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La Michel Part Two: A Drag Queen Working As A Prostitute And As An Artist, Betwe

by Vincent van der Kraan in General , 21 november 2004

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar


La Michel is one of the most famous Dutch drag queens and was born in Oudewater in 1933. As a little ten-year-old boy he was giving blowjobs to German soldiers in return for food and drinks so that he could keep his mother alive. At the age of fifteen he already had caused so many sex scandals in the village that he decided to run away from home. He ended up with a circus; while there he met a rich gentleman from The Hague whit whom he lived for five years. After the dead of his boyfriend he started to appear in drag at chic parties in The Hague. Afterwards he performed in night clubs in The Hague and also later in the Moulin Rouge at the Thorbeckeplein in Amsterdam. In those days law strictly forbade drag performance so Michel had to move into the world of prostitution to make money.

He walked the streets at Utrechtsestraat and had very rich lovers, who gave him a Jaguar Sport ones in a while. He also had found an accomplice: a drag queen named Thea, who also drove a Jaguar Sport. It’s the middle of the sixties, at the start of the Sexual Revolution.

Did the police cause you a lot of trouble in those days?

“The police was getting stricter and I reacted by behaving cheekier. One time I went to the bar of the Hilton Hotel, together with Thea. We both pontifically parked our Jaguar Sports in front of the entrance. In the bar I met this man who told me he owned a big nightclub in Berlin. He was interested to book me. He would come over with his business partners at my house that night. In the evening three men came in and I immediately had a gun pointed to my face. They robbed 10.000 guilders of me, and a bunch of jewels worth a fortune. They didn’t shoot me because I told them I wouldn’t report them. ‘I’ll tell the police that you were Italians and claim double the money with the insurance company.’ ‘You are an even bigger criminal then we are,’ they replied rather cynically, considering the situation. When I reported the incident with the police, they said to me: ‘Yeah, what else do you expect, you’re cleaning the window of your Jaguar with your mink coat and on the other hand you’re surprised that you attract people like that?’”

There was something about you and Jaguars, wasn’t it?

“I had a certified accountant who used to take me everywhere as an escort lady. Although he never knew that I was a man. He gave me a Jaguar X-type. It was the old Jaguar of a famous Dutch television personality and it had a built-in stereo, very revolutionary in those days. All together I’ve had six Jaguars. Some were just given to me by lovers and some I bought myself. I made about seven hundred guilders an evening. Today the money would be worth ten times as much, so it was an enormous amount. In the beginning I used to walk the streets at Utrechtsestraat; at the end of the sixties when there came to many heroin whores, it was prohibited to walk the streets there. Later I was concentrating more around Rembrandtsplein. As long as I was seated in my Jaguar the police couldn’t catch me because I wasn’t walking the streets. I could pick up costumers without them being able to do anything against it; you were allowed to take someone for a ride. The police was so annoyed by this that they waylaid for me one time. I got out of the car with a costumer and in front of the door they arrested me. ‘So now we’ve got you,’ they hissed at me. I was taken into the station and held in custody. I didn’t get back my mink coat. Some time later I went to see a concert with Thea at the Concertgebouw and who did I see in the refreshment room before the start of the concert? That detective, with his wife in my mink coat.
At the beginning of the seventies, at the start of the Sexual Revolution, the police became more respectful towards transvestism and therefore we were left alone. However, actually they were never against me, because there were never made any complaints against me. I never stole from customers; I was only regularly breaking the law for walking the streets, each and every time. Then I was jailed for one or two weeks. I also was kind of asocial with my Jaguar and had loads of unpaid tickets, in those cases I had to pay immediately, or do some more time. When I was send to prison it was always as a man. I already had a big bosom but I was able to hide them quite well. I had to shower separately because they were afraid of sexual contacts.”

You ended up as an artist, how did this happen?

“Well, there came in to many heroin whores and they spoilt the market. For a while I’ve been a window prostitute, but this was also prohibited by the police. From 1977 on I was only performing and my prostitution days were over. I also performed in Germany and Belgium. I had fabulous costumes which I had earned by prostitution. They were all made by Guus Harms, who was killed two years ago. A friend of mine was the owner of the Oporto Bar at the Warmoesstraat, at the corner of St. Annastraat. In the mean time this had been redecorated into a drag cabaret, Madame Arthur, which was run by a transsexual, who wasn’t very successful, because the business was near bankruptcy. That friend asked me to take over the management. He drastically refurbished the place. Suddenly there was a big neon sign with ‘La Michel’ on it, a bouncer and five drag queens. I had a lot of publicity. In 1980 we opened the new Madame Arthur, already the third in a row in Amsterdam. We had the strangest experiences over there. One night the door was opened and a man of about sixty, without teeth, stood in the doorway. He asked if he could perform as Madonna. Upstairs I changed him; put a wig on him and a mini skirt. The customers were raging. Another night there were Hell’s Angels at one side of the place and students at the other side. The Hell’s Angels started to throw beer mats towards the students and there was trouble ahead. I thought: if this collapses, my place will be ruined. I picked up a bar stool and threw this between the gentlemen. As a woman you could do this with the Hell’s Angels, it’s accepted. Than they respect you. It became a very nice evening afterwards. The most beautiful drag queen who performed there was Joke. She was the apple of my eye, glamorous and beautiful she was. A big disaster came over us when we discovered that the building was pulling out of position. The top floor had to be taken off because the place would collapse otherwise. That was the end of Madame Arthur; in 1991 we closed the doors.”

