Bradley Picklesimer was born on March 15, 1958, in Lexington, Kentucky. One of four children, Bradley had a happy early childhood with a father who owned a motel and cocktail lounge, a mobile home park, and a barn full of Tennessee walking horses. Bradley enjoyed dressing up in ball gowns, sequins, and other flashy outfits, and from the time he hit seventh grade, he was out exploring Lexington’s underground gay club scene.
After losing both parents by 14, Bradley was sent to finish high school at a Christian academy in eastern Kentucky. It was a minor detour on the Picklesimer express. By 20, Bradley was back in Lexington, opening his first downtown club with the help of his brother and sister. The club featured shows from art to drag to rock. Bradley also took a turn as the lead singer in a punk band. Most importantly, by the 1980’s, Bradley was Lexington’s leading drag queen, regularly appearing at his own and others’ bars and clubs, and performing for charity fundraisers. 
AIDS reached Kentucky late. Slowly at first, then relentlessly. In 1991, Bradley got sober and moved to California with the intention of recording music and performing cabaret. When he volunteered his design skills at an AIDS fundraiser, a local designer recognized Bradley’s talent and put him to work. Next thing he knew, Bradley had his own company, with clients ranging from Elton John to Barbra Streisand to Ellen DeGeneres. Along the way, he designed sets and did make-up for pornographic films.
In 2016, after 25 years in California, Bradley bought 40 acres in Meally, Kentucky, and moved back to be near his family. He lives in a log house built in the 1930s by his aunt and uncle. To make the house his own, Bradley covered the bedroom walls with velvet, and set up his own future coffin as a coffee table. While mostly taking life a little easier now, Bradley continues to coordinate parties and events, and still dresses in drag on occasion.
For his OUTWORDS interview in March 2018, Bradley very generously traveled from Meally to a friend’s home in surprisingly queer Lexington, Kentucky. Bradley’s stories were epic with detail and emotion – and we felt convinced that if the walls of his friend’s house could talk, the stories would have been even wilder.
Bradley Picklesimer: Do you have a list of questions?
Kate Kunath: I do.
Bradley Picklesimer: Oh boy. This'll be so fun. I'm so excited.
Kate Kunath: It's more like a guideline.
Bradley Picklesimer: Okay.
Kate Kunath: But I'm gonna take you back.
Kate Kunath: To when you were born.
But let's start with your name.
Kate Kunath: And the proper spelling.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:00:30] Okay. My full name is Bradley Harrison Picklesimer. And the spelling is B-R-A-D-L-E-Y H-A-R-R- I-S-O-N P-I-C-K-L-E-S-I-M-E-R. Is that not the most awesome name, ever? Now picture being a little boy in first grade when they get you up in front of the class and everyone has to say their name and you say your full name. And the whole classroom just burst out laughing. It was fabulous. And people when I was young used to say, "Now that name. Honey, you've gotta change that name." I'm like, "Are you kidding me? This is incredible!"
Honestly, that's why I never really had a drag name. Because people would come up with things and people would have ideas and stuff and I'm like... and it just ended up being Miss Bradley because honey, there isn't anything better than real. That is stunning, yeah.
Kate Kunath: You never got Miss Pickles?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:01:30] No, but they used to call my dad Pickles. Pickle. And I've heard every pickle joke there is. Pickle liquor, pickle sissy, pickle sucker, pickle burger, pickle... all of 'em. All of 'em.
Kate Kunath: So no drag name?
Bradley Picklesimer: No, well Miss Bradley. Because I've never been married, so, there you go. Will always be Miss, up to this point. But who knows? Hope springs eternal. Truly.
Kate Kunath: Okay, so you were born... let's do also your name, where you're born and when.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:02:00] Okay. So my full name is Bradley Harrison Picklesimer. I was born in Fayette County, Kentucky in the town of Lexington, where we're in right now.
Kate Kunath: In?
Bradley Picklesimer: In March the 15th, 1958. The Ides of March, beware the soothsayer said to Caesar of the Ides of March. That was me.
Kate Kunath: [00:02:30] And tell me about your family. Who were they and how long have they been in this town?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:03:00] Okay. I was raised down on Winchester Road. My father, Francis Marion Picklesimer, and my mother, Martha Lynn Stone. My daddy was... when I was growing up, we had a horse barn full of Tennessee Walkers. We had the Sportsman Motel and the Sportsman Cocktail Lounge, a swimming pool, a trailer park, Cadillacs. My dad had diamond rings on every finger. He was... I got to wait for the school bus in my dad's cocktail lounge when I was little.
And it was fabulous. I had the best childhood ever. And there are four children. I have an older brother and an older sister and then a younger sister. So I'm kind of the middle. And we had a young baby boy that died. Only lived one day.
Kate Kunath: Did you grow up the whole time here in Lexington?
Bradley Picklesimer: Yes. I grew up my entire life here in Lexington. My mother passed away when I was seven, and my father died when I was 14.
Kate Kunath: And who took care of you?
Bradley Picklesimer: I was sent away to a Christian academy in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, Hazel Green Christian Academy for three years and then my Aunt Lloyd got executorship and I came back to Lexington and she took care of me.
Kate Kunath: [00:04:00] At what age was that?
Bradley Picklesimer: I guess I was around almost 18. Yeah, 'cause I was three years at the academy.
Kate Kunath: So when you were growing up, you were it sounds like supported in anything that you wanted to do. Did you know then back when you were little that you were different?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:04:30] Well, there were... yes, there were a lot of things that happened. My dad would walk us across Winchester Road, me and my youngest sister to go Trinity Baptist Church on Sundays. And then we would walk the rest of the way. Well, when I was growing up, children dressed up. I had a camel hair suit, little camel suit on and my little shoes and everything. My little sister had her full dress, patent leather purse, patent leather shoes. And then the phone would ring and it would be the church. They were like, "Mr. Picklesimer, we need to talk to you about Bradley," and he's like, "What?" "Well he has Elizabeth's purse again and he won't let go of it." So, on the way to church... she didn't want the purse. My little sister's also gay. And she didn't want the purse and I wanted the purse and I would just carry it to church every Sunday. So there was that.
And for years, the relatives used to say, "He should have been a girl. She should have been a boy. He should have been a girl. She should have been a boy." And of course then there was the Christmas they never said that again. My sister and I would have the Christmas with the family and then we would go down into our basement and we would trade out. She wanted my Tonka trucks and I wanted all her girlie stuff that she had, Barbie dolls and all that stuff. And we just did it. There wasn't any talk about it. We just secretly did it.
I played with... I liked beautiful things. I used to make little carnation tissue floats on carnation tissue boxes and then put the Barbie dolls on the tissue boxes and hook them all together like parade, you know? I was very creative as a child.
Kate Kunath: So was there some point where you and your sister were like, "We're so gay. This must be what's happening."
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:06:30] Let me think. What happened was I knew at school that I liked boys. I had a best friend who was my running buddy and he lived near me and stuff. One night on the telephone, we were talking about boys at school and boys that I liked and unbeknownst to me, he had actually recorded it. And he blackmailed me into sex with him. And that was my first encounter. He said, "If you do not meet me over in your dad's barn and have sex with me, I'm gonna play this at school for everyone."
Kate Kunath: Were you like, "You didn't have to do that. I would have done it anyway"?
Bradley Picklesimer: I wouldn't have done it.
Kate Kunath: Oh.
Bradley Picklesimer: I wouldn't have done it. And so, that happened. Not nice.
Kate Kunath: Not nice.
Bradley Picklesimer: No, not nice. Yeah. So that happened.
Kate Kunath: When was that? How old were you?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:07:30] I was in sixth grade, I think, sixth grade. Yeah.
