Vivian La Fine had a masterful tuck. Dolled up in perfectly coiffed wig, impeccable makeup and a black ribbed teddy skirted by a shifting, swaying curtain of beads, she pranced the periphery of the stage before us, alive. Alive and fine. Anyone who looked at her, not knowing, would have never guessed she was not a female. Her hands were slender, her nails neatly manicured. Her breasts were small, but shapely and pronounced beneath her teddy. And her hips, though not full, still widened to give her an hourglass shape. She was perfectly proportioned as any woman could be, she was fine in features, and at her groin no hint of male genitalia protruded between her legs. Hers was as close to a perfect tuck as any drag queen could hope for.
It was 10:30, and this week’s drag show had begun. My lover and I and Brad and Rick, two gay-boy friends of ours, had grown bored with the mid-week grind and ended up here. In a corner bar filled with smoke and unenuciated hopes, we made our way to the back room, where the performances were held, and found a table in front of the stage. Stripping off our jackets in the humid heat, we made ourselves comfortable with expensive drinks served in small plastic cups and turned our attention to the entertainment. One by one, performers appeared, lip-synched two songs apiece to the thunder of club music pounding from two speakers on either side of the room, took in the flutter of applause with dainty waves and blown kisses, and disappeared behind the worn black curtain to be reborn in 20 minutes.
I nursed my cranberry spritzer and looked around the room. A covey of college girls, barely old enough to be here, was clustered protectively around two tables behind us, and a line of ambiguous, frayed businessmen perched along the bar. Along the edges of the room sat straight voyeur couples — big-haired girls entwined around their butch boyfriends, who sprawled, wide-armed and splay-legged in the shadows. Fags and fairies were sprinkled throughout the crowd, and Rick and Brad eyed them with cautious interest from the corner of their eyes, until some tasteless gesture or overheard vulgarity slipped from their particular façades.
I was silent, slouched in my chair, my shoulders squared, my legs spread wide underneath the table top. My left knee pressed against my lover’s thigh, and my left forearm touched hers. She, too, sat broadly at the tiny table, and together we took up space. On our right, the two gay boys sat primly in their seats, poised and gingerly holding their beer bottles with cocked pinkie fingers.
I’d started out that night as a male. The constrictions of the week, the expectations of ladylike behavior, my travels through the straight world with straight expectations had built up a residual need to just be a boy. I felt it in my walk, I felt it in my shoulders. I felt it in the way the words fell from my mouth and the way I filled space around me. I’d almost strapped on my dick that night, wanting the feel of thick, warm, artificial fleshiness pressed to my left thigh. Wanting people to notice it out of the corner of their eye and wonder, if only for a moment, which I was, and be intimidated — or intrigued. But in the flurry of Brad and Rick’s arrival at our apartment, and the hurry to catch our cab, I’d left my cock on the bedroom dresser, standing at full attention. Still, in jeans and boots and leather jacket, in a button-down shirt with a t-shirt peeking out at my neckline, my leather wallet snug in the back pocket of my jeans and my jackknife lying warm and solid in my front pants pocket, nestled along the crease of my groin… cock or no cock, that night I was a boy.
My lover was herself. Aside from the annual Halloween vagaries, she wasn’t one for gender-bending. She was all woman, and enjoyed being just that. Sometimes a girl, sometimes a womyn, she carried her femaleness about her like a many-colored cloak, swishing it this way and that to catch the light in different ways. The light she caught was rarely subject to the darker, heavier masculine. That was my part. True to form, she was lightness and levity, that night. She always came alive in rooms filled with people, and when there was a performance, she often gave the performers a run for their money, if they dared to interact with the audience. She sat beside me, full and solid, trading pleasantries with the waiter, bringing people seated at tables around us into our conversation.
The evening’s host appeared and announced in Barnum&Bailey style, “And now, ladies and… er, gentlemen… the one you’ve all been waiting for… Miss Mess in a Dress, Extravaganza Delite!”
In a shuffling rustle of aged taffeta and sequins she appeared from behind the curtain. A wild red clown wig enveloped her head, vivid paint splashed across her eyelids and cheeks, and she hobbled on-stage with a growl and a spit. Snatching the microphone from its stand at the center of the stage, she bellowed “Good evening, all you fucking queers! My name is Extravaganza Delite, and I am the oldest motherfucking, cock-sucking drag queen in the world.”
