Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dear Bad Drag Queen: Thank You for Your Service

Spokane's Pride Parade is the best parade we've got.  The St. Patty's Day Parade is cold and just one long long advertisement for cement businesses. The Lilac Parade/Torchlight/Armed Services (it's got an identity issue) isn't about lilacs or light, it's about military military military and it starts after bed time. This leaves the Pride Parade which has little to no audience up until the last block or two and so it's kind of more political march than parade.  I love it because unlike some larger metropolitan area Pride Parades, it's a family friendly and fully covered parade (except for the guy wearing only chaps and a sling last year... my kids still bring it up in a slightly trauma-processing way).  I obviously wasn't going to march/parade in it this year. But I felt that I could maybe observe from the unpopulated early parts of the route. So we set up our lonely lawn chairs and watched.

And they loved us. They showered us with candy and appreciation as nearly the ONLY observers they'd yet observed. They pointed and waved at us and called out "YOU ARE CUTE!!"  Drag Queens and human rainbows posed for my photos. Tralalalala! The closest I've come to fun for some time.  And I posted some photos to Facebook captioning some queens mugging for my camera, "Everyone should be able to wear whatever they want whenever they want." I felt good about everyone.

The next day, the kids and I went to our neighborhood grocery store. I was struggling to function that day and I figured I could pick up what we needed if I brought along my new cane.

Some time ago, I had been prescribed a cane.  I couldn't quite get my mind around it.  A CANE?!  I'm not falling over.  I'm not blind. I'm not crippled.  I'm just off kilter and easily woozy and getting better. But it's because I've recovered some that I need it.  It's now time for me to bring my eyes up off the floor and start seeing the world around me again. Instead of using poor mental substitutes for a crutch to find and keep my balance, I should be using an actual crutch to keep myself up and moving.  It's a cane, not crutches, not a walker, not a wheel chair; just a cane.

I knew at the Pride Parade, if I was going to be able to walk in to the Pride Festival to find my daughter who marched with our church in the parade, I was going to need all the help I could get, so I finally picked up a cane at the drug store and headed in to the rainbow mayhem.  It was a revelation.  Suddenly my head had space. I could see things. I could hear things without going nuts. I felt horribly self conscious, but my mind also felt liberated to do some thing other than try to keep myself vertical... which was walk in and walk right back out.  But still, that's progress!

Back at the grocery store, I was struggling again to find peace with the cane. I felt awkward and conspicuous. And then, in walked our local person of drag. I can't tell if he is sincerely but inexpertly trying to be a she or if he is trying to look like a he sort of being a she; it's not a real thorough transformation. Plus, women who are 6 ft tall usually eschew 8 inch heels, so it's an unrealistic get-up. It is none of my business, I'm simply unsure what pronoun s/he would want me to use here.

On this day, it looked like maybe s/he hadn't changed for a few days.  Her butt pads were lumpy and her boobs were wandering in ways that reminded me of my 6th grade Halloween costume where I was a bubble gum machine with assorted balloon shapes contained in a clear plastic bag around my torso.  Her blond wig was tattered. And his usual cobalt blue mini dress was, as usual, making him/her really noticeable. S/he always stands out, partly because I've never seen a woman go grocery shopping in anything close to that outfit. For me personally, however fascinating and interesting a well done drag queen can be, I find badly