The New Year is likely to bring even more new friends for once-shy LGBTQ ally Chad Gore.
“It’s like I was locked up in a closet,” says the popular jeweler to drag stars, who had “no point of reference” when he was introduced to Houston’s naughty nightlife by his brother Clay’s paramour, Dessie Love-Blake, the stage persona of Realtor Ron Kerr.
“She said, ‘I’m going to get your name out there,’” recalls Chad. “I discovered there is a whole culture out here that I’d never heard about, and now they are my friends.”
Chad’s wife, Jennifer, knows not to worry. She’s been tagged as the lovable “Mama Jen” in the LGBTQ community.
“Being straight and stepping into the middle of the drag community, it’s been great to be so willingly accepted,” Chad says. “I’ve never seen straight people be this accepting, and I think if they knew how many gay people there are, they would be really surprised.”
Chad grew up with his older brother, Clay, two sisters, and a stepbrother. “I was very shy. I maybe had five friends in high school. I got my first job at 15 in the appliance department at a Montgomery Ward store that was on my walk home from school. One day, I stopped and put in an application, and they were hiring.”
After graduating from South Houston High School in 1992, Chad worked at an export crating company in Houston that also employed Clay and their parents and grandfather. “I tried to follow in my family’s footsteps, but it really wasn’t for me.” Instead, he spent 12 years in industrial hydro-blasting at chemical plants in southeast Texas, as well as opportunities at big turnaround jobs from Alaska to Puerto Rico. However, when an accident at Chad’s last worksite shot acid into his mouth, he had had enough.
“Clay actually found a little bitty thin book called Who Moved My Teeth,” says Chad, explaining that the novelty of it gave the brothers Gore the idea of buying books in bulk, then reselling them online. “We bought a big group of books that filled three trucks and a U-Haul, and I listed them. I sold my first book on August 8, 2009, and I sold my first piece of jewelry on August 8, 2014.”
Along the way, Clay came out as a gay man, ending his marriage to a woman, and Chad and his wife moved in with Clay at his four-bedroom home in Pasadena. Chad says his brother is “not a feminine type at all, but we all sort of knew” that Clay was gay. After Clay started dating Ron Kerr, who performs in gay clubs as Dessie Love-Blake, Kerr also moved in with the Gores.
Before you can say “Shantay, you stay,” Chad found his calling in drag pageants, beginning by building sets and props for Love-Blake’s competitions.
“I had never seen or heard of drag pageants,” says Chad. “I might have seen a piece of Miss America that my parents were watching. I had seen Toddlers and Tiaras, but it was after [the pageant] was over and they were fighting.”
Chad constructed spinning doors he could fold and make suitable for travel. “Everything has to fit through a standard-size door because you never know what you’re going to get” upon arriving at a venue, he explains. “You have to be prepared for anything.” He sewed, he patched things that got torn, and he even created a carousel inside Love-Blake’s costume so that it spiraled as she walked across the stage.
“I have always loved working with my hands and creating things,” says Chad, who hit a new stride with his jewelry business.
“I had never soldered, but I knew the basics of welding from a small-engine repair class at a college,” he says.
Ordering materials online, Chad found them to be overpriced and of low quality, so he set up ways to craft and control every step of the jewelry-making process, from design to electroplating. His fame spread each time an entertainer wore his jewelry or posted photos of them on social media.
“Several of my customers own a lot more of my jewelry than Dessie,” he says. “They have stuck with me from the start and probably buy a new piece every month. Kofi probably owns more than any two people.”
“Chad has always strived for a high-quality product at a fair price,” says Clay. “Queens often rave over the quality of the brilliant stones, smooth soldering, and plating options (gold, silver, nickel, and black). His prices are usually lower than most other jewelers, and he stands by his product by replacing or fixing any piece that he makes.”
Chad can be seen displaying his wares at drag pageants, but the self-described loner prefers to vanish behind the door of his home workshop to create custom items. “If I’m working, no one is allowed in. I am very, very secretive about what someone orders. I won’t show a picture before it’s finished. I will let them post it when they are ready.”
For more, visit Facebook.com/chadgore.wickeddragjewels.
This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.