Another thing that ended up happening with me dressing up. A woman's possessions had been put into the street and my little sister came home and she had seen this big pile of clothes and things. She said, "Let's go down there. It's all in the garbage." Well they were incredible 1940s gowns with padded shoulders and these big, giant coats with fur cuffs. Just unbelievable stuff. So I got as much stuff as I could and started dressing up and wearing things to parties after school and then word got out. Because the next day at school, because I had worn this really fabulous, flamboyant jacket, all of a sudden, there were people who wouldn't go to the woods and smoke pot with me anymore.
Which... it's blowing.
Kate Kunath: Is it blowing? We'll fix it.
Bradley Picklesimer: Oh you're gonna fix it? Okay.
Kate Kunath: Hold on one second.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:08:30] Sure.
Kate Kunath: Good.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:09:00] Also, around this time I had actually seen a performance by David Bowie on The Midnight Special. Now The Midnight Special obviously showed at midnight and it was a school night so I wasn't allowed to see it, but I knew it was happening. So I snuck back upstairs at my Aunt Lloyd's house and watched David Bowie's 1980 floor show. He had rented out the Marquee Club in London and only sold tickets to his fans. If you've ever seen that show, and I don't know if you have, but you need to look it up. It is one of the most brilliant, unbelievably futuristic, androgynous, gorgeous things. It completely changed my life. It changed my life seeing him and hearing his music.
Because of that bunch of clothes thrown out in the street, I started wearing women's clothes. Now you have to understand that back then, boys had brown, black, and gray, and navy blue. That was it. We didn't even have like white... well maybe white linen suits. And girls got everything. Girls got color and ruffles and could paint their nails and wear perfume and dye their hair. So men's clothing was so boring. It was so standard and boring. So when I started wearing clothes and dressing up, I became acutely aware of the power of drag really, before I even know what I was doing or what was happening. It was very powerful, very powerful medium.
I loved it because you could shock... you could stop entire groups of people. You could literally stop them in their tracks. I walked into I think seventh grade with my David Bowie haircut, my eyebrows shaved, a pair of platforms, bell bottoms and a shirt from... a Nik-Nik shirt from Chess King. People in the hallways just stopped. They just went to each side and just walked through and it was amazing.
Kate Kunath: Oh my God.
Bradley Picklesimer: Amazing.
Kate Kunath: Not all kids would have liked that attention.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:11:30] No, they wouldn't have. But also, at that time, my father had passed away and as traumatic and awful all of that was, because really when my father passed away at 14, that fabulous childhood ended, abruptly. I saw everyone in my life for who they really were for the first time. People that said they that they loved me and cared about me actually cared about the antiques, the cars, the horses, the money, the stocks, the bonds, and the property and didn't give a shit about me.
So I realized at that point, this is your life. You live your life. I knew that there were things inside of me that I wanted to do and things that I wanted to express and I decided to do it. And it was hard in those days, very hard dressing up. But I had to do it, and I'm glad I did.
Kate Kunath: Was it a regular dressing up?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:12:30] Yes. Well, it became worse. It became worse or more. As time progressed and I got better at makeup and sewing clothes and making outfits, I started dressing up every day that I could. You know, I would have to literally brace myself wherever I was in my apartment to walk out the door, because what would happen is you would end up in a fight. I mean, carloads of rednecks or country people would just stop and go, "Fucking faggot!" I mean, just open the car and just fight with you, you know? And it was gonna be you either stood your ground or ran, you know, I wasn't about to run. And I'm not saying that I won every fight, because I didn't. But I won a lot of them. Finally, it got to a point where people realized, honey, if I look like this, don't put your hands on me.
But you had to fight back then. You really did. It was a different time and especially for... it was not accepting and kind out there in Lexington, Kentucky.
Kate Kunath: [00:14:00] That is not a usual story that you hear about fighting back. It's usually about getting bullied and internalizing that in some kind of way. You don't hear the fighting back story very often.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:14:30] Well, you know, and I was bullied and I was laughed at and I was made fun of and I was called sissy. And by the way, I was called a faggot before I ever knew what one was. Because there wasn't a lot of literature in the libraries on homosexuals or faggots. As a matter of fact, there was none except for the fact that it was against the law and it was a mental disorder and a disease.
So from the beginning, and along with Baptist upbringing, you are an abomination in the eyes of God. So you have a choice, you can either follow your heart and what you want, or you can hide. At that point in my life, so many people had died. I had lost so much that I was determined to live my life for me, for me.
Kate Kunath: And so you did that as a kid.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:15:00] As a teenager.
Kate Kunath: And then, what was the next evolution of being yourself? What was like... how were you gonna become more you?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:15:30] The next evolution of that was... I was very artistic. Luckily, I had a really great art teacher that was spectacular and saved my life really because I was doing a lot of drugs then. She had taken me off to the side and said, "The teachers are talking about you. You are going to be arrested if you continue to go in the woods and do drugs and smoke pot. And if you're gonna do that, I'm gonna give you the keys to the kiln room and you're gonna fire the pottery and you're gonna work and you're gonna stay here."
And she saved my life because for the first time, someone had actually... since my father was gone, had treated me like an adult. Had spoken to me and told me the truth and not treated me like a child. And you know, that was very scary. I mean, really, to be arrested and that sort of thing.
So when that happened, I was also getting anything I could. I was reading Rock Scene Magazine and Cream Magazine and I was seeing articles about the New York Dolls and all of these rock bands and Jayne County who was then a drag queen who was Wayne County and the Electric Chairs who became Jayne County. I was seeing the CBGBs in New York and all of these things that were starting to happen and the music scene that was starting to happen. And there was all of this... because of David Bowie, there was all of this glam rock and glitter and outrageousness. There were a few stores here in Lexington where you could buy outrageous outfits. Bell bottoms, really you know, sequin tops and stuff. They were really for girls, you know. But that didn't stop me.
I had been brought up... my father was a bar owner. We had a cocktail lounge and restaurant. I ended up opening a... with my brother and sister. The liquor license was actually in their name and I was underage. I was only 20. But I opened up my first nightclub and it was called Club Agogo. And it was a beer and wine bar. Because I was in a punk band then called The Thrusters and I was the lead singer, garage band. There was about four or five garage bands here in Lexington and there was nowhere for them to play. We could play at this place near the University of Kentucky, but they passed the hat.
The first time I went on stage there I was wearing an orange rubber apron and not really much else besides a g-string and a pair of fishnets. All I remember besides people throwing beer bottles was kind of rebel flags waving in the background and people screaming out, "Play some Freebird man. Play some Freebird." So you can picture that. At that point, we were doing Ramones covers and stuff. So then the band started writing original music and that gave me more confidence to create more costumes and stuff and then I had a bar. You know, I had a bar at 20 years old. And it was fabulous. There was really incredible bands that came through and played.
Divine played my club. I mean, you know, Divine. She had her first 45 out and had done Pink Flamingos, I think. I'd seen Pink Flamingos, John Waters film. It was so funny because Bernard Jay, who was her manager then, when she got here, you know I said... we were all so excited, everyone was. It was big hype. He was like... I said, "Bernard, I'm terribly sorry, but I can't meet Divine's rider," and he goes, "What do you mean? You should have told me this on the phone." I said, "Well I can't have champagne and I can't have the whiskeys and stuff because this is a beer and wine bar." And he was like, "What?" I was like, "Yeah, we only have a beer and wine license." He just could not believe it, you know.
