameron McMechon. They prefer male pronouns, both in drag and out.
They met on Grindr about 4 years ago. In a Grindr twist, they decided they wanted to get to know each other before they became too involved.
When I asked about how they got their drag name, they told me that the their roommate was talking about having “swamp ass” and when Ferny asked if his roommate said, “Twamp-ass,” a drag family name was born.
They are a powerhouse couple with Cameron the dancer and Ferny the hostess. Cameron cuts hair for a living, and Ferny isn’t working right now, so he has more time for publicizing their events, like their monthly drag brunches at The Arch Boutique Bar, Bites & Bowling at 111 North Virginia Street in Reno, Nevada.
I have not yet been been to the drag brunch, but it is every last Sunday of the month (TOMORROW!) from 1 to 4. Doors open at noon. They tell me that the event will always be an amazing mix of queens which, of course, include them, but also other talented queens from the area.
The tickets are only $20, or $30 for a meet and greet after. They have a bar, bowling, food, and a raffle prize. It sounds like a pretty low cover charge to me. But be sure to bring your dollars for drinks and to tip the queens as they dip, split, and shablam for you.
They can also be found performing around Reno every weekend. I caught them two weekends ago at Splash, for Cotton the Act’s return to the stage after, literally, breaking a leg. They performed We Both Reached for the Gun from the musical, Chicago.
Credit: Erica Pionke @ Splash
They tell me that they have a new addition to the drag family as of late named Sabrina Twampson. She is their drag daughter, but she’s more like a sister.
They will be performing soon in Napa, Fresno, and starring in the “Twampson Takeover” in Santa Rosa. They would like to travel more and are hoping to get to Texas, Phoenix, and Santa Barbara soon. They’ve only been performing for one year, but are already in demand. They also hope to keep giving back to their community and finding philanthropic endeavors in which to engage.
Cotton the Act was back on stage from, literally, breaking a leg. Dino Valentino was dressed and ready to perform that night at Splash. Dino and his boys were doing a Beatles lip sync cover of Twist and Shout.
Dino’s real name is Roberta and they are a pansexual, genderfluid drag king. They’ve never had to come out to their family, and their sister is also queer. Roberta’s mom knows that she performs, but has not yet been out to see Dino in action.
Their pronouns depend on the day or the outfit that they are wearing. One day, they wear heels and lashes and call themselves she, and the next day they bind with no makeup and prefer male pronouns. They prefer to be identified as male when in drag.
Roberta’s drag name came from loving Valentino’s hot sauce, and they decided to use the name that included their deep love of mouth burns.
Roberta started at 5-Star Saloon at an open mike under the inspiration and motivation of Cotton the Act, and Roberta immediately fell in love with drag and asked Cotton to be his drag dad. Dino Valentino has been performing in drag shows for one year.
Roberta Dino is a constantly changing canvas with a goth aesthetic. They consider themselves edgy and sexy but funny, too. They are inspired by Ash from Pokemon, Loki from Marvel and comic book-style face painting. They also love the look of old westerns, with leather dusters and leather hats. And, after seeing Shania Twampson with a glitter beard the night I saw them perform, mentioned that was next on their list of drag art to learn and master.
They are also inspired by Landon Cinder and King Crimson, both drag king influencers.
They have been performing about once per week since the world has opened up. Their day job is working as a teaching assistant for high school autistic kids and also being a single parent to two kids. The oldest is 11 and has taken an interest in the makeup and theatrics of drag.
Roberta said their favorite part of drag is getting out of their shell and building confidence. They love the Reno drag scene because of its di-fierce-ity. Reno drag has a lot of different skills and talents, professions and religions, colors and accents, and gender spectrums in the small community.
They will be performing at Winnemucca Pride this year. And look forward to more bookings and learning more makeup tricks. You can find them on instagram at itsdinovalentino.
I don’t know if it was because it was my first time back in live theater since the pandemic (I’m sure that helped), but this play gave me sooooooo many feels.
