The Beginning…

Feb 26, 2019

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Some would say this is where life begins for you. I was 18 years old, fresh out of High School and the year was 1982. I had no idea what to do with my life, but I did know I wanted to make a difference in peoples lives, somehow or in some way. 

I had been secretly seeing a guy in High School that took me to my first Gay Bar. Up to this point I thought him and I were the only gay people in the world. Funny, but in 1982, you didn’t discuss or even murmur the word ”gay”. You hardly ever heard the word used on national television., let alone in any public setting. I remember being overwhelmed with excitement when I entered DeerPark Lodge for the first time. It was as if I’d been given the most beautiful gift imaginable. For the first time in my life I felt somewhat normal. Just seeing that there were others out there like me, gave me strength and energy that I had never known before. It gave me hope that I could still be accepted as part of the community one day. I say that because when you’re young and you know you’re different from what society says you should be, you feel lost. I think I spent most of my childhood feeling lost or like I just didn’t belong anywhere. I knew I was different as far back as grade school. 

As time drifted by, I was still searching for the answer of what to do with my life. I chose to enter the armed forces. Well, this was not the answer for me. No regretsthough, the military gave me structure and a time for growing up and becoming a responsible adult. I dreamed of a much more exciting and fulfilling life long adventure. Once returning home, I remembered that my High School Boyfriend had also taken me to a Drag Show at DeerPark Lodge. I was in complete shock and aww, all night. I kept thinking what is this all about, why do they do this? It wasn’t till several years later that I began to understand what the world of female Illusion was all about. Little did I know at the time the ride it would take me on. It was certainly many things, but what intrigued me the most was the way I witnessed the gathering of hundreds of people all coming together to raise money to help an individual or an organization focused on improving the lives of others.

I can still recall my mom saying to me one evening, “ be careful out there, there is a new disease going around called Aids”.  You see, it was the mid 1980’s by now and people were dying at an alarming rate. I wanted to be a part of the fight to help provide support for whomever I could. It took a while, but I did get an invite to participate in Dec of 1987 as part of a Christmas Show. My first experience with a fundraiser was done in March of 1988. I knew right then and there this was what I was meant to do. It was that feeling that I experienced afterwards. Knowing I was part of something incredibly positive!

Female Illusion and Entertaining also gave me the adventure, creativity and fulfilled the need to make a difference. To this very day, 31 years later, I still smile and feel fulfilled after a big fundraiser. Knowing you’ve helped make a difference in someone’s life is truly one of the greatest feelings imaginable. 

While struggling to understand and fight through the Aids crisis, there was a night when I was given an opportunity to mc a show where one of the entertainers performed Garth Brooks, “The Dance”. He dedicated this performance to his partner of many years. He knew as well as many of us, that his time was nearing an end. It was probably one of the hardest things to watch that I can remember. To this day, I cannot listen to that song. I had to take the mic when he was done and say something, anything, but all I could do was watch the 2 of them standing there wrapped in each others arms, in tears.  He did pass away a few weeks later after this performance. There are moments in life we never ever forget, this was one of the big ones. I share my stories from time to time in hopes that todays generation appreciates their time here on earth. The days of losing our friends on a weekly basis are thankfully over, for now. We must, however, not forget we are still fighting this fight. There is no cure, just treatments that will prolong lives. Those of us that lived through the years of darkness have an obligation to educate and keep our youth informed. A lot of times, that’s done through telling the stories of where we came from and what we witnessed.

I’d like to share one more of the most memorable and emotional nights of fund raising. There was a request to help a family that had an 8 year old child suffering from Brain Cancer. We got together with many of our local Entertainers and put a benefit Show together. Little did we know, he was already in a fragile state. The morning of the scheduled fundraiser, he passed away suddenly. The Community immediately came together and made sure we kept the promise of having the fundraiser. We knew now, more than ever, the family would need support. That particular night, the family was able to attend the show. They were grateful we were still willing to do it. We did the Show in his honor. It was one of the most difficult nights we had ever encountered. You see, what made this night a bit different from the rest, was the fact that at midnite, it would have been his 9thbirthday. We sang Happy Birthday alongside his family. Through the tears, we all knew he was smiling down on us all. These are defining moments in our lives. The times when we know without a doubt, we are doing what we were meant to do. 

Through this journey of mine, the incredible stories I’ve been blessed to witness allseem to center around the work we do to assist others. I feel like this is a big part of what defines Nicole as an Entertainer. It was through events like this that helped mold me and give me a direction and purpose. I know many people in our Western Maryland Community that are working diligently for these very same reasons. I believe in life you find or run across people that share your dreams and beliefs. Hold those people tight and work together toward a common goal and guess what, you will begin to see results that will amaze you. I know there are people out there struggling to figure out what they can or should do with their lives. I’ve said this time and time again, find your passion in life, polish it, nurture it, share it and then watch it grow into something beautiful. Something you will one day be proud of, something you will love sharing with others. I’ve found I get to do this quite often with Hagerstown Hopes. 

People often tell me that we are blessed. That may be true to some extent, but I can also tell you that where my life has taken me did not come without many failures. I got up and dusted myself off many times. And frankly still do from time to time.

It’s a Journey that took me all the way to a National Competition as Miss Gay Maryland 2018. Maybe we can dive more into that experience next time. For now, find your passion folks. I wanna see it in it’s full glory. 

Love and Hugs,

Nicole James

Miss Gay Maryland 2018

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