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    A Lifetime of Appreciating Doris Fish

    By Robyn Adams–

    Doris Fish was everywhere in the fall of 1991. Huge, colorful posters for her new camp drag movie Vegas in Space were plastered all over the neighborhood and all the queens and club kids were talking about the film. Years in the making, the movie was the culmination of a career that brought Doris from the gay clubs of her native Australia to the nightclub stages of San Francisco, where she became the city’s most famous drag queen beginning in the late 1970s along with her cohorts the Sluts A Go-Go. Their shows are legendary: Naked Brunch, Blonde Sin, The Bad Seed, Nightclub of the Living Dead, and The Happy Hour. A popular line of greeting cards from West Graphics spread their image far and wide as tourists snapped them up as souvenirs of San Francisco. 

    Miss X (left) and Doris Fish (right) at the
    Castro Street Fair in 1983

    Freshly out of the closet, I was a young transvestite new to the scene at Klubstitute, the gender-bending nightclub hosted by Diet Popstitute. I didn’t know who Doris Fish and the Sluts A Go-Go were, but I was soon transfixed by their style and inspired by their artistry. I’ve been a devoted fan ever since. 

    Sluts A Go-Go promotional postcard 1979–80.

    Unfortunately, I had arrived too late to see Doris herself. In one of those tragic ironies fit for a star of her stature and legend, she had passed away in June, mere weeks before the film’s premiere. 

    Her co-star and roommate “Tippi” passed in August. Their estate sale was simply stunning. Mountains of drag, fabulous gaudy accessories, custom-painted furniture, and artwork. It was sad and fabulous all at the same time. 

    I became friends with her co-star, Miss X (who inspired a villain in the drag queen comic book I was writing, Homozone5), and I met Tippi’s boyfriend, Bob Davis, a dedicated collector of transgender memorabilia and publications. This began a lifetime of appreciation for transgender history and helped me understand myself as more of a “trans woman” than a “drag queen.” Today, that’s a very important distinction, but back then it wasn’t such a big deal. (I like to think of myself as “trans girl who was raised by drag queens.”)

    Doris Fish greeting card for West Graphics, 1980s

    Now, in 2023, it seems like Doris Fish is everywhere once again. She is the subject of Craig Seligman’s well-researched and widely reviewed biography, Who Does That Bitch Think She Is? A documentary is in the works from Portland filmmaker Scott Braucht. In partnership with her director, Phillip R Ford, I myself have jumped in with a new archival website ( ) and I’m returning to comic books with an adaptation of Vegas in Space.

    Doris continues to inspire us, and, in this awful time of state-sponsored hatred of trans people and drag queens alike, I really think we need her now more than ever. Doris lived her life fearlessly, from the very start. As someone who took years to finally accept myself for who I was, I find her endlessly fascinating. She was relentlessly creating the world she wanted to live in with her distinctive drawing and painting, outlandish interior decorating, unforgettable costuming, and theater. She wanted to be a famous movie star and she built a world where that came to be. 

    All of this was well before drag queens were stars on mainstream television shows or turning up at local libraries. Drag is an industry now, and its pioneers should not be forgotten. If there is a Mount Rushmore of Drag, Doris Fish is on it. 

    August 11 would have been Doris’ 72nd birthday. Do something fabulous to celebrate! The GLBT Historical Society Museum currently has an exhibit on view, Doris Fish: Ego as Artform, showcasing her art and artifacts from her career. On August 10, the museum will present a video lecture by Doris’ friend and director, Phillip R. Ford, entitled High Spots in a Low Dive: The Home Movies of Doris Fish 1981–1991

    Robyn Adams is a designer and illustrator living in Oakland, CA. She is currently the Creative Director at the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive and is the Social Media Manager for San Francisco Pride. 

    Transgender History Month
    Published on August 10, 2023