They still have a few shows left next weekend: March 24, 25, 26 at 7:30pm and March 27 at 2pm with a post-show talk-back. I plan to attend that the 27th matinee to experience all of the feels again. I look forward to hearing from the cast and crew.
You can read about the show on the theater website, but the gist is a historical story of two women, a professor and her student, who become the president of Mount Holyoke and a teacher there at the turn into the 20th century. But the real twist is they are lesbian lovers and, gasp!, feminists. The president, Mary Woolley, is a butch and assumingly unique in style and approach for her day, while her partner, Jeanette Marks is a more femme character.
They have an age difference, according to Wikipedia, of 12 years. So as whiny and immature as the Marks character is written and regardless that neither Debbie nor I are neither academics, the story very much reminds me of us.
I immediately connected to the demographics of the characters. I also realized quite early that I have never seen a butch lesbian character portrayed in live theater.
Woolley is an aggressive, ambitious, visionary and unique woman and feminist, to which I also could relate. One important line I will never forget was when Marks was berating Woolley for not carrying forth her vision of revolution, and Woolley replies, “I am the revolution.” I immediately thought of all the women like Debbie who have moved through the world as themselves, forwarding the LGBTQ+ change we see today just by being themselves.
There is also an understory of impatience of youth versus the calculating risks and rewards in the battles of revolution. This includes the antagonism of selling ones values out for money that allows them to live their dreams and the dreams of their partner. This is the perpetual question for anyone working toward social justice.
The lead characters, Evonne Kezios as Woolley supported by Tara Rispin as Marks, are fantastic. It took me a minute to fall in love with them, but I did. Hard.
Terri Gray was perfect as proper and equivocal Welsh, who I wanted to punch by the end of the play. Sydney Tello as Pearl and Claire Hachenberger as Felicity were absolutely adorable. Felicity made me laugh the hardest because she was such a chill goofball.
Kudos to the Director, who I hope to hear from at the talk-back. The lighting designer, Chad Sweet, did a great job creating a lot of different environments and turning the stage into a wash of different colors and lighting over something like 26 scenes in 90 minutes.
Let’s talk about these friends, though: Intimacy Director Adriano Cabral and Assistant Intimacy Director Thomas Rao. These friends, working with the main characters, created some bedroom and night time scenes unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in live theater. I actually found the intimacy choreography on Thomas’ website and I’m a little disappointed that I don’t think I got to see all the goods they had choreographed.
The intimacy scenes were really very family-friendly, but, like I said, unlike anything I’d ever seen in live theater before. They seemed very genuine and I felt the intimacy. Maybe I’m just thirsty for content like this.
My favorite scene was Woolley, on a river in China surrounded by unseen diplomats, reflecting in monologue on her love for and return to see Marks again after 6 months traveling. Her musings were so lovely. All the feels.
If you saw or see the play, please drop me a note to tell me what you thought of it. And if you happen to catch your name on an alert in this blog as having contributed to the play, please repost and Thank you.
93% of the LGBTQ+ community has been misgendered during an appointment at a salon or barbershop. 65% feel that their hair is an important part of how they choose to express themselves (www.dresscodeproject.com accessed March 5, 2022). This is why my nonbinary friend, Cas, gushed to me about Lana Taylor Hair on pinterest as a queer-friendly hair stylist who specializes in non-binary cuts (and vintage roller styles).
Well, Debbie’s hair has been getting long around the ears and didn’t know where she was going to go if not all the way down to Las Vegas, to her favorite barber. Debbie agreed to make an appointment online with Lana.
Her appointment website shows the following services, along with perms, colors, conditioning, treatments, and styling:
Genderless Haircuts –
– Long Haircut
$50 and up for 90 minutes
Haircuts have no gender! This is the price for a haircut that requires shears and a blow dry and style
– Short Cut
$30 and up for 75 minutes
Haircuts have no gender! This service is for any short haircuts that require clippers. There is no blow out or style.
Setting the appointment was very easy. We had to add a debit card to the account for $1 to reserve the appointment. But when the appointment was over, Lana was able to charge to the card to save time as we were running to an evening meeting.
