Novak — as well as the teased-wig-wearing Adora, Damian Divine, Taffy, and Marvella — idolized cult film director John Waters. Wanda mimicked Whitney Houston when she wasn't donning dresses made from tampons and covering her face with white powder meant to look like cocaine. ("It wasn't real, I don't think," explains another queen. "I don't think she had that much money.") Either way, she was a symbolic middle finger to the beautiful squares that the gender-benders wanted to freak out and was therefore welcomed among the party crowd. "It was club kids and drag queens squashed together with a tropical, colorful, Latin background," Novak says.

But drugs didn't kill the Beach, insists Novak — it was an encroaching sense of doom. There were systematic beatings of gays as well as random shootings, which led to a culture of fear. Famed fashion designer Gianni Versace's murder on Ocean Drive in 1997 was a seminal event. "When Versace got shot, it was like 9/11 on South Beach," Novak says. "People didn't feel safe after that."

Novak moved to Los Angeles in early 2011 but moved back eight months later. She says Miami Beach now feels safe again. And technology is bringing a renaissance: Today's makeup can do more, and the queens look almost airbrushed.

Anthony Lee's South Beach Wanda was known for her Whitney Houston impersonations, her acerbic wit, and her loyalty to friends.
Photo courtesy of DJ and performer Power Infiniti
Anthony Lee's South Beach Wanda was known for her Whitney Houston impersonations, her acerbic wit, and her loyalty to friends.
Anthony Jerome Lee at age 9.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Lee
Anthony Jerome Lee at age 9.

"It's like Hollywood special effects now," she says. "Everyone's trying to top themselves."

Perhaps the most interesting take on Wanda comes from Gio Profera and partner Josue Garcia, who are known as Juleisy y Karla. Their characters are queens who don't bother trimming beards and waxing legs, and they've become known for viral YouTube videos and recent appearances on local news.

The inspiration for their performance art comes from their native Hialeah, and the two still live a few houses from each other in their respective childhood homes. They are the hirsute, male, slightly overweight version of chongas, and the people of Hialeah go wild for them. During a recent photo shoot, little old ladies ran up to the windows of a pizzeria where the pair was working and pressed their faces against the glass. A bit later, men sipping Cuban coffee cheered as Gio stopped and posed for photos. He wore a dress emblazoned with Jessica Alba's face, which was distorted as it stretched to cover his belly.

These postmillennial drag queens are, in some ways, the 2013 version of Wanda, who was known for being low-rent. While most queens speak with a debutante's affectation, Wanda rarely acted the part of a lady, Gio explains. "She was influential in the sense that she didn't care who was watching," he says. "Lots of drag queens are insecure about image, but oh no, Miss Wanda would just get up on the bar with her feet hanging out of her shoes and just go."


It was late on December 10, 2011, and Anthony, wearing a white dress shirt and tight jeans, hopped into a cab. A blue purse hung on his shoulder. "Just drive straight," he told Yellow Cab driver Abdelali Tadlaoui as the taxi pulled away from Hamburger Mary's, the drag restaurant in Ybor City.

The driver would later report he had a weird feeling about the guy in the back seat who was giving him directions. When they arrived at the destination, the fare came to $17.10. Anthony asked for change. It was the 36-year-old Moroccan's first ride of the night, so he pulled into a Sunoco to break some larger bills. The two began to argue. Anthony pulled out a bottle of pepper spray and attacked the driver before running toward his neighborhood.

Police easily arrested Anthony: He was the only guy in East Tampa who would ride around on a bicycle with a ladies' bag on the handlebars.

Although friends say Anthony began getting his life together when he moved back to Tampa four years ago, that's only half true. Sure, he started volunteering again at Wilson Funeral Home, a family-owned parlor that smells acutely like a Pier 1 Imports and was blocks from his childhood home. And he regularly attended St. Olive Missionary Baptist Church with his godparents, who provided him a room that was more suited to a little old lady than a big old queen.

But his erratic behavior continued, which made long-term relationships difficult.

"When it came to guys, she needed very little," says Infiniti. "She would have a trick or have her fuck buddies, but when it's time to go, it's time to go, honey. That's the way she would look at it."

Adds sister Barbara: "I don't recall Anthony ever having a girlfriend."

He frequently traveled to pageants by Greyhound bus (he was afraid of flying) but would call Barbara every Wednesday with updates on his whereabouts. Their last call was right before this past Memorial Day weekend. "He told me he had to work out of town that weekend but that he'd be back Sunday," she remembers.

Anthony spent the Sunday before his death at Hamburger Mary's. He was not an employed personality at the gay-friendly restaurant on a bustling street in Ybor, but he helped out or hung around, watching the other queens make their livings while he drank cranberry-and-Crown shots chased with Bud Light.

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4 comments
sobeceo
sobeceo

troubled or not, she changed. i find this article if you call it that, a very poor and tasteless proof of non character. this person died all of the cattiness and insults are unnecessary i mean even in death elaine cant get over wanda waow. the tea i heard was "THE REASON WHY WANDA SLAPPED THE SHIT OUT OF ELAINE WAS BECAUSE WHEN SHE WAS 2 T CELLS DOWN AT MT. SINAI" she didnt appreciate the visit or freindship and flaunted her pseudo Z list celebrity status to look down on the other drag queens. Wanda was loved, even in her notoriety and thats how she lived, she cared about who she wanted to care for and the rest... well... and sometimes in life you want a little REAL. She beat all of us, she is free now and at peace because she passed knowing and accepting who she IS WANDA! LOVED!

Beau
Beau

Wanda was a troubled person who was nasty no matter how nice anyone tried to be toward her. We are better off with her not not around trying to hurt people. I will liken her a school yard bully who met her match.

 
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