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Photographs by
Jana Birchum
Channel, who began performing in drag 10 years ago, mostly for AIDS benefits, identifies as male and dresses as a woman "for entertainment purposes only," but says that a lot of the kids in the scene have serious gender identity questions or identify as transgender or transsexual. "I think she needed someone to help her understand that she is fine -- who she is and what she is doing is all right," he says.

Both Channel and Kline realize they serve as mentors to many of the club kids; neither of them approves of the prostitution, and they make it known. "My parents were always concerned about where I was. I'm overwhelmed by how [parents] could allow their kids to run off and do stuff like that," says Channel. "After so many times [prostituting, the kids] get used to it. I don't think she ever thought that she might actually lose her life."

Kline's stance on prostitution -- and the tack she took with Fuller -- was even more stern. "She always called me Mom, and I didn't care until I saw her standing on the corner. I said no hookers can call me Mom. I told her flat-out, and she was upset, she got mad at me," she remembers. "She said, 'But this is all I know.'"

Kline knows finding work can be difficult for gender-variant individuals, but she thinks it is compounded in the kids by their general lack of maturity and self-esteem. She adds that "employers look at them [as] androgynous. Overall appearance is a big factor, so they don't get the jobs."

\Kline says Fuller told her that he didn't have to "sleep" with his customers, that he could steal money from them after he finished performing oral sex. "I'm like, when they catch you, they're going to kick your ass in or kill you. That's exactly what I told her."

It was almost two years ago that Kline met Fuller at the Forum. "She was dumbfounded," Kline says. "She thought I was so beautiful." After that, Fuller called Kline seeking help and advice about breaking into performing. "I like to help the newcomers. I encourage them to do it," she continues. "It really is a safe scene. Ru Paul has made a big difference by being everywhere. If she can be accepted, why can't we?"

Kline began to help Fuller with make-up techniques, wigs, dresses, and movement coaching. "I taught her how to do it, and she felt on top of the world," she remembers. "And she looked really good."

Kline tells how she encouraged Fuller to do a LeAnn Rimes number on stage. "I always told her she looked like LeAnn Rimes," she says. "[Rimes] sang that song, 'How Can I Live Without You?' It was really popular about a year back," she says as, ironically, the song begins to pipe out of the IHOP's dining room speakers at that very moment. "That's it! That's the song!"

Paris Channel, the stage name for the 28-year-old hairdresser-by-day, dancer-by-night, also remembers the first time Fuller performed as a woman. "She went out and her number started and she turned and her hair flew off," he laughs. "But the next week she got right into it -- she was never one to quit at something like that."