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Tootsie – Just and Old Drag Queen by Jaq Grantford – At an age when most youths are celebrating an exciting and unknown future, Ken Atherton (Tootsie) was dealing with a completely different reality.

At the age of 16, his twin brother died. His mother, unable to deal with the grief committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. Tootsie was the one who found her a fortnight before his eighteenth birthday.

And then, to add to this grief, Tootsie was done a great injustice. In 1953, at the age of 20, he was jailed in Pentridge for two years solely for being gay. Working at the Cheltenham Benevolent Home for the Elderly he was arrested with seven other work colleagues. At first, Tootsie cried, but a policeman assured him that if he just owned up to being homosexual, he wouldn’t do time. So Tootsie confessed, only to find himself with a two-year jail sentence.

During that time he had a breakdown, and it’s not surprising; to be told that the essence of who you are is wrong, illegal and punishable would be horrendous.

And then at the age of 62, Tootsie embarked on a grand new adventure. He was invited by a mate to dress in drag and perform the pub circuits of Melbourne. Drag wasn’t something that Toots usually did, but he thought, ‘why not? Let’s give it a go!’

And so he did, becoming quite famous throughout the drag scene and a familiar and entertaining figure throughout Melbourne. He performed at many iconic venues in Melbourne including DT’s hotel in Richmond, the 3 Faces Nightclub, the Greyhound in St Kilda, the Southern Cross Floor Show, Prince of Wales (Pokeys), and on occasion with fellow drag performers Maxine Du Barry, Lottie, Jessica James and Amanda Munroe.

Known as the oldest drag queen in the southern hemisphere, he often attracted audiences in the thousands.

Tootsie passed away a few weeks after seeing this portrait. For a man who was shunned in his youth for being gay, to now be celebrated meant so much.

He was so thrilled to be painted and along with his performing career, viewed the recognition as a significant symbol – finally he was accepted for being who he was.

Tootsie’s optimism so inspired me. His story is a testimony that things can change and as a society, we can grow and develop a deeper understanding of others. He always remained himself and wasn’t afraid in his later years to start something new…albeit in a frock.

Tootsie – Just and Old Drag Queen

Jaq Grantford

AUD$9,000
Size: 120w x 120h cms
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Oil on linen

Framed

Ready to hang

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Additional Information

Tootsie – Just and Old Drag Queen by Jaq Grantford – At an age when most youths are celebrating an exciting and unknown future, Ken Atherton (Tootsie) was dealing with a completely different reality.

At the age of 16, his twin brother died. His mother, unable to deal with the grief committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. Tootsie was the one who found her a fortnight before his eighteenth birthday.

And then, to add to this grief, Tootsie was done a great injustice. In 1953, at the age of 20, he was jailed in Pentridge for two years solely for being gay. Working at the Cheltenham Benevolent Home for the Elderly he was arrested with seven other work colleagues. At first, Tootsie cried, but a policeman assured him that if he just owned up to being homosexual, he wouldn’t do time. So Tootsie confessed, only to find himself with a two-year jail sentence.

During that time he had a breakdown, and it’s not surprising; to be told that the essence of who you are is wrong, illegal and punishable would be horrendous.

And then at the age of 62, Tootsie embarked on a grand new adventure. He was invited by a mate to dress in drag and perform the pub circuits of Melbourne. Drag wasn’t something that Toots usually did, but he thought, ‘why not? Let’s give it a go!’

And so he did, becoming quite famous throughout the drag scene and a familiar and entertaining figure throughout Melbourne. He performed at many iconic venues in Melbourne including DT’s hotel in Richmond, the 3 Faces Nightclub, the Greyhound in St Kilda, the Southern Cross Floor Show, Prince of Wales (Pokeys), and on occasion with fellow drag performers Maxine Du Barry, Lottie, Jessica James and Amanda Munroe.

Known as the oldest drag queen in the southern hemisphere, he often attracted audiences in the thousands.

Tootsie passed away a few weeks after seeing this portrait. For a man who was shunned in his youth for being gay, to now be celebrated meant so much.

He was so thrilled to be painted and along with his performing career, viewed the recognition as a significant symbol – finally he was accepted for being who he was.

Tootsie’s optimism so inspired me. His story is a testimony that things can change and as a society, we can grow and develop a deeper understanding of others. He always remained himself and wasn’t afraid in his later years to start something new…albeit in a frock.

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