Chairs at the drag pageant.

February 16th, 2014, 10pm

My partner is the world’s best Cher impersonator and this takes us all across the country with occasional international appearances. He is not a drag queen, but a character actor. I am told the difference is that drag queens are their own personas, their own creations. And in our travels we meet quite a few drag queens. A lot speak of ‘pageants’ and I have never seen one until last night at Paradise, a club in Asbury Park, NJ. Steven was invited to be one of the judges (as Cher) for the 15th Annual Miss Paradise Pageant. He was also part of a record release party by Warner Brothers Records for Cher’s latest album and a remix album of ‘Take it Like a Man’.

The picture is of the empty judges seats during the intermission while the final scores were being tabulated. I just thought it was so beautiful and a welcome moment of calm.

When we do clubs, we’re around a lot of drag queens so you’d think I’d have it all straight by now. But I don’t. There are some drag queens that are just men. Then there are some that are transsexual. Some are fully transitioned, others not. My head truly spins and I don’t say that in any judgmental way. It’s just that truly the spectrum of human sexuality is SO vast and you’re taught such a narrow scope growing up. It all kind of comes together at a drag pageant.

I am not a fan of competition. It is so much negative energy to me but innate in our being. That’s an issue I have with the ‘pageant’. These are people, that walking down the wrong street are targets for harassment and violence. This was a cut-throat competition and though the adage is ‘no one is a loser– you’re all winners’ is tossed about, one of the contestants won nothing and life is hard enough without that tossed in your face. So there is that brutal aspect to it. And that makes it sad for me.

As ‘Cher’ was a judge, I scored a front row seat. The ‘evening gown’ competition was interesting again for the spectrum of what people feel is beautiful. I know it’s not an evening gown, but to my mind, the iconic little black dress that Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the most amazingly beautiful dress ever worn. Simple and beyond elegant. As for gowns, nothing beats Balenciaga circa 1950 for enveloping the female figure in such powerful beauty. With the drag queens last night, it was interesting to see their version of gown which was basically quinceanera on steroids. Bigger, more bedazzled-the-better, and accessorized beyond over-done. The colors were electric and shimmering, spectacular with hair styles piled higher that Marie Antoinnette could ever have dreamed possible. These are all huge investments in time, craft and money. I admire everyone’s bravery at taking the stage to be judged so. They each took the stage for 2-, maybe 3-minutes (a VERY long time it seemed) to pose and model. It is such an awkward thing I thought, to stand there all the while holding that mandatory ‘pageant smile’ as you are critiqued for every flaw. I could not do it. Not for a second. These are very strong and brave individuals.

The ‘talent competition’ was unlike any I’ve seen because honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. One created a spectacular tableaux vivant of Louis XVI elegance to Maddona’s ‘Vougue’. Surreal, spectacular, brilliant and unforgettable. Another did some ‘Alice in Wonderland’ bit that matched anything on any stage. These people did this without huge union production houses, just their raw talent, help from friends and lots and lots of practice time. All around just brilliant.

There was a ‘question and answer’ session that, regardless of time or place, is always remarkably lame. Like a job interview. ‘Where do you plan to be in 10 years…’. Hideous and impossibly awkwardly stilted and forced. To me it was all too much like the flight attendant on a Delta flight to Milwuakee ‘…keep in mind the nearest emergency exit may be behind you. In the event of an emergency water landing, your seat cushion can serve as a flotation device…’ What would I like them to do? Ask something personal, maybe like ‘the first time you got beat up on the street, how did you manage to find the inner strength to get up, continue on and believe in yourself…fully believe in yourself… that it would get better…’ I got beat up all the time in high school for being a fag even though I didn’t yet know that’s what I was. 30 years ago and I still face those so long ago demons. The answers to those questions would resonate better with a crowd of like-experienced people, give those struggling- hope and guidance, remind us all of a common humanity.

Who won? You know, I can’t remember. I searched the site to see but it hasn’t been updated. She got a huge, gorgeous bouquet and a giant sequined crown. And looked totally exhausted. That I remember. And seeing him in the hallway later, in ‘boy’ clothes, hauling his wardrobe back to his room.

More about the picture. I am intensely shy, uncomfortable around crowds, the spotlight, etc., so being in the front row, directly behind the judges was the last place I desired to be. I felt as much exposed as the pageant contestants. My ideal would have been to not have been there at all, at very best in the farthest back, against a wall in the dark. As it was, the time when the area was empty, everyone occupied elsewhere during that intermission was when I could relax a bit. The empty chairs were so pretty in that light.

Another odd aspect of this life. One night I’m in a gay club. Guys checking each other out, male puffery at it’s rawest. And beautiful women who aren’t women at all. It is a very sexually-charged atmosphere and standing at a urinal is not without notice. So switch ahead 12 hours to work and the gym. It’s very confusing to keep it all straight. The same overt testosterone-fueled male puffery, competition and overt comparison only in the 9-5 ‘straight’ world. Some of those guys have the potential to beat the crap out of a drag queen. But I know none has what it takes to get on a stage and bare their soul to a crowd as the pageant contestants did. I sure couldn’t do it. And for that, they are all truly winners.

Craig, Anne Marie, Kristen, Vivien and 2 others said thanks.

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Kinley Borden

Artist, writer. Currently a Pet Shop Boys playlist is the soundtrack to my life. I'm getting more into branding/logos and you can check that all out on my site:

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