It was a party night in
As Dan told tragic stories of Cabrini Green, I stared at the wet street zipping by and wondered if I was ready for my first drag show. I was not sure what to expect. Was it going to be fat guys with five o’clock shadows dressed in cheap thrift store cocktail dresses lip-syncing badly to It’s Raining Men. Was it going to be erotic and sensual thus making all the straight people a little nervous.
There was an ill-tempered little man working the door of the club as we tried to enter. Refusing to show even the slightest sign of a smirk he alternated scowls towards me and then at my out of state ID. Eventually after a consultation with some sort of management figure, I was allowed to pass through the doors.
It was dark. There were low red lights hovering above the tables and a few scattered white lights behind the bar, but mostly it was just dark. It was also the best smelling bar I had ever stepped in -- and I have stepped into many, many bars. It smelled like Christmas. After all the presents are open and there is that paper and sweat and joy in the air. All of that with a hint of bubble gum and gin lingering just beneath.
I sat down at a small table with a gin and tonic in front of me. I noticed the crowd all seemed to know each other. There were lots of hugs and smiles. There were many good vibes in the air. The sound system was pumping out some smooth jazz muzak tunes. This was a surreal environment.
The lights flickered moments before the stage lights came on. A woman of considerable girth strutted to center stage, glared at the crowd, and instantly took control of the room. It was Big Mama, the MC of the evening’s performance. Of course, technically, Big Mama was more suited to be a papa, but she was a diva. She sang a song and oozed attitude through out its length. The other “girls” came out and danced and shimmied and pranced.
As the show continued, I noticed the performers were actually very beautiful. You could tell they were men, but they were oddly sexy. As I was pondering this revelation, I began to notice the crowd in more detail. The beautiful women were actually beautiful men.
The songs went on. There were girls lip-syncing solo, there were duos and trios as well. They performed Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin. They performed sultry jazz numbers and rave-up disco anthems. Each song built on the last and the momentum continually lurched forward. The crowd was in rapt attention; clapping and yelling wildly every chance we got.
The finale came in the form of a group performance from all the girls that included a chorus line and some Broadway choreography. The last beat hit and the lights went down as the audiences hands went up.
I felt like I was in a movie. The lush surroundings of this red lit bar and electric joy that pumped through all of us infused our mind and bodies with a natural euphoric high. There was diverse cast of characters roaming the bar. None of us knowing gay from straight. We were unable to differentiate genders. This was actually very settling. It took a burden off your shoulders. They were things that didn’t matter inside the four walls of this club.
We left the club and adjourned to a local pub. It was a pub full of stereotypes and prejudices. We assumed everyone was straight. Everyone’s gender was clearly assigned. I thought of the fears I had a few hours prior and realized how naïve they were. I was actually a bit regretful to leave. I was jealous of a community that exists outside of everyday society standards. I wondered what goes on behind closed doors all across the country. I learned that fun is fun, no matter the situation, or whom you love, or what you feel sexy wearing. I learned that men can be gorgeous woman.