It was early April, and the hot Florida sun was barely restraining an assault to turn Downtown into a convection oven. After getting rained out the past several months, the weather gods had finally deigned to smile on Downtown businesses, and Art Walk was packed for the first time in a long time. Night was starting to set in, and most of the art vendors had packed up their wares. The crowds had shifted from MOCA and Hemming Plaza to the bars and clubs along Ocean and Bay, spilling onto the sidewalks and into the streets. Inside Burro Bar, a young crowd of punk kids and hipster-types was drinking PBRs and local craft brews, some watching a dance-punk band finishing its set on the small stage, some mingling and attempting to be heard over the noise.
And then Twinki walked in.
The crowd at Burro can be apathetic on Art Walk nights, many of them only there because it’s something to do on a Wednesday. But not tonight. As if on cue, everyone turned their attention to the stage. Twinki — a six-and-a-half-foot-tall, 34-year-old drag queen in platforms, a huge blonde curly wig and a black corset over tights bulging to the seams with larger-than-life booty pads stuffed inside — towered above the audience as she strutted to the mic. She beamed down at us, thanked us for coming, then turned to the deejay, signaling him to start the beat, a blend of old-school hip-hop and trap music.
“I’m DTF so FML. YOLO, nigga, can’t you spell?” she raps in her white-girl-in-Brooklyn accent. The audience erupts in applause. She kneels on the floor, leans back and grinds her hips back and forth toward us as she goes into the chorus. “I got that zombie pussy/ You’re killin’ it every night/ It wants to eat your brains now/ because you’re doin’ it right.”
Twinki is the stage name of Carl Cochrane, who, like most drag queens, refers to himself as Twinki when he’s in costume and Carl when he’s not. But Cochrane doesn’t mind being called either no matter what he’s wearing. “Twinki is Carl and Carl is Twinki,” he says. “Twinki is just Carl on the next level.”
He’s also indifferent to what pronoun you ascribe to him. “Most of my gay friends refer to each other as ‘she.’ It’s just part of our vernacular now, the pronoun we roll with, I guess mostly because it’s funnier that way.” (For most of this story, we’ll go with “he.” Out of character, Cochrane lives as a mostly, but not exclusively, gay man.)
The only drag rapper in Northeast Florida, Cochrane knows that winning over the often-misogynistic hip-hop world is an uphill battle, even more so in his culturally conservative adopted home. “People that don’t know me, I can’t even imagine what they think,” he says. “If I was a straight white dude in the South and see me get on stage? If you call yourself a hip-hop aficionado, and everything that you’ve been taught is this male-centered, hardcore, hetero-normative hip-hop shit, and then you see somebody like me perform, at first you’re like, ‘No fucking way.’ Then you’re like, ‘Wait a minute. This motherfucker is actually good.’”
So good, in fact, that Cochrane, a sharp-tongued Brooklyn transplant, has become a local celebrity of sorts, known among the hipster set and within the hip-hop scene for his skill as a rapper and ability to put on a show. But Twinki’s budding fame is also due to the fact that Jacksonville’s never seen anything like him before. In New York, the queer rap culture is verging on mainstream, and in New Orleans the sissy bounce scene has made it to national TV with rising star Big Freedia’s Fuse show Queen of Bounce. But in Northeast Florida, Carl stands out — and that’s exactly why he’s here.
“I’ll just have to change their minds,” he says. “I still get looks wherever I go. It’s not as bad as when I moved here 13 years ago, but I feel like I can make more of an impact here.”