This is how I meditate the weariness of the world away.
Drag has become a regular part of my life. Every time you might get dressed up for church, a fancy dance, or a theatrical performance, you are really doing drag. Anytime you purposefully alter your appearance to make an impression on others, you are doing drag. A lot of emphasis is placed on drag that is done by those who are purposefully transforming themselves to take on the impression of the opposite sex. This is a powerful and purposeful form of drag that is worth its currency in gold. I would also argue that drag is a valuable tool of empowerment to those who want and need to connect with their soul’s version of themselves.
On any given day, I am not the most attractive girl. I weigh over 300 lbs. My hair is long, thin, and lifeless. It is often pulled back into a ponytail. I fight to keep fly a ways tucked behind my ear. I wear dark wash jeans that are a little baggy with a V-neck t-shirt and some form of hoodie. No jewelry. No make-up. My footwear is either a slip-on Croc or a men’s work boot, depending on the weather outside. My “uniform” is comfortable and practical, but it doesn’t reflect the feminine. Now, I am a cis female and could just put on a dress and makeup, but that isn’t really me either. The reality of navigating the world in Spanx and layers upon layers of unbreathable flammable fabrics with a thick layer of makeup would be my own personal hell. Besides, there will be a point where I will just look like a sad melted clown.
In the safe space of my besties, Alex and Max’s home, I can live my fantasy and be in touch with the goddess that is Mimi. Over the years, my old dresses and costumes, underwear and wigs, nylons and jewelry, have found their way to our drag room. Combined with yards of sparkly fabrics, scraps of satin, and new infusions of makeup and whatever else we can repurpose, we have been able to come up with hundreds of looks with almost nothing. It has grown from a few bins in a closet to an area that has taken over what was once the largest room in their house.
Allowing ourselves permission to do this took a long time. It really started from a place of desperation. We were all pretty depressed and battling the curse of mid-life self-reflection. After following the rules, getting the careers, and buying the houses, none of us felt fulfilled. Painting our faces and putting on a costume and a wig lifted us. When I was diagnosed with cancer, after I had my surgery, even when all my hair fell out, dancing in drag made me realize that I wasn’t broken. I was still a whole person. Make-up can cover any imperfection. A little bit of fabric, pinned and tied in a certain way, looks younger and more flattering than any garment bought off the rack at Lane Bryant.
Filming our drag allowed us to really “see” ourselves. First, it gave us a purpose. The camera was an audience to perform to, and we were all hams. What came next was the ability to watch ourselves over and over. After a while, a personality began to appear. We all have had many breakdowns either while filming or after filming, and this was usually caused by not accepting who we really were or by trying to be something we were not. Eventually, when you are able to remove the judgement of yourself or how you think others will perceive you, I was finally able to really see myself. I began to enjoy what I saw. I would even venture to say, I learned to love myself and appreciate my own unique beauty.
Once you are blessed to find such an avenue of self-discovery, you want to share it with others. I have shared videos on this blog before; the boys and I have shared these videos with our families; I have even shared the videos with some of my students. Still, it is amazing how tepid the response can be. Some of the people we know best in the world are reluctant to share the joy and humor of these videos because it features guys in dresses. When you are so passionate and feel a conviction to share that passion with others, putting your art out there is like showing someone your new born child. You hope someone will like it; you wish that they too will see the beauty in it.
Uploading a video is frightening, but waiting for a response is agonizing. I have never felt more alone than waiting to see if anyone will watch it, like it, or comment on it. This is not much different than when my students hand me a paper to look over. I teach basic, transitional English to adults. Many of them have a lifetime of experiences to write about, but lack any confidence over their usage of grammar or structure. I like to let them know as quickly as I can that I am a friendly audience. My goal is to help them express themselves to the best of their ability. I always hope that those who stumble upon our videos approach it from the same place of love.
Of course, the desire for feedback is strong, but sometimes you need to just let go. Over the years, perfectionism has improved and also impeded our drag. Waiting for perfection stifles what is inspired. Attaching your worth to the acknowledgment of your peers just makes you crazy. So, release it. I am rebooting this blog because I need to write, and this site is my home. The boys and I are putting out our drag because we love it.
With that being said, I welcome you to our new series, “Home Style Gravy.” Our drag is from our living room. It is simple and unpretentious. The hope is that for some viewers it will feel like gravy. Unexpected. Delicious. Extra. I have taken the time to build a page that showcases these new videos as well as some of the old. Enjoy them. Share them. If you have a second to like or give a positive comment on them, we would love it. Appreciation is something that is always welcome. I thank you for sharing the joy with us. My hope is always that you leave with a smile on your face and the feeling of warmth in your heart.
Absence is said to make the heart grow fonder. In the fast moving pace of current world, I don’t know if that statement still holds true. It has been over a year since I have posted anything on Twattlings. I assure you that I am still healthy and cancer free. My break is more reflective of my need to process, reorganize, reprioritize, and redefine what I want from life. I am pleased to announce that I will begin to start posting again. My hope is still that somehow my story will inspire something within you. Please visit the new Art Gallery page to see all the art projects that I have been working on, and don’t miss the Drag page for a collection of new and old dance videos.
