by: Lisa Buscani
Light defines real women. It’s their best dress. They paint their fingers with it, wash their hair with it, hang it from their necks and wrists. Real women can see themselves in their calves.
No one knows that better than the average drag queen. Of course, it’s strange to pair the words “average” and “drag queen” in the same sentence. I guess that’s why I love them so much.
Call them what you will: drag queens, gender illusionists, guardians of the fabulous–they rule my world. Women who devote themselves completely to the pursuit of everything that glimmers, forcing their feet to that abnormal status quo pointing, all shades artificial painting them into a larger-than-life canvas. Hormone-silk voices beseech us for our time and attention. Overlook the ankles, they say; the hands are much smaller in context, they promise. Never mind the Adam’s Apple, honey, look to the light.
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We sat watching the Gay Pride Parade, guests at the annual mass for the brothers and sisters of the Church. I felt like I had snuck away from my usual Catholic ceremony to attend Lutheran services. I had never seen so many politicians in my life. Isn’t it funny how policies flip-flop when there’s a float involved.
I sat through the fancy cars, gyrated with the thumping, bumping club floats and accepted far more free condoms than I, even at the height of my considerable charm, could ever hope to use.
If I used them. Which I don’t.
It’s a strenuous hypocrisy, I know, wagging the warning finger at my gay male friends and skipping off for a skin-to-tissue lark. But I don’t always do what’s good for me. I do what I can do and hope the Gods of Error and Penalty take power naps.
All in all, the parade was a great time, but something was missing. Positive sexual identity and community affirmation are all very well and good, but no event is buttoned shut without statement and parade. I needed rage and refinement. I needed the detailed awareness of other worlds. I needed well-placed angles, intentionally altered curves, finish ad infinitum and most importantly, I needed attitude I could cut with a chainsaw. I needed a queen.
I was rewarded when the sequins of her majorette costume caught the sun and held it in cups, emptying every time she moved. Her six shades of shadow pushed her penciled brows high, her lipliner eight shades darker than her lipstick. The sweat underneath her nylons made her hard brown curves glisten.
She was long and she was tall and there was nothing stronger anywhere next to her step. And just before she left me, she swept over to the curb where I was sitting, leaned down close so I could smell her Opium and asked, “Say, sugar, do you have a brother?”
Yes I do, my heart, I thought. And sadly he could never love you as much as I do now.
She laughed, laughed all the way back to her gold fillings and walked away. I thought, if that’s your picture of my gender then you keep it, girl. Carry it always and carry it close.
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The beginning of a relationship has to be the most mindless time humans can know. Your blood beats your smarts in a race to the surface of your skin and there you stand: all hail, the queen of the gorged nether regions.
He was talking that talk, the one with the muted consonants, low registers and soft smiling. I was dating Barry White, for god’s sake. Soon enough time rushed and I listened closely to the buzzing room and the meaty sounds that sex without love can make. There were no rubbers to be found. It was over that night.
I found out later he shoots speed. I found out later he had unprotected sex with a heroin user and a former prostitute and there are always so many things that you find out later. It was no one’s fault but mine. I rode the wrong cowboy home.
In contrast, my current boyfriend is a nice guy; a really, really nice guy. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is look into those brown eyes past that goofy, crooked smile and say, “Baby, I screwed up. There was another guy before you, and now I have to get tested.” I expected him to yell and scream and break things, but all he said was “Oh. Do you need a ride?”
On the day of the examination, I was so worried I almost didn’t notice that he showed up with a bouquet of flowers. Aren’t we the dream couple? “Well, first he bought me flowers, then he took me to the clinic. . .”
And so here I am at the Howard Brown Health Center, hiding behind a number. Howard Brown likes to consider itself a progressive facility, but no amount of warm and fuzzy public relations can hide the smell of antiseptic. It smells like the eighties: distant, monied.
I am so scared. I can’t put my hands flat against anything, I’ll leave liters of myself behind. So I talk to the warm, supportive staff and read the warm, supportive literature and sit on the warm, supportive furniture and wait. And wait. And wait. God. The last thing I need is a clinic run on Gay Time.
The voice that finally calls out to me is deep but muted and streaked with soprano. The esses are sharp and biting. I know even before I am enveloped by an overwhelming cloud of Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds that I have to be dealing with a drag queen. I turn to look at her: tastefully dressed in office attire, sweater vest and junior miss corduroys.
I look again, harder this time and it hits me. I’d know those candy-apple red, dragon-lady nails anywhere. It’s my queen from the Pride Parade. I’ve found her again, in more sensible shoes.
She takes me to a conference room and asks me to tell her my story and I’d like to, I really would, but I don’t think I can find the air for it because my lungs just won’t open. The room is so close and I tear up, but can’t cry in a place of strangers, and the muscles in my throat fist tight.
And she says,
“I am so sorry.”
And it feels real. And right. We talk and gradually, my breathing deepens. Her voice is like a blanket around my shoulders. I swear I think she’s going to break out the hot cocoa at any moment.
She says I’m right to get checked out, that I have to clean up my act, but right now I should relax. Relax. Come on now, it’ll be okay. I know. I know. S-h-h-h-h.
And as she’s speaking, I can’t help myself, I have to laugh. She’s found the voice. THE voice. She’s stolen it from my mom just as easily as she might lip-synch to Liza. She has really nailed it, too: that soft underpitch that coaxes you to keep living, that vocal cradle that lets you rest a bit before pushing on. That is the best of everything feminine, that lulling. Inside and out she’s got it, she’s got the best of the gender down. Definitely, points for realness.
Lisa Buscani got her start in Chicago’s performance poetry scene and became a National Poetry Slam Champion. She has published one book of poetry, “Jangle” (Tia Chucha Press) and has been featured in numerous poetry anthologies. Lisa is a Neo-Futurist and writes and performs in “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind”; she also appears in the “Late Nite Catechism” shows at The Royal George Theatre. Lisa reviews theater for Timeout Chicago, New City and Make it Better.com. She is a legend in her own mind.