One of the most rewarding things that happens as a journalist is being able to meet people who you'd never stumble upon in day-to-day life. And the most rewarding thing about being a journalist -- in my opinion -- is when those people allow you to come into their world and live in it, even if it's just for a day, an hour or a minute.
When I met Trevor Ladner at Mockingbird Cafe about five or six months ago, I was just planning to interview him for a Coast Character, a weekly feature I write about the unique people of South Mississippi. But after hearing just 30 minutes of his story, I knew that the impact he was making was worth more than 25 inches.
He's a Hancock High senior who was involved in literally everything. Scheduling a time to meet with him was challenging, for he had after-school meetings, student clubs to run and projects and homework to finish in college-level classes. And when he told me about his passion for drag artistry and for social activism, I knew I wanted to know more about him -- and his family.
We planned to follow Trevor a couple of months to learn more about his voice -- at school, at home, and as Miss Annie Thang, his drag queen persona. When I asked if his family knew he did drag, he said they did. And as time went on, more and more of his extended family became supportive of the passion he had for makeup, wigs and commanding the stage.
Trevor's passions were published on YouTube for the world to see, for it was an application to be considered for the Deans' Honor Scholarship at Tulane University in New Orleans. "Unpack" tackled the place that gender roles has in our society and how that relates to gender inequalities, and it earned him that full-tuition scholarship.
The video had more than 10,100 views on Saturday afternoon.
I left my house at 4:30 a.m. Thursday for my first casual meeting with Trevor and his family at home. Miss Annie Thang was performing for the first time at his school, Hancock High, in the womanless beauty pageant. I had to get there early, because Trevor started getting ready at 6 a.m., and Poplarville is pretty far from my front door. I had talked to Trevor's mom, Mary, on the phone. She -- along with her husband, aunts, uncles and grandparents -- have attended drag shows and seen Miss Annie Thang's performances.
But it would be the first time for Trevor's brother, Trenton, to see Trevor in drag on stage.
Trenton is 15-years-old, and he and his older brother are pretty different. Trevor loves theater, art, and social justice. Trenton is a football star for the Hancock Hawks. Trevor is often seen wearing Vans or trendy sneakers. Trenton prefers athletic clothes or cowboy boots.
The brothers are polar opposites, their mother said, except for the fact that they both love to dance.
It's not every day you see a family in the Deep South so supportive of a gay teenager who is also a drag artist. But the most beautiful thing about my day yesterday was watching the unconditional love two brothers have for each other.
Trenton needed help tying a gold neck tie when I walked in the door, so I helped him out. His gold tie matched his brother's custom-made emerald and green gown. "Does this look OK?" he asked Trevor before leaving the room. Trenton would escort Miss Annie Thang to the stage before her performance.
Once we got to school, as Trevor's friends helped with last-minute touches, Trenton stood behind, checking the dress his brother was wearing to make sure it wasn't bundled up. He helped adjust the straps on top when one fell off. He giggled when another contestant said, "We're just here for second place."
"Trenton, you have to make sure I don't fall," Trevor said as they locked arms.
Throughout the performance, Trenton stood tall behind Miss Annie Thang as she performed for her peers. After her performance, they danced hand in hand to "Achy Breaky Heart." And when Miss Annie Thang was announced as the winner of the pageant, Trenton hugged his brother tight.
The brotherly love between two boys who couldn't be more different was an image that I will not forget.
Trevor Ladner's story will be published in a multi-part series, complete with photos and video, in the coming months on SunHerald.com.