So that club was incredible and fun and tons of publicity. I was in the university paper and on the local TV. It was like being a rock star. Well I was a rock star. It kind of incorporated everything that I loved. I could have parties and do decorations with crepe paper and streamers. I never had any money. So I was always like... For our Halloween parties, I would go to the cemetery and get all the old wreaths that they had thrown away that said, "Mother," "Dearly Beloved," and decorate the entire place with cobwebs and rotted funerary stuff from the cemetery. Really fabulous, I mean, really, really fabulous. So that enabled me to really express a whole lot of stuff that I just did naturally.
Kate Kunath: Was there any other gay bar around?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:21:00] Now there was and is in this city a very famous gay bar. There was a bar when I was growing up here called The Montparnasse and everyone knew it as the queer bar. It was in downtown Lexington and when I was young, Dan Rather on 60 Minutes had a television program where he went through and showed how people were getting fake identification. One way was to go to the cemetery and find someone who had died around the age you wanted to be and get their death certificate. But also, you could... I realized, you could get another person in your family. So I went and got my brother's ID with my picture only his age and name. And my older brother's name is Francis Marion Picklesimer. So I started sneaking into this gay bar very early on and it was also life-changing. It was very tiny. It was sort of a shotgun and then another shotgun on top with a spiral staircase at the front.
I know people would not believe this, but Lexington, Kentucky was the epicenter of a lot of really outrageous behavior. There was... Narco was here, which was a famous narcotics hospital, the only one in the United States. So you had people coming in to go there for rehabilitation and LSD testing and all of that sort of stuff. At this gay bar, which also at one point in time Rock Hudson owned, I walked in and there was a man standing at the door who had two Raggedy Ann dolls. They were in matching outfits and he was wearing exactly the same thing. He took your money and you could go upstairs to the dance floor. The waiters wore little tiny silver hot pants with silver bow ties and cuffs. The entire dance floor was lined with church pews. And they had big paintings of the Silver Surfer on the walls.
It was... and there were drag queens. And the first time I ever saw a drag queen, the first queen I ever saw perform was a queen named Lee Angelique. I didn't know that she was... of course I didn't know that she was lip syncing, and I thought that she was really singing. She had this dress that opened up and it was all fringe. And I don't know if you've ever seen anyone really work a fringe dress, but honey, this black queen could make that thing move like water. It was... and she was doing... I'll never forget. She was doing a Timi Yuro song I'm Sorry. And it was brilliant. It was life-changing because... and here were all these people.
Now also at this time...
Kate Kunath: [00:23:30] What year is this?
Bradley Picklesimer: I don't know. I can't remember anything. I can always remember what everyone was wearing. But I'm so bad on years and dates. I really, really am.
Kate Kunath: But it was the 60s? Or the 70s.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:24:00] No, it was the 70s. I was in school. It was... I was in high school. Another thing that happened. I was there on a costume... well there was always costumes. People dressed up there. But I was there on a... I think a Halloween and on the dance floor bumped into a poetry teacher from Henry Clay High School and she was with her lesbian lover and she had pants on with no top and the lesbian lover had the top of the suit with no pants. And you know, when you're in seventh grade and you bump into your poetry teacher from high school, it makes you realize... the thing was is that there was this secret world. And I had peeked into it. And I was privy enough to be in that secret world. And it made me feel like I knew something that no one else knew. I had something that no one else had.
Now also, too. At this period of time here in Lexington, if you were caught wearing three items of women's clothing, you could be arrested. And the police periodically would come down behind the gay bar and line their cruisers up and wait for the queens to come offstage and they would actually walk to their car carrying their wigs, which was very humiliating, of course. They would do that in order not to get arrested. And you know there was a lot of... they baited people at the local mall in the bathrooms and stuff. They published their names and pictures in the paper. One gentleman that I know of for sure who was married with children went home and killed himself. It was against the law. It was bad.
Kate Kunath: In the 70s.
Bradley Picklesimer: Yeah. Stonewall... when did Stonewall happen?
Kate Kunath: '69.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:26:00] '69. So Stonewall had just happened. And gay liberation was coming to the forefront. And of course it was coming more to the forefront in the big cities than it was here in Kentucky. People have to remember that... what they don't realize is, what happened at Stonewall also happened at the exact same time that Judy Garland died. And they were having that remembrance and the queens at that bar had been harassed night after night. And you know, the whole movement was started by queens. The whole movement was started by drag queens who got fed up, who'd had enough. On that third night, they'd had enough. And they got it together and they fought back. I'm really proud of that.
Kate Kunath: Were you guys talking about that down here? Was that on your minds?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:27:00] It was known and you were safe as long as you were in that bar. But in that back parking lot, you took your chances because there was a lot of fag bashing. There was a lot of people that knew that they could come downtown and beat up fags. It was rough, I mean it was very, very rough. And downtown Lexington then... it was not the gentrified city that it is now. It was no-mans land after five o'clock, there was nobody downtown. It was very, very different.
Kate Kunath: What about... so this is sort of the location of... this bar was sort of the location of your coming of age and learning about...
Bradley Picklesimer: Yes.
Kate Kunath: The gays. So what are like some early impressions or people that you remember that impressed things upon you?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:28:00] Well, also too here in town, there were two in particular unbelievable characters. Now, at the time, I didn't consider them characters because everyone knew them and they were just part of our city. One man was a man by the name of James Herndon. He was a black man who dressed in full women's apparel, an Egyptian cut wig, Nehru jackets, full... you know, wore pants suits a lot, but he was always in women's attire and his name was Sweet Evening Breeze. And he was admired by everyone here. He was revered.
He worked at Good Samaritan Hospital and had come up through the ranks and there was a lot of mystery about him. But wherever he walked in town and he always carried a parasol with him... and he would come to the bar. He would come to the Montparnasse. Wherever he went, people would go out of their way to say hello. To recognize him. All of the men in the fire station would come out front and holler and hoop. You know, it was a scene. And he had a little house over in Prawl Town near the University of Kentucky.
There were many rumors about him. There was a rumor that he was actually born a hermaphrodite and that he had gotten money from the university because they had bought his body when he passed away. Which was not true. But, he was left on the steps of Good Samaritan and ended up being one of their interns and helping out the nurses there and met a wealthy patron at Good Samaritan who helped him along his way. He was a big part of the church in his community. He was an incredible baker, he baked pies. He brought pies down to the bus station for the servicemen for all the country boys that came to Lexington to go on to their posts in the war.
Phenomenal. And a friend of mine. You know, he was so sweet. And we would... how we got to be friends was, I would be walking in downtown Lexington late at night and Sweets would also be walking in downtown Lexington. And we would get together and she would give me the heads up on where not to go and where the cops were and what was happening here. And in the early days, when I had apartments and friends that lived around the University of Kentucky, because back then you could rent an entire old Victorian house for like $500. It was amazing. And we would have these wild, rock and roll, throw down, punk rock, dress up to the hilt... and we would always invite Sweets.
And whenever Sweet Evening Breeze came... so the day you were decorating for the party for that night and everything was going on. You were cleaning the house and putting up crepe paper and getting everything ready, there'd be a knock at the door. You would go to the door and there would be Sweet Evening Breeze. And she would have one of her three layered coconut maraschino cherry cakes. And you were so thrilled that she showed up to come and visit you anyway. And she would tell you, she would say, "Now honey, don't you put this cake out for all your guests. You take this cake and you hide this somewhere in this house, 'cause come tomorrow, you're gonna want this cake."
And honey, she was so right. The next day, that cake was the most amazing thing when you were completely hungover and the house was completely trashed. And he was just an incredible icon and I didn't even really realize how much of one of course until he was gone. Until I had gotten older.