The boys and I were exuberant after our first couple of Open Drag nights. It felt good to have an audience, even if at times it was only us. The bar is really not our scene. We don’t really drink. Also, we had been socially isolating ourselves for so long that we didn’t know how we would handle our anxiety of meeting and mixing with new people. Max might have had the easiest time. Several people either remembered him or his dad, and people automatically loved him. Alex, with the mask of LyKra, coaxed out his inner life coach and was able to make authentic connections. Often, Alex and Max got to stay together before and during the show. Max became the dutiful drag husband and helped LyKra switch into different outfits between numbers.
I often had to wait out in the bar alone, with occasional visits from Max. I didn’t know who to talk to and hid behind my phone waiting for the show to start. Once it did, I hid behind the phone’s camera. I felt like I had an important job to do. Still, it was often lonely. After the show, we would pack up and vacate like a well-oiled machine and go back to the boys’ house to watch the video.
Shortly after we started going out to do drag, Alex told me that he did something. A local drag queen told him about a drag competition in a neighboring town. It would run only four weeks and require one modeling look and one performance number. There was also a possibility of doing a lip sync battle, but that would be determined by the luck of the draw. The cost was $15. The bar would also have a $3 cover for non-performers to get in. It started a week from next Tuesday, and he said yes.
The next hurdle was finding costumes, coming up with routines, and getting supplies on a very limited budget. The boys and I went out to a local swimming hole and floated while we went through ideas. Alex’s mind was constantly racing while Max and I added thoughts when we had them. The boys were going to visit Alex’s family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that weekend. It was possible that his mother might help purchase some supplies, maybe even teach him to sew.
For three days, we looked through concepts for each themed night. We needed three looks for each night: a modeling/presentation look, a performance look, and a battle look. We looked up songs, researched fashion and makeup. By the time the boys were packed for their trip, Alex had a complete game plan written on his phone with reference images.
When the boys returned, it was time to clean out the drag room, and go to town building costumes with the new fabric Alex’s mom bought him. Sometimes an issue would come up like Alex’s power cord to his laptop went dead, and I gave him mine. Then his computer touch pad died, and I was able to lend him a Bluetooth mouse. I got into the doctor and was prescribed anxiety medication which helped tremendously. As I got to know my co-workers, I began to relax and find my pace at work. We were making it work.
The first Tuesday of competition, I was super excited. I went to bed early the night before in anticipation of a long night of drag. When I got to the boy’s house, I was floored by the costumes and preparation. Alex and Max had been working tons of hours piecing everything together. I tried to lay down for a nap while Alex put on his face, and we all shared a bite to eat before we took off for the new bar. None of us had ever been there, but it was located only a couple of miles away from where I worked. We got there super early and tried to drive around to kill some time. I showed the boys where I worked, and we became a little more familiar with the area.
Eventually, we got to the bar and set up shop. (I go into detail about the first night of competition in my Orlando post.) My head swirled in all the great drag that night. There were performances from four seasoned queens and one seasoned drag king, plus six contestants. At the end of the night, LyKra came in second place for the night. We were thrilled and had a great time.
As soon as we got home, I hopped into my car and drove to my house. By the time my head hit the pillow and the alarm went off, I only got two hours of sleep. The next morning, I made sure to have a good breakfast, packed a decent lunch, and slammed a 5 Hour Energy. I was worried that my ass would drag at work, but I felt pumped and energetic. Being a part of that drag night, hanging out with my best friends doing what we love, just fed my fire. When I got home, my sister had made dinner. I ate with my family, took a shower, and went to bed early. When Thursday rolled around, I was ready to do another drag night with the boys.
As our world was expanding, our relationships began to grow. Sometimes that can lead to experiencing conflict. Our first host of Open Drag night lasted about 3 or four weeks before some drama occurred that pushed her out. We would hear bits and pieces of it, but Alex, Max, and I wanted to stay as far away from it as possible. The drag pageant at Pride kicked up hurt feelings and rumors of bullying, and you would hear different sides and never really know where the truth lay. In the transition, I felt a lot of anxiety. You don’t want to offend anyone; you just wanted to put on good drag.
At the second night of the drag battle in the neighboring town, the boys had gone to extra lengths to make everything perfect. It was RuPaul night. Alex owns a RuPaul doll that was given to him in my backyard one year at a little drag princess birthday party we had for him. He duplicated RuPaul’s doll dress for the modeling portion of the night. The music chosen was RuPaul’s “Supermodel” interspersed with catch phrases and interaction between RuPaul and Trixie Mattel because his makeup was a take on RuPaul in Trixie’s makeup. This correlated with the second look which would be LyKra as Trixie Mattel lip syncing to “I’m a Barbie Girl” with Pineal (a purple puppet Max constructed) doing the male voice. It was perfect!
Prepared, we arrived to the bar in great anticipation of the night’s competition. According to the rules, the previous winner got to choose the order that the contestants came out in. Listening to the comments from the previous week, and having come in second place, LyKra was chosen to go last. At first, I thought no problem. The grading system worked with each judge being given a number from 1-6 for each portion of the competition. The judges could only give each number out once, and they had to make that selection without seeing the performances that would come next. Hence, being last in the lineup could be a huge hindrance. I stayed positive, thinking that the judges would rely on the results from last week to leave something left for LyKra.