What did you do after Madame Arthur?

“From 1984 on I was living in a big house at Nieuwe Prinsengracht number 4. In the meanwhile I had, like a kind of Josephine Baker, fourteen runaway kids living in my house. The first five years that went alright. I made sure that they did their homework and never played truant. They adored me. Because of the job at Madame Arthur, where I worked seven days a week, I became a cocaine user. At the end I was completely stressed and couldn’t handle the kids anymore. I answered ‘Yes’ where I should have said ‘No’, and the other way around. They had it all in their own way in the house. They were already difficult children, so it was a chaos in no time. A short time later, in 1991, Madame Arthur had to close its doors and I went to Antwerp to the old red light district, where I already had been working as a prostitute at the beginning. My days as a prostitute were already behind me, I was getting to old for that, so I started to paint. After a year I got homesick to Amsterdam. When I saw a car with a Dutch licence plate driving through Antwerp the tears welled up in my eyes. An enormous sadness started to come over me. I had become a kind of hermit. All my money I spent on cocaine. I had no telephone anymore, no contacts, completely locked-up in Antwerp and completely poisoned by the cocaine. I was feeling so-called happy on cocaine, but realized all of a sudden that this happiness came out of a little chemical snuffbox. I completely collapsed and therefore drastically stopped the habit. Slowly the process of losing the addiction started. A good friend of mine, the painter Jas, completely helped me recovering. Within half a year I was also painting, not without merit, and I was writing thousands of poems. Instead of with my costumes, I was running around with my paintings now. For three years more I was painting and had several expositions over there. My paintings were selling for about four thousand guilders each. However, my homesickness remained and I went back to Amsterdam. I was leading a retired life together with ten cats and myself alone. One evening I went to the night-shop at the Wittenkade and a man shouted: ‘That’s La Michel walking over there, I need him in the panel for a drag show in Zaandam.’ I told him I hadn’t been wearing a dress for five years already; that was no problem at all. Nicky Nicole would perform; but that evening Nicky, as usual for her, didn’t show up. The manager of A3 asked me to perform that night. We rushed to Amsterdam and collected my costumes and tapes and I gave the best show of my life. During that night there was also an impresario, who asked me if I would like to work for him. These were performances at camp sides and in elderly homes. For a while I did it, but I had to perform for children. My shows were not meant for them. There was to much strong language for children and when boys in the age of nine started to stick up their middle finger to me, it was time for me to stop. A friend of mine had a bar at the Molukkenstraat, the Kris Kras Bar. He was the old bouncer of Madame Arthur. I was supposed to do the purchase and the cleaning. One time I needed beer mats and went to the bar of Brinkman around the corner. I said that I thought the place was beautiful. However, Ton, the owner, sighed it was running without a profit; he had to close early because the customers stayed away. ‘You should start a drag show,’ I advised him. ‘I know someone who lives in west Amsterdam.’ It seemed an exciting idea to him. So, I would perform for the first time again. I arrived in a taxi and thought Ton wouldn’t know it was me. However, the first time I left his bar someone had already told him: ‘You know, that one is the famous La Michel of Madame Arthur.’ So far for my surprise. Every week we did performances and it went great until the intolerant Turkish mosque, at the other side of the street, started to complain with the council and an alderman, about offensive pictures hanging in the window and about the amount of noise we produced. The council of Zeeburg showed her progressive multi cultural face and it was over with such a disgusting thing as drag. From then on the days of performance were more or less over. Once in a while I did it, for instance I was asked in drag to open a new business at KNSM Island. I now work at the ticket box for the straight sex cinema Diana at the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, where a lot of costumers see me as an intermediary. A lot of them know I’m La Michel, while there also are a lot of gay customers.”

Did you never think that growing older is getting less, physically and financially?

“With me it was not only growing old but also getting out! However, all of a sudden there is a new job offer, and here I am, being quite content, at the age of seventy-two. I don’t regret a thing. Although, I do regret something. Looking back I think that I’ve been quite rude to the girls who worked for me at Madame Arthur. That was because of my cocaine habit. I was really acting very asocial. I never went to one of their birthdays or bought them any present. They, to me, were just means to reach my goals. I still blame myself, because some were poor souls who were living on welfare and who had to work, for twenty-five guilders, all night long. By the way, I’ve also been bisexual for a while. That I also don’t regret. My motto is: ‘If you suffer from one dysfunction, you’ll suffer them all.’”



 







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