Also, here in the city, there was another man named Henry Faulkner. And Henry Faulkner was a painter and poet and blues singers. And he was raised in Egypt, Kentucky. He had a home over here on Third Street. Now this man lived in his house with at any given time 12-15 goats, six or seven dogs, and probably 20 cats in the house. And he would transport them from the house to the farm and they would be in the car and they would be jumping up on the mantles and he was this incredible painter. Whenever he went to town and rode his bike, the goats would run behind him. And he would carry a velvet pillow in his basket with a little kitty cat and sing the blues to the top of his voice.
I was young. You know, the first... seeing that and... we were at Stough Field and he would come out in the middle after the bands took a break and the crowd would just go wild, just absolutely go wild. And I have documentation Sweet Evening Breeze also, I have a picture of Sweet Evening Breeze in a cheerleader outfit when the interns played the doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital. And she would come out also at games and football games with pom-poms and the whole thing after the cheerleaders came out.
And it was just they lived here and they were accepted and they were revered. There was no such thing as the town character. It was just the way that it was and Henry became a very dear friend. Henry was one of the first people... I was being photographed over at his house and he kind of took me off to the side. He said, "Now honey, if you're gonna do this, you need to start doing it every day. And you're gonna get really good at it." He goes, "If you really wanna do it, do it every day."
And you know what? He was right. He was right. He was like, you know what, this is your life. Do what you wanna do. And you know, at that point I was just running wild because I didn't have any tether of parents and as awful as that was, it freed me and gave me the ability to absolutely have no boundaries at all, which I was very fortunate to have at a very early age.
Kate Kunath: How much older was Henry?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:35:00] Actually, I think that when I was a teenager and had met Henry, I think he was in his 60s, I think. It was very hard to tell with Henry because some days he would be completely crippled up and hobbling with a cane and the next day, he would be a forest satyr. Jumping from one thing to the other, I mean this man was really incredible.
When he bought his big house on Third Street, the first thing he did... he unplugged his refrigerator and he never touched the yard again. And it grew and the vines and the trees and everything. He was way ahead of his time. When we would go to the supermarkets, he would never let us walk down the aisles where the detergents were. Now you know, I was young and I was like, "What?" He goes, "No, that's poison. It's poison. All of that is poison and you're gonna get poisoned if you walk down that aisle." And you know what, that was before off-gassing and all of that stuff and he knew.
But also, you could be driving with Henry on a country road somewhere and all of a sudden, he would swerve the car over and throw you in the back because a butterfly had flown across the front and he was not... your life was nothing compared to a butterfly's. That kind of woo. He was incredible and he was my friend. I lived with him for a matter of time until I didn't live with him. I loved him and his paintings are still here today. And around and they're phenomenal and they're getting even more recognition in his life and stuff.
And he had traveled. He had been to Taormina and had several incredible sponsors in his life and really was worldly. He was best friends with Tennessee Williams. I got to meet Tennessee once when he came here to town. Really fabulous. He had a home in Key West. He had a farm out in the country and the house on Third Street.
So also too, being young and looking at that and realizing like oh my God, you can live off of your art. You could have a really beautiful life being who you are. In my mind.
Kate Kunath: So rare for that time, I feel like.
Bradley Picklesimer: You know what, and every year I get older, I realize how precious and rare those people were and this town is because it was a phenomenal time, really.
Kate Kunath: And everyone knew or I don't know, were they gay? Or were they...
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:37:30] Oh yes, yes. Oh yes. Oh yes honey. There was no doubt in anyone's mind. Sweets would host the football team at the University of Kentucky. They dug out her basement. I mean, incredible stuff, just incredible stuff, you know. Henry down at his house in Key West would have the sailors in. It was amazing, to say the least.
Kate Kunath: [00:38:00] Wow, that's so cool.
So back at your bar, would they come in? Would they patronize your place?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:38:30] Henry did for Club Agogo and then what happened was we actually... I shared bathrooms with a man next door who had a restaurant equipment service. It was really funny because we had the same bathrooms. And of course for one Halloween, I decorated the bathrooms all up and he had some Eastern Kentucky family come in to buy restaurant equipment and they said, "Oh, can we use the bathroom?" He's like, "Oh sure." Walks in.
Funeral wreaths. Cobwebs. Blood. The whole thing. And he didn't realize that we had decorated the bathrooms so we became really good friends. And then when I closed that club, he was my silent partner in my next nightclub, which was called Café LMNOP. And that was on Main Street here in Lexington. And his name was Wade Littrell. Or is Wade Littrell and I hope he's still alive. And he was amazing. Because he believed in me, he financed the entire thing. And this was a full liquor license bar honey. And that's when the real fun started, or some could say not real fun started. So that was my second nightclub.
Kate Kunath: So tell me about that place. It was also a gay place, obviously.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:39:30] Now, you know what, the oddest thing was, I was in full drag every night. We had drag shows. I also had in my drag shows, I had drag kings before there was the term drag kings. Including my little sister, I had several female to male performers. So we had art shows, drag shows, and then we would have rock and roll bands. Divine also played there. The only two times she was ever in the state, she played my nightclubs.
] The thing about it was... it was a very mixed crowd because I drew kids from the university, bikers, downtown office workers, and then there would be... some gay people didn't feel comfortable because they wanted to be with all gay people, but there was a lot of gay people that came because there were so many cute boys and so many beautiful girls. So I've always really loved... both of my bars were extremely mixed. And I've always really, really loved that because a bar with... a lesbian bar with all women or a leather bar with all leather people, or a gay bar with all gay... it was boring to me. I wanted more. I wanted everyone to interact and experience and all of that stuff together.
Kate Kunath: [00:41:00] What about the racial diversity of the first bar, the bar you went to in high school. What was the mix like there?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:41:30] You mean the gay bar downtown that I snuck into? The Montparnasse. First it was, let me see... it was the Gilded Cage, the Montparnasse, the Living Room, then Johnny Angels, and now it's called the Bar Complex. It's still there and it really is something to see because they have a dance floor and neon show from 1972 that was designed by the same man who did Studio 54. And it's in perfect condition so it's like going back in time.
The racial diversity. There was a contingent of black men and black queens. As a matter of fact, two of my best friends were black queens... that came to the Montparnasse downtown. And there were some very effeminate black men. There were some not-so-effeminate black men. And there wasn't that many black gay women, I don't think. Not as much as... it was like... probably 10% black and the rest white pretty much.
Kate Kunath: Would they mix?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:42:30] Yes. Oh yeah, yeah. They would mix because of course, you know, the only people who had discotheques and danced till dawn were the homosexuals, the blacks and the gays. So also during this period, when that bar got renovated and added on to and became Johnny Angels, it was the peak of the disco era and Grace Jones played there. Sylvester played there. I met Sylvester. I met Grace Jones and her brother. It was an incredible, incredible time.
Because that was at the height... cocaine had hit the scene. It was not addictive. And disco was really liberating and freeing so many people because this was pre HIV/AIDS. It was at that point where people actually would lie and pretend they were gay just to be in. Because that was where everyone wanted to be and the place was packed. It was beautiful. People were dressed... polyester... and great music, I mean great music, music with lyrics. And people danced. Big groups of people danced together until last call. It was one of the best times ever. Really, really fun.
Kate Kunath: Did that carry on into...
Bradley Picklesimer: My nightclubs were more alternative music and alternative scene back then. As opposed to what was going on with the Main Street gay bar or the disco, yeah.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:44:00] Because that was when that whole music was just hitting the scene with the Ramones and Blondie and Iggy Pop and all of that stuff happening. And there were no bars that were playing any of that music at all, much less having bands and performers doing that sort of thing.
Kate Kunath: Okay great.
Bradley Picklesimer: Yeah.
Kate Kunath: Okay so, LMNOP.
