GoGo for the Gold—think RuPaul’s Drag Race but for go-go boys—features a swoon-inducing roster of fuzzy bears, femme dancers in heels, and trans man Paulo Batista, all competing for a cash prize of $10,000 and the title of “American’s #1 Champion Gogo Superstar Star.”
“Not everyone is attracted to six-pack abs and big thighs,” says the 38-year-old Batista, a competitive bodybuilder and a building manager for Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago. “Some audiences want to see bears and dad-bods, others want to see performers that are just really great dancers. We’re all diverse. Even within the trans community, we all present ourselves differently. You’ve got nonbinary, you’ve got feminine, you’ve got hyper-masculine alpha; which is kind of like my vibe when you watch this show. It’s important to see that we’re all different and we all bring something major and incredible to the table.”
For the uninitiated, a go-go boy (or go-go girl, or person) is basically anyone with enough get-up-and-go to dance in skimpy or revealing attire on stage or on top of the bar in a nightclub or bar setting. A go-go boy is not technically a stripper as much as he or she is a bar-employed dancer whose job is to delight, amuse, and entertain the crowd—sometimes for cash tips.
A panel of judges fleshes out the winner based on four categories: fantasy, body, dance, and individuality, with one or more contestants eliminated each week. GoGo for the Gold is currently airing on LGBTQ+ streaming service OUTtv.
Batista’s fellow contestants were “super supportive” when they discovered he is trans. “Some of them were actually surprised, because, I hate to say it—I have this passing privilege in the trans community. Ultimately, they were all just really excited to see that I could bring that representation to the show.”
GoGo for the Gold, which premiered May 13, airs weekly on OUTtv and is available via Roku, Apple TV, iOS and Android apps, and other streaming platforms.
Performing as a trans go-go dancer in the LGBTQ+ bar scene has its challenges. “Sometimes it’s hard to get work because the bar owners are afraid. Like, to be blunt—I don’t have bottom surgery. I wear a prosthetic phallus. So, if a mishap should occur while I’m performing on stage, how’s that going to affect the crowd? I’ve been turned down [for gigs] plenty of times, but other times . . . it’s not an issue. I mean, look at me: I made a reality TV show with the top 12 go-go dancers in the country!” Over the years, Batista has go-go danced at the Jackhammer and the Lucky Horseshoe Lounge—two popular Chicago LGBTQ+ bars featuring male dancers—without incident.
Batista says the Northalsted/Boystown area is generally welcoming to transgender individuals, although improvements to enhance diversity and inclusion are always necessary no matter the neighborhood or space. “Wherever I’ve gone and shown my ID, I haven’t had any issues,” says Batista, who hasn’t legally changed his biological name. “All my legal paperwork, my credit cards, and IDs have my original birth name, Paula, but I have yet to come across a ‘wrong feel’ at all. There’s even a crosswalk for the transgender community in that area,” he said, referencing the pink, white, and blue crosswalk—the colors of the transgender flag—at Melrose and Halsted, one of 14 rainbow-hued crosswalks along Halsted in the neighborhood.
Batista transitioned more than 12 years ago. “I transitioned when transitioning wasn’t really even an option. But I’m a persistent, stubborn individual. I didn’t listen to people telling me what I could and couldn’t do, because I knew who I was. Over the years, I got my top surgery, I got my hormones, and I just followed my own path. My advice to others is to be persistent with your dreams. You’ll find a way. It might not be quick and instantaneous, but you’ve just got to be patient.”
GoGo for the Gold inspires viewers to think outside the (go-go) box by featuring contestants, like Batista, whose allure is ultimately rooted in their personal stories and how they connect to audiences, rather than standard perceptions of physical beauty.
“It’s also just a good, corny show. It’s all for fun and shouldn’t be taken too seriously,” adds Batista, before describing one of his favorite backstage moments. “I think the funniest shade was me back there with three different sizes of phallus prosthetic pieces just to give different looks, like a go-go dancer would. I asked them, ‘Which one should I wear today, guys?’ and they were so jealous! They were like, ‘We’re glad you get to choose!’”
While viewer response has been largely positive, Batista admits some of the comments on social media, particularly those criticizing someone’s looks or talent, have been disappointing, but not completely surprising. “I hate to say it, but I feel like there’s too much jealousy out there in the world. And it is especially hard to hear it from our own community. People sometimes just hate seeing others living a happy, true life!”
“I don’t even pretend to know what women go through on a daily basis, but I feel like I have a peek,” Ben Krane says.
How Chicagoans, from creatives to nonprofit staff, are being affected by the novel coronavirus—and what we can all do to help
The kinksters, the queers, and the artists who live in both worlds.