Her salon space sits among other salons, but she has a fully contained space and chair. Her approximate 200 square foot space contains a door, a glass wall, a wall with sink and mirror and then a fourth wall, making it a completely private space that does not seems as small as it actually is. She also carries products for sale in her little space.
The importance of the privacy of the space is because her clients are 30% transgender and even more who prefer cuts outside their assigned gender. The privacy allows her clients to be able to discuss their needs openly with her, like a transgender female with a receded hairline or a transgender male who is learning he has the receding hairline gene.
She took a solid hour or so to cut Debbie’s hair, and it looked adorable/handsome when Lana was done. Here are some pictures to show the final product. Be sure to check out her portfolio on pinterest.
While discussing her history on that page, she cryptically mentions her transition. But take note: her gender pronouns change after this nod to transition.
While interviewing her on February 19, she explained that she transitioned into her female identity in 2009 at 55 years old. As she started living her best life, she was an innovator in the transition culture, since information on gender identity and gender dysphoria were very limited back then.
She talked about how the greatest obstacle to moving forward is to not feel misplaced in the world and to be able to accept ourselves. She said that it’s easy to feel alone when it seems like the world is staring at you. But it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not just your transition; everybody else is transitioning, too. She talks about this in her 2016 TEDx talk, Walking in Another’s Shoes.
When I asked about any issues she intends to breach on LGBTQ+ issues, she said that Nevada has legislation that is favorable to the LGBTQ+ community. She talked about issues she’s advocated for or fought before, like the 2015 transgender bathroom bill.
I’ve heard it said that Nevada is the most favorable state to those in the transgender community. But she said that this is most true in the more urban centers, like Las Vegas, Reno, Sparks, and Carson City. She said that there are estimated as many as 12,600 who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum in rural Nevada, and it is still more difficult for the youth in the more rural areas.
As a lifelong resident, she believes she is an advocate for all in Nevada, but she also feels like if she can change a mind and save a kid’s life, she will take the time to invest.
Her website provides her current status as Chair of the Rural Democratic Caucus and her main political foci, which are the economy, infrastructure, the climate crisis, and affordable housing. The primary is June 14th and the general election is November 8th. Take a look at Kimi’s website, educate yourself on the other candidates, and BE SURE TO GET OUT THERE AND VOTE.
Stacey Spain is the new fearless leader at Our Center in Reno. She has brought life to the Our Center Facebook page, requiring her volunteers to post twice per day to keep patrons of Our Center always thinking about the programs that will bring them in to Our Center and then back, again and again.
She was hired in December of 2021 as the very first paid employee of the organization, but brings with her an extensive background in public service, including grant writing and work in arts programming. She is currently working 30 hours per week at Our Center.
When I visited her last week, she had just finished another meeting with a community organization who was interested in using the space. Stacey said that she fully believes that community spaces are meant to be used and not to sit vacant and empty in between meetings. She is working on bringing in various organizations beyond the LGBTQ panorama, including Girls Scouts, a Women of Color book club, the Northern Nevada Democratic Socialists of America, and 12-step recovery groups.
Of course, the standard events that fall under the Pride flag are still present at Our Center, like PFLAG, transgender youth support groups, and senior programs. Stacey said that the programming focus right now is the senior, youth and transgender demographics. But from the discussion that I had with her, I could tell that she also had an affinity for family events.
She lit up when she talked about the services that Our Center provides to those in need like a small food pantry and sleeping bags. She talked excitedly about health programs she would like to see promoted at Our Center, like HIV testing. She would also like to start a scholarship program for queer kids. She was quite proud of the cozy lending LGBTQ library that takes up a nook in the office space.
Stacey explained to me that she answer to the Our Center Board of Directors which is currently 5 members and meets monthly. She also said that there are several Our Center committees that do a lot of work, which include programming, fundraising (including the Northern Nevada Pride Celebration that happens each year in Wingfield Park on the fourth weekend of July) and governance.
