Carla Rossi tip-toed up the steps to the stage in shiny black ankle boots, her red velvet gloves holding a black sheet that shields her costume from the audience. With a swift tug of an assistant, the sheet falls and Rossi is unveiled, resplendent in the costume of the Kool-Aid man. The crowd erupts into laughter and applause as she twirls across the stage, drowning out “Oh Yeah” from the soundtrack to “Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'' It was a typical night at Queer Horror.
Queer Horror is a fan-favorite and regularly sells out the 400-seat auditorium at the historic Hollywood Theater. Rossi says the bi-monthly showings are often put together just hours before taking the stage. Anthony Hudson, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, with Siletz and German descent, is the person behind Carla Rossi’s internationally renowned white face paint, 80’s business woman hair and Kool-Aid costume.
Hudson created the show in 2015 to celebrate horror as a queer genre. Eight years later, he says the program is running strong as the only LGBTQ horror film and performance series in the country.
“Queer Horror for me is my favorite because there's something incredible about packing an old movie theater with 400 queers and allies and then just getting to celebrate being there together,” Hudson said. “For me, it's like church, but good.”
‘In that moment, all gender undid itself, and anything was possible’
Hudson, who identifies as Two Spirit, has loved writing, dancing and performing since he was a child. As a four-year-old, he recalls being obsessed with movies like Peter Pan and dancing to the Tiger Lily scene on repeat.
At age 10, his life was changed when he saw his first real life drag performer at his uncle’s birthday party.
“I remember telling my mom how beautiful she was, and my mom, uncomfortable and Catholic, was like, ‘That's a man.’ And I was blown away. In that moment, all gender undid itself, and anything was possible,” Hudson said. “From that period on I realized I was different from everybody else.”
Hudson wasn’t always running around a stage in face paint, wielding a shovel. He grew up much simpler than that. His mother came from a German immigrant family and his father came from a Native family. Both had children from previous relationships when they decided to have him, nearly two decades after his eldest sister.
Growing up multiracial and religious in rural Oregon wasn’t always easy for Hudson, but with the love and support of his family, he was able to find himself at a young age.
“I was always a weird kid who kind of escaped into my own fantasy worlds rather than trying to just be like this one thing that society wanted me to be,” Hudson said. “Ever since then, I've just been forging my own path every step of the way.”
For most people, middle and high school is challenging. Hormones are raging, teen angst is bubbling and everyone is trying to fit in. But Hudson was never born to fit in, he was destined to stand out.
“At 15 I came out in the city newspaper in the Statesman journal because I'm a drama queen,” Hudson said with a chuckle.
Now that everyone else knew that he was gay, Hudson had to share the news with his family. He told his mother first, then she told his father, Ronald Hudson.
“She told my dad, and then my dad came up to my room the next day, and he was like, ‘Why didn't you tell me you're a Two Spirit,’” Hudson said.
Ronald worked in family services for over 15 years, with people from all walks of life. When his son came out to him, Ronald validated his son’s feelings without skipping a beat.
“He came equipped,” Hudson said.”Like, my dad taught me what it means to be Two Spirit.”
For centuries, Two Spirit people have played vital roles in Indigenous communities. Known for being holy people, doctors, matchmakers, foster parents, and peacemakers for their tribes, it is believed their bodies simultaneously house a masculine spirit and a feminine spirit.
Coined in Winnipeg, Canada in 1990, Two Spirit was a term created to serve as a placeholder for the names individual tribes had before contact with Europeans for their various gender, sex and sexuality identities and expressions.
“I identify as Two Spirit today, and I think Carla is really how I honor that and get to wear all of that within myself and publicly,” Hudson said.
Hudson was blessed to have a strong understanding of the cultural roles Two Spirit people hold in Indigenous communities from the beginning.
There is a need to accept queerness more fully within tribal communities because that is just a normal part of who we are, Hudson says.
“From the get go, I have my father telling me, ‘You're sacred, this is a traditional part of who you are, and you don't need to change it,’” Hudson said. “I think being a Two Spirit person, I couldn't be more grateful to live within that legacy.”
Becoming Carla Rossi
From a young age, Hudson had a strong foundation and understanding that what he was experiencing as a Two Spirit person was normal and valid. He was able to embrace what made him himself. He began sharing it with the world through his art, ranging from writing and filmmaking to performing. His first drag performance in front of an audience was for his senior showcase at McNary High School in Keizer, Oregon.
With only a white tube of leftover facepaint from the zombie movie he was working on, Hudson took to the stage with one of his best friends.
As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, Hudson grew up in the era of RuPaul. He was mesmerized by her performances in “The Brady Bunch Movie,” and on her VH1 talk show. It was pure art. But Hudson didn’t know drag would be his own path until he was in his early twenties.
“I was getting ready for a very early drag excursion in my club kid days when my friend Aaron half-jokingly said, ‘You look like a Carla,” Hudson said. “I liked the sound of it.”
Because drag names always have to be some kind of pun or reference, Hudson said he immediately started searching for an accompanying last name. Then it came to him: Rossi. Like Carlo Rossi, the cheap jug wine.
“That felt fitting for Carla,” Hudson said. “She’s cheap, salty, bitter and from the bottom shelf.”
He then began surrounding himself with people like RuPaul’s Drag Race winner, Jinkx Monsoon. In 2010, after a difficult breakup, Hudson began regularly performing in drag. He says performing provided him an outlet to heal.
Hudson quickly realized drag was a place where he could act, sing, dance and write his own roles, monologues and stand up. But above all, it gave him the opportunity to be his own boss.
Exploring his art also pushed him to look more deeply into himself. He began to think back about why he was so obsessed with Peter Pan and Tiger Lily.
That was the origin of a solo show he started performing in 2016 about his childhood. “Looking for Tiger Lily” addresses how contemporary mainstream interpretations of Native American people led to the manifestation of Carla Rossi and his life’s work.
Looking into who he was as a multiracial Two Spirit person, Hudson decided to continue using whiteface to subvert white supremacy, and to explore the layers of race, sex, and gender underlying both Indigenous and white mainstream cultural values.
His solo show, which Hudson is now adapting into a written memoir, is an interpretation of the relationship between Indigenous cultural clowns like coyote, and contemporary Indigenous storytelling. Together, those elements lend a unique perspective to drag art, Indigenous art, and performance.
“Carla was a way to begin to play with what it means to just really put myself out there in the world and now she's become like a community leader and art project,” Hudson said. “It’s taken my life by storm, but in a really good way,” Hudson said.
For the past 13 years, Hudson realized how Carla has changed his life. Growing up as a gay boy in a small town, he always wanted more. Carla Rossi provided him that outlet to explore the world, but also himself.
He started out with an old tube of white face paint and 1980’s business woman attire. Since then, Hudson has performed on stages across the world. And he has shared his quirkiness, humor and kindness with people from all walks of life. Together, they have gone to places they never dreamed of.
“I think the saga of our last 13 years together has been me realizing like, ‘Oh, she is me. She's not a character. She’s me at my most pronounced, she's me at my most exaggerated and also most embodied and honest,’” Hudson said. “And I think for me, Carla is really how I access what it means for me to identify as a Two Spirit.”
Lead photo: Hudson created Queer Horror in 2015 to celebrate horror as a queer genre. Eight years later, he says the program is running strong as the only LGBTQ horror film and performance series in the country. (Photo by Jarrette Werk Underscore News / Report for America)