It’s been a rough year for all of us, no use pretending it hasn’t been. But, as of late, the anguish and monotony of the past seven months has been broken up for me by a bright star: the story of Stephanie, also known as burlesque dancer “Tanqueray” on the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page. Several times a day, I find myself tapping my Facebook app and refreshing the HONY page to see if there is another installment.
Followers of HONY were first introduced to the (still) stunning Ms. Tanqueray in November of 2019. Our heroine was photographed on the streets of Manhattan wearing a hand-sewn fur hat and coat. She was telling the story of having to convince a man who was trying to pick her up because he thought she was a “tranny” by exclaiming: “Baby, this is real fish!”
Brandon Stanton, the creator and writer of HONY, stated at the beginning of the series that he had intended to feature her telling her own story in a podcast. Unfortunately, she had recently fallen on hard times and poor health simultaneously and urgently needed donations to defray both medical and living costs. To date, her spirit, and HONY’s telling of her incredible story, has raised 2.6 million dollars! She has even pledged that all remaining funds at the (hopefully distant) time of her death will be donated to The Association to Benefit Children, in case people may be hesitant to contribute to an elderly cause. Even in her time of need, she is thinking ahead, reinventing, planning.
This is just one example of the woman you come to know through this series. Thrown out of her childhood home in Albany, she gave birth in prison. After serving time that she didn’t deserve, she high-tailed it to New York City, where she did everything and anything to make ends meet.
It didn’t take long for me to feel overflowing compassion and love for this fascinating woman. She used her natural given beauty and her street-won cunning to craft a groundbreaking and scintillating career- in a time when black women had to tear down walls. Or in her case, break through Go-go cages. She grew out of the nightmares of her childhood to allow herself to be vulnerable and open to love – but not to the detriment of her self-preservation and sanity. And she wrote the book (or the tell-all dirty article) on PERSEVERANCE.
I woke up one morning, tired of donning my mask and even MORE tired of the debate over the stupid masks, and I thought about Ms. Stephanie. If she was young and kicking, she would have a business selling the most FABULOUS masks you’ve ever seen. And if she didn’t have what you wanted, she’d probably refer you to a friend who did. In her stories, she lifts up and promotes other women who get the job done.
I was reminded of her when I got irritated with my daughter for not unloading the dishwasher. I am able to raise my own children in my own comfortable home, while Stephanie was separated from her first child. She couldn’t escape that trauma and shared that moving confession during an all-night session with Carmine, the love of her life.
My husband didn’t secure a piece of backyard artwork back to the fence after the preparation for the recent string of storms, and it got damaged. I was pissed, until I remembered her recounting the discovery of this man that she loved so deeply shooting up in the stairwell of their apartment building with another woman. She thought they were sleeping with each other, until she found out it was much worse.
And I’m a little anxious about potential changes happening in my career, but the moves I have to make are minuscule compared to the woman who at one point had to make a living managing a brothel. Once her burlesque days were over, she became a make-up artist for “cross dressers” because, as she says, “they don’t throw you a retirement party at the Sheraton.”
HONY is well known for giving a tantalizing snippet of someone’s life that leaves you wanting more. But they broke the mold with Ms. Tanqueray. It made me appreciate opportunities I’ve had in my life to learn about a journey that is so different from mine, and it made me crave more.
You know what? I don’t want to tell you anything else, I want you to experience it yourself. Scoot over to Humans of New York and read the whole fascinating story. The tantalizing Ms. Tanqueray should be well and truly set up with her two million dollars, but I’m willing to bet there are more powerful women like her, right in our backyard. From now on, I’ll be on the lookout for a similar ferocious and tenacious senior who I can devote time or help to in honor of Tanqueray.