Chicago's own Baton Show Lounge superstar and the recently crowned Miss International Queen 2005 Mimi Marks gabbed with Windy City Times before the holidays about winning, acceptance, growing up in a small town and her big dreams.
In October, the blonde bombshell won Thailand's prestigious Miss International Queen, vaulting herself to celebrity status overnight and generating Hollywood buzz. The pageant, which is equivalent to Miss Universe, was broadcast live and sponsored by Coca-Cola. Overnight, her fabulousness donned the covers of Thailand's major newspapers and magazines.
Yet Mimi is no stranger to being queen for a day. She won the title of Las Vegas' The Word's Most Beautiful Transsexual pageant in 2004 and Miss Continental 1992. She is also wildly popular at the Baton, where she has worked for the past 15 years.
Mimi and her Baton sisters are the subjects of a docu-series created, produced and directed by partners Nikki Weiss and Carole Antouri. The Endeavor Agency is currently shopping it to the networks. Weiss, who thinks America is ready for a beauty like Mimi to grace the covers of Vogue and Playboy or star in a hit television show like Prison Break, is helping her pursue her dreams of mainstream modeling and acting.
WCT: Mimi, I heard you just got back from out of town?
MM: I just got back late last night or early this morning from Waterloo, Iowa, my hometown. I celebrated Christmas early with my family. It was great.
WCT: So, have you been traveling quite a bit lately as Miss International?
MM: Actually, since I've been back from Thailand, I really haven't been traveling too much. I've just been trying to hold down the fort here in Chicago and try and maybe arrange some things for me to travel. But so far, it's pretty much been here in town.
WCT: Are you still walking on clouds from winning?
MM: Yes, I am. Actually, now that I've just gotten to see my family—because I hadn't seen any of them since I got back from Thailand, so I had all of their souvenirs and all of the pictures and the videos and the newspaper articles and stuff like that—it was almost kind of like reliving it all again this weekend. So, it's still a pretty new thing and exciting.
WCT: That's so wonderful. Are they really excited for you?
MM: They're so proud of me. So happy and so excited. I've explained everything to them over the phone, but they didn't really have an idea of what to visualize. So now that they've seen the pictures and they've seen the videos and stuff, they are really even more excited and more happy for me because now it's like a real thing to them because they can see what I was actually doing and going through. How amazing it was for me.
WCT: Speaking of your hometown, what was it like growing up in Waterloo?
MM: Well, growing up in Waterloo was probably your typical growing up in a small town in Iowa. I had a pretty great childhood. I have two older brothers and one older sister and we're all so close. We were just a really tight-knit family, although my parents did eventually get divorced when I was in junior high. But we all remained very close. I really couldn't say that I had any childhood out of the ordinary, you know what I mean? It was great. I was involved in gymnastics and swimming and dancing, the community theater.
The only thing that I don't do anymore is gymnastics. [ Laughs ] That's all. That's a whole other ball game.
WCT: So, would you say you've always been a natural performer?
MM: Always. From day one. I always had shows. My poor cousins that were all my same age, I suckered them into being in my shows all the time. I wanted to be in it, produce it, direct it, do everyone's hair, make sure everyone had costumes. I mean, the neighbor kids and my cousins, they all had to be a part.
WCT: That's so cute!
MM: And the garage made a very good stage. [ Laughs ]
WCT: Now, I'm sure that you always knew that you wanted to be a girl at an early age.
WCT: Was your family always there for you and super supportive about it?
MM: Yeah. As a matter of fact, my dad and I had a long discussion about this because he came to pick me up from Chicago to take me back to Waterloo, and then he brought me back. … I thought that they probably always knew, too. But my dad said it wasn't even really something that they thought about. It was just like, that's who I was, know what I mean? My mom—I was in her clothes and my sister's clothes and nobody ever said anything. You know, they never told me, 'Don't do that.' They were really cool about who I was. I don't think that they thought that I wanted to be a girl. I think that at that time, you know, being parents of kids in Waterloo, Iowa, they just thought that it was probably just a phase that I was going through. That was just me, you know what I mean? I was just a unique little kid anyway. And I don't think that they really thought of me as wanting to be a girl, really. I don't even think that we really even knew that was an option. It wasn't like there were other kids like that in Waterloo. Or we didn't even know of anyone that had gone through any type of transition like that. It wasn't something that I think they were thinking of, if that makes sense.
WCT: It does. Especially a small town.
MM: There weren't any transsexuals. I mean, we probably didn't even know any gay people, that we knew, who were openly gay. So, I think they just thought that's the type of kid I was. I loved to play with my sister's dolls, I loved to dress up in her clothes. I was like her shadow. [ Laughs ] . I don't know if she was very happy about that all the time, but I was having a good time.
WCT: Talking about acceptance and everything, in your travels, have you noticed that other countries like Thailand are more accepting than here in the States?
