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Photographs by
Jana Birchum
It's a good idea to empty your bladder before entering the Forum night club for the evening. The bathroom designations for men and women don't really mean anything, and on any given night, the stalls might be populated with people snorting crank or couples having sex. The Forum, located near the corner of Congress & Fourth, one of a number of hot gay clubs in Austin's trendy Warehouse District, serves as a locus and stage for Austin's drag community. While some of the club's drag show performers are traditional, gone are the days when men were men and merely dressed as women; the lines today are much more open and blurry. Likewise, the performances reflect a highly competitive culture, with more emphasis on beauty, glamour, and femininity. Transsexuals are held in high regard and doted on by a number of the gay male clientele, who offer free drinks, drugs, and sometimes a place to sleep for the night. Another striking aspect of the Forum clientele is that it's young. The largest segment of this young crowd begins flooding through the Forum's doors just before midnight, and the party doesn't stop until the club closes at 4am. Each evening, a deejay spins a cornucopia of driving dance tunes. Scantily clad bodies pack the dance floor and create a wave of motion beneath pulsing, multicolored lights.
Behind a nondescript black door in the rear of the establishment, Kelly Kline and Paris Channel are putting the finishing touches on their make-up and hair and
getting into character to perform in this particular Thursday evening's divine attraction, the popular Forum drag show. They are elegant, sequined, and graceful as they take the stage. The crowd goes wild as they vamp and lip-sync under DJ Philthy Rich's choreographed lights. Channel even throws a cartwheel or two into his routine for good measure, and this drives the audience crazy.

Kline and Channel are both veteran performers in Austin's drag scene. Kline, who is transsexual, began her performing career in Brownsville 10 years ago "on a dare. -- And I was good," she adds over breakfast at the IHOP on Cesar Chavez. "I feel it is a God-given talent that I have." Two years later Kline moved to Austin. She works two day jobs -- in a bank doing international customer relations, and as a department store make-up artist -- and performs five nights a week. From 9 to 5 Kline dresses as a man, which is still ultimately her physical sex, because she knows the public -- and employers -- discriminate based on gender identity.

"I like to break the stereotypes. I don't believe in prostitution, so I work my butt off," says Kline. Her determination and strength are infectious. In many ways Kline, 27, serves as a role model and mentor to Austin's gender-questioning youth. "They call me Mom," she says.