Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Drag queen bingo caller has your number — if you're lucky

YBOR CITY

B-7, legs to heaven.

G-8, don't be so straight.

The crowd at Hamburger Mary's roars at the bawdy barbs flying with every bingo ball Melanie Minyon calls.

Many are straight and have never been this close to a drag queen. They giggle about what might be under the devil red wig on the statuesque 6-footer.

"Six-foot-five, depending on which stilettos," corrects Minyon, swirling a Johnny Vegas tequila and Red Bull cocktail.

By day, as Melanie Todd, she manages the Centro Ybor restaurant. Monday nights, the manager turns diva bingo caller.

Otherwise, she's Melanie Minyon, a transsexual who began identifying as a woman after graduating high school. She turned 58 on the Fourth of July.

N-5, there goes my sex drive.

All 12 Hamburger Mary's franchises nationwide offer Drag Queen Bingo, said Kurt King, owner of the Ybor site. He books a bingo beneficiary twice a week. Their supporters get 10 game cards and an inky red dabber for $10. The charity keeps all the money; the restaurant gets a weekday dinner boost.

"We've donated more than $1.9 million in two years," estimates King, including tips and donations from dining events. He has known Minyon for 20-plus years.

"She was the first transsexual I ever met," King recalled. "I was just coming out and she was the emcee at Sugar Plum Fairies," an annual Christmas benefit. King has owned several gay bars since then; Minyon has headlined at all of them.

Throughout the '80s and '90s, Minyon worked the female impersonator circuit, from Texas to Florida. "Yum Yum Tree in Pensacola, Hollywood Hots in Atlanta," she said. "Huge casts of male leads, fabulous costumes."

In the Tampa Bay area, it was standing room only at El Goya nightclub, which became Tracks and then closed in 1996.

"She's lovable and hilarious," says a smitten Mark Bell, a Hamburger Mary busboy. "She should have her own stand-up comedy show. She'd be so much better than Jimmy Kimmel."

Instead, she calls bingo in Ybor and lip syncs to rock and roll and country music at Blur nightclub near her Dunedin condo. Flamboyant drag shows have become less of a novelty these days.

"Drag is not as dramatic or exciting as it used to be," Minyon muses. "Gay has gone more mainstream."

B-12. I need a shot, I strained a hormone.

Her one-liners boom throughout the restaurant, but her voice wasn't always so strong. Growing up in the rural South was a nightmare of constant bullying and harassment.

"I didn't wake up one morning like this," she said. "I always loved to wear girls clothes. My cousins would come to visit and I'd get up in the middle of the night and try on their clothes. Until I got caught."

During her senior year in high school, friends took her to a drag show at a bar in Jackson, Miss. "I was mesmerized."

Her parents divorced when she was 4 and her father hasn't been in her life since. Her mother "completely freaked out," when Minyon changed her name and began hormone treatment and had cosmetic surgery, including breast implants.

"She couldn't handle it. She would call me by my male name, which drove me crazy."

Their estrangement finally ended when her mother married a man with a gay son, she said. The stepbrother facilitated a long, tense and stressful period of reconciliation between Minyon and her mother.

"Now we are the best of friends. When she comes to see me she goes out of her way to make up for the past."

Bingo! A winner shrieks, Minyon struts and the night goes on.

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