As she enters the stage, she’s usually introduced as “The Legendary Dina Jacobs.”
“That’s because I’m old,” she jokes about her stage name. Now in her 70s, the tireless performer has spent more than her fair share of time in the national spotlight. Recently, the septuagenarian had her life chronicled in Dr. Larry Dwayne Ponder’s book Forever Her Mother’s Son: The Dina Jacobs Story—A Walk through the Life of a Transgender Drag Performer.
The Amazon website notes that Dina “Jacobs” Montalbo “has lived most of her life as a performer, providing entertainment to those who appreciate her talents and illusions. Dina’s life has had many ups and downs, successes and disappointments, and has taken her all around the world.”
She spells it all out in this intriguing book, starting with her first drag shows in Hawaii and continuing through all the adventures that brought her to currently reside in Houston.
Jacobs first started dabbling in drag in February of 1964, when a girl at school invited her and her cousins to a costume party where they had to go dressed as girls. Jacobs, still in high school and living as a male, took the challenge.
“About six months later, there was an audition for a new show in Waikiki. I didn’t know anything. I was as green as green could be, but I ended up landing the emcee part,” Jacobs recalls. “Back then, everything was live. We didn’t pantomime, we sang live. We had musicians playing the music. It was a real cabaret.”
The world of drag whisked her away, and she’s never looked back. Jacobs has lived and performed in California, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, and Texas. She also had a six-month residency in Brazil that elevated her to “international star” status.
Along the way, Jacobs decided to transition.
“I was raised with women, and I was always feminine. When I moved to Atlanta, I saw a few girls who started transitioning. I was fascinated with them. I was just a drag queen and didn’t know anything about hormones,” she says. “And when I met more [trans women] in Chicago, I thought that if I’m going to switch, it’s got to be for me. I’m not going to do it for anyone else.”
Wherever Jacobs has lived throughout the years, she has a history of leaving her mark and making things better. “I have been supporting the gay community since before I can even remember,” she says.
In the 1970s, she joined many LGBTQ celebrities to do a fundraiser for Leonard Matlovich, who famously was outed and discharged while serving in the Air Force. His case drew national attention and earned him the cover of Time magazine. “We had a big benefit at The Baton in Chicago. Craig Russell, Michael Greer, and Wayland Flowers and Madame were all there performing. Matlovich fought, and he won. It was a religious experience,” she remembers.
Realizing she had an ability to use her performances as a platform, Jacobs jumped in when she could to help others make their stamp on the world. “I helped Ken South when AID Atlanta was first forming. I played in the first gay softball world-series team in Toronto. If it was a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS or for cancer, I was there donating my time, and I did it all over the country,” she notes.
From being a young drag performer braving hecklers on the street to stepping out on the national stage for LGBTQ causes, Jacobs shares it all in the book.
“The reason I wrote the book is that a lot of the young girls don’t realize what queens like me went through with the hardships and tribulations in life. You couldn’t walk down the street without people knowing what you were. They would ridicule you to the nth degree. To persevere through that and still be relevant all these years later—that says something about the human spirit,” Jacobs emphasizes. “Through this book, I want today’s girls to know they’re lucky because people were strong enough to do this job back then. It’s like being a parent—you want your kids to have better things than you did.”
Keep up with Dina Jacobs on Instagram @dinamontalbo59.
This article appears in the June 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.