She told me of a story of a mother who had come in to the office with her child after her child had told her that they wanted to transition to female. The mother was visibly scared, confused, and heavy-hearted. Stacey was able to take the mother into a private room and discuss services and support for the mother, while a transgendered woman who had been serendipitously volunteering in the office that day was able to spend some time in the office talking to the child. Stacey said it was the perfect situation.
Several weeks later, Stacey saw the two together at an Our Center group function and they all looked much more adjusted and lighter.
She ran into the child in the office just recently with a big bow in her hair and a beautiful smile on her face. Stacey said it warmed her heart.
When I asked Stacey what her favorite program was at Our Center, she told me that it was probably the “We Are Family Movie and Game Night.” She loves when the LGBTQ parents get together and their children can see that they are not the only ones with LGBTQ parents. She told me that she, too, has a family which has been involved in the family events at Our Center.
If you have questions, please contact Ms. Stacey at the office. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are going to keep talking about Our Center, because there is so much that it does and provides for the LGBTQ community. They post daily on their Facebook page about all the programs and events they run 5 to 6 days a week.
Our Center has been in existence as an organization since 2009. Before they had a brick and mortar location, they were hosting programs for the LGBTQ community. Programs create the fellowship that make up the heart of the Our Center community.
Our Center’s primary focus for programming are youth, senior and transgender folks. After talking to Stacey Spain, the first and only person on the Our Center payroll and just hired in December 2021, I picked up that she also has a desire to really engage LGBTQ families in Northern Nevada.
Stacey also told me of her many plans to start health-based programs like HIV testing and clincs. She wants to bring some programs out into the community, like attending plays on the town. She wants to make sure to have programs that involve all groups, including Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Our Center provides services and resources to homeless youth and others in need. They have a small food pantry and sleeping bags if needed. They also refer those in need to other social services in Northern Nevada.
Stacey handed me the list of events that are happening in March 2022. Strap in, because you are about to get the full-month social calendar.
First Tuesday of every month (March 1) 6-8pm – We Are Family Movie and Game Night for parents who are LGBTQ and their children
First Wednesday of every month (March 2) 6pm – Our Center Board Meeting (open to all)
Welcome to Our Center. This will be the first in a series of posts about the Biggest Little LGBTQ Community Center in Reno, which has an active Facebook presence. My hope is that this blog will show me as a human person walking around and observing in the LGBTQ world of Reno, while Our Center is the hub from which most of my adventures will eventually connect. Our Center is the Kevin Bacon of the Reno LGBTQ scene.
The space is a walk-up storefront taking up about half of the building and approximately 3,000 square feet of space with a lot of nooks and crannies within. Parking is available on the street out front or in a lot on the south side of the building.
Upon walking in the door, you find yourself in the lobby where they kindly ask visitors to sign in via ipad.
To the left is a bulletin board that takes up a full nook and 1/3 of the storefront window. There you can find listings for events and groups within Our Center and in the community.
To the right is the reception desk and LGBTQ merch displays. The racks have t-shirts, beer coozies, pride flags of all sorts, bumper stickers, rainbow jewelry, and other came-to-slay-bought-some-gay merch.
Walking back into the bowels of the Center, there is a very tight boardroom to the left.
As you keep walking back, you pass a small office, a small open work room and a tiny corner kitchen space.
On the right is a brightly-colored open space with a work table and cabinets that have scissors, yarn (for the bi-monthly knitting group), markers, glue, and everything your 3rd grade art teacher could have supplied to you. A bulletin board showcases its artists.
Beyond the art nook is a library nook packed floor to ceiling with LGBTQ literature for the reading and borrowing. There are a few comfy chairs in that nook. I kick myself for not taking a pic of it.
The back of the Our Center space opens up into a large conference space that wraps around into a colorful medium-sized annex. The large room has a coffee bar, large flat-screen television, piano, tables, chairs, and a comfy leather sitting area.
The colorful annex sports shelves of board games and another little work space and couches. The annex then leads around into a supply room which appears to lead back to the main hallway.
I may have missed a room or two. Like I said, there a lot of little nooks to hide out and work or relax and chit-chat. Subscribe to my blog at the bottom of this page to read more about Our Center in the next few weeks.