The room went completely silent.
“That’s right, you fucking faggots!” she shrieked. “I was queer before you were a glint in your mama’s eye. I was a flaming drag queen when you were in diapers, shitting on yourselves and sucking your mothers’ tits!”
She stepped carefully from the foot-high stage and made a beeline for our table. “So, what’s this?” she said. “A table full of men? Just what I need — more men in my life.” She rolled her eyes and adjusted her breasts, which hung pendulous to her waist. “Yeah, it’s a bunch of fairies, alright. Fucking faggots!”
Rick and Brad shifted in their seats and were silent. Beside me, I felt my lover sit up and lean forward. I stared straight ahead, taken completely by surprise. Horrified.
“Oh, but wait…” Miss Delite stopped short and peered closer at our table from beneath the lights of the stage. “I stand corrected. I see a lesbian!”
My lover hollered, “You’re goddamned right!” and shook her fist.
Extravaganza rolled her eyes again. “Oh, you’re one of those…” The audience tittered cautiously, and the performer’s tone became caustic. “One of those bulldaggers. Dykes. Fucking lesbians. You got a girlfriend?”
“You bet,” my lover said.
“You better believe it,” I chimed in after her.
“Well…” sneered Extravaganza, “I hope the next time you have sex, your girlfriend pisses in your face.”
“Thank you,” said my lover in a sarcastic, warning tone. She sat forward in her seat, readying for another attack, but the aggressor backed off with a toss of her head. My lover set her jaw and stopped resembling a girl. Now she was all womyn.
I sat up taller in my seat, pulling my legs together, narrowing my shoulders, and clutching my drink in a cold grasp. I tried to shake off the venom, to laugh it off, to make light of it. But the stream of vicious profanity cut through my defenses like acid. I wished only for her to go away.
And go away she did. Extravaganza soon had someone else cornered across the room — one of the straight guys whose girlfriend clung to him in terror. The elder spat vitriol at them, asking if the boy took it up the ass when they had sex — “Or do you have sex at all?! I’ll bet he sneaks out at night to go get his cock sucked in some back alley behind your pretty little house in the suburbs.” The boy blanched and tossed back a slug of beer, his index finger locked on the neck of the bottle.
Brad and Rick sniggered, and whispered to one another, “I thought I’d seen him somewhere before…” “You just don’t recognize him with his pants on…”
A giggle snuck from between my lips, and the red-headed apparition wheeled in my direction.
“Think it’s pretty funny, don’t you?” she snarled. “Well, I’ll give you something funny…” She motioned to the d.j., safe in his plexiglas booth, and I wondered if he had room in there for anyone else. My lover’s sprawl had shrunk, her knees no longer wide apart; now one leg was crossed over the other in a defiant parrying stance. But her hand was clammy in mine.
Extravaganza sang. Or rather chanted. Her voice warbled, her delivery was irreverently off-key, her pacing contradicted the cadence of the song. Not that she cared. It was an old show tune, one I didn’t recognize, but which seemed familiar to Rick and Brad. They sat, still, poised, and detached, watching the oldest drag queen in the world work the room.
As she finished her act and took a bow, we clapped frantically, hoping she’d vanish and allow the next performer to take the stage. But the angry mammoth refused to relinquish the limelight so easily and spat caustics at us for another five minutes, before the host appeared and insisted she allow the next act on-stage.
When Extravaganza was once again behind the black veil, a cowgirl appeared, in hat and boots and little else. Again, her genital tuck was most accomplished. Beneath the short pleated skirt that swung from her padded hips, there was no sign of testicles or penis, no telltale hair along the pantyline, not a hint of masculinity. We at the table marveled silently, wondering if maybe she was going through the change. Her breasts were too full, her box was too smooth, the transformation was almost too complete. After the onslaught of profanity from the last act, this fairy prancing daintily across the stage was a vision, a mystery, a work of art. As she began her second song, which necessitated her removing more clothing, I began to relax and enjoy the show.
