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Strange Fruit: Penny Tration Waxes Philosophical on Drag Performance

Drag artist Penny Tration has a local icon to thank for her performing career. "I grew up in L.A., so I've seen a couple drag queens," she explains. But for the longest time, it wasn't something she thought of doing herself. "I've also seen people garden, but I'm not attracted to doing that."All that changed one night at The Connection, the first time she saw our local Mistress of Mayhem, Hurricane Summers, on stage. "Hurricane kind of embodied for me, for the first time, somebody who wasn't just doing drag. She was hilarious. She picked up the mic, and she was really funny. And that's something I hadn't seen before."Penny was a contestant on Season Five of RuPaul's Drag Race, and though she didn't win, she was a fan favorite, and says the experience opened up more opportunities to act, perform, and, according to some of her fans, even change lives. "Now let's be clear: how did drag change anyone's lives? I don't get it," she concedes. But she once met an audience member who told her she'd lost her partner two years before. "She hadn't been able to leave her house, and it was the first time she'd smiled in years."Penny says she knows drag isn't forever, and like any job, it has its ups and downs. "It's kind of like being a nurse in a nursing home. Half the time your cleaning up vomit and poop, and then you'll get somebody who's like, 'Oh my god, you changed my whole day because you were here!'"She's in town to perform tonight at Pandora Productions' fundraiser, Masquerade Fire and Ice, and she took a few minutes earlier this week to talk to us about her work.Elsewhere in the news this week, President Obama gave a speech about violence, which seemed to implicate absent black fathers. As Kaila explained, this idea is nothing new. "This idea that the problem of the Black community is the problem of absent Black men—this has been reiterating and resounding commentary, probably since the Moynihan Report," she reminds us. In his report, Daniel Moynihan said the problem in Black communities was largely the fault of Black women. "They were too strong, they drove their men away, and their men either ended up in jail, on drugs, or absent fathers."Dr. Brittney Cooper had some great analysis of the problems with Obama's speech, and we talked about it this week in our Juicy Fruit segment. Clive Davis came out of the closet as bisexual this week (at age 80!), and a gay porn star broke into a Louisville Fire Station and performed a lewd act over the equipment (yes, really!). And we wish Kaila bon voyage as she heads to Stanford this week to be a panelist at The Pleasure Principle: A Post Hip-Hop Search for a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure! She'll be checking in with us by phone for next week's show, and we can't wait to hear all about her trip. Until then, have a great week, Fruitcakes!

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.

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