Family Portrait: Shane Michael Duncan

Shane Michael Duncan has a movie-star name and a personality to match. I spoke to Mr. Fierce for a moment after SundayOUT!, where I found him cutting up a storm.

PGN: Where are you originally from? SMD: I was born in Delaware County — Chester, Pa. — and lived there until I was about 3, when we moved to Chesilhurst, N.J.

PGN: Any siblings? SMD: I have an older brother and a twin brother named Sean.

PGN: Shane and Sean? That’s funny: My column last week was with a gay twin. Is Sean gay too? SMD: No, he’s straight. That’s the way we run in my family. My mother also has a twin brother — she’s straight, but her twin is gay. I guess it’s genetic. [Twins are] supposed to skip a generation, but I guess we didn’t get the memo.

PGN: The twins I wrote about were both gay. SMD: Get out! I don’t think I could handle that. My brother and I were so busy trying to find our own identities separate from each other that to come out as gay and then have my twin come out would be a bit much. You’d spend your whole life sharing the same community. At this stage of the game, if my twin brother came out of the closet, I’d move to the other side of the country! Not that I don’t love him, but just to have my own space.

PGN: Any odd twin things? SMD: Not really, our personalities are the same, but I always joke and tell people that we grew up culturally diverse. He’s very athletic and I was more the artsy type. Not that I’m not athletic, but he’s über-athletic. I was into music and theater and things like that, whereas he was into football and baseball and those sorts of things that I could care less about. I think if you put the two of us together, we would make one well-rounded person! We’re different but the same in a way and, when we’re together, we have fun. We’re both loud and boisterous and out of control. Like two kids with ADHD … on chocolate.

PGN: What’s your older brother like? SMD: Like me and my twin: We’re alike in personality, but drastically different in style. Greg’s into heavy-metal music, so much so that he plays in a heavy-metal band, Lisa for Sale. He’s got a plethora of children too: five girls and one boy.


PGN: Geez, I guess that took pressure off you needing to have any kids. SMD: Oh darlin’, pets are welcome but no kids for me: I’m happy to be a doting uncle. He’s got his six and my twin has four kids. We’re all completely different entities, but when we are together, we’re really tight. When I was growing up, my twin brother was always my protector, actually both my brothers. If someone ever threatened me or gave me a hard time, they would show up the next day all beaten up. I don’t know why they did that — I could have held my own — but I was lucky to have them.

PGN: I guess they knew you were [putting on a Southern accent] “sensitive.” SMD: [Laughs.] Yes, “Ah was special.” Even now, if I have any problems and I tell my brothers, it’s on! That person better watch out.

PGN: What did your parents do? SMD: They’re both retired now. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, but you know I’m not really sure what my father did. That’s a shame, I should know these things — I mean he’s still married to my mother! I think he did something with Philadelphia Electric.

PGN: What did you do after high school? SMD: My mother wanted me to experience life and do something cultural, so I joined a drum and bugle corps in Rosemont, Ill. It was fun and I learned a lot. After that, I came home and threw myself into the work world.

PGN: Why bugle corps? SMD: When I was in high school, I was in the choir and played bells in marching band. I was also a first in many things. I was the first male cheerleader and I was the first male on the color guard team. It might sound odd, but it wasn’t really a big deal because I was always out to everyone, and I think they almost expected it. The drum and bugle corps that I joined was called the Cavaliers and they were an all-male, all-gay corps. It was a great experience because it taught me that you didn’t necessarily need women to make a soft, pretty picture. It was neat to have a group of gay men who knew that you could be silly screaming queens on your own turf, but when it came time to perform, it was all business. There was an aura of strength and beauty and precision that we exuded on the field. We learned there was a time and place for everything.

PGN: How old were you when you came out? SMD: I came out when I was 8. One of my neighbors was watching us for my mother and she asked me if I was hungry. I turned around and looked at her and said, “You know what, I’m not hungry, but I am gay.” It was one of those “pull the needle off the record” moments that stunned her. My mother had to tell me, “When people ask you if you’re hungry, you don’t answer by saying that you’re gay.” I said, “OK, Mom, but I am gay. I like boys.” So throughout school it was never a secret that I was gay and, when I wanted to join the cheerleading squad, it wasn’t like anyone was shocked. I remember during marching band, watching the color guard and thinking how beautiful it was. It’s almost a work of art, the way that they twirled the flags and created a picture. Like something out of a Busby Berkeley movie and I wanted to be a part of it. Since I was the only guy doing it, they had to make a special uniform for me, though I was perfectly willing to wear the little skirt. My mother always said, “If you’re going to do it, do it so well that they can’t say anything bad about you.” So not only was I the first male, I was the best color guard member that they had.

PGN: Any hobbies now? SMD: I’m still into drum corps but mostly as a spectator sport when I can catch it on TV. [Laughs.] I love TV; the boob tube is my friend, especially reality TV.

PGN: I’m a TV junkie myself: As soon as we finish talking I’m going to make some iced tea and watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Logo. SMD: Oh my God, that’s so funny. That’s what I was doing when you called! I swear to God. I was watching the episode where Spike made the robot Buffy. I love Buffy, she’s my queen …

PGN: Fun stuff. SMD: I was also a drag performer for a long time. That’s how I made a living, doing retail by day and impersonating Whitney Houston and Phyllis Hyman by night.

PGN: Whitney before or after Bobby? SMD: Definitely before! Remember when we used to think she was classy? Those were the good old days …

PGN: What do you do now? SMD: I’m a hairdresser by trade at Verde Salon in Collingswood, N.J., and I also teach at PB Cosmetology Education Centre in Gloucester City.