Kate Kunath: And it was the same... it was the continuation of that genre.
Kate Kunath: So the Bowie and the...
Kate Kunath: Okay, and so what years did you run that bar?
Bradley Picklesimer: It was in the early 80s I wanna say, like '81, '82, '83 maybe?
Kate Kunath: Will you just say, "I ran LMNOP from..."
Bradley Picklesimer: I think from '81... I ran LMNOP, the nightclub on Main Street, from probably 1981 to 1983.
Kate Kunath: [00:45:00] And why did you close it?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:45:30] The city actually bought the land out from under me and I think they were a little... I think they were a little... not wanting to get rid of me, but I was getting a lot of publicity and causing kind of a lot of trouble, in a way. I would have an entire contingent out front when they would have parades down Main Street. We would heckle the Republican floats, you know that sort of thing. And getting a lot of attention. I think the powers that be wanted to eradicate me, sort of.
Kate Kunath: And HIV... the epidemic had started.
Bradley Picklesimer: Yes, yes. When that happened, when that started happening...
Kate Kunath: When what started happening.
Bradley Picklesimer: What's that?
Kate Kunath: When what started happening?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:46:00] When the HIV epidemic was in the early stages, I had been traveling to New York City and to Boston and I had very many good friends in New York that started dying. And a lot of people started dying and it was horrific. It was... it seemed like the excess of the 70s and all the opulence and decadence had finally... it was time to pay the Piper. And no one really knew in the beginning what was going on and what was happening. Then of course there was a lot of rebellion and Act Up and activism and my friends in New York were very big in Act Up. Thank God for that.
It was happening here, too. It was very frightening here because back then it was a death sentence. It was an absolute death sentence. One of the first people that were diagnosed they... when he passed away, they came into the room and stripped the wallpaper off the walls in the hospital. People were very afraid. I saw a lot of my friends' homes turn into hospital rooms. It was very devastating. Went to a lot of funerals. I would have to say that probably 90% of all of the people that I knew were wiped out. It was... you know how do you recover from that? I mean really.
Luckily, as I kept going to funerals, I kept thinking, "Well I'm next. I'm gonna... I was at that party. I was at that. I did that. I'm next." I was very afraid to get tested and when I got tested and I wasn't HIV positive, it was amazing. It was a miracle. I'd like to think in a way that my scary drag saved me, oddly enough, because people were too frightened of me to... I think people wanted to have sex with me and I had a great butt, great legs and I was... you know, they didn't call them twinks back then. There were chicken. Chicken and chicken hawks.
Anyway, I really think that drag saved my life honestly because I was very frightening. Between... I did really outrageous outfits. I would wear... I would go to the supermarket and get pig ears and string them together with safety pins and have pig ear necklaces and spike my hair up and wear black lipstick and black glitter and you know... and rip all my clothes up. Fun, really fun. So a lot of people were very standoffish to that in those days. Thank God.
Luckily, I was not HIV positive and because of that, I really decided to... that was part of the thing of changing my life, because it is, obviously, a life-changing experience seeing the devastation that a plague can cause in people's lives.
Kate Kunath: So what was the change?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:49:30] Well what ended up happening was I stopped doing drugs and drinking. So that was one of the most major, really major things that happened to me because I had ended up... from drinking Boone's Farm Apple Wine in my dad's basement to buying bags of heroin on Avenue A in New York and putting a needle in my arm. And everything in between. That was a big deciding factor when I realized that I was not sick, that I wanted to live, and change my life for the better.
Kate Kunath: Did you stay in Kentucky at that point?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:50:30] I had tried to live in New York a couple of time, twice actually. Funny how nothing happens when you're on heroin. I don't know if there's a correlation there. One time I actually... I had gotten a job. My first day bartending early in the morning, I had a young man come in and pull out a sawed off shotgun to my head demanding money. So I didn't stay in New York. I'd actually tried to live in Los Angeles also and didn't make it out there either.
So I was jumping around after the bar had closed. I was in a play for awhile. I had done parties and small events and I had done charity events here in town, but I was really mostly working with scraps and doing things with almost no money because I didn't have any to produce... but did beautiful things with nothing. So yeah that's basically what happened.
I ended up moving to Los Angeles. I was actually not going to live in Los Angeles. I was... my drummer in my band and his wife had a recording studio and I was going to record music and do like a cabaret show and travel around. Ended up staying 25 years in LA.
Kate Kunath: Did you leave here with... I'm getting out of here. Was there a...?
Kate Kunath: [00:52:00] Like you were moving.
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:52:30] Yeah. I had lost a large piece of property due to negligence because I was a mess. I was determined to go somewhere and do something. I had... I was determined to because I was a self-sabotager when I was young and drunk and high. Oh it really doesn't matter and I don't care, lalala. Now that I was clean and sober, I had decided to go to Los Angeles, yes.
Kate Kunath: Did you have the sort of security of the family money? Or were you [crosstalk 00:52:38].
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:53:00] It was all gone by that time. All the inheritance money was gone and I was really by the skin of my teeth. When I arrived in LA, I probably had about $120. And I was happy, I was free. I had no keys, no responsibility. I was living on a friend's couch. My friend Chuck, who was also sick with HIV and who would pass away. That's how I got my start in Los Angeles.
Kate Kunath: And you probably imagine you didn't know what you were gonna do yet? You were just...
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:53:30] No I didn't. I really didn't. And actually, I was not going to go into event and party decorating. I wasn't. Because of Chuck, and there's a wonderful organization there called LA... well back then, APLA. And they used to have these big fundraisers. I volunteered because I wanted to help out and of course my friends were sick and Chuck was a participant in APLA AIDS organization. I ended up doing flowers and working a big event for them and I happened to be standing next to, unbeknownst to me, one of the biggest designers in the business.
And we were just making fun and cutting up and laughing about the celebrities and stuff. He was like, "God, you're really fast." I was like, "Yeah, so are you Papaw." You know, we're laughing. And he was like, "Well you should come and work for me." I'm like, "Who are you?"
I end up working with him and he sent me to all over the world really. To Paris and Jamaica and all these places to do these events. I became... I was talented, but I was learning so much with all of it. From schlepping the flower buckets to putting the tents, getting the furniture, doing the rentals, the lighting, the security, the... all of it. I was doing these amazing parties and making money, really good money and then I decided to go out on my own.
I was like, "I'm really talented. I'm making these people very wealthy. This was my idea. Why aren't I doing this for myself?" And so I started doing things for myself and had my own company in Los Angeles.
Kate Kunath: Cool.
Bradley Picklesimer: And it was great, it was really great.
Kate Kunath: So what were you doing? What was that lifestyle like? You were still sober and...
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:56:00] I was still clean and sober. I have been ever since. In May, I'll have 29 years. I got involved with some really good people out there. I started doing fabulous events and word of mouth went from one to the next, to the next and I ended up doing all the fabric for Barbra Streisand's wedding. I ended up doing Elton John's 2005 Oscar party. I did Ellen DeGeneres' 50th birthday party at Warner Brothers. I ended up doing many parties for Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne. Also three parties for Tim Burton. He was actually my neighbor. He lived right across the street from me on Havenhurst.
For a little boy from Kentucky, there were some amazing moments where I literally had to pinch myself. Elton John introduced me to Elizabeth Taylor at his party. I just... you know... that's unbelievable. From where I came from. So I'm a very fortunate girl to live off of my art and to be able to have had such an amazing life that I have lived in this world.
