Becoming Trina

Christopher Wilford kicks off a new entertainment column by mapping out his own path to an entertainer’s persona.

Welcome to the new “Our Entertainers” column. I was asked to begin the column by answering the question, “Who is Trina?” I was excited and nervous as I began to explore how to answer that. I had never really given it much thought. I think to understand where and who someone is currently in life, you have to know the events that shaped or changed them and led them to who they are today.

I Love You No Matter What

I was born Chris Wilford in 1981 in Waukegan, Illinois. My mother, Becky, was a young single mother; my biological father left us. My mother is a strong woman who did anything and everything in her power to make sure I wanted for nothing. She has always been very open-minded and free-spirited. My favorite story she tells is that while pregnant with me, she would caress her stomach and talk to me, assuring me she would love me no matter what happened or who I became. She even went so far as to say to me while I was still in the womb that she would support me no matter if I turned out gay or straight. This always intrigues me as she had no reason to make that statement at the time. She did not have any gay friends (that she could recall) or anyone gay in her life, yet she felt the need to address that aspect. To have that kind of outlook in 1981 really shows me how progressive she was.

My mother married my stepfather, Steve, and they had my younger brother, Mike, when I was still very young. I was so young, in fact, that I always thought Steve was my father. It wasn’t until my third grade teacher asked me if I knew my real father, telling me Steve couldn’t be my father because he had a different last name. I remember coming home feeling like my world was shattered. Of course, in hindsight, nothing changed. Steve was my father: he raised me and would always consider me his son.

Bullying and Depression

That year was very rough for me, however. For the first time, I no longer did well in school, and I failed third grade. This was around the time I was starting to feel “different” from my classmates. I no longer had interest in playing with the boys on the playground; I would much rather spend my time playing with the girls. This ultimately led to teasing and name-calling, as well as depression.

By middle school I had become so good at hiding my feelings through comedy and being a class clown, that nobody—including my family—knew the real me. I realized early on that if I acted out and made my classmates laugh, I somehow escaped the radar of the bullies, even if the laughter was at my own expense. This behavior eventually led to acting out at home as well. My parents had a hard time understanding and disciplining me. I often would do as I pleased.

I surrounded myself with fake friends, and people who only liked me for what I could do for them. I often found myself funding friendships; if I was out of cash, my friends were nowhere to be found. They also used my brazen attitude and lack of respect for authority figures to their advantage—using me as an accomplice to many wrongdoings. My high school years weren’t much different. I wasn’t ever popular, but I wasn’t a “nerd.” I was in limbo, and the popular crowd would come calling when they needed something from me. Eventually, I dropped out.

I came out to my parents and “friends” around the time I left school. The reaction I received was a bit different than some of your typical coming-out stories. My parents fully accepted and supported me from the minute I told them. They never questioned the love they had for me. They just wanted me to be happy. Although you would think this acceptance would be all I needed and that it would fix everything, it didn’t. I found myself not wanting to be happy.

I Did Not Want to be Gay

Even though my family accepted me, I could not accept this as my destiny. I did not want to be gay, and I did not have a good support system. I didn’t know anyone who admitted to being gay. I felt embarrassed and thought I could change myself. I even continued to have relationships with girls.

Later that year, I left home searching for who I was. I moved around the country working odd jobs and selling goods door-to-door from a duffel bag. I was traveling so often, I sometimes ended the night sleeping in a car. But no matter where I went, I couldn’t find what it was I was looking for. I did, however, meet lots of new people, and realized the true meaning of the word “diversity.” I felt like even though I wasn’t exactly confident in who I was, or comfortable with my sexuality, I was willing to at least explore myself more and try to find the answer.

Alcohol, Drugs, and Sex

Years later, after many failed relationships with people who sensed my weakness and vulnerability, I had all but given up on love and happiness. I had come to terms with what I thought was the gay lifestyle. I truly believed that being gay meant seedy bars, alcohol, drugs, and sex. I did not think love and happiness were part of that equation. I had moved back in with my parents and had all but given up hope for a fulfilled life. Then I met Joey. Joey and I went on our first blind date over six years ago, and it was love at first sight. I was apprehensive and had walls built up from so many bad experiences in life, but he broke those walls down faster than I could rebuild them.

Rebirth

About a year into our relationship, Joey and I had tickets to attend a murder-mystery role-playing dinner at a local gay establishment. I received a call from one of the organizers asking me if I would attend in drag. They had a shortage of female participants and thought it would be fun. This was something that was very far out of my comfort zone, but Joey convinced me to just have fun with it. I did.

I think I had so much fun because all of those experiences of being the class clown, the comedian, and the rebel came flooding back—and suddenly I was the center of attention. This was both scary and exciting. It was exactly what I spent my life trying to get away from, but also I was now much more in control of my emotions and in a good place in life.

I was asked immediately afterward if I would host a weekly bingo event in campy drag. After careful consideration, I took the position and had a lot of fun with it. But I promised myself one thing: If it ever started to change me for the worse, or interfered with my life in a negative way, I would walk away. After doing a weekly spot for a couple years, I realized it was time for me to move on.

I was in a bad place again. But this time it was different. I wasn’t the one desperately seeking attention anymore and dying to fit in. I was vain, self-absorbed, and was surrounded by people of that nature. I was in the “cool” crowd. I was drinking every night and at the bar four to five days a week. I can only compare it to being seduced by power. I felt like I was a somebody. I was popular—and shallow. It took a lot for me to walk away from that scene. In doing so, I faced a battle as well. The clique I hung with turned on Joey and me. They ousted us and tried to make our lives miserable. I was devastated. I loved the entertaining aspect of being a performer, but felt like there had to be more than just trying to be popular.

The Move to Madison

It was about that time that Joey and I decided we were all we needed. We applied for a domestic partnership, and had a beautiful reception at my parents’ house. We also felt it was time to relocate, and leave “Trina,” my drag persona, behind. I sold all of my drag items and we relocated to Janesville, Wisconsin, where we had a couple of friends. We were only in Janesville a short time before the bug hit me to start performing again. I knew we risked the same outcome and risked surrounding ourselves with the same type of crowd, but I felt I could try one more time. I am very glad I did.

It was in Madison that I found a different type of performer. I found a sisterhood; a family-type unit. Performing was fun again. There was so much opportunity thrust at me when I entered the scene that it felt like a whirlwind. I was being booked for this, that, and the other. But something was different. I wasn’t just operating in this small crowd of people who were all about themselves and nothing of substance. There were so many great causes and benefits to help with, and I had a sense of true pride.

Having a Purpose

Pride is what had been missing in my life. I had, of course, gone to Gay Pride parades in the past—but felt nothing. It was just a party as far as I was concerned. But now there was a sense of giving back to the community. Having a purpose. I was blessed to meet such great volunteers and people who organized events for various causes—from the Drag Down Cancer benefits to the Trevor Project, the Wilma Fund, the AIDS Network, and many more. I felt a sense of pride in what I do.

Not every show I do is for charity or a benefit, but just seeing that there was another level of performer opened my eyes to a whole new world. After two years in Janesville, I realized we were spending a huge amount of time in Madison. It felt like the perfect time to relocate. My partner Joey and I became Madison residents in May, and I realized for the first time that nightlife did not just mean drinking and debauchery. It can be fun and fulfilling, all while being responsible. Nightlife no longer has a negative feeling to it. I am very happy I found such a diverse city and nightlife in Madison.

Sharing Pride Through Others’ Stories

I feel as if my story has truly just begun. The events of my childhood may have led me down a certain path, but I still have so much of the journey left. My goal is to take you on this journey with me and share my pride. I want to show you the nightlife through my eyes, and maybe even give you a different perspective on something you had given up on—like I had. Each issue, I will be highlighting a different aspect of nightlife and the amazing people of Madison who make it what it is.

So, to answer the question at hand, “Who is Trina?” I guess we will have to find that out together!