There was a lull and a smattering of applause, as she finished and circled the stage, waving and collecting money the audience had passed to her. Another drag queen appeared shortly and began an intricate lip-synch of a popular song. As she took flight on the choreography of her piece, she took us with her. Her lips matched each syllable, her expressions kept pace with the lyrics, and her body flitted lightly through the audience, lifting us above the smoke and sticky floors of that tiny little bar.
As she left the stage, everyone in the room took a deep breath and went silent. The curtain pulled back, and we stiffened, as Extravaganza Delite appeared in another outfit. Her tight, body-length pink body suit, barely supported huge, heavy breasts — they rested on her beer belly. Her makeup was even more garish than before, and her wig was a frazzled mass of yellow outrage. As she shuffled across the stage, muttering profanity and cursing the last performer for leaving the microphone on one of the huge speakers twenty feet from her, her genitals protruded under the spandex from the undefined region beneath her belly.
“Know why I move so slow?” she muttered. “I only have two toes on my right foot. I’m a diabetic, you know. Five years ago, they had to take three of my toes and part of my right foot. So, I can’t wear pumps anymore. I’ve got a bad heart, too. Three months ago, I had bypass surgery. When they wheeled me into the operating room, the doctor didn’t know what to do with me. I told him, I’m a Bitch, honey, now let’s get on with this. I think he liked me.” Extravaganza looked tired. Worn. She was silent for a few moments, as she made her way across the stage to the microphone. I felt something in me soften, a hint of compassion rise in me. I looked over at my lover, who smiled wanly and squeezed my hand.
When the entertainer reached the speaker, she was silent no more. She took a deep breath, took the mic in hand and held it close to her mouth. “Looks like a dick,” she said, turning to a girl seated nearby. “Honey, have you ever sucked a dick this big?”
The girl paled and half nodded, half shook her head.
“Well, sweetheart, this is small!” Extravaganza snarled. “I’ve had bigger dicks in my mouth — and up my ass. I should show you my dildo. That’d be a sight!” She scanned the room for her next target, then shuffled to the back of the audience, where the straight people sat. She leaned over one of the girls and shoved the mic in her face. Then she turned to the boyfriend and did the same. “How ’bout you two?” she snapped. “Ever have something this big in your ass?”
Drunk and defensive, the two sputtered something, and the performer continued. “How about a tongue? Ever stick your tongue up your boyfriend’s ass? It’s called “rimming”, ya dumb bitch!” She paused and turned to the girlfriend sitting beside him. “I’m talking to him, not you,” she shouted in her face, and hobbled back to the stage. “I’ll bet he sucks cock,” she muttered. “He acts like he’s some kind of macho man, but I’ll bet he bends over with the best of ’em. Cocksucker!” The oldest drag queen in the world tossed her head, adjusted her breasts, and headed for us again.
As she bore down on us, I felt a coldness take over me. I steeled myself against the vitriol I was certain would spew from her brightly painted mouth. The lines on her face grew more pronounced as she moved directly under a set of lights, and her eyes narrowed to slits as she surveyed our table. I crossed my legs and drew my elbows in tight against my ribcage. The cocky sureness I’d felt earlier that evening washed from me, in the towering shadow of 6 feet of ancient, unassuaged rage. I picked at the sleeve of my shirt, feigning obsession with lint.
I shot a glance at Rick and Brad. They were unmovable, stoic. It was as though Extravaganza were dousing us with gasoline, stinging and stinking and daring us to light a match. We held absolutely still, like cornered animals in a half-lit shed after dark, hoping the predator sniffing at the edge of our hiding place would grow bored or distracted by some other prey and leave us in peace. Relishing our terror, the performer tore back and forth across the room, taking no prisoners, making no exceptions in her vilification of whatever life form came across her path.
I shot a clandestine glance at my lover. She had assumed the attitude Extravaganza had assigned her — a bulldagger. Her shoulders broadened, and one leg rested firmly across her other knee. Her right arm rested nonchalantly on the edge of the table, and she feigned bravado as the performer bellowed profanity at her. I thought of jumping to her defense and kicking the shit out of this nasty old bag, but it was only a performance, I reminded myself. It was only a show.