The competition got started and the 5 queens and 1 king went through their paces. Some contestants did great with the theme. One did a fantastic recreation of a classic Sharon Needles’ look from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her long crooked nails, which were actually octopus tentacles, ice blue eyes, and wig were dead on. The competition was fierce! LyKra was a vision when she came out. She matched the orange leotard and red and orange ruffled skit on the doll perfectly. She was the only one to attempt actually looking like the queen herself. The audience roared with appreciation as she perfectly modeled the outfit she made from scratch with her own hands. I thought for sure that if she lost any points for being last, the judges would save her some for the second half. I was optimistic.
During the second half, some of the contestants lost their way with the theme. When asked why one queen thought performing to Lady Gaga’s “Applause” tied into the RuPaul theme, the only thing she could offer was that drag queens like applause. The drag king who danced like a gogo boy in the first half, turned into a bioqueen (a biological girl who does drag as a girl – now I know what I am called). She came out to “Dude Looks Like a Lady” which was entertaining. Two judges told her that they gave her 6’s, and I began to sweat bullets. At about this time, one of the other drag queen’s husbands told me that they had a puppet number for their performance. My heart sank. As the other contestants performed, all I could think about was the upcoming battle of the puppets.
Of course, that queen was directly before LyKra in the lineup. She came out with a puppet that mocked the drag queen host and threw down fantastic shade at all the judges, just like the puppet challenges featured in every season of Drag Race. She did a great job, which made me feel even sicker.
When LyKra came out, the puppet had instantly lost its charm. LyKra embodied Trixie perfectly in a sparkly pick dress, big pink hair with a bow, and the unmistakable Trixie makeup. As good and as funny as the number was, the judges all said that they had given all their numbers to the other queens. One judge commented, “it is clear that you deserve all 5’s and 6’s, but all I have to give you are 1’s and 2’s.”
My heart broke. I instantly busted outside while the judges took to the stage to give the contestants time to change for the lip sync battle. I knew how much Alex and Max had put into this. It made me sick to think that LyKra got last place only because she was put last in the lineup. The points had nothing to do with the contestant’s effort, costumes, modeling, or performance. Inside, the boys equally felt beaten down. By the announcement of the night’s points totals, LyKra came in next to last for the night and next to last overall. In one night, she had gone from second place to nearly last.
The ride home was difficult. I cried. The boys crunched the numbers and there was no way LyKra would be able to win. Alex tried to put a bright spin to it. At least it motivated him to make the costumes and gain some experience. There was no motivation left to put as much effort in to the coming weeks. I just couldn’t see how any of it was fair. I didn’t sleep and went to work trying all day to keep myself from crying. The boys stayed up all night trying to decompress and reassess the situation.
We really didn’t have much time to sulk. Besides doing another open drag night on Thursday, LyKra had been asked to an Orlando benefit show at each bar that weekend. I offered to give a piece of art to the silent auction at our home bar. It felt good to do it, but I didn’t realize how short I would be on time.
On Thursday, we dragged. On Friday, I made one painting and threw it out of the house and down the backyard. I made two little paintings and hemmed and hawed about whether they were worthy enough before taking them down to the bar where they were received with open arms. I got my hair done and went to WalMart to look at makeup and clothes and slipped in a pile of fish water.
I limped over to the boys’ house where Alex set me up with some medicine and an ice pack, while he finished getting ready. I went to LyKra’s first outing less than a week after my hysterectomy, I would be damned if I was going to miss her first real show. We were tired, but we endured. The fundraiser on Friday raised over $2800 for the Pulse Victims GoFundMe account. Both of my paintings sold. I was had a few new buddies to hang out with and watch the show, and LyKra gave one of the best live performances ever. (Trust me, when I can I will share a link.) She was dressed in a blue sparkly dress that resembled Britany Spears’ flight attendant uniform for the music video “Toxic.” The performance was a mash up of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Britany’s “Toxic.” The audience LOVED it!
At the benefit, there was a great blend of old and young drag queens. One hadn’t put on a dress in over ten years. It felt like a sisterhood that once you get in, you are a part of the tribe forever. In less than six weeks, LyKra had entered that tribe. More experienced queens embraced her into the fold, put the word out that they would protect her, and offered her several more opportunities to shine. The love felt real.
Drag has always had the ability to take over one’s life. As we went to another benefit on Saturday night, the boys and I were both dragging (pun intended). The bar where drag wars takes place had 17 queens in the lineup. It was nice to see completely new queens and kings and appreciate their artistry, but by the end of the night we were wiped out.
By the third week of the Drag Wars, the boys were over it. Why put in all that effort if it wouldn’t affect the scores? Alex’s brother and his friends had been planning on going to this show for a month, so we sucked it up. The theme was “Trap Queen.” Apparently, a ‘trap queen’ is a woman who attempts to trap a guy into a relationship with her, an extension of a gold digger that is maybe a little trashier.
