Gearing Up for Drag

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.

Orlando-Fighting Hate with Drag

 

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.

 

Contact your local representatives by clicking on the following link.

 

PRIDE

I remember the first time I went to our local Pride. The boys and I drove up to the site seven years ago to find the place empty with a dozen trash containers sponsored by Astroglide. It has since grown from an afternoon event to a two-day extravaganza drawing a crowd over 14,000.

At first, I went as an ally. I wanted to support Alex and Max and have a little fun out of the house. Usually it was just a time to see some old friends and people watch. I was always a little nervous around the girls. I didn’t want to get hit on. I would often hide behind Alex or Max.

A few years ago, the organizers was able to secure RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant, Pandora Box. As huge fans of the show, the boys and I were stoked to see her. It was a moment that shifted Pride from being a place where this fringe group of eccentrics partied to an actual event.

Corporate sponsors began backing up the festival. Our local brewery brewed an exclusive beverage for the event. Food vendors started setting up shop, and families began to bring their children down.

Last year, I had come to terms with the realization that I was a lesbian shortly before Pride. Although I had gone several times, I was so nervous to go as a lesbian. I don’t know what I was so nervous about. Manilla Luzon, another one of RuPaul’s girls, came out to host our own local drag pageant. I decided that I had to go, but Max was busy at a musical rehearsal and Alex was in L.A.

I went by myself and texted Alex all through the show. I gave him short videos of the performances, updates on the costumes and music, and even scored a photo with Manilla, herself. I was convinced that Alex would wipe the floor if he were there. After the pageant, a band was set to perform but I began to get a little nervous. I left and came back with Max the next day.

We went from booth to booth. There was representation from AIDs organizations, health clinics, sex shops, churches, and some trinket vendors. I actually had a good conversation with a person from a Quaker church. Max told them I was a lesbian. It was the first time I had heard a third party say that to someone in my presence and it still felt odd.

This year, Alex was with me to see the drag pageant. Lady Bunny, a legendary queen, was the Master of Ceremonies. After you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, your expectations for what a drag queen can do is elevated. Alex agreed with me that could definitely join the ranks of these other queens and quickly took mental notes of what was and wasn’t working.

I took in the crowd. I didn’t have the same anxiety as I did the year beforehand. I looked at the girls. Several of them looked like me, an overweight Girl Scout with a penchant for sweets. Still, there were several that fit other lesbian stereotypes or none at all. I felt in a way that I sort of fit in.

Alex determined that he wasn’t a “festival” person. He felt like he could be doing something more fun or productive somewhere else. Max and Alex reluctantly agreed to come back the next day with me. The only real reason we did was because I had bought us all two-day passes.

The next day, I felt a little different. I had only gone out the previous year with four or five girls, but two of them were present. One was particularly focused on following me around with her new girlfriend in tow. She told me while we were together that she wore a corset to the previous year’s Pride to make a girlfriend jealous. It was clear that she wanted to repeat the performance.

I was actually relieved to see her with another girl because it meant that she was hopefully over me. As I saw her and her girlfriend dressed up in matching boys clothes, I understood that we were never meant to be together. As much as I was over her, they must have followed me for an hour.

Again, I stayed close to my boys. Manilla Luzon was back for the second year in a row. Alex enjoyed getting to see her live. The last band of the night was an Abba tribute band. All three of us were fans of the music. In order to last long enough to see them, I went to buy us some corn dogs.

On my way to the food court, I was stopped by the last girl I had a date with. We had a lot in common, but our date went sour when she convinced me to leave a coffee joint to join some board meeting for a local gay hippie theater group. I felt really uncomfortable and started to resent the fact that she had obviously forgotten her commitment to go to the meeting and thought she could do both. She said hello and we bantered for a few minutes. I was uncomfortable and made an excuse to get going as soon as I could.

With a snack in our system, the boys and I were able to enjoy the music. We danced and took video. Alex even caught two freebies thrown from the stage, a little stuffed tiger, and a CD.

Like Alex, I am probably not a “festival” person. I don’t know what I wanted to feel while I was there. Was I hoping that I would find someone to date? Often, I go to a lot of these festivals out of boredom. I thought if everyone else was there, maybe I should be too. Alex and Max don’t need a festival to feel comfortable with their sexuality or their choices. Even though they are gay, they don’t always feel like they need to be plugged into the “community.”

I don’t know where I am in the whole scheme of things. I am more comfortable with who I am, but is that because of events like Pride and positive portrayals of gays in the media? Honestly, I think it is just because I trust in the love and guidance of my boys. Maybe we don’t need to seek support from such events. I think the boys have taught me that you need to search for what is right for you and release all the boxes or categories someone might pin you in.

Still, I am proud of the event my city has created. I am proud that so many people were willing to attend it. And if nothing else, maybe it is just what someone needed to come to terms with how to be themselves.