In her teens Mimi Marks left her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa and moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There she began to work in “drag,” but quickly came to realize that being a woman was something she was, not just something to impersonate. Born to be a star, the youngest of four as a kid was involved in cheerleading, dancing, and acting. She never missed the opportunity to play in her sister’s clothes and make-up and perform on her improvised stage in the garage.
If destiny is a road then the fork to Mimi’s fate was a man named Jim Flint, the owner of Chicago’s Baton Show Lounge and The Miss Continental Pageantry System – the largest national organization for transsexual beauty pageants. He wooed her into becoming a featured performer at the Baton Show Lounge in Chicago. Onlookers may have been awed that this beautiful woman was born a man, but it was her talent and vibrant personality on stage that they applauded.
Working as a model she landed on the cover of Lakeshore Drive Magazine, and in 1992 her pageant efforts paid off when she was crowned Miss Continental. She went on to win the Worlds Most Beautiful Transsexual Pageant in the summer of 2004, the first ever transsexual pageant heavily promoted in the mainstream. It was also the subject matter of a documentary entitled Trantasia.
In October 2005 Mimi became the first non-Asian to ever win the Miss International Queen pageant held in Thailand. She was interviewed by every print and broadcast
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She also served as an Ambassador to The Gay Games that were hosted in Chicago that year. She had truly come a long way since co-hosting Spring Break with Jerry Springer almost a decade earlier.
Having done so much in a short span of time I didn't quite know what to expect from Mimi when her publicist arranged a one-on-one interview for me. But her honesty of self was immediately apparent. During our casual conversation she was humble, articulate and glowing – all at the same time. Being a transsexual woman was never a political statement for her; it is just who she is. So here is a little from our chat:
Dressing up as a kid, how did the family react? They saw me as feminine, I guess, because I was. I don’t think they ever thought that I wanted to be a girl, or should be, but just thought, “That’s the way he is.”
When did they learn about Mimi the woman? The same time I did, when I was 18 and realized that this is who I was and decided to live full time as a woman. They were positive. They worried at first, about prejudice and intolerance. I guess they just wanted me to be safe and happy, and feared that my life would become much harder not knowing anything about transsexulaity.
Have you returned home since the publicity hit, and how does Iowa respond?I have, many times. But I don’t really see any reaction. Strangers don’t stop me on the street and recognize me. Waterloo, Iowa has about 250,000, so it’s not Mayberry. I guess my mom deals with it more than I: friends that approach her and say they saw me on TV, or read an article. I did go to my class reunion in 2005. It was a positive experience, and the people were supportive. In high school I wasn’t dressing a girl, but to them I seemed to be the same person.
You never tried to pretend you were born biologically female and live in stealthm, even as a model. Was this a choice, or is it just the way it happened? I go out as I am, and people take me, as they will. As an entertainer I thought that most people always knew I was born biologically male. Still, if asked, I never hid the fact because it is whom I am; it is where I come from. If I wasn’t honest about where I came from, then where did I come from?
Do you think that the transgender community as a whole should come out or stay in stealth when they can? People should do whatever is best for them, individually.
Live in stealth, live out, whatever works for them.
In your opinion, what do you think is the difference between a TS woman and a biologically born woman? There aren’t a lot of differences. I have lots of genetic girlfriends and I never felt different when we’re together. I don’t think they ever feel like I’m not a girl when I’m around them either. But in truth, I don’t much think about it.
What Stereotypes bother you the most, and if your efforts could break any stereotypes what would they be? When a documentary about the Baton Lounge featuring me was presented to HBO they passed, saying that they had just done a show about transvestite prostitutes, so they were done with transgender programs. It bothers me that all transgender women are seen as one group, one type. I don’t understand why they assume we’re all the same. All biological women aren’t the same.
Who is Mimi Marks, what should people should know about you? I think it comes across to most people who meet me, or have seen me perform, that though I’m a performer – and I love being on sage -- I’m a fun person at heart. I love life and I think people understand that that is not a stage act. What I would like them to also know is that I respect them and take my craft seriously. I work hard to research new music material that’s on the cutting edge, and I am always looking to present new fabulous costumes.
The International Queen is a big deal isn’t it? Yes, it is sponsored by major mainstream companies like Coca-Cola and is the oriental equivalent of Miss USA. The year I won (it’s second year in existence) I was very recognized when I would walk down the street there. It is televised and has a huge mixed audience base.
What was the best experience about the pageant? I met people from the other side of the world that I know will be life-long friends. They were so real, so honest in who they are. And despite their broken-English we understood each other fine.
How has life changed since the pageant, and what’s in your immediate future? After the pageant it was crazy, I was on all the national talk shows here, interviewed by the world media there, and even had the opportunity to audition for a Fox series. Until this coming October I’ll still be performing at the Baton four nights a week, Thursday – Sunday, while as the reigning queen I still help promote this years pageant. Then in October I’ll return to Thailand to hand the crown to this years winner.
Mimi thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your story with our readers. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. And, have a great time in Thailand this year.
Thank you, and I'm sure I will.