You look fabulous, bitches!
But oh, what must be done to get there. A lot of male flesh squeeeeezed into one, two, maybe even three pairs of pantyhose creating a smooth, shiny, Barbie Doll-like lower half, while the top is padded into existence and cleavage painted on. Some serious face time with the mirror, cigarettes between rhinestoned fingers.
“Honey, that’s the best I’ve ever seen you look!”
Studying, applying powder, paint and spray. Some glue to hold the wig. And more foundation, and more glue, and more powder, paint and spray. Hands on hips, staring through eyelashes that, like mutant black moths, flutter around brightly colored faces. They kill me those lashes!
You think your girlfriend takes a long time to get ready? It’s hard work for a man to look this good!
A veritable armory of wigs and dresses and fake diamonds, and everybody’s got a tiara and has to duck under doorways because of hot-air-balloon hair, pearl-white high heels and red lava dresses all aglow in the black light. The real little girls in attendance, tiny things with sad little jean skirts and flat hair, well they positively pale in comparison, ashamed, embarrassed, they should just GO HOME, because in no way can they compete with YOU, bitches!
All this so that one lucky lady can replace Alexea Breeden as Miss Gay Charlottesville, at the Miss Gay Charlottesville Pageant held every year at Club 216, the private gay disco. And lest, dear readers, any of you are confused, we are talking about Drag Queens here, men dressing as women. Go ahead and stare. This is a show, darling, entertainment. Everything hides in plain sight, and everyone is larger than life.
The MC yells, “HOW’S EVERYBODY FEELING TONIGHT?” and the audience, small, not even close to filling the club, but boisterous and jubilant, yells back. Lights hit the red and gold streamers hanging from faux marble columns underneath a chandelier. Fake fog crawls across the raised wooden stage and down the catwalk. The pageantry begins.
Good luck, contestants, ‘cause the reigning queen is looking fierce, as are all the former queens in attendance, sashaying out to begin the show, representing 16 years of gay Charlottesville royalty. My heart is on fiiiire! the sound system blares, as the crowd holds up dollar bill tips. Shit! Gimme that dollar! This ain’t easy, bitch! It’s hard work faking it this real! Dancing for dollars, for hugs, my love is aliiiive! Kissing all the tippers on the cheek—lips wet, a feathered headdress huge above the crowd, like a peacock (ha ha!) pink and purple, hitting all the hanging lights and setting them swinging. The former Misses Gay Charlottesville get things going with performances that are positively packed with emotion, lip-synching their hearts out, falling to knees, crawling along the floor, satin hose sliding on hardwood (snicker!). Such pain! It’s too much to bear! But then back up and hitting the high notes, lips aquiver! Hot shit, bitches!
Whew. Calm down. Time to compete in oddly athletic glamour. Lined up at a table in front, the judges are a campy Mount Rushmore of high-holy hair and many-entendred monikers (Miss Enya Salad—giggle!).
A former Miss Gay Charlottesville takes lip-synching to new heights.
Our MC gives the toast, “Up to the Lips! Down to the Liver! Come on cocktail, make this fat bitch quiver!” Cocktails, Red Bulls, and beers, oh my!
Out come the contestants in swimsuits. Tucked in tight they strut with chins thrust forward and arms back, fearless! And then the talent contest with elaborate pastiche and routines of magnificent kitsch melodrama, as if John Waters were crawling out of Liz Taylor’s ass.
Erica Pandavis, up from Roanoke, starts her routine in a giant blow-up bed under silk sheets with a hunky soldier boy, staaaaay with meeee! Soldier boy puts his boots on and leaves her broken hearted. But she deals. Hell, she does better than that! She dances! Stripping off her red dressing gown to reveal a red pleather coat and stripping that off to reveal a ruby red bodice and shredded skirt, she’s running and skipping across the stage kicking her feet like a demented Jennifer Beals.
More performances from guest stars: Max, (Miss Gay Charlottesville 1999-2000), in butter cream and a swath of black velvet, ‘cause I’m your laaaady! Niveah Symone, (Miss GC 2006-2007) a whirling dervish, shoulders back, face perfect, I’m your laaady, moth wings beating (those eyelashes!).
Contestant Number One, Miss Kayla Kelly, a 22-year-old Harrisonburger, in a black sequined evening gown, faces the judges for her onstage interview:
“If you could be any superhero, who would you be?”
“I don’t think I could be anyone else but Wonder Woman.”
Moths swoop! Diamonds blaze! Hair! Face! Perfect!
Local girl Miss Rachel Kelly, also 22, in black and silver velvet that flares out white at the knees:
The judges at Club 216’s annual drag pageant remain stony-faced despite the athletic glamour on display. Competition is no joke, bitches!
“Rachel, what are your hopes, dreams and fears for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Charlottesville?”
“My hopes, dreams and fears for that would be, [flutter, flutter] I hope that there’s more unity; we need to be unified [pose, flutter]. My dream would be unity again. I really don’t have any fears.”
More performances come before the crowning. Arionne DeCardeza (Miss GC 2003-2004) in orange cream, with spangled bra and glitter lips, this linebacker of a woman leaps 4′ high and lands in a split! Hand springs in high heels!
Miss Ashley Adams (40 years old and a onetime Miss Everything) mouths a line from Sunset Boulevard:
“This is my life. It always will be. There’s nothing else.”
Ready as hell for her close-up.
And then the end arrives for Alexea Breeden, Miss Gay Charlottesville 2007-2008. She swans her way down the catwalk, resplendent in white, this is my night, and the other ladies and the fans gather to pay homage, proffering tips. She wipes away the tears with dollar bills.
“Now, please welcome for the next 365 days, your next Miss Gay Charlottesville…
“… Miss Rachel Kelly!”
She kneels in her sausage casing of a dress and is crowned with a towering tiara. Cradling roses, she walks what is now HER stage, amidst the welcoming former Queens and in front of the already less attentive crowd (necking, drinking, fighting over tables and chairs). Pay attention, bitches! You’re in the presence of royalty! The golden spotlight fits her like a cheap gown. The lights melt into margarine tears.
But the clock strikes 2! All around town the bars are closing, and their befuddled masses are pouring into Club 216. Like Cinderella, the contestants vanish, leaving crystal (or clear plastic, in this case) high heels behind. The judges’ table collapses and is dragged away, the catwalk is rolled back into the stage. Police and security take their place at the door with metal detecting wands, while wigs and gowns are carted outside. Erica Pandavis, tonight’s second runner-up, walks out past the line of club kids awaiting entry, wearing pajama pants and a half-female face. Shirt off and breastless, she’s just a 21-year-old boy. Inside, the beautiful black moths give way to something more predatory, to barflies and party girls, to spastic lights and activities less sacred and much more profane.