The danforth, long a bastion of Mediterranean machismo, doesn't know what's hit it. Insouciantly ensconced between a hobby shop and an old-school diner (the somewhat ironically named "Trans" restaurant), is the three-month-old Barbie's Beauty Studio and Boutique at 2200 Danforth, near Woodbine.I penetrate the bright pink doorway of what seems an old lady's evening-wear paradise. The racks are full of everything that's needed to slake the thirst of any budding trannie. Need form-fitting panties? There are overflowing boxes. An evening gown for that special night? They're here in abundance.
Admittedly, though, the clothes here have a Dame Edna feel.
When I meet Frank Rattasid, the owner of this new shop, I understand the aesthetic. He's a 57-year-old Hungarian with a Danny Aiello look about him. Seated behind the counter of his brimming store, he's painting the nails of his carpentry-hardened hands a deep red.
His unbuttoned black cardigan reveals a broad chest and about a dozen gold chains from which crosses and other charms dangle.
Underneath dark pants, he sports a pair of high-heeled cowboy boots replete with metal buckles and chains.
Aside from his vampish fingernails, he could be heading down to the Hungarian House to play some cards with fellow expats.
He says hello, his shockingly blue eyes smiling up at me coyly. We chat for a while about his store, the different kinds of clients he's had, and about how happy he is now that he's opened up shop.
He invites me downstairs, where we can chat more comfortably. Reticently, I acquiesce. As yet, I'm not quite sure about this portly man with the blood-red fingernails. I imagine a scene from Pulp Fiction as he locks the shop door and leads me into the basement.
The scene I'm confronted with is one I could never have imagined. The front wall of the large room holds more wigs than one of his fellow Hungarians, Zsa Zsa Gabor, could ever need. In one corner, Rattasid -- or "Dame Barbie" as he's known in the cross-dressing community -- has made use of the carpentry skills he acquired in Hungary to build a small massage studio.
The middle of the basement is dedicated to two fully equipped hairdressing stations. There's also a manicurist counter and a chair for pedicures.
My god, I have gazed upon heaven. To have all my personal indulgences housed in one confined space -- what more could I ask for? As long as I can order in, I'm not going anywhere, baby.
Rattasid and I settle into the comfy sitting room at the back of his salon. In his strongly accented English, he tells me that he comes from a family of cabinetmakers. He left Hungary over 30 years ago and lived in Sweden and Australia before finally settling in Canada 20 years ago.
After an accident a few years back, he was on workers' comp and went back to school to learn more English and a new trade, cosmetology. His diploma and grad picture hang proudly on the wall of his studio just above a gag photo of a sultry blond in a pin-up pose. The face beaming out of this image is Rattasid's.
We also chat about gender identity, politics, his previous marriages, his son and about what great legs he has (and he really has).
Rattasid shows me a plethora of piquant self-portraits -- in black negligees, red dresses, blond wigs, black bobs. The pictures have a 1930s bawdiness about them.
The remarkable thing is how much fun Dame Barbie is having in all these photos. He stands in 1950s-style silhouette, bends over to look between spread legs or tartily lifts his skirt to reveal some frilly panties, smiling in every shot.
Business is slow but steady for Barbie's Beauty Studio and Boutique. Through word of mouth and advertising, the clientele is gradually expanding. A man in his late 70s recently came all the way from England to enjoy Rattasid's skill as a makeup artist and photographer.
However, the day I visit, the only dame I see is one of the authentic blue-haired variety.
Rattasid is going out with his new "best friend," Nancy, a cute Asian transvestite who appears in many photos in a French maid's uniform. Rattasid shows me the outfit he plans to wear, a black tiered skirt, black bustier, black hose and strappy heels.
He's uncertain what top would nicely finish his outfit. I suggest a breezy black chiffon blouse to show off some of the detailing of the bustier. He agrees.
We go for a beer at a new pizzeria across the street. It feels sort of surreal sitting across from him, his red nails ready for his night out.
You have to make sure to make yourself happy, he tells me. Life is short.