I know we just met, but at least we started in style and in familiar comfort: with my friends amid song, booze, glitter, and feather boas in a New Haven, Connecticut, bar.
Where else would I have been, but with the drag and burlesque darlings, my dear nighttime playmates? In a free-spirited, irreverent world, with brocade on my shoulders and rhinestones on my feet? Robin Banks throws one hell of a party.
You may remember that I sometimes perform alongside these fantastical friends. A year ago on New Year’s Eve, I exulted in sequined triumph on that same Café Nine stage. This time, I sat up front at a table to watch. But while I wasn’t on the clock, I ended up working.
Drag queen Loosey LaDuca built her first performance around a money theme. As is often customary in drag lip-synch performances I have seen, she spliced together a series of songs and sound clips to create a storyline of highs and lows, reversals and intrigues. And jokes, always jokes.
Halfway through the mix, Loosey approached me in the front row as the music dropped out for voiceovers of that Family Guy bit when Stewie beats up Brian. Loosey pantomimes punching me, and I play along, including getting thrown out of my seat and onto the short stage.
Loosey returned to the stage, and the music picked up again, with – you guessed it – Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money”: Pay me what you owe me! The crowd went wild.
Within the routine, I also picked out sound clips of Mona-Lisa Saperstein from Parks and Recreation begging, “Money, please!” and Real Housewives star Erika Jayne’s single “XXPEN$IVE.” It’s expensive to be Loosey, who sparkled from head to toe that night.
But, side note, and real talk: I was so happy that I actually knew some of the music and references! Sometimes I’m at a drag show and nearly bat a platinum sombrero.
Driving home after the show, my wife noted that she is depending on drag queens now to stay current. Pop culture-wise, there’s only so much keeping up with the kids that we have time for!
In 2017, I spent a lot more time in drag spaces. I continue to learn new ways to play with pop culture from drag performers. There’s something special about using artifice and make-believe not only to play with the identities we both inhabit and are born into, but also to tap into some greater truth about ourselves. This form of play is restorative, a recreation that allows for me to re-create.
For this nerd, that also means re-creating through remixing pop culture.
Drag performers really keep you on your toes with pop culture. They’re always synthesizing new sideways takes on TV, movies, music, Internet memes, you name it. I’ve seen a Harley Quinn in a PVC bodysuit and fetish boots drop into a full split. I’ve heard Elphaba, Mariah, Celine on helium, even Mister Rogers. I’ve cheered along to Frank-N-Furter, Madeline Ashton, and the Sanderson Sisters.
From Dixie Normous and Robin Banks, to Summer Orlando and Barbra Joan Streetsand, Miss Danie`l Essence and many more, I offer deep gratitude for all you do. May my hand always have a dollar bill in it for you.
Plus I enjoy getting deeper dives into stuff that is rocking queer spaces I’m not in, or that hasn’t exploded to mainstream saturation. I’m still a straight guy spending most of his time in straight world, after all, and life is better lived by participating in its variety. When done right, a radically inclusive space breathes, within which the anxieties of minority life can be held at bay, if only for a little while.
I needed a lot of such spaces in 2017, both as a spectator and participant. The chaos generator in the White House weren’t enough. Pop culture itself also flaunted all its systematic evils as the great reckoning on sexual harassment and abuse continues, exacerbating the already neverending battle for those of us fighting for diversity and against exclusion.
It’s exhausting, and this past year I unplugged more and more often. I had to repair. Like, it’s even difficult to like Star Wars anymore because the geeks who think fandom equals ownership keep pushing their NerdMAGA upon us. Get away from me and The Last Jedi, for crying out loud! You last saw Luke Skywalker when he was, like, 23! (Return of the Jedi takes place four years after A New Hope.) You’re telling me he wouldn’t be different by the time he reaches his 60s?
Besides, it’s not that deep. Why? Because it’s Star Wars. Nothing titled Star Wars can be deep, OK? Just enjoy it.
But on New Year’s Eve, three wondrous things happened. Drag queen Mia E Z’Lay sprayed Redi Whip into my mouth and kissed me on the forehead, leaving a giant smudge of makeup. And I won (in a tie) a contest in which I had to stuff marshmallows in my mouth and say the phrase “chubby bunny” without upchucking.
Everything was made clear.
I think I’m ready to return to the war among the stars. At least after I dig out from this blizzard.
Those shirtless Kylo Ren memes are helping me, too.