RuPaul, one of the world’s most famous drag queens, once said, “a drag queen is a clown — a parody of our society. It’s a sarcastic spoof on culture, which allows us to laugh at ourselves — but in a way that is inclusive of everyone.” That could explain the boundless appeal of Aunt Barbara, a drag queen who has long held the title of the most successful Tupperware seller in North America — that is, until she recently transitioned into a woman and came out as transsexual. That’s when her thriving career took a nosedive.
As a writer for Mel Magazine succinctly put it, “Drag queens are hilarious. But a trans woman in drag? ‘Too real.'” That last part was commentary tacked on by Aunt Barbara herself — a.k.a. Jennifer Bobbi Suchan who was interviewed by the magazine. Suchan was born Robert Suchan in Long Island, New York, according to the article. The little boy grew up idolizing the women in his family, one of whom was his actual Aunt Barbara — the inspiration for his drag persona. The boisterous 48-year-old first started his cross-dressing act as a comedy routine at age 24. Suchan has been Aunt Barbara for half her life, but she’s been a Tupperware seller only since 2006.
A pig showed up at last nights Tupperware Party and I don't mean one of the guests. ???????????? pic.twitter.com/9GnQ4PftHo
— Aunt Barbara (@YourAuntBarbara) October 16, 2016
It all started when she attended a Tupperware party her sister had thrown. Suchan’s sister realized that the drag queen’s gregariousness resonated with the women — the potential customers — much more than the demeanor of the “wholesome and waspy woman” she had hired to host the event, according to Mel Magazine. But it took Suchan 11 years to decide to pursue the calling, and in 2009 she finally quit her job at a non-profit to do Tupperware sales full time. For the past 7 years, she’s been the company’s top earner.
Suchan won the hearts of Tupperware’s main clientele — suburban housewives — with her incisive humor and anything-goes sales approach. She would show up to parties as Robert, but go into the bathroom to put on a wig and a flashy getup, and transform into the loose-lipped Aunt Barbara. Then she’d unleash her sales strategy as performance art. One scenario the magazine describes goes like this:
“Sometimes Susie goes to Michael’s game and she sits on the hot aluminum bleachers pretending to like the other mothers,” says Aunt Barbara. “But now, what’s Susie drinking while she’s watching Michael play that little game?”
“Alcohol,” the women respond.
“And nobody knows!” she calls back.
Aunt B begins imitating the drunken soccer mom, stumbling around with the straw in her mouth. “‘Hi Michael!’” she wails, “‘I love coming to your games!!!’ She’s a hot mess.”
Suchan would tease the women, calling a young one “Kim Kardashian,” for instance, and telling an older woman with short, red hair, “I loved you in the Partridge family,” the article says. She joked that “the cheese grater can shred an intruder’s face,” and “The ice-cream scoop doubles as a weapon that can be used on anyone ‘cat-calling and trying to molest me.'” The audience ate up the drag queen’s unorthodox approach and sales soared. Suchan even scored herself a company car — which she’s due to lose next month “since she’s fallen below the monthly sales minimum of $12,500 three times in a row,” according to the article.
Suchan may have been fully embraced by the women who have adored her at her nightly Tupperware parties, but privately, she didn’t love herself as much. At home, she was struggling with her gender identity. She had known since she was a child that she was a female stuck in a male’s body. What no one knew at those boisterous parties was that Suchan was secretly battling depression “and would often drink a bottle of wine alone at home,” says Mel Magazine. She became suicidal three years ago, and realized, “I have two choices: I can transition or I can go,” she told the publication.
— MEL Magazine (@WeAreMel) November 26, 2016
After ruminating about the “daunting” idea of transitioning, and sending her family a message that “sounded like a suicide note,” Suchan finally decided that gender reassignment surgery was something she simply needed to do. But it wasn’t that simple for the people in her life — including her family, friends, colleagues, and clients. Even though she took a well-thought out approach to her decision — seeing a therapist and researching her options — many people could not accept her transition from Robert to Jennifer Bobbi.
“After she made her announcement, people unfriended her on Facebook. Within a month, eight clients canceled with no explanation or request to reschedule,” according to the article. It soon became apparent to Suchan that her reign as the queen of Tupperware sales might be coming to an end. Her decision to follow her truth and become a woman in the physical sense was too much for clients to accept, and it’s now threatening the career at which she was clearly a natural.
The very women who laughed when she teased them are abandoning her, and “rather than nightly parties, she’s down to a handful a week,” the article says. Her transition cost $100,000, and with her career on the decline, she “took a day job as a receptionist for a human services organization” to supplement her income. Physically becoming the woman she always felt she was inside has come at the cost of her professional success. Some people will happily buy their Tupperware from a drag queen, it seems, but not from a transsexual.
— Aunt Barbara (@YourAuntBarbara) October 3, 2016
Others, though, are sticking by Aunt Barbara. She hasn’t been completely abandoned. The article describes one recent party in which women “line up to give their orders to Aunt Barbara, who is seated like a celebrity giving autographs at a long wooden table piled high with plastic containers.” The story goes on to say, “For the next hour Aunt Barbara fills out more than 25 orders totaling $2,000 in sales. It’s been a good night. Some women become nostalgic about the products. ‘When my children were young I used to make them orange ice pops in Tupperware,’ says one woman. ‘They give me childhood memories,’says another of the salt and pepper shakers. Others compliment her profusely. ‘I’ve never laughed so much in my life,’ says a 94-year-old attendee.”
But will Suchan’s supporters be able to restore the queen of Tupperware sales to her former glory? For now, Suchan continues selling Tupperware, and wondering if it’s “weird” that she now shows up to parties as a woman, instead of a man who then transforms into a “woman” — a character. Only time will tell if Suchan’s clientele will come around.