Southern Belles, Latchkey Kids, and Thrift Store Cross Dressers for The Bitter Southerner

I’ve posted several times about my time with RuPaul in the 80s, and I’ve written about my dear friend Todd Butler, whose courage and love shaped me at least as much as my own DNA. But it took Chuck Reece, editor of The Bitter Southerner to get me to go deep and find the sweet marrow details of a formative time in my life, a time when those two figures – Ru and Todd – and a third, my grandmother, enriched my life immeasurably.

The Bitter Southerner is a recently-launched webzine promising “a great new story from the South every week.” They’re doing gangbusters, acquiring new subscribers daily. I’d fallen in love with them when I read  Patterson Hood’s essay “The New (er) South.” Like his spoken word piece “The Three Great Alabama Icons,” from his band The Drive-By Truckers’ 2001 masterpiece Southern Rock Opera, Patterson’s musings on “the duality of the southern thing” resonated in my gut. Chuck and Co. launched The Bitter Southerner with “the duality of the southern thing” as a guiding principle. I sent Chuck a note and some blog posts, and we hit it off.

For my essay, Chuck, no stranger to grief and funk and duality, knew my work could be stronger if I knuckled down into the grievous stuff. He kept asking me questions, gently suggesting I amplify aspects of Todd; he wanted more about grandparents’ unusual stories; he suggested I remove RuPaul from the original opening, making him more a supporting character. I did all that, and sure enough, I got weepy. I’d been circling around the painful stuff, treading lightly, for years. But, as ever, that’s where the good stuff is.

As a bonus, sweet Clare Butler, aka Lady Clare, Todd’s widow, unearthed some great pix (a couple below) and my cousin scanned some classic shots of my grandparents from the 60s and 70s.

You can find my essay HERE.

Lucille Ball copy

Lucille Ball with my grandmother, Gammie (glasses), and grandfather. Late 60s.


Todd and me rocking at The Bistro, Atlanta, ’83, while RuPaul does a costume change. Pic by Clare Butler


RuPaul rocking The Bistro with Todd and me, ’83. Pic by Clare Butler.


9 responses to “Southern Belles, Latchkey Kids, and Thrift Store Cross Dressers for The Bitter Southerner

  1. What a treat, Robert! I just got home from the afternoon doggie hike to see your new post. I put the kettle on for a nice cuppa – and sat down to read this wonderful piece, sipping earl grey with honey. The tea, your story – both delicious! My goodness I love your writing!

  2. Lenore Thompson

    This is the sweetest story about your Gammie. And many old Atlanta friends.

  3. I love this so much, Robert. It really is so brilliantly written. Chuck did a wonderful job of nudging. I’m just enamoured with your portrayal of Todd – redheaded Orpheus indeed!! ❤

    • Oh, I could go on and on about that Todd. Seeing those reminisces of him, in which he made people laugh so hard, really took me back. I have several of those, of course, wherein I laughed so hard I hurt myself. This won’t be the last time I conjure memories of him for my writing. Jack thinks I need to write a whole book about that friendship.

      And of course, so much of what I write about in that piece would not have happened without you. All roads lead to you, stirring it up on Bonaventure, making stuff happen. As the kids say: for REALS. Much love and gratitude to you, Lady C.

  4. I’ve read this story over and over, Robert, and I have to say that Jack’s idea is every bit as luminous as your writing. I would love it and cry and love it and cry some more reading such a book. Todd made an impact so deeply on you and on me. Even with him gone for 9+ years now, the pain of losing him still hurts so deeply sometimes I can hardly bear it. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you felt the same way. Grateful to you for the way you remember him.

  5. I came across this article through Longform. Just beautiful. What a tribute to your grandmother…and grandmothers from that era, in general.

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