I wanna say that there is a price for all choices that you make, I believe. The choice that I decided a long time ago was I'm going to do what I want. I'm gonna look the way I want and I'm going to live my life. There's a price for everything that you decide. It's not that I haven't had relationships, but I believe that being a strong outward person who at any moment could be in a rubber French maid outfit vacuuming the house is a little difficult to put up with. So as of this point, I'm not attached to anyone and that may be the price for independence and my radical view of life and drag, maybe.
Kate Kunath: [00:58:00] Are you in drag every day?
Bradley Picklesimer: [00:58:30] No. Not anymore. I did a lot of drag in Los Angeles. A lot of drag. I did various jobs, like I told you. My very good friend Chi Chi LaRue, who is a porn director who I met on a dance floor at a really fun sort of wild bar at Peanuts called... God, what was the name of that club? Cinematic. Came up to me and was like, "Oh my God your makeup... who did your makeup?" And I was like, "I do my makeup."
Ended up calling me because she was in Palm Springs filming and she had the makeup artist had slept with the talent. A porn film. And so she calls me, she goes, "What are you doing?" I'm like, "Oh I'm just here at the apartment." She goes, "Well get your makeup together and get down here to Palm Springs." I was like, "What?" She goes, "You're gonna do makeup on this film." And I was like, "Oh honey I can't." She goes, "Honey, if you can paint that face like that, you can do porn makeup."
Well I ended up being in the porn industry for about almost 20 years off and on. I did set design and I did makeup. Was in some nonsexual roles in the movies. Did gay porn, tranny porn, straight porn, all kinds of porn. That was also a big childhood dream. That was a really unbelievable, fascinating world to be able to peek on and see the goings on. Chi Chi and I are still really good friends.
How did we get on this subject? You asked me...
Kate Kunath: I asked you... what the hell did I ask?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:00:00] What was the last thing? Anyway. But my main thing that I was doing was doing the events and decorating. That time span of being in Los Angeles...
Oh I know what it was. You asked if I was in drag every day. I used to do drag a lot. And then, also, when you are not medicating yourself or having a cocktail, everything has a time limit. So now I do it for money, publicity, or sex. Or the combo of the three, which is actually my favorite. I think that... I've been dressing up since I was 14. Well, actually probably 13. I'm 60 years old now. I still buy women's stuff. It's not going away. I haven't gotten rid of my 400 pairs of shoes. I still enjoy it and it's still fabulous and it's still fun and it still makes me happy. I don't know how long I'm gonna do it. Maybe one day I'll just have my legs and a big hat and a veil, who knows?
Things are very different now because I have moved to a rural piece of property in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. My life is very, very different.
Kate Kunath: Why did you leave Los Angeles?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:01:30] I had a feeling that something bad was gonna happen. I don't know what that is. Whether it's zombie apocalypse, solar flare, earthquake, I don't know. I had been there 25 years and every day in Los Angeles, the concessions that you make to live there mount up before you even realize. It became such a... every 30 days, I needed X amount of money. Just... And honey, that wasn't a new pair of eyelashes or a party dress. That was the bare basics. When one thing would go wrong, you could see quickly how someone could actually end up on the streets.
With your car towed, it's like having your legs cut off in LA. It became... my industry became very cutthroat and very vicious and there was no more loyalty. I wanted a different life. And I knew that... I had bought a family piece of property in 2000. I'm a... I know I don't look like it, but I'm a gardener. And I love to garden. I believe... I had seen some things in Los Angeles. I had seen people eating out of garbage cans with Rolls Royces right next to them. In my line of work, too, the divisions between the haves and the have-nots was becoming so polar extreme that it was kind of frightening. I was really just servicing the rich. I was just really facilitating things for the wealthy. I was making their lives beautiful and their events incredible. And I'm not negating that and I am grateful that my talent enabled me to do that, but I wanted something real.
I was going to parties where people looked right through me like a pane of glass as they shook my hand because there was someone more famous right behind me. I saw how desperate people were and how the industry had become and what it took to run on that gerbil wheel. And all the other gerbils running on their wheels. It's great when you have a big piece of cheese. And then you get even another big piece of cheese and it's amazing. But then... I wanted something real, I wanted peace, I wanted some tranquility, I wanted some quiet.
I was then doing Kentucky Derby events. I would come home and I would have a truck, so I would bring things to my cabin. It would enable me to stay here for a month. I found that when I came back to Los Angeles, I literally was flinching from the bombardment of logos, and LED signs, and noise, and traffic, and everything just at you. I knew I would never grow old in LA, LA's not a place for the elderly. Not that I am elderly by any means, but I knew that I wanted to be the crazy old queen in a pair of frilly panties and a pair of overalls with a ZZ Top beard on my porch with a loaded shotgun.
That's what I want.
Kate Kunath: [01:05:00] Oh God.
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:05:30] There's a vision for you. And you know, I wanted to reconnect with my family that is here, what's left of them. I wanted to be closer to them. But when I had the money that I had, I'm really glad that I bought a farm far away because I did this town really well. And still to this day, if I'm out and I meet people and they say, "Well what was your name?" And I say, "Bradley Picklesimer," they go, "You're Bradley Picklesimer?" I go, " Guilty as charged." And then they'll launch into some something. Which is fabulous and very sweet and usually very nice, but I wanted privacy, and I wanted gardens.
I have 40 acres, I have incredible mountains. The Appalachia mountains are the oldest mountain range in the world, they're older than the Himalayas. I consider them a sacred, mystical magical place. I feel so fortunate to have escaped LA and to be able to have my little farm for this moment in time.
Now I have... the Lexington Herald Leader when I moved back home came up and did an article on me and I got all dressed up. I thought, "Okay, here we go. Here it is. I'm gonna step out here and whoever here's in the holler is gonna you know..." and there wasn't a soul. Not a soul, not a car, not nothing. I even hiked up to my pond in full drag, Dolce and Gabbana high heels, the whole thing.
So when the article came out in the paper, I thought to myself... I got up really early to go and get one and then I thought, "Oh God, I better buy all of these because I don't..." I thought, you know, well now you've done it. And it was a big article, which I really wasn't expecting. Two pages with color, pictures and everything. By the time I got there, people already had them under their arms. So I got what I could and I thought, "Okay honey. Here it is. You're either gonna get burning crosses on your front yard, or dinner invitations." And I got neither. I didn't lock my gate. And I thought, "Here I am. This is my truth. This is who I am."
And if anybody asks why I don't have eyebrows, I will tell them. "Why wear this much makeup, when you can wear that much makeup?" It's a no-brainer for me. If someone asks, I will tell them, absolutely. It's a very different life. It's very quiet, but it's very beautiful. Really beautiful.
Kate Kunath: Do you think because of people like you and Henry and the Evening Breeze...
Bradley Picklesimer: Sweets.
Kate Kunath: [01:08:00] Sweets. That Lexington is a gayer place?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:08:30] Yes. Oh there's no doubt. There's no doubt in my mind. It's a more accepting... it was a more accepting place when I was growing up. It was a great place to be free and do what you want and be who you are and be what you want. For those... because they all lived their truth. They were exactly who they really were. They didn't hide away from... one of the first questions that Mason sent me was, "Do you consider yourself an activist?"
I had never thought about it before. But I am, because I'm an army of one. When you're living your life and you're doing what's ahead of you for whatever reason, you don't realize the... when you throw that rock in that pond, the ripples that go out and come back. Over the years, I have had the most amazing moments of people coming to me and telling me that... a boy in Palm Springs came up to me and said, "I was in a frat house and they were all going out to a sports bar and I had heard about your club and I was from a little town. I came to your bar and it changed my life."
You are just... you're trying to be the best you you can be, and you forget that because of being truthful and standing out there in an evening gown or an outrageous outfit, that maybe there's someone on the sidelines that you're helping and you don't know that. Because when you're the parade float, you don't realize that the people watching the parade could think one day you know what? And now, I mean look at the world now. It's incredible.
There were two boys kissing at the Winter Olympics. I remember... I watched TV when Boy George got... when Culture Club was nominated and he stood up at the podium and he said, "I wanna thank you America, 'cause you know a good drag queen when you see one." You have no idea how that lit up my world and my phone and I called people. I was like, "Did you hear what he said? Did you hear what he said? He said drag queen!"
I have lived long enough to see RuPaul have a syndicated drag show on television; national television, global television. And that is phenomenal. That's so unbelievably amazing. I get to hear things like kids say they're sexually fluid. Sexually fluid, sexual fluidity. That would have never even come across the board when I was growing up. All of the new... now that doctors instead of deciding what sex a child should be that is born with intersex, it's now not them that decides. They are now letting the child grow up and decide which path they're gonna take. And the transgender movement. And people in transition on both sides, male to female, female to male. It's incredible. It really is so... it's going so fast and so phenomenally that it's unstoppable, and that's a wonderful thing.
But also, I think that these youngins, these children, need to know their history. And they need to be very careful when they say words like, "old troll," because this old troll fought very hard. There's a lot of men and women who died so that they could hold hands and be out in public and get married. Mustn't forget that. Ever.
Cut, God dammit. Oh, I'm wired.
It's been a war. And it's been hard sometimes. This is such a great opportunity because things are going so fast now that people forget about history and tradition and what was.
Kate Kunath: Go and say the correct line now.
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:13:00] Oh I'm sorry.
It's miraculous. The legions of young men and women who have passed away and who have left this realm a better place for LGBT community. I'm grateful to be a part of it, I'm grateful to see what has happened. I just want people to... no one around me is ever going to say disparaging things about older gay people. Unfortunately, particularly among gay men, there is this narcissism and youth icon or this image that they want to portray. And of course it's futile. They need to not only embrace becoming of age but realize how much they have to offer generations coming up.
Kate Kunath: [01:14:00] What do you hope for the future?
Can you put your tissues on the...
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:14:30] Oh yes, I'm sorry. There we go.
What do I hope for the future?
Gosh, what do I hope for the future? Wow. You know, I would really like to see a day when gender equality isn't an issue, when it doesn't matter anymore. When the color someone's skin or their choice of partner is not an issue or matters. I would like to see tolerance and acceptance and love and some kind of spiritual awakening. But I'm fearful that, like so many things in the world, it's going to have to get worse before it gets better. And that does frighten me because I think that there's going to have to be some kind of... there needs to be a spiritual awakening for the human race. I don't know what it's gonna take to have that happen. I don't understand how far people need to be pushed or how many things they have to have taken away from them before they take a stand.
I do hope for a brighter future and a better world where everyone can be free to live and do and be what they want. It shouldn't be a dream. Shouldn't be a dream.
Kate Kunath: Well part of your history seems to be creating space for that to happen. And I wonder if you think about what your... in your golden years, the time that could be 35, 40 years.
Kate Kunath: Left here in Lexington I imagine. You'll stay?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:16:00] In Kentucky for sure.
Kate Kunath: What is next for you? In those terms. What do you think will be your next contribution to that?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:16:30] Oh gosh. You know, like I said earlier, you forget that your actions have impact. I really hope that a younger generation or that people could look at me like I did to Henry or to Sweet Evening Breeze and see that you are able to have a wonderful life living your truth. That you don't have to give up any of your idealism or your image or your idea of beauty for someone else's lie.
I really honestly do not know what the future holds for me as far as being in eastern Kentucky and being on my farm. It's very little steps there. And I know that there are gay people there. I've met one. I know that there's gay people there. It's small steps. The one thing that I have done... I've gotten the people in my holler to stop killing black snakes. That's my big contribution at the moment because they're nonpoisonous and they eat poisonous snakes and they're good. They kill rodents and rats. It used to be, "Only good snake's a dead snake." And I was like, "No, in fact, that's not true. And if you look right here, here's a black snake eating a copperhead. See?"
So little victories like that and maybe get people to clean up the creeks. I just... I'm still traveling and I'm still doing things. I'm still doing parties and events and weddings. I just hope that in the future... in one way, and I don't mean this derogatory in any term, but in one way, it was more fun when it was illegal.
It was more... it was a hidden world and it was secret. It was sort of like you were in on the cosmic joke. Now that it has become more mainstream, I don't really know if there are gay bars anymore, honestly. Because I don't think that you could have just a gay bar. I don't know if there are just strictly gay bars, but in the future, everyone's gonna have to get along. You're gonna have to have everybody in on... if people realized how many gay people they actually knew... would just absolutely realize that this is not a choice. This is in your genes. You are born this way. You are born this way.
I wrote in the questionnaire about what I wish I would have had as a child. I wish there had been in the library in my schools history of famous, fabulous homosexuals, and now there is, I hope. And maybe one day I'll be among them with this and who knows? But people need to know that we are and have been and will continue be a part of this world. Forever.
Kate Kunath: [01:20:30] I think that the gay bar is so important. Not because it needs to be a safe haven because gay people can't go to other places, which is kind of this argument. "We don't need gay bars anymore because you can just go to any bar." And it's like, "Yeah, but why would I wanna go to any bar?"
Bradley Picklesimer: Right. Are there gay bars?
Kate Kunath: There are, but not enough.
Kate Kunath: [01:21:00] They close down. The close down a lot after AIDS, a lot of them did. And then recently, it's just like they're closing down, closing down all the time because they don't have the support. But I feel like, are people forgetting that the best times are had in gay bars?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:21:30] That's true. I remember, I mean, the women's bar, The Palms in LA was there forever. When it went, it was really sad to me. It was really sad and it's like, and then where do all those people go. It's such a big part of my life. And such a big part of my experience because I literally raised myself in gay bars. In those days, you had to look good and you had to read and you had to hold yourself or you'd be laughed at. If you didn't have a good comeback and you didn't look really good, you could be just devastated.
Now I have a pretty quick wit and once you mix that with alcohol and cocaine, it can be very vicious. And as you grow up and get out of that world, you realize that is not also the way to behave in the world. But I wouldn't be who I am had I not had possibly some of the most fabulously gay bars in the world in my life. I mean really, and I agree, I absolutely agree.
My friend who has the big bar downtown, it's fallen into... I don't know if people dance together anymore. Do people dance in large groups together? Are there big giant dance clubs anymore? I don't think there are. The days of Limelight and Studio 54 and... the club downtown, the dance floor holds like 600 people. But it's been years since there's been that kind of thing. And maybe the pendulum will swing back and it will happen. I don't know, I don't know. Odd!
Bradley Picklesimer: Really is.
Kate Kunath: [01:23:00] I wanna ask something about the trans movement. That's come about in such full swing now and how you identify with it and what's kind of kept you or what's the difference between your drag.
Kate Kunath: And kind of where the threshold is?
Kate Kunath: How trans things are?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:23:30] Okay. This is a multi-headed Hydra and a big discussion thing. Yes it is. So I consider myself a drag queen, a white, Southern drag queen. Recently, while talking to my very good friend, Courtney Act, who was in RuPaul's Drag Race and just won in drag, UK Big Brother, by the way. So recently talking to him because he's very... we had this big deep discussions about the trans community and I was saying, "Well, a transvestite is a person who achieves sexual gratification through wearing women's clothing."
So I was telling him absolutely that I was not a transvestite. Well then, he said to me, "Now wait a minute. Don't you pick up men when you're dressed up as a woman?" I was like, "Well yeah. I mean men are, you know." And then I was like, "Oh no. Oh no." And he goes, "Uh-huh. That would make you a transvestite."