MM: Well, Thailand most definitely. Thailand was an overwhelming experience, not only just because of the pageant, but for one, there are a lot of transsexuals there. And they are accepted as women. They are not looked at any differently than just the average girl on the street. And I mean everywhere you go. They call them 'lady boys.' That's what they call transsexuals over there. Everywhere we'd go, there were lady boys. They were working in the grocery stores, TV stations, they were in the drug stores. ... No one ever looked at them any differently. It was completely accepted over there. Like, people are people. They don't discriminate against people because of what they are or anything. They were just so nice and so warm. It was just so refreshing to be around that. Nobody ever asked us, 'Are you a man?' No one ever says anything like that over there. They are not derogatory at all.
WCT: Oh, that had to be so nice.
MM: Yes, oh my gosh. It is very, very, very nice to be around that. They would talk to me about that over there, and ... in some of the interviews over there ... they would ask me, 'How do you feel that it is for transsexuals?' And when I would explain that to them, they were all so surprised. And they were like, 'You're kidding! America is supposed to be the land of the free.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, that's what we all thought.' When you go and experience something like that in another country, it makes you realize that, wow, we are not as advanced as everybody thinks that we might be.
WCT: Mimi, what did it feel like to have that celebrity status?
MM: Oh my gosh, it was overwhelming because I didn't realize, going over there, that it would be like that. I went there with the intention that I'm just going over there to have a great experience and of course, I wanted to win. But I really just wanted to go and have a great experience. But I didn't have any idea what the pageant would be like. I didn't have any idea what people would be like. I didn't know that they were so accepted. ... I did know that it was going to be broadcast live on TV, but I didn't know that we were going to leave the pageant that night and go home and watch it on TV in our hotel room.
So, when we would leave out of the hotel the very next day, people already knew who I was. So I was like,' Oh my God, this is insane!' ... It was people you would never even imagine would recognize you. It was the absolute average, everyday person off the street, or the girl who worked behind the counter at the little dress store we went to every day. And two, also, because it was on all their newspapers. Front cover, color picture. So, it wasn't like I could even try to not look like me, know what I mean? [ laughs ] So, it was really crazy because it happened so instantly and it wasn't anything that we were expecting to happen. So, it made me feel not only so happy and proud that I won the pageant, but then I'm like, 'Wow, this is really a big thing.' And I was completely walking on Cloud Nine the entire time I was there.
WCT: Do you feel like America is definitely ready for this [ for her to appear on TV, movies and magazines covers ] ?
MM: I do believe. I don't know if all of America is ready for it completely. I do think the opportunity is a lot more open right now than it has been ever. I think that people are a little more open to wanting to see just this whole transgender identity, what it's all about, what it really means. I think that up until just a few years ago, people thought that girls like us were men dressed up in women's clothes. Now, people are realizing that no, it really is almost like a third sex. It's almost like people are realizing that we are people, but a little bit different. We're girls, but we weren't originally girls, so this is how we live. We want to be girls. I just say that because it's me, but there are women who also feel the opposite direction. But you see it a lot more on TV.
WCT: Do you feel like you don't have to explain yourself as much? I ask that because I read a recent article that was printed Dec. 6 by the Des Moines Register. [ Referring to 'She Misses Nothing about Being a Man,' an article that called Mimi by her birth name and referred to her as 'he.' ]
MM: Ugh, I hated that. As a matter of fact, I just talked to that guy because I hadn't really seen the article until I went to my mom's this weekend and she showed it to me. And I was completely disappointed by the way that he portrayed me in that article. That wasn't anything we talked about. The whole entire first part of that, he calls me by my boy's name that I was born with, which I've had legally changed and haven't even used that name in 10 years, maybe even longer. He called me a man. He calls me a 'he.' I was disgusted. It hurt my feelings. I mean, I literally laid there that night in my mom's spare bedroom with tears coming out of my eyes because I was so disappointed. You know, when we did the interview over the phone, I had just explained to him how refreshing it was to be in Thailand because you never have to deal with something like that. ... I was disappointed.
I wish it would become a situation that we didn't have to explain ourselves. But there's a lot of times where I do feel like, you know, you have to explain yourself—defend yourself, almost. Which is why I don't want to go on these talk shows I've been on in the past because that's what I always felt like. I did Jerry Springer quite a few times. He, as a man, is a very, very nice person. But on the show, I constantly felt like I was defending myself. People in the audience, when you try to say you're a woman: 'No you're not, you've had plastic surgery and that doesn't make you a woman.' Well no, that's not what it's all about. I mean it has nothing to do with plastic surgery. It has to do with the way that I feel on the inside. Luckily there are ways to change the outside to match the inside. Thank God there's that.
WCT: Do you think by avoiding those shows, you'll be able to open up some doors for transsexuals?
MM: Well, I don't know if avoiding them is what I'm trying to do. Hopefully, the things that I do will be the things that open up doors. The opportunities that I do get to have will be things that will open people's eyes and open up the doors and all of that.
WCT: Are you most excited about acting or modeling, or do you want to pursue both?
MM: Both, most definitely. I mean, I would love to model. But I would love to be on a TV show, on a movie set. That's more up my alley. That's a little more entertaining, know what I mean? Theater—being on the stage—has just always been my tribe. I love it.
WCT: What would be your dream show? If you could pick just one that you really want to be on ...
MM: Well, I would have loved to have been on Friends, but of course that is no longer. [ Laughs ] I would have done a back flip with no hands! Right now, you know what's kind of crazy is that I'm a reality show junkie. I don't really watch a lot of shows, and I probably shouldn't say that. [ Laughs ] I watch a lot of reality TV. I think they should just create one that's about me. That would be the best one to be in.
WCT: So, was it a lot of fun to do the pilot about the Baton Lounge?
MM: Oh yeah, it was a riot, actually. I mean, all of girls at the Baton, we just kind of make our own fun any way it goes. So, put a camera in front of us on top of that, and it's kind of insane [ Laughs ] because everyone down there is such a ham. And you know, we all—entertaining was in our blood from day one, so everybody turns on even more when you've got a couple of cameras in front of you and more bright lights shining in our face. It was really fun, and we all hope so much that it jumps off because we want to do that on a regular basis.
WCT: Is it like just one big family over there?
MM: Yep. In every way, shape and form. We love each other, we fight with each other, we laugh, we cry. Some of us are great friends, some of us are good friends. Most of us have worked there for that duration of time. I mean, not everybody. I think the girls that have been there the least amount of time have been there for three years, but then after that, I think the next girl is nine years. So, we've all worked together for quite a long time. And it's not the hugest place in the world, so its like we're with each other.
WCT: I have to ask—are you single?
MM: Yes, I am. But I have my best friend [ Kim, who is also her make-up and hair artist ] who's here and I just had a big bouquet of flowers delivered to me right now. I wonder who these are from? Yes, I am single. Hopefully this is a secret admirer. Oh my gosh, it's like a full-on big thing of roses. And stargazer lilies. [ Reads that the flowers are from the team that made a documentary about the World's Most Beautiful Transsexual pageant. ] How sweet! Now send me a check! Just kidding! [ Laughs ]
Kim and I have known each other for 15 years since I moved to Chicago. We've been like a team ever since in these pageants that I've done, any major photo shoot and all good stuff that I've done, Kim has been there to do my hair and make up. Like, my normal shows, I would just do on my own. For big events I do, even back when I was doing a lot of modeling and different special events that I would do, I would always have Kim there giving me the greatest hair styles and painting me up in the most fabulous ways. I feel much better having her there. Plus, being in Thailand with your best friend, what better fun is that?
WCT: Is life still pretty hectic? I know it's only been a couple of months since you won.
MM: Yes, it is. As a matter of fact, I think that I probably talk to Nikki [ Weiss ] 52 times a day. Like my mom, when I was in Waterloo ... was like, 'Your phone never stops ringing!' It would ring and she'd say, 'Is that Nikki again?' But it's all great, you know? I love it.
WCT: When you do have a little bit of down time, what do you like to do for fun?
MM: To be quite honest, I love to sit in my apartment with my two dogs and just relax. I have two little dogs that are just the apples of my eye.
WCT: That's so cute, what kind of dogs are they?
MM: One is a Poodle-Maltese mix, and the other is a Chihuahua. They are so hilarious. They are human, I swear. One day they are going to open up their mouths and be like, 'Girl, you better stay home!' [ Laughs ]
But other than that, I love to hang out with my friends. I love to go out to dinner. I love to go to the theater, although I don't get to do it as much as I like to. Go to the movies. I'm a pretty laid-back person in my regular life. I guess that's because my career life is hectic most of the time. I'm a pretty chilled-out person.
WCT: I know us girls hate being asked this, but how old are you?
MM: Well, it depends on who you ask. [ Laughs ] I don't know if I should tell because I've told so many different ages! I don't know if it's a good idea! Do you really want to know? I think you should say 'You should never ask a girl her age.' Because if you ask my mom, that's one thing. If you ask the people in Thailand, that's a completely other age. Say 30s.
It's so funny because the age that you are and the age you feel, and even the age that you act, can sometime be three different numbers. I must be 12 by the way I act.
Whenever I'm at the Baton and women customers will come up afterwards and ask, 'Oh, how long have you worked here?' I'll say, '15 years.' They'll say, 'Oh my goodness.' Well, I started when I was 12. [ Laughs ]
WCT: No matter what your age is, you look amazing.
MM: Oh thank you.
WCT: Do you have a secret beauty tip or way that you take care of yourself that you can share with us?
MM: You know what? I don't really have any secrets. I wash my face with soap and water.... But I do think that enjoying life and living life to its fullest are a way to keep you feeling young and vivacious. That, more than anything. I mean, I try most of the time to eat well. [ Laughs ] I mean, I do go off on my chocolate binges.
WCT: Oh, we all do.
MM: [ Laughs ] For the most part, I really try to take care of myself. I don't try to do anything too crazy. I just try to take care of myself. Exercise when I can and be good and all those things.