PGN: Worst hair incident? SMD: I’ve been pretty fortunate not to have any incidents or accidents. We did have a woman once who came in and insisted that we put highlights in her hair. It was fried and we told her it would fall out if we did anything to it, but she wanted to go ahead anyway. When we took the foil off, her hair broke off in clumps and I thought she would go ballistic, even though we’d warned her, but she was happy that we’d managed to get blond highlights in the pieces that didn’t break! Odd, right?

PGN: Traits you inherited from your mother or father? SMD: Patience from my mother. [Laughs.] And impatience from my father.

PGN: Do you collect anything? SMD: I collect pint glasses. I have a few commercial ones, like I have the Merlotte’s pint glasses from the HBO series “True Blood,” but mostly my friend and I collect them from bars we have visited.

PGN: What’s the farthest you’ve traveled? SMD: When I was 15, I traveled to Austria to perform with the Vienna Boys Choir. I went with bandleader Fred Waring’s group. You might remember him from his Christmas albums.

PGN: Favorite toy as a kid? SMD: Jump rope. It was fun and it was free … and I was good at it, especially double Dutch. The girls in my neighborhood would knock on the door and ask my mom if I would play it with them.

PGN: Craziest weather incident? SMD: Oh, one time I was flying to Dallas. When I left Philadelphia, the weather was fine. For some reason we had to stop in Pittsburgh and I swear to you, it was so snowy, you couldn’t see out the window. The snowflakes were so big it looked like a blanket coming down, I was surprised they let us land. I’ll never, ever go back to Pittsburgh again.

PGN: Since you like reality TV, if you were doing “The Amazing Race,” who would you want as your partner? SMD: That’s an awesome question. My twin brother, because we’re so different we compliment each other, and we always cheer each other on. We never yell and we get along great. He would be the best partner.

PGN: You should do it: I bet mirror twins would be a huge draw. Speaking of partners, are you with anyone? SMD: Yes, his name is Mark and we just celebrated our 10th anniversary; [sotto voce] Now he just needs to marry me. And you can print that! We met at the old Woody’s. I saw him and started a conversation and we’ve been inseparable ever since. He’s incredible, he lets me be me, which I can tell you is not always easy.

PGN: Something wonderful about him? SMD: Well, take today: I’m the type who stops and says hello to everybody. Every two steps someone is calling my name. He would much rather just quietly walk around and look at things. He could have snapped, but he waits for me and says hello to the people I introduce him to and stands back and lets me do my thing. The wind beneath my wings …

PGN: Worst job? SMD: I worked at Raymour & Flanigan, and they were awful. It was a six-month stint, to the day. The final straw was when my aunt died. She was one of my favorite aunts and, when I told them that I couldn’t come to work because of a death in the family, they told me to come back to work when the funeral was over. I was like, “Really? You must not know what a black funeral is like, because there’s no going home after the service.” That’s when you go eat and mourn. I expected every day there to be my last, but that really was it because I had no problem expressing my disdain when they said that.

PGN: “Star Trek” or “Star Wars”? SMD: “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

PGN: If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose? SMD: Hercules. He has a great deal of strength and he had to learn how to handle it and how to put others before himself. I think that’s a good role model.

PGN: What farm chore would you not want to do? SMD: Oh child, I would not want to be the one who has to inseminate the cows! That’s disgusting! My arms are too short anyway … and those long gloves don’t work with any outfit!

PGN: Favorite family tradition? SMD: Every Christmas we go to my godmother’s house and do a Christmas brunch. We call it “Porkfest.” It’s a pork smorgasbord.

PGN: Strange item from your childhood bedroom? SMD: I had a cedar chest that I hated. To a child, it looks like a big coffin at the foot of your bed. Smells funny too.

PGN: Any paranormal experiences? SMD: No, but I think I’m very sensitive to that sort of thing. I’m really good at reading people’s energy and I know when someone tells me a lie; I can feel it right away. Or, if someone’s genuine, I can feel that too.

PGN: Are you good at crafts? SMD: No, that’s not me at all. My partner does all that.

PGN: Favorite cartoon? SMD: “Sleeping Beauty.” The witch in that, Maleficent, was awesome! She was a baby drag queen’s dream.

PGN: Beauty secret? SMD: Make sure the hair products you use are sulfate free.

PGN: What’s your favorite piece of clothing? SMD: I have a corset for when I do drag. It’s structured and holds everything in place. I don’t do drag much anymore, just on occasion for charity, but I was asked to be a contestant on RuPaul’s “Drag Race.” I didn’t do it, though. I’m 39 now, so maybe I’ll do it next year. Show them that you can be 40 and fierce!

PGN: Any celebrity encounters? SMD: I’ve met quite a lot of people, but the nicest one was Graham Norton. I met him in P-town and he was the sweetest guy I’d ever met. I just met him on the street and he talked to me like we’d known each other for years. And whenever he saw me out and about he would always speak to me.

PGN: Any notable relatives? SMD: I have an uncle who was an opera singer, but it is rumored that my great grandmother was half-sisters with Ethel Waters.

PGN: Cool! Can you hook me up with Crystal Waters? I saw her headline at Gay Games years ago and she was fierce! She must be a second cousin twice removed or something. SMD: Any time, honey! I know she lives nearby.

PGN: Any tattoos or piercings? SMD: My ears are pierced, but neither my twin nor I have tattoos. My oldest brother makes up for it — he has over 20. But the three of us are planning on getting one together. It’s called the tri-tetra and it has three joined circles that will represent our unity.

PGN: Your parents must have done something right to raise three boys who get along so well. SMD: Yes, they did.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected]