Love in the Time of Corona: When RuPaul Put Me in Drag, Part 2

RuPaul looked across the twenty-five foot dining table of his West Village apartment that night and said to me in a tone as droll as a waiter listing the soups, “Tonight’s the night.” and I knew what he meant and that wasn’t because the subject of drag had been brought up that night, or often at all during our couple-year’s friendship up to that point. When Ru and I first became friends (and presumably now if he makes time for it and I pray that he does) he had a great penchant for parlor games, especially boxed games like Taboo, Scattagories, and especially Password. No one would play against him and me at Password because we were too good. It was sort of weird. You’ve played it, right? It’s based on the TV gameshow. One player holds a sleeve with a little clear-red plastic window through which you can barely see the password but your job is to, in as few words as possible and giving only one-word clues at a time, get your teammate to say the word. Ru would be giving me the first clue. Look me deep in the eye. Look at the card again. Look me in the eye and say, “Gre—” and I’d say, “Avocado!” and all the other folks would be all, “Come on! That’s bullshit! You’re cheating!” And we really weren’t, it just seemed like in that situation (and in a few others Ru) could read my mind and I his so on that particular night, when he said, “Tonight’s the night.” I knew that he meant that this was the night he was going to put me in drag. 

RuPaul is 6’5” like me and although I was a bourgeoning muscle daddy bear cub back then, there was not as much bear on top of the muscle so I actually fit into some of his clothes. But that comes much later. First we go into the bathroom. First, the face.

But before we do I need to make an important side note here. Adam was there. Adam is my ex “husband.” The quotation marks are because even though I called him that, there was no legal documentation to back that up. Ironically, I had met him in California, the state that would be effected by Proposition8 (the law stripping LGBTQ folks of the right to marry) and then he and I moved to Utah, the home of his birth for him to go to med school. So while I was active in the movement to fight Proposition 8, we were living in the city where the headquarters of the Mormon Church was located. The Church had invested millions and its powerful influence to continue its decades-long persecution of gay people. Still I fought knowing that we did not have equal protection under the law as the Constitution guarantees. When Adam and I split (he sent me to the hospital with his fists and stole drugs from dying Hospice patients) he walked away with an MD and the house that I was supposedly half-owner of. Actually, he walked away laughing. So to those of you who continue to say that marriage equality was about a word, fuckyouverymuch. Write me a check and we’ll talk. 

But this night was long before all that when I still cared what Adam thought (the relevance will soon come to bear) and he too sat there at RuPaul’s twenty-five foot dining table and I looked across nervously at him and smiled. 

“Hell yeah!” Adam said. 
Now one more small caveat about Adam and then we’ll get to the bathroom. On all the “vision boards” I’d ever made in the years leading up to Adam (two) and the goal-setting workshops and prosperity classes at church and such, when asked to describe the husband I was looking for, at the top of the list was “undetectably gay by affect or speech.” You copy? It’s what we called back in the day “straight acting” and I understand the problematic nature of the term enough to try to describe it with phrases like “demonstrating characteristics most often associated with the prototypically, if not stereotypically masculine” but I’ll be damned if more of you wouldn’t know what I was talking about if I simply said, “He acted like a dude,” but we’ll press forward. Adam was all that. No one would ever suspect he was gay. When that “marriage” ended, number one on that vision/goal setting list became “Kind to me.” More on that later. It’s not like I closeted any of my more “feminine” attributes (also a problematic term) he obviously had no problem with me running around with the most famous drag queen in the world, but the Adam that sat at that table that night was a man with whom, my relationship in and out of the bedroom, was solidly centered in our common masculinity. Was I really about to let him see me in a dress? 
Ru took me by the finger into bathroom. “Come on, gurl. Let’s see who you are.”