Before we even got to the bar, three contestants decided not to perform. That left only three girls. The winner of the previous week got to set the order. LyKra was chosen to go last again. There were also some changes made to the scoring, the audience got to vote for the queen they liked when they entered the bar, and they had all three queens come out at the end of the modeling round so the judges could tweak their score if they wanted to.
For the modeling, two of the contestants had some creative takes. One was dressed as a Venus fly trap from Little Shop of Horrors, and the other was literally a mouse in a trap. LyKra came out dressed in a “Straight Up from the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan)” leotard, with a pink plaid bustle that tied around the front like a flannel shirt, a long pink braid with a blue bandana headband, gold painted beer can earrings, and a gold “Yooper” ring that stretched across her fingers. People lost it!
For the performance, LyKra performed Tinache’s “All Hands on Deck” in an outfit that incorporated a skirt made from a pleather type fabric on top of windshield reflectors from the dollar store. She was so good that several audience members came forward to offer her tips. The judges also loved it.
I felt good about her chances as the final scores were tallied. LyKra came in first, but was chosen to go in a lip sync battle of Iggy Azaela’s “Work” with the contestant that came in third place. If she lost, she would lose all of her points.
As the music began, LyKra became possessed. Her lips moved seamlessly with the lyrics as she radiated the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent that she needed to. At times, the other contestant would catch herself looking at LyKra just to see what she would do next. As the audience got to pick the winner, LyKra got the loudest ovation…cementing her win.
When the overall competition scores were tallied, LyKra came in second place overall and only two points away from the leader. She had the most audience members vote for her, and that had closed the gap. It was exciting. It felt validating. She could win this thing!
We were ready for the fourth and final night. The theme was “Africa.” As preparations were being made, there was a dialogue amongst the contest creator and the contestants about the points. She wanted to give the contestants who hadn’t shown up some points, which didn’t sit well with the girls who did participate. There was a feeling of not being heard, and an emphasis on “shade” and game play, that just didn’t sit well.
LyKra was in a position to win the whole contest no matter what was thrown at her, but this new wrinkle started to make Alex think. If LyKra did win, she would be obligated to judge other battles with the same rules, as well as participate in a final cycle of the competition for an overall title. Knowing the work, the heartbreak, the pressure that came up during these last three weeks, was it even worth it?
A lot of drag queens do pageants and contests just to get a place to perform, sometimes a chance to get paid. Can you be a great drag queen if you don’t hold a title? Is the only place you can be a drag queen or perform as one in a bar?
Drag for us had been a creative outlet at the boy’s house. It helped me heal after my cancer surgeries and through my chemo and radiation treatments. Our green screen could transport us anywhere. We didn’t have to subject ourselves to shade or pressure ourselves to fit in someone else’s box. The competition did motivate us to buy new supplies, create new routines, meet new people, get good feedback, and gave us an audience. It also made us overwhelmed, overworked, self-conscious, bitterly disappointed, and gut wrenchingly anxious.
Alex knew that this competitive environment was getting a little toxic. Even though he could win it, he decided that it wasn’t worth it. It was time to not continue to perpetuate this negativity. He spoke up about how the judging system and allocation of points was affecting him and his fellow competitors in hopes that doing so would make a difference. He decided to leave the competition which started a dialogue that looked like it might impact the system for future cycles. His fellow competitors expressed appreciation, and others weren’t as happy, but the relief from releasing the pressure and burden of the contest was glorious.
So finally, the itch to compete has worn off, and we have made a pact to forgo drag competitions for a while. We now have breathing room to do our living room drag again, and LyKra still hosts Open Drag night at a bar only minutes from the house. The hope is that we can make that space more welcoming and inviting to those trying to dabble in drag. It would be great to just make the whole experience a place that is safe and open to expression and creativity. That is the goal.
It was a Thursday morning. I had just awoke and stumbled into the bathroom with my phone. On Facebook, I saw a small advertisement for an Open Drag Night at our local gay bar. No cover. Doors open at 8 pm. Sign up at 9 pm. The first night was tonight. I immediately sent it to Alex. We have been doing drag for four years. LyKra had only stepped out of the house for a handful of occasions. First, as a hostess for a Beyonce sing-a-long party at the Alamo Drafthouse. Second, for her first pageant at the Lamplighter, a small run down bar that many presume to be haunted. She won the crown and was asked to perform at her third gig at a regular bar in Coldwater on a winter’s Sunday night with a handful of other queens. All of these outings were successful, but nearly 3 years ago. LyKra was well received, but a hit to our income, concerns about stamina, and a small amount of social phobia kept us in front of the comfortable green screen we called home.
I never imagined that Alex would bite. We had talked about doing more drag locally, but it costs a lot of money to put together outfits, time to develop numbers, and effort to get everything in place. Fears and good common sense to the side, Alex did take the bait. After conferring with Max, it was decided. LyKra was going to perform at our local gay bar for the first time.
