The house looked otherwise unremarkable. The orange-pink color of the kitchen walls was unique, but could be explained as an attempt to be distinct. Two huge pairs of high-heeled shoes stood at the foot of the stairs. These were shoes seemingly on steroids, far larger than would have ever been made for the typical woman. These did stick out. One wondered if a superhero wore these shoes, and if so, if there were others like it in her closet.
My roommate is a drag queen, he said.
During the whole of my visit, my gaze kept returning to these shoes. In particular, I remembered my last encounter with a drag queen, years before.
In college, it was fashionable in certain circles to go to the drag shows. The only place in town where such events were held was the town’s one, solitary gay bar. Everyone knew the name, but many refused to say it, as though even mentioning it aloud would prove contagious. There were always rumors of a specifically lesbian club developing, but none of these ever seemed to stay in business for very long. Once, armed with a very unspecific set of directions, we tried to find one, but eventually left for home disappointed. I had never been and she was curious to discern the clientele. She was a master of discernment.
My friend was well-known for being famously indecisive with the women she fancied. She was the sort of person who developed a whole separate identity for herself, complete with nickname, one that everyone seemed to take seriously. The entirety of the out queer girls in town knew her by reputation or by association. While at the club or in the company of the rest of the community she was someone. Otherwise, she was just that gay girl who worked as a cook at a barbeque joint.
Even then I kept company mostly with women who mostly humored me, but I think also pitied me, too. Eager to be part of the group, every Friday night was spent talking and killing whole hours before off to the show. The drag nights started somewhere close to midnight and concluded somewhere around four in the morning. Blear-eyed, exhausted, and sleep-deprived, reeking of my cigarette smoke and the cigarette smoke of three hundred other people, I felt like death, praying I’d be back in my bed before the sun started to rise. But that was at the end, of course.
I self-consciously took a place on the edge of the dance floor. Too shy to dance, I was also mostly too shy to flirt. She would, meaning well, get up in my face. Go out there and find a man! This is when that self-confidence I mentioned would have really come in handy. The drag show began, with the best amateur talent in a five state area. Not knowing how to critique the quality of the performance, I mostly just sat and stared, imagining what they all looked like without wigs, dresses, glitter, and campy dance moves.
Another performer walked on as another walked off with great fanfare. This performer’s stage name was Georgette. She was more heavy-set than many of the others, but possessed a very gentle kind of sweetness. Some were bitchy, some tried to impress, but Georgette was graceful and kind.
She likes you! Her laughter could not compete with the sound of the music blaring forth, but I knew how it would have sounded on its own. It was unmistakable, loud and braying and deep.
Georgette did like me. She liked men with broad shoulders and baby faces. And what I received was an ample and rather gratuitous display of her back end. Again. I’m sure I looked shocked, like always. Shocked and appreciative at once, but in such situations my self-confidence tended to desert me. The ideal decision in this circumstance would have been to meet her backstage afterward, even though backstage was really just an outdoor patio full of more cigarette smoking and jealousy. I never could quite get the nerve to do it.
Inevitably, by the time for leaving my friend had either found the club’s dealer in assorted pills or something that held some promise. Invariably we’d go with a car full of women and me. Most of them talked a good game but usually went home alone, much like me. My friend was well-known for her conquests, which she usually retained for later intimacy. Many women fell in love with her because she was attractive but because she was also extremely confident. I always assumed they knew they were being absorbed into her lengthy network of friends with benefits. If they ever complained, I never heard it.
With time, I finally shed my own anxieties and paranoia. I went to the club with a new friend, who was interested more in the voyeuristic aspects than to actively engage. Sometimes her partner would come along with us and say four whole words while we said four million. I avoided drag shows now because I no longer wished to wake up confused and coughing at two o’clock in the afternoon. But still I remember the excitement of those days when it felt like I’d opened a portal to a terrifying, but also strangely gratifying world.