So the thing about it is I had some very good friends who in the day who were taking female hormones and I was on female hormones for a period of time. I realized then after two months of being on female hormones and having my body change that that was not for me. I think in my experience, first off... let's just say there's this sort of average boy and he decides to dress up one night and he goes to the bar. He dresses up as a woman, or he dresses up for Halloween. And he goes out and he gets all this attention. And maybe he even gets the football player of his dreams.
Well then, he might dress up some more and he might think, "Oh this is so wonderful. I wanna be a woman. Because I'm getting... this is what I need. This is what I'm getting from doing this, from dressing up." Now, those same people that were all over you that night will cross the street and go to the opposite side of the street if they see you in the daytime. It's gonna be a different subject. And also too, you make the decision to become a woman, you need to realize how women are treated in this world, even in today's standards.
So that is a very intense decision for anyone to make. Now I understand that there are different reasons and there are men who feel that they are a woman trapped in a man's body and they need to go through that. There are also intersex children who have been misdiagnosed and need that. There are also women who have done female to male transformations. But John Hopkins Medical Hospital used to be the number one center for sex change operations. They are no longer. Actually, the University of Kentucky now is the number one sex change operations hospital. But John Hopkins did an extensive study over a period of years looking back on all of the surgeries that they had done and there was a very high percentage of suicide. There was a very high percentage of unhappiness. Very few... I don't wanna say normal because that's not a word I wanna use, very few well-adjusted transitions, and they stopped, they stopped their whole entire department.
So that decision is a very major, major thing for a human being to do. It is also a very hard cross to bear because of the way that this world is. I do feel for people who are in marriages and have children and decide that they're going to come out. And they're going to live this truth now in their older years. And sometimes I... it's not my experience.
I had a problem with Caitlyn Jenner. Because I just thought that he had the money and he could have done that privately, but instead he chose the role of publicity and in one aspect, it was very good for the trans community, it was very good for the people in transition. But also, he's still a white Republican. He is still with all of that knowledge, with all of the thing that that man... that she has seen, she is still a white Republican.
So because you're going to go through this, it is not going to solve the problems. It is not going to solve how men treat women, it is not gonna solve the inequality between men and women. And because you have enjoyed the attention that it brings you, you have to realize doing that every single day for the rest of your life is quite a commitment.
The first time that I met Divine and got to sit down with him, I had had my nightclub, my first nightclub for a couple of years. I was so excited, you know, and we're sitting there talking. I just... I was like, "Oh God" and all about drag and outrageousness. And I asked him and I said, "Oh my God, what's the thing that you love the most about drag?" And you know what he said to me? He said, "Taking it off."
And at that point in my life, it crushed me. I was like... until I had my next nightclub and I was there every night for those years in drag, even if there was one family from Omaha that needed to see a drag queen. And I realized what exactly what he was talking about. But, this has paid me trips all around the world. I have met the most incredible people. I have had the... it has given me a thousandfold back what I have meagerly put into it. For that reason, and you know the mysticism of the mask and really that the mask reveals more about the man. It is back through history, it's very magical.
And it is also... I mean, there were American Indians that had women's roles. Berdache that led roles as women in the tribe. They didn't fight as warriors. They were considered almost shamans because of being between two worlds, the third sex. This is in our history, it is in the DNA. I think it's fascinating what is happening.
I want to live long enough to see how it all turns out. I have known some people who are... who have gone through the change and are happy and are well-adjusted. I have also known some very unhappy people, as with anything. So I don't regret my choice of not taking female hormones, because I know what women go through and that was not my path. This being a white Southern drag queen was and is my path.
Kate Kunath: [01:32:00] For a young person or an old person that wants to come out, what would be your advice?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:32:30] Wow. For a young person that has made the decision to come out, do it. Don't waste any time. Don't waste any time. If this is who you are and what you are, you need to live every moment you can being the genuine person that you are. And I'd like to say the same for the old people. It may be the most painful experience, but it might be the most freeing experience. If you have gone through your life and you have X amount of time and this is what you want, there's no telling who you could affect, there's no telling; you're gonna shock people, you're gonna hurt people. But you're also gonna change people.
So I would say the same for both, really. Because why live a lie? Why live a lie in this day and age? Who is it benefiting? It's only gonna hurt you. And it will hurt everyone that you are in contact with.
Kate Kunath: Let me just check these notes really quick.
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:33:30] Am I popping out again?
Thank you baby.
Kate Kunath: These are a couple of our standard questions, but...
Kate Kunath: Why is it important for you to tell your story? You already answered this a little bit, but I'll just ask it again and see what comes of that.
Bradley Picklesimer: Why is it important?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:34:30] Why is it important for me to tell my story? Well first off, I'm grateful that anyone wants to know my story. And that makes me really happy that they find me interesting enough to ask me. I think that if you scratch the surface of anyone and they really do tell you their story, it can be heartbreaking, it can be life-changing, it can be heartwarming or horrific. I think it's important to tell my story not that... I'm kind of an anomaly, in a way. And I'm a survivor and a fighter. But I think that it's important to tell my story because it could give other people hope. It could give a little boy or a little girl who doesn't feel like they belong anywhere in the world to see that you can. And not only can you, but you can flourish.
There was this big thing on the TV talk shows about where they would take these goth kids and they'd wash off all their makeup and put them in a little Laura Ashley gown and then parade them down and everybody would clap and be so happy. And I always thought, "You know what? Why don't they interview the people that have lived their outrageous life and have made it? Why don't they have Boy George up there? Why don't they have Jeremy Scott the designer up there? Why don't they have transgendered people that have this incredible life or me?" And like yeah, you know what? I made $200,000 off one event. And I wear dresses. And I am still a professional and fun and living my life and I didn't have to lie one line of it.
Kate Kunath: High five
Kate Kunath: [01:36:30] There is one question about OUTWORDS, but I wanna ask you if there's anything else that you feel you wanna talk about or anyone you wanna mention or...
Bradley Picklesimer: Gosh, I don't... I think we covered it all, kind of, I think. I think we did. No, you know what, I feel pretty good about it, I think.
Kate Kunath: Our last question is about OUTWORDS.
Kate Kunath: If you could say OUTWORDS in your answer, that would help us. It's just what is the importance do you think of OUTWORDS. Why is OUTWORDS a project like this important?
Bradley Picklesimer: [01:37:30] Well, as I understand it, OUTWORDS as an archive, and also to become a multimedia cultural thing. As I understand it, I believe that it's important because this type of documentation is almost unheard of because we are not the majority. So therefore, this is an effort to collect stories from a fringe group of people that often aren't heard. And OUTWORDS as people look on it, as time goes by, I think will become even more important because it's not just a history book. It is actual human beings with their human experience of their life story. And I think it's one of the most important things that could be for a culture, for mankind, for the human population of the world, really.
Kate Kunath: Great. Before you move.
Kate Kunath: I wanna take a picture of you in that seat.
Bradley Picklesimer: Okay. Oh look, money! Money, money, money. 50 cents.
Kate Kunath: That's why they call me 50 Cent.
Bradley Picklesimer: 50 cents. God let me powder this nose.
Kate Kunath: Oh yeah. We're gonna get some room tone first, which is just 30 seconds of...
Bradley Picklesimer: Some what?
Kate Kunath: It's called room tone. But it's basically, we just sit in silence.
Kate Kunath: Record.
Kate Kunath: Room tone.
Bradley [00:01:30] Picklesimer:
Kate [00:02:30] Kunath:

Interviewed by: Kate Kunath
Camera: Mansee Kong
Date: March 28, 2018
Location: Home Of Frank Close, Lexington, KY