Book review: “Hiding My Candy” by The Lady Chablis

by Heather McNamara

“Hiding My Candy” by The Lady Chablis

Trans narrative: 5/5

Overall: 5/5

Heather McNamaraHiding My Candy by The Lady Chablis is different from the previous books I’ve reviewed. To start with, she doesn’t claim to have done the actual writing. That bit was done by Theodore Bouloukos who was tasked with bringing Chablis’ voice to the page. Second, unlike Laura Jane Grace or Jazz Jennings, she didn’t have a band or a television show to sell her book for her. She was a minor character in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt and spoke a line or two as herself in the movie by the same title. As a drag queen, she had a monthly show at Club One in Savannah. She did all right, but she was mostly a local celebrity. Her interviews and book had to be sold on the power of her personality alone, and her personality is explosive.

The first thing I noticed when the book came in the mail was that even though she was published by Simon & Schuster, one of the Big 5 in the publishing industry (Big 6 at the time of publication), the quality of the printing and paper is cheap. The pictures are black and white on regular paper. There is no glossy insert like there would be in a similar autobiography. That said, the pictures aren’t typical of an autobiography either. They’re less grandma’s photo album and more chapter art. Each chapter or chapter section is divided by an image of Chablis in one of her drag costumes. I wish they’d spent the money on putting those in color. If you look really close, you can tell that there are sequins and feathers and studs all over the handmade pieces and their shimmer just dies on a matte page. I can’t say why Simon & Schuster chose to take this route. I know for a fact that the movie didn’t lose any of its intrigue as it went to video because that year I worked at Hollywood Video and there wasn’t a single customer that didn’t come in asking did we have “Midnight in the good… and Good and Evil and the Cemetary, hell you know what I mean.”

Her story begins in the semi-rural, segregated town of Quincy, Florida where she grew up to about age 9 with her grandmother while her mother traveled north to study to become a nurse. She lived in a small home with no plumbing, little money, and a religious grandmother. Immediately I was reminded of Bill Clinton’s and Maya Angelou’s memoirs but lest I get too mired in the similarities, The Lady Chablis quickly shows that she was not a meek and eager to please little one at the whim of strict grandparents but the star of her very own one-woman show to which everyone was invited so long as they knew they were the audience.

When her mother finally arrives on the scene, pregnant and with a new husband in tow, Chablis’ life takes a tragic turn. Her flamboyance and femininity had been shrugged off in her grandmother’s house, but her mother and stepfather couldn’t handle it and she was subjected to a great deal of physical abuse. This is where the story really gets amazing. I kept waiting for her to turn down the drag speak and take a more serious tone, but she didn’t. She told a story of gruesome child abuse with a casual but flamboyant speech that wouldn’t be out of place during one of her drag shows and with such practice that for all I know, it might have been at some point. I wept when she forgave her mother, but somehow I was still laughing.

Time and time again, The Lady Chablis tells her stories of poverty, abuse, anti-trans violence, and loneliness with wit, compassion, vulnerability, and hilarity. She triumphs over her struggles not by obtaining riches and romantic love but by taking control of her own narrative and writing it as a glamorous comedy.

The end of the book contains a Lady Chablis Lexicon which serves as a glossary to explain what the heck she means by certain phrases. I didn’t have any trouble understanding her southernisms, but if you don’t have a parent from the south like I do and haven’t grown up listening to them, it might come in handy to keep that bit bookmarked. Here are a couple of my favorites:

[to] COME BUSTING OVER: [v.] To show up uninvited, only to have The Doll slam the door on you.

[a] HOOGIE: [n.] Poor white trash; a redneck motherfucker.

I have to admit, I’d never heard Hoogie before.

After the Lexicon, there’s a list of characters and how they relate to one another in case you lose track and after that, there’s a little recipe book! This book is the gift that keeps on giving. I’m going to have to try a couple of these recipes.

The story in the book ends in 1993 when Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is published and The Lady Chablis tells John Berendt she’s not so sure about letting the entire world know she’s trans. He assures her that it’ll be okay and, somehow, it is. The rest is history.

The world lost The Lady Chablis to pneumonia on September 8th of the Great Celebrity Reaping of 2016. She will be missed. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender healthcare, public health, psychiatry, and history of medicine, integrating these many perspectives and guided by the lived experiences of trans people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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