The first time I met Todd Long as Lady X, she laid down the law with an outdoor Beyoncé set that had to be seen to be believed. The last time I talked to him, we were giddy about our Janet Jackson tickets, and he was planning his Lady X performances the week of the concert as Janet spectaculars. Since 2007 Todd had been a performance programmer for Pride Toronto. He was bright, funny, positive and energetic, with a raucous laugh. Lady X had fans all over; dedicated and involved in his community, he was the kind of diva the audience loved.
What is particularly heartbreaking about Todd’s death is the loss to the community; it’s rare to find a performer as generous. Although All About Eve scenes are relatively rare, backstage can sometimes be a tense place… but not if Todd was there. He consistently supported other performers through word and deed.
Eddie Barnette calls Lady X “one of the great ones.”
“When it felt like every door was being closed in my face, Todd seemed to go the distance to either open doors for me or keep a few doors open for me,” he says.
While other drag queens approached newbie Olivya Chin with degrading criticisms about makeup and music, she says Todd stood by her.
“It was because of Todd that I stuck it out and didn’t care what others said. Before I knew it, this queen that just started out was getting bookings like crazy.” Chin plans to make Lady X’s gifted corset part of her Feb 26 show.
In his job with Pride Toronto, Long coordinated drag extravaganzas. Four years ago, he even directed a show from a wheelchair, with both legs in a cast, after sustaining an injury. At the risk of letting down the people he was working with, he replaced himself in his own numbers. Talk about commitment to craft and community!
Although his Jem & the Holograms Pride performance was a hit, it was the 2009 Lady X’s Circus that cemented Long’s reputation. It featured fire breathers, Michelle Pfeiffer–style whip tricks and costume changes, all with Lady X in the centre ring.
His death surprised some, but the initial shock has evolved into a stonewall of silence. His struggle with addiction was no secret, so the silence is shocking to me. This is not the first time in recent memory our community has lost a beloved member to the demons of substance abuse. How often does this need to happen before the issue is taken seriously?
The buzz online is, “Don’t talk about it, out of respect.”
This culture of silence can lead only to more needless losses. It is possible and appropriate to celebrate the good aspects of someone’s life while acknowledging the darker aspects.
In addiction and recovery circles, many say, “You can’t save them. They need to seek help on their own, realize the problem on their own, recover on their own.” This is a hard truth for many of us to face, but even so, I wonder if saying this absolves us of responsibility when we see a friend in trouble? How many of us reach out to those we know are struggling? How do we negotiate the space between recreation and addiction?
We can talk about how alcohol and drugs shape gay nightlife in this city and what that means, but in doing so we also need to refrain from judgment when it comes to individuals. Addiction is recognized as a chronic, treatable disease by the Canadian Medical Association, and going through it does not in any way imply weakness or a character flaw. If you need help, start at the519.org and know that you’re not alone, you have nothing to be ashamed of and help exists.
You can tell the measure of a person by the mark they leave behind. I choose to remember Todd for his performances: always on point with a story arc, tight choreography and seductive costumes. I choose to remember Todd as someone who would offer to perform at fundraisers without being asked and his bravery in going to places like Scarborough to perform in drag when no one else would.
I choose to remember his love of music and dancing and laughter. I choose to remember Todd with some deliciously dishy not-fit-for-print stories, and I have a feeling I won’t be alone. People will be talking about Todd and Lady X for years. Both the man and the diva deserve nothing less.