First, we needed some supplies. Two pairs of tights, purple glue stick, eye liner, and duct tape. Second, we needed an act. Fortunately, we have done tons of drag at the house. We reviewed the footage. LyKra is a sexy girl with a friendly girl-next-door vibe. We had no idea how many numbers they would let us do. I figured it might be like karaoke. One for sure, possibly a second. No more than three. Alex decided to have three numbers prepared: “Work” by Fifth Harmony; “Creep” by TLC; and a disco mix of “Colors of the Wind” from the movie Pocahontas. The numbers crossed different age brackets, were upbeat, but weren’t so cardio driven that Alex would have a heart attack. We even edited the tracks to keep everything around 2-3 minutes. Third, we had to get costumes.
Anything girly that I have owned in my lifetime has somehow ended up in the drag closet at the boys’ house. Big girl clothing is hard to find and expensive to obtain, but Alex can usually fit into my clothes. Other odds and ends have been added over time: various fabrics, outfits lent to us by other queens, dollar store finds. Nothing really resembled its natural state. Over time, dresses and skirts had been pulled apart and put together in various configurations. When we put together stuff for the camera, you can hide a lot of imperfections. Drag, in public, was a different sort of beast. Besides confronting homophobic or transphobic people who might hurt you just because you dare dress out of your gender type, there was the fear of being clocked (or judged) by other queens. Digging deep, we were able to pull together three looks, with a fourth as back-up.
Once the plan was made, we all got to work. Max organized the food, burned the music on a disk, and grabbed some bags. I pulled the costumes, packed, and laid out the pieces. Alex got to work on his face. We had about three hours.
Alex is bald, but had been growing some facial hair. First, he took a shower and shaved everything. Just like the queens on RuPaul, he glued down his eyebrows. The next step is applying a good base of foundation. When I go to the drug store, foundation can cost between $15-20. If you look at higher end foundation, it can get super pricey. Alex found that he could buy Mehron foundation sticks on Amazon for around $10. They offered full coverage and were affordable. In order to make the illusion of a more feminine face, Alex contours his face with dark and light powders. He then spends a good hour on just the eyes. Watching him put together his face is very fascinating. Although I don’t put makeup on every day, I have learned a lot from watching him. He treats his face like I treat my canvas. From a blank slate, you try to create something beautiful, unique, and inspiring. While you are in the process, it is very meditative when you are in the zone. If you feel time crunched or irritated, you can become easily frustrated and self-defeating. For some reason, everything went pretty smoothly. We were anxious, but it was a good kind of anxious, a productive excitement.
After two and a half hours of make-up application, Max and I helped Alex get into his first costume. Like any big girl, foundation is crucial. Max duct taped Alex’s chest. We helped him put on layers of tights, Spanx like underwear, and a custom made leotard. His first outfit sported the skirt ripped off an old dress of mine that I wore to church on several Easter Sunday’s. While dressing, we would have to stop several time to blot sweat from Alex’s brow. Just getting into the clothes was a workout. The crowning glory was a pair of sky high shiny black heels in male size 15.
Before we knew it, we were on our way to the bar. It was sunny but cool. I was holding Alex’s wig while he sat in the passenger seat trying to cool down. His bald head, painted face, and dressed up body was a sight. We all held our breath as we watched the people in the cars around us for their reaction. I didn’t really see anyone pay him any attention.
We pulled into the parking lot of the bar. It was nearly empty except for a couple of cars. Supposedly the doors had been open for the last hour. My heart sank a little. Was this a bad idea? Would Alex get mad at me for talking him in to doing a performance for no one? I tried to stay positive.
We got out; Alex put on his wig; and we walked to the door. A young guy checked our IDs. Alex, now LyKra, stood nearly 7 feet in his heels. We were cleared to enter, and walked through the nearly abandoned bar. At 9 pm, LyKra introduced herself to Mistress of Ceremonies, Caj Mone (after Cash Money). Caj was a tall black girl from Grand Rapids. She had been doing drag for six years and was asked to start up a local drag night by the bar’s owner. Alex asked if there were any other girls, and there was only one. She was a young girl, just 20. Her name was Aaliyah. Her grandmother and father were coming to see her for the first time in drag that night.
The ladies were given an old dance floor room to set up in. Costumes and make-up were already out. We took up a corner table with good light. Alex tried to make himself comfortable. I went to the bar to get us a drink. I brought back a pitcher of watermelon flavored long island. Alex had already started to chat with the other girls. Although I knew he was nervous talking to other queens, his background as a coach kicked in. I could tell that they liked him and it was going to be all right.
Max and I were kicked out of the dressing room so the girls could get prepared. We stepped out onto the patio for a smoke. A few people trickled in. Max is the son of a local gay icon of sorts. His father was the DJ for decades at an old gay bar that burned down several years ago. Gay people in the city of a certain age or older instantly recognize his father, and by extension, him. Among the handful of people that came out, three of them were drag queens in their own right who came out in their boy clothes to support the first open drag night at the bar. One of them was the drag mother to Caj and Aaliyah. Another was a drag queen who had organized a big drag night for Saturday at a local straight bar with 26 queens, one of them from San Francisco. All of them already knew and loved Max.