Oftentimes when I’d go to New York, I’d stay at Ru’s. Even when he wasn’t there, he’d given me the keys and trusted me to respect his place which of course I did. New York is an easy place for a gay man to get laid but I never took a trick back to Ru’s. All my friskiness in those days were “outcalls” because I did want to respect his place and I wanted to respect our friendship. On more than one occasion, he said, “You’re a good guest.” In a way that really seemed more to say, “Some people are really, really shitty guests.” When I stayed there alone, I’d retreat to that bathroom after a long day of trying to roll my own personal anvil up the rocky hill of American Theatre (the institution, not the magazine). The bathtub was large and deep and perfect for anyone who is 6’5” and the walls were covered in white marble. The tub was lined with little rubber duckies of many and varied expressions on the theme. Turn off the light, light a candle and close the door. The air sucks the sound out of itself and you could be somehow be convinced that Manhattan is no longer Mahattaning outside. To be in this room with someone else is odd, especially when I realize that this salle de bain which I have so often thought of as my personal baptismal sanctuary doesn’t actually belong to me; it belongs to the Queen and the Queen is home. (From this point forward in the story I’ll refer to Ru as “she” although I acknowledge she’s not trans. Ru and I related to each other as “he/him” throughout our friendship but what she embodied this night was both Divine and Female. PSA it is also considering to call a queen “he” if she’s in drag.
Although we are the same height, when she lowered me onto the chair, I looked up at her as a child would. I kind of felt like a child. And a good bit scared. I mean I didn’t think anything was going to happen to me; I’d been to war for fuck’s sake (I guess fuck sake’s the reason we went, it’s as good an excuse as we ever got). I’d seen tracer rounds at night in Iraq when I knew that my post was their target and learned to live with that but in Ru’s bathroom tonight, it’s not that kind of fear. It’s more like I’m afraid of what I’ll feel.
She opens the floor-to-ceiling cabinets behind me, the cabinets where I’d only dared peer a couple of times while looking for a Band-Aid, a magical chifforobe containing a trove of mysterious pastes and potions. From there is withdrawn two or three bottles and a couple of devises. There is an antiseptic smell in the air and one other smell I can’t identify. If I had to guess it might be called “Eye of” something but no time to ponder that as presently my head is tilted back and I am scrubbed of any lingering sins that might have kept me unworthy of the sacrament in which I was about to partake. Have you ever been to one of those Asian spas where they first steam you like a lobster and then cane you and grind sea salt into your flesh for a couple of hours? It was like that only localized to the face area. And in fairness I should say, Ru worked this particular magic by doing nothing more aggressive than making tiny circles about the size of a Uruguayan 1 nuevo peso coin with a fraction of her pinky fingertip. She then takes these little sticky tab things and sticks a few of near my hairline. Then she hooks these long stretchy things (kind of like ponytail holders only straight and long and not in a circle) to the tabs like when you get an EKG and they hook the little wires to the little sticky circles on you only much more strong and substantial than that; if you pull on one of those heart monitor wires, well they’ll just pop right off as anyone can attest who has, as I recently have, tried to walk bare-assed to the bathroom from their hospital bed while wearing a monitor. The mechanism Ru has affixed to my cranium is more substantial and feels like it could withstand more than a brush of a hospital gown, much more, these are more akin to old-school garters like those Sally Bowles wore. When all those little elastic cords hooked to my head, I start to get warm and sleepy and drift in and out. I imagine that I’m a big character balloon at Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade. In my meditation of transcendental transvestism I imagine the clowns dancing around on the street below me, each holding tight to the end of one cord as the November wind in New York rocks me back and forth. All of the sudden the clown are all pulling in one direction and they’re pulling hard. I open my eyes to see Ru with one size 13 naked foot on the back of my head while she leans back with all her weight holding the end of the elastic cords. This is the only time during the hole incantation that Ru will seem to struggle. Sweating and grunting she yanks and pulls, rests for a moment, continues. It’s like watching one of those professional sport fisherpersons trying to land a marlin. As the process continues, I can feel my face getting tighter and tighter.  Whatever the particular nature of that particular prestidigitation, the result is amazing but I won’t know this until the reveal. Until the process is complete, I am not allowed even the quickest peek in the mirror. Essentially the process and pulls tight and taunt every wrinkle and fold in my face and I imagine I look like I’ve ridden my bicycle through a sheet of cellophane. 

I’ve kept you too long for tonight. Hit me back tomorrow for the conclusion of the story of the only time in my life I’ve been in drag. 

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Man, I thought this was going to be a really short story. 


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