Saturday, June 4, 2011
Drag Family Reunion
But no, this is about a different kind of drag family reunion. To understand this, you have to know that when Göran and I first met back in 1993, he was the reigning queen of The Gay 90's, the biggest gay bar in Minneapolis (and possibly in the world -- it's a HUGE bar). Any way, he was this drag performing sensation, and I was just this nerdy grad student. (I just noticed, drag and grad have the same letters.) Göran would do these big shows, and I became his personal valet, carrying his train of bulging drag suitcases, bringing him drinks, and ordering the cabs. I was his "trophy husband." He'd show me off to the other "girls" and say, "Have you met my boyfriend John?" and then relish the gleam of envy in their eyes. Those were the days.
It was kind of cool to be allowed backstage into the inner sanctum of drag queendom. I mean, really. How many people in their lives get to enjoy the fierce and catty camaraderie that can only be experienced when drag queens don't have their wigs on yet? It definitely made me feel special to be dating a drag queen. And then, when I was sitting in the audience and "Tasha Marie Monet" came on stage, she always lip-synced the love songs to me and me alone. It was as if I was the only one in the audience. That made me feel special too. Every once in a while, I hear one of those songs and a rush of memories and emotions come back.
Anyway, that was many, many years ago. After Göran and I had been together a few years, he gradually relinquished his role as Gay Community High Priestess (that's what, in fact, drag queens are). It was a lot of work to do drag! He got tired of the late nights and the smoke-filled clubs and cleaning up the "drag bag explosions" the next day. (Yes, the house was always a frickin' mess after a drag show! Clothes, make-up, wigs everywhere!) He eventually gave it all up in exchange for the joys of full-time marital bliss. We were trying to figure out the other night when exactly he did his last drag performance. Some time in the mid-1990s.
Anyway, Sofonda called Göran a few weeks ago and told him that as part of a benefit for the Minnesota AIDS Project, a few drag queens had decided to try to break the Guinness world record for largest drag performance. They were trying to round up every drag queen they knew in order to get them all on stage at once in a great big, lip-synced, choreographed dragstravaganza. They were calling it "Night of 100 Drag Queens." Göran agreed to participate.
It was such a strange experience for me. So much has changed in my life since those old days when Göran was Miss Gay Nineties. The thing that struck me most poignantly was how lost I felt in those days when I first started tentatively exploring the gay club scene. It was disorienting. Everything in that scene was so completely at odds with everything I'd been brought up with in a tight-knit, devout Mormon family and community. It was as if I'd been scooped up by space aliens and dropped on a different planet. Everything was simultaneously exciting and amazing and... Also a betrayal of everything I thought I'd been raised to believe in. It felt quite lonely... Last night I heard Sofonda reminiscing about those days, and her recollections of me confirmed my remembrance of myself. I was out of place, odd, vulnerable.
But last night I was not lost. I was surveying my past lostness from the vantage point of one who is found again. And I was aware of the rampant lostness sprawled out there all around me. It's not, I realized, a moral thing. It's not the casual attitude toward sex, the boys walking around in their undies, the alcohol, the rampant materialism. Those are all just symptoms. What it is, is a knowledge thing. It's the not being quite sure who you are, or what your purpose is in life, or where you are going. It's looking at the material surface of things, and mistaking it for the spiritual heart of things. It's being disconnected from family, from faith. (Partly because so many of us have been excommunicated from all those things!)
After the event was over, I borrowed a friend's car and chauffeured a few of them home. (I was back to being the drag queen's valet again!) They were all drunk as skunks. (Good thing their valet was a practicing Mormon, to get them home safe.) They were reminiscing about the old days, and remembering some of the queens who aren't with us any more. I was actually weeping last night, remembering "Andrea Muffy St. Clair," who passed away from AIDS-related complications a few years ago. I was listening to them talk. And laughing, because you can't be around drag queens and listen to them talk and not laugh. It's one of their saintlier qualities. And I was aware of this deep, deep, profound love. These old queens had a bond and a love and a respect for each other that is quite unique. I guess that's why the worst sin in the drag queen code is a lack of respect.