By the time the show started, about ten people were sitting in the bar. Caj started the night with Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman.” She danced around in a flowy yellow dress, grabbing dollar bills, hugging and fondling the guys watching. She had a good presence and interacted well with the audience. I took video with Alex’s iPhone while Max tipped. Next, Aaliyah came out in a tight fluorescent cat suit. She looked stunning. Her song was some sort of dark rock song. With her grandmother and father watching for the first time, you wondered if she was just scared to death.
LyKra made it to the stage after the host introduced her as “Spandex.” The song was, “Work from Home,” by Fifth Harmony. Dressed in a short flowered skirt that was cut from my Easter dress and a long sleeved leotard, she looked like the cute girl next door. Although she stands well over 6 feet and weighs nearly 400lbs, she was super graceful on her super high heels. People were taken aback by her beautifully painted face, long curly blonde hair, and her ability to make you think she was the sexiest thing in the room. Immediately, everyone had their dollar bills out to tip her. A smile radiated on my face, finally LyKra had an audience.
Not knowing what we were going to end up with, LyKra was able to do three numbers. She grooved to TLC’s “Creep” in a short red and black sequined dress, and added a little Broadway with a disco mixed version of “Colors of the Wind” in a skirt that looked somewhat Native American, strips of patterned fleece, layered, that gave the impression of fringe.
With only two performers besides the host, Caj had both performers come out to do a “Lip Sync for Your Life” battle. Before we knew it, Aaliyah and LyKra were battling it out to Whitney Houston’s “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.” LyKra was exhausted but she gave it everything. Dancing on people, dancing against the back wall, dancing on the floor…it was super impressive. Everyone was taking note, including Aaliyah who couldn’t help but keep an eye on her at all times. Just before everyone would have called it for LyKra, Aaliyah did some cartwheels and handsprings in heels and everyone lost it. By the end, Caj said they were both winners, and I couldn’t have agreed more.
Before we left for home, several people talked to the boys including some very prominent queens from the area. There were promises of connections for future shows and even the possibility of joining a local sisterhood. The night couldn’t have been more positive. Exhausted but exhilarated, the boys and I went home with a huge smile on our face and played back the tape over and over again to relive the moment.
It was Friday. I had a day off from work. I had just gotten paid, and the money was burning a hole in my pocket. It was my birthday weekend, and the boys and I were going to be at two different drag shows to benefit Orlando.
To celebrate and look my best, I decided to get my hair cut for the first time since it had grown back from cancer treatment. The stylist was a super sweet women, around 26, who had a 5 month old baby at home. She told me about how she slept the last half of her senior year in high school in the back of her car because she didn’t want to move with her parents out of state. I told her about Alex and LyKra. We than swapped bar stories. Her husband works as a DJ at a strip club in town. It was unusual and comforting at the same time. She took special care to curl my hair and make it look extra pretty for the benefit I was going to that night.
Afterward, I was happy and wanted to look at some clothes and makeup at Walmart. I parked my car next to the cart corral and headed in. My mind was racing on what I needed to look at as I walked into the store. I made a right turn from the entrance and started to head to the women’s clothing section. About a yard away from it, I felt something wet under my feet.
Immediately, my left leg slide out to the side, yanking my knee. My other leg than slipped from underneath me and I landed on my ass and rolled to my right side. I screamed bloody murder because it felt like someone had just pulled my left leg in an unnatural way. I noticed that the entire floor was covered in water, including my fresh clean clothes. My head lay on the cold wet surface and I sobbed and screamed in pain.
It felt like minutes went by before anyone came to me. One woman said,” don’t move, honey.” Between my screams and sobs, I heard people over radios and on intercoms calling for managers and maintenance. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by people. I could only make out shoes.
“Do you want us to call an ambulance?”
“No,” I screamed. I still have a $400 lab bill from pooping in a cup the last time I had a stomach virus. I couldn’t fathom an ambulance bill.
As I tried to get my sense about me, all I could do is feel this immense burning, soreness from my leg, and nothing but moisture all around me. No one wanted to touch me, so I had to try and bend out my bad leg myself. It hurt. It hurt bad, but I could do it.
I sit up, still crying, and see a little 8 year old boy look at me holding a bag of fish. “I am sorry,” he said. I realized that I was lying in the spilled contents of a fish bag. Who knows, maybe even on top of dead fish carcasses.
Immediately, a manager was trying to get my name and contact information down on an incident report. I tried to respond calmly while rubbing my knee. I have never had anything like this happen to me before. Why me? Why today? I put my hand to my head and felt the side of my hair soaked. The curl was already coming out. So much for getting my hair done.
They brought an Amigo to my side, still on top of a lake of water, and asked if I wanted help getting on it. I didn’t know how I should try to get up. I put my bare feet down in the water and tried to steady myself on a few guys. As they helped me up, I could tell that I could put weight on my leg. My bones were okay. I just sprained it.
I sat on the Amigo and they immediately wanted me to sign the paper. “This is just to verify that your contact information is right.” I had no glasses on; they had flown off, but I just wanted it to be done. Someone grabbed my purse and threw it in the cart with my glasses. I was still crying. I was upset, embarrassed, grossed out that I was in fish juice on a dirty Walmart floor. I refused to miss LyKra performing in her first real show that night. Happy Birthday to me!
