Friday, April 22, 2011

There is Nothing Like a Drag Queen

“Aaaaaaand wheeeeeeeere isssssss the bodyyyy?”
The electric Miss Noxeema Jackson elegantly beats powder into her face as the soundtrack of Salt N Pepa’s “I Am Body Beautiful” deliciously pulsates behind her. The makeup flies up into her face like slow motion seaspray.

This image has been engrained in my memory from a young age, six or seven maybe, an age most parents would say is far too young for a child to be exposed to drag queens. In the film To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar, Wesley Snipes plays the sassy Miss Noxeema, a drag queen on the road with Miss Vita Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and Miss ChiChi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). I have been in love with this film since second grade, when I watched Noxeema, Vita, and ChiChi toss scarves about their drab living quarters in Snydersville and make it into a fabulous home away from home. From this movie, I learned early on that drag queens meant glitter and beauty and wigs and color and style and flair and attitude. They were better than supermodels, better than beauty queens, better than movie stars. They were real people, they walked among us and got fabulous no matter what. They had guts in the face of adversity. They were my heroes.

The movie, where straight actors played gay men in drag, was not enough though. As a young person living in South Florida, I had some access to drag culture and I gobbled it up whenever I could. I went to drag shows with my parents (the divine Cashetta’s magic show, among others), ate at drag restaurants, watched drag documentaries (the ultimate is Paris is Burning, about the drag scene in the late 1980s). To me and to my family, drag queens were just beautiful. And what person in their right mind is not constantly in search of beauty?

This brings us to New York, which I would venture to say is one of the drag capitals of the world. Where in places like South Florida a drag queen might go unnoticed, in New York they are legends—Sherry Vine, Coco Peru, Lady Bunny, and countless others—who make New York in all of its flashing nightlife disco fashion extravaganza glittery sex appeal the place they call home.

There are the haunts like District 36 in Midtown, a gay club where I recently found out “anybody who’s anybody” goes—recent sightings include downtown celebrity Amanda Lepore, The Village Voice’s Michael Musto, and RuPaul’s Drag Race goddess Raja Gemini; there’s also La Escuelita where another RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Carmen Carrera performs; there’s the Sunday night Vandam party at Greenhouse (no cover!), hosted by even more downtown celebrities, Suzanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny; and of course there’s Boxers, a gay sports bar in Chelsea where the delightful Manila Luzon (and occasionally her girlfriend Sahara Davenport) host a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party, among many, many other places.

I must first address the RuPaul’s Drag Race theme that has now fully appeared. The incredible show, in case you are not familiar with it, is one which the second grader in me consistently drools over, a reality show hosted by the supreme drag diva RuPaul that is part America’s Next Top Model, part Project Runway, part drag show. Contestants compete to become “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Raja Gemini, Carmen Carrera and Manila Luzon are all contestants from this season, Season 3.

And every Monday, AS and now TL and I make our way to Chelsea to attend the RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party and see Miss Manila. She is a tall, statuesque glass of water elegantly perched atop industrial-strength stilettos, with light waves of black hair, false eyelashes that could knock you over and the brightest, prettiest pink Barbie lips you’ve ever seen. Brash and sassy, Manila works the crowd as emcee, flirting with the gay boys and occasionally their girl friends, revealing behind the scenes gossip from the show, offering up Drag Race swag to anyone willing to disrobe. Because everyone loves the show so much (and who doesn’t love free stuff?) she is constantly surrounded by shirtless men. What more could a lady want?

For the crowd at Boxers, Manila is our hometown heroine, a glittering beacon of fabulousness we have the incredible honor to see live. She does New York proud, glamming her way down the Drag Race runway as only a New Yorker could. They just don’t have swag like that anywhere else.

But we root for her not only because she’s representing the Big Apple, but because she’s insanely talented. A graphic designer by day, Manila pieces together each look as a complete visual, not a detail out of place. She is inspired by high fashion and smart culture, giving her ensembles a sophisticated edge I have yet to see duplicated on the show (at one point she wears a black sequined ensemble with a  hood she says gives “Thierry Mugler Evil Henchwoman realness.” I died. If only all ensembles everywhere in the world were so informed!) And her lip-synch to “Macarthur Park” is still without a doubt the most ferocious lip-sync I have ever, EVER seen.

I thank New York every day for the proximity it affords me to drag queens like Manila. Where in South Florida they’re not always as close as I would like, in New York, if I really want to, I can go out at any time and see me some queens. Of course, I could always throw in my To Wong Foo DVD, but nothing beats waltzing into a random bar and seeing a pair of twinkling, rhinestone-encrusted false eyelashes staring back at me.

Manila Luzon emcees at Boxers.

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