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.