A posse of managers walked me out to my car, following the Amigo. I pulled up to my car, and they helped me get out of the scooter, walked me to my car, watched me try and get in, than closed my door and took off. I was still crying. My knee hurt. My pride hurt. I couldn’t reconcile what the hell I had done to deserve such a cruel fate.
Thank god my driving leg was spared. I tried calling Alex and Max, but no one picked up the phone. I decided to try and make it to their house. I started the car, still crying, and began to drive. It wasn’t until I lit a cigarette and began to take a drag that I could calm myself down.
Saturday night, June 11, 2016, I celebrated PRIDE in my home city of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Alex and Max were with me as we watched RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 8 contestant, Thorgy Thor, take the stage. She bounded on stage with such an effervescent energy! Her lip syncing was so precise. She was so present and was quick to engage the crowd. While singing “the children are our future” from a Whitney Houston mash-up, she lifted a child out of the audience and onto the catwalk. She cradled this 6 or 7 year old black girl who was having the time of her life. No movement was wasted. Every kick, mannerism, and flip were perfectly choreographed. As much drag as I have watched, I have never seen anyone as good as her in person. I couldn’t get enough!
The whole weekend was a hit. Tons of people came out to dance, meet friends, and see drag queens. Even a local public middle school choir sang Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” For a couple of days, all seemed right with the world. Families, couples, gay, straight, transgender, all races, all different economic backgrounds, young and old came to this safe space to be who they are and know that it is okay. There was such love and diversity. I looked at some of the younger people and wonder how my life would have been different if I would have felt as empowered as they are to be themselves at an earlier age.
When I went to bed Saturday night, I was content and exhausted. I passed out with a smile on my face. I slept in late on Sunday. It was early afternoon before I walked downstairs and tried to make myself some breakfast. Immediately, my brother-in-law came to me and asked what I felt about some mass shooting. I didn’t know what he was referring to. Walking into the living room, my father had the television on CNN and I quickly became aware of a proud LGTBQIA community getting mowed down in their safe space.
As the 24 hour mainstream news media went crazy, I just felt physically ill. Phrases like “the worst mass shooting in American history,” “ISIS loving terrorist,” and “radical Islam” were thrown around with ease. Living in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we have had to deal with two tragedies in the last couple of months that made the national news: A random mass shooting perpetrated by an Uber driver that went off the deep end, and the mowing down of 5 bicyclists by some guy in a pick-up truck for no reason. Our community has prayed, given thousands of dollars to the victims, held candle light vigils, and even held a bike ride with over 800 bicyclists to take back our roads. Now this?
I know Islam is a peaceful religion. I know that, like any other religion, there are people that are extremists. What I hate is that there is this push for people to think Muslims are less than human. In the 80s, we hated Sandinistas and Communists. During World War II, German communities were suspect and Japanese Americans were imprisoned. Look at everything they tried to pass on Mexicans…as if they are rapists, drug dealers, and job stealers. This wave of hatred has never served to make our world more peaceful. It has just made it more difficult to understand each other and have real meaningful conversations about how we can live together more peacefully.
Nonetheless, one-by-one Republican politicians came on the screen to tell me how afraid I should be of these foreign Islamic radicals. No one is safe! Trump asked to be congratulated on his horrible ideas for throwing out all Muslims, or at least monitor their every move for no other reason than they practice this religion or might have had family origins in the Middle East. Then came all the false prayers and well wishes that these Republican politicians wanted to extend to the victims. Some of them could not even acknowledge that the victims were primarily gay.
Of course, that is difficult when you have spent your entire political career spewing hatred to this special population of people. When you were threatened by their relationships, you did everything you could to block them from ruining the definition of “traditional marriage.” You encouraged parents to abandon their gay children. You didn’t protect them from bullying, so several of them committed suicide. You tried to convince people that a transgender person using the bathroom that matched their gender identity would end in child molestation or assault and abuse against women. You equated being gay with being sick in mind, perverted. You carted us off to jail for being lewd and indecent, or you sent us away to be “cured” with prayer. All along, you toted religious liberty. Nothing should get in the way of your sincerely held religious beliefs or ability to practice your faith…as long as you were a Christian Conservative. It definitely didn’t cross over to Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, etc.
Having the Supreme Court rule in favor of gay marriage was a huge milestone. It gave us hope that things were really changing. It helped millions of us come out of the closet because we finally acknowledged that we need to be who we are. But this attack, the aftermath, the proverbial news spin just reminds us how unprotected we really are and how being ourselves still takes an act of great courage.
Recent reports have acknowledged that the perpetrator had been to Pulse several times before he came back for blood. He had connected with people on gay apps. It is not a huge stretch to realize that the cause of this might have nearly nothing to do with “Islamic Terrorism.” The shooter came from a strict religious upbringing, with a father who would rather acknowledge his son as a terrorist than a faggot. I can imagine that if this gunmen did know he was attracted to men, and never felt he would ever be free enough to love who he wanted to love, that his life must have been hell. He went to this club several times. He saw these same-sex, loving couples having the time of their lives. I can only imagine the rage he must have felt. Still, in his plan to take his life and others, he still couldn’t accept the truth. He had to make sure to call 911 to let him know that he was a “terrorist” to cover it up.
