Bill Kaelin

Bill Kaelin: The drag queen who changed my life

Not too long ago, in a neighborhood that now seems far, far away, I met my first drag queen, and my life would never be the same.

The year was 1996. I was shy, young, naive and new to the city. I didn't really have any gay friends and was intimidated by the thought of going out by myself until I gathered some courage and went to a place called Club Kaya, a massive nightclub on Peachtree Street.

Nervous, I entered, ordered a drink and found a dark corner where I could sit alone and take it all in. Within minutes a towering, quite scary-looking blond drag queen headed my way. Internally I was pleading, "Please don't stop at my table … please don't stop at my table." I hadn't noticed that all the cocktail waitresses working there were drag queens. The one serving me would become one of my best friends.

Tweeka Weed (the alter ego of the late John Barber) was aggressive, forward, foul-mouthed and funny as hell from the get-go. When he plopped down on that couch to introduce himself to me I knew I was hanging with royalty. There must have been something about me that told him I needed a friend.

Tweeka took me on an adventure that resembled scenes from the Martin Scorsese film, "Goodfellas." He was a gangster. He was an MTV reality star who also had a degree in political science. He demanded respect and the seas parted for us when we went out. We were always on the guest list, we never waited in line, we always had free drinks, free drugs, access to the DJ booth and entry backstage where all the real magic happened.

The first time I saw John transform into Tweeka, I realized I was experiencing something very special. It was like watching an artist paint a masterpiece on a blank canvas while lip syncing to Shirley Bassey's "My Life." The process inspired me so much that I ended up fighting for fair compensation for drag queens working in clubs, since all that creative nipping, tucking and painting deserved top dollar.

Tweeka and his friends were street-smart and coaxed me out of my own shell. If it weren't for them, I would have never survived in the nightclub business. Those queens showed me how to stand up for myself, how to throw shade, how to always get my money and always get my way.

Ironically, drag queens taught me how to grow some balls. My friendship with Tweeka allowed me the opportunity to work creatively with drag legends like Kevin Aviance, Joey Arias, EJ Aviance, Celeda, Lady Bunny, Nicole Paige Brooks and many others. These experiences not only make me proud, but have also given me countless hilarious stories to tell.

I have long since left the nightclub world, but love seeing the new Legendary Children of Atlanta slaying the city with members Brigitte Rackliffe, Edie Cheezburger, Violet Chachki and others. They have picked up the torch and made it their own, and are offering us more than just pageant queens.

Our community and the world need to know that these kids are true artists. They have something to say and are going to serve it to you whether you like it or not. It's nice to sit back, relax and watch the seas part for them now, living their lives like gay gangsters and making Tweeka Weed smile down from Heaven, happy that the true art form of drag he helped create lives on today.