But the male in me didn’t know it. Within me, I felt something crumple and withdraw. I felt the firm sureness of earlier that night slip away with each renewed assault. I felt my comfort with the boy shaken and eroded, as the evening progressed. From the outbursts against the male, to the succession of females who took the stage and took our breath away, to the drunken antics of the guys in the back of the room who thought they could impress their girlfriends, the male in me tucked himself away as neatly and cleanly as Vivian’s box. I felt the swirl of energy quiet itself, stifled in the closeness of the room. I felt the rush of blood stopped before it reached my appendages, my hands and feet going cold, my legs tightly crossed to protect what little was left of my dignity. As I admired the would-be-women taking charge of the room, the almost-male I’d begun as, slipped behind the dark veil and would not show his face. My sprawl was no more, my arms were at my sides, I took up little space, and when Extravaganza bore down on us again, all I could do, was smile.
I had to pull back, I thought to myself. Something in me might protrude and call the entertainer’s attention to me. I sat still, so still, that ridiculous, defensive smile on my face, my eyes telling Extravaganza to keep her distance. She did, but raged just beyond the edge of the barrier I’d erected around me. I was harmless. I was innocent. I posed no threat to Miss Mess on-stage. I was no competition for her. I was not one of those men she maligned with all the fury of a woman spurned who’s never had the permission to vent her rage to girlfriends. I was meek. I was mild. I was just a girl.
Leave me alone, my gaze cried, as the misnamed Miss Delite pranced and ranted and raved on about cocks and foreskins and licking the skin between a man’s testes and anus with a mixture of delight and disgust.
Leave me alone, my demeanor demanded, as my pinkie rose from the side of my plastic cup, my body assumed a defensive poise, and I forced my mind to wander to the duties I had waiting for me at work the next day.
Leave me alone, leave my girlfriend alone, leave my boyfriends alone. I honed that thought to a focused point, mustered all my strength, and mentally hurled it at the six-foot apparition looming before me.
If I made any contact, the only concession she made, was to keep her physical distance. But vocally, she was among us, peppering her monologue with random profanities, selecting her targets with precision and the advantage of surprise. Rarely had I encountered anyone so vocal in their contempt for their own queer kind. Cocksuckers. Motherfuckers. Faggots. Fairies. Dykes. Lesbians. Fucking perverts… Brad and Rick whispered that she enacted the same performance each week, that she’d being doing this routine, this same old tired routine, for years, now. How could she sustain the rage? I wondered under my breath. How could she keep a job? Surely, the audience would tire of her routine, and the club management would turn her loose… But no, Brad and Rick assured me, she’d been doing this very same show at this very same club for five years. We spoke without turning our heads towards each other, without moving our lips. The slightest movement could bring Extravaganza to the threshold of our uncertain fortress. The slightest noise would rain acid on our heads.
It was midnight before Miss Mess loosed her hold on us. With a final volley of venomous barbs, she stripped off her gown, dropped her wig, and tossed her boobs to the college girls behind us. All that separated her — wide-shouldered, heavy bellied, bald and half-crippled — from the world, was a pink full-length bodysuit and face paint.
“I am what I am…” thundered from the speakers on-stage, as the oldest drag queen in the world wound down with a full-length, fumbled finale.
When she finished and backed off the stage, scattered, relieved applause echoed through the close, dark room. The lights went up, the host of the show thanked us all for coming, and the tables emptied. My lover, my friends and I lingered a few moments to complement the performers on their work, their outfits, their selections in music, and spilled from the bar in an agitated flurry.
Outside, the air was cold and clear. Bracing. I took my lover’s hand in mine. “Let’s walk home,” she said, and Brad and Rick agreed. Something within me felt crushed, battered. There was no trace of my earlier surety, none of the bravado. My jeans stuck to my thighs, and I was thankful I hadn’t worn my cock that night. My pocketknife pressed hard into my crotch, and I fished it out and slipped it into my jacket pocket. My hips felt full and fat, my shoulders narrow, my neck exposed by my unbuttoned collar. I zipped my jacket tighter, thrust my hands into my pants pockets, and hugged my arms to my sides, glancing into the side streets we passed, wary of muggers.
We headed for home, the male I’d been at evening’s start pressed neatly to my gut, mincing my steps, shortening my stride, raising my voice. I had a masterful tuck.