Roasting Houston drag diva Regina Dane
by Nancy Ford
It all could have so easily gone another direction. His birth name is Richard Bang, an enviable name for a gay porn star. At the very least, he could have sold the enviable moniker to an aspiring “Dirk Staglong” or “Rod Jackman.”
Instead, he chose a softer, sparklier, more firmly Aqua-Netted route.
Twenty-one years ago, Bang donned the mantle of illusion, by night becoming Regina Dane, one of Houston’s most enduring and respected drag queens. A longtime member of Don Gill’s charitable performing troupe, Dane, with her curvy form and many wigs, has helped raise thousands of dollars—likely more, actually—in Texas bars for local HIV/AIDS charities and to support gay equality.
This month, local entertainers take loving aim at one of their own with “A Roast and Toast Tribute Show for Miss Regina Dane,” a fundraising event at Brazos River Bottom on May 15, produced by Gill and Russ Gobel and benefitting PWA Holiday Charities and Gulf Coast Museum & Archive.
“Regina Dane has brought so many smiles to so many faces with her tireless, dedicated, selfless devotion to raising money in the gay community,” Gill says. “She will go down in history as a living Texas icon!”
Prior to the big show, Richard, or Regina (“I answer to both!” he laughs) laid aside her tiara to speak to OutSmart about her name, her legacy, and why she keeps putting on those wigs and high heels.
Nancy Ford: First of all, congratulations on 21 years! That’s a long time. How did you choose the name Regina Dane?
Regina Dane: “Regina Dane” is the bastardization of Taylor Dayne. I didn’t want to be that obvious with the “y,” so I took it out. Plus, “Dane” also applies to my family heritage.
Do you prefer “drag queen” or “female impersonator” or something else?
[Laughs] All of the above. I have a long list. Sometimes I say “gender-illusionist.”
Well, that would make for a big business card! Do you recall your first time doing drag? What song did you do?
I do! Prior to the first time [performing in drag] and the first song, there was the Garden Party [a now-defunct drag-themed cocktail party formerly held annually to benefit local charities in the mid-to-later ’80s]. I attended that and random events in drag for a couple of years.
Then when I started working at This Week in Texas magazine [or the now-closed TWT, where he provided graphic design for 13 years], I got involved in charity fundraising. It became a spark. I didn’t realize that a dramatic outlet was missing in my life. I had been in theater when I was in high school, but chose to go into graphic design and art instead, and didn’t realize that that theatrical outlet was something I needed.
And it was obviously something you excelled in. I know you have a list of pageant titles as long as your arm. Can you give me some of them?
Let me give you the highlights. Community titles include Miss BRB 1995, Miss Gay Pride, and I am the current reigning Miss Tony’s Corner Pocket. I was Empress 9 of ERISCSS, and the ICOH Regent Empress twice.
Good Lord, how many wigs do you own?
Not as many as you’d think, because I kind of wear them out and then get new ones. It’s an ever-revolving cast of hair.
What makes for a good drag song? Do you have a stable of favorite artists that you return to?
It’s like anything—it’s how you react to it personally so that when you perform it, you relay that. Or it’s a specific request, and people tip you big if you do it! A staple at several pageants and shows that I’ve become famous for is my illusion of Patsy Cline.
Approximately how much money do you think you’ve helped raise over the years? Is it even possible to assign a figure
I started trying to figure that out when Don and my good friend Russell started planning this roast. I never kept track, but over the years I’ve maintained about one show a week, and sometimes several in a weekend. I guess with all my years with the courts, with what we raised with those reigns, and some of the other major fundraisers over the past 20 years, I have had a part in raising over a million dollars.
That’s probably a conservative estimate. How do you emotionally keep revving it up again and again, show after show, and keep doing this?
And maintain a full-time day job, too! Well, for one, I enjoy doing it. Two, after all these years, drag has never been my occupation. I do host a regular paid gig nowadays on Wednesday nights at 10 o’clock—a male strip contest at EJ’s. The first shows I ever did were there.
But through all these years, it’s never been my occupation. It’s what I call my vocation. I know how to do this, and so every time I go onstage, or every time I’m in a benefit show, I have to believe that when someone puts that dollar in my hand, that some way, somehow, that dollar is going to trickle down to the person who needs it.
Why were PWA Holiday Charities and Gulf Coast Archive & Museum chosen as the beneficiaries of your roast?
I’ve been a charter member of PWA Holiday Charities since Lady Victoria Lust [founder of PWAHC, now deceased] asked to be on their original committee when it was created in the early ’90s. And GCAM’s Jimmy Carper [one of the founders of GCAM] is an old, old friend.
There’s a back story that Jimmy told me many years later, when I was Empress for the very first time and we had chosen the Gay & Lesbian Switchboard as one of the beneficiaries for our reign. In those days we didn’t raise nearly the kind of money we raise now, but we ended up being able to give them a few thousand dollars, and that was great.
Probably only a year or two ago, I was on the radio one night with Jimmy [who also produces KPFT 90.1 FM’s After Hours], and we started talking about those early days when I was becoming involved in community fundraising. He said, “You know, the Switchboard really has you to thank for being around.” And I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I don’t know that I ever told you, but it was your donation that kept the Switchboard in business at that time.”
Wow. We just never know, do we?
You just never know. Sometimes it’s the smallest thing. It had to have been 15 years later that he told me this. Literally, I started crying on the radio. You just never know what kind of effect you’re going to have.
And that’s my whole concept for doing this. I’m not an activist, I’m not “out there” trying to help the people in the hospitals or the hospices, but this is what I can do. And people seem to enjoy it, and they will put money in my hand that I can put in the tip bucket for whatever charity I happen to be helping out that day.
What a thoughtful response. Thanks.
I’ve had 21 years to think about it!
What: A Roast and Toast Tribute Show for Miss Regina Dane
When: May 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Brazos River Bottom, 2400 Brazos St.
Benefits: PWA Holiday Charities and Gulf Coast Archive & Museum
Info: pwaholidaycharities.org • gcam.org.