In coming to terms with being queer, there is a point where everyone feels a little homophobic. It is where you have to deprogram your mind from all the things that you are supposed to be in order to sort out what you really want to be. It is so much better when you have loving supportive friends and family to help you work through it. So many people don’t. That is why you see politicians, religious officials, and “upstanding” citizens get caught up in gay sex scandals. Most often, these are the same people who draw up the most scathing and destructive rebukes of homosexuals. One wonders if this is to just create a diversion so people do not question their sexual identity.
There is also something to be said about the ability to purchase a semi-automatic weapon of war within 30 minutes. It is completely legal in the United States. The gun manufacturer is guaranteed more protection under the law than the victims. Countless mass shootings continue to occur, and our representatives don’t lift a finger. What are they doing in Congress?
The frustration is palpable. RuPaul’s girls have been very vocal on social media about the friends and the lives they knew who were killed. They knew that nightclub. Two of the girls even performed there that night and managed to get out before it started. In an interview this week, RuPaul said, “This is a huge wake-up call for us on so many levels, there needs to be a shift in our collective consciousness.”
So, what do we do? Do we just sit around and keep bitching about it, hoping that our prayers are enough? I say, enough is enough. It is time to take some action. It is time to speak up. Just this morning, I personally contacted my local Congressional representatives. You can call or write them, and I will put the link to do so at the end of this post. It took 15 minutes, tops. Next, I wrote a letter to my local newspaper. Simple. Quick. Done.
The next thing I think needs to be done is to reclaim our safe spaces and be out and proud. My girl LyKra, Alex’s alter ego, entered a Drag Battle at a local gay bar. We have only just begun to take our drag out in public. It started just a month ago. We began going to a local Open Drag night. LyKra was well received. She has gotten several offers to perform more. Alex and Max are making costumes out of anything we can find, on a budget of nearly nothing.
I have a new appreciation for gay bars after this weekend. Anyone who walked in and paid that $3 cover was taking a silent stand that we wouldn’t let fear keep us from enjoying and being ourselves. Our reward was one of the best local drag shows I think I have ever seen. The theme was 80s, and LyKra killed the runway in an interpretation of Sigourney Weaver’s Zuul from Ghostbusters. The costume featured a Stay-Puff Marshmallow purse. For the talent portion, LyKra was dressed as Thundercat’s Cheetara performing Patty Smyth’s “The Warrior.” She did baton work with Cheetara’s staff and paused in the middle to recite Jane Fonda’s “warning to consult your doctor before working out” message from her 80s workout tapes. The audience lost it.
At the end of the night, LyKra took second to a queen who had mashed a chocolate cake in her face while she lip synced Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” For the final battle, the six contestants had to pull a card out of a bowl. The two with “battle” written on the card had to lip sync to Stacey Q’s “Two of Hearts.” When the two girls with the battle card were asked to come forward, LyKra was one of them.
I became extremely nervous. I kept yelling, “Oh, my God,” and grabbing Max’s shoulder. I was confident in LyKra’s abilities, but my heart pumped a mile a minute. I had nothing to worry about. LyKra, and her 400 lbs of gloriousness, killed it! The other queen kept looking at her and trying to copy what she was doing. LyKra didn’t miss any beat, she crawled on the floor, she danced up a storm, and in the end the audience couldn’t help but show their appreciation.
So, keep doing you. That is the best way to get over these senseless acts of negativity. Share your voice. Share your gifts. Be yourself. Spreading the light of love is fun and is the best way to confront darkness.
Recently, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by author Debbianne DeRose for her new Spiritual Bad-Ass Tv YouTube series. The series highlights a bunch of Spiritual Bad-Asses who have a lot to say in how we can all get in touch with our Spiritual Bad-Ass selves.
The interview was a chance to really put the message of this blog in a nut-shell. Being diagnosed with cancer is an opportunity. For me, it was a catalyst to discover who I really am and make a choice to live a more authentic life. In the process, I discovered self-love, self acceptance, and got in touch with my creative self – through the healing art of drag.
Please check out the video and podcast via the link below on Debbianne DeRose’s website:
It is the season. My mom used to take me to our local women’s festival during my tender tween years. We would go to psychic seminars and almost get kicked out because our social anxiety manifested into giggles. It is one of the few positive mother daughter activites that I remember now that she is deceased. My little sister was always a little bitter because she wasn’t allowed to come.
This pic has my 13 year old self (fat, pudgy, and nicknamed “Titanic” by my classmates) eating a piece of World’s Finest Chocolate. My mom would have never had her palm read. She would have despised a stranger touching her, but it is symbolic of the experience. There are little lesbian shout outs because that is probably the first place I saw any. My mom made sure to point them out and let me know how she didn’t approve.
Lucky for me, I was able to figure out the truth for myself.
Another Valentine’s Day and I am still flying solo. This kind of day can be even more lonely and miserable than Christmas, but it doesn’t have to be.
The boys have taken the lessons I’ve been trying so hard to learn and summed it up in this fun and funny video for everyone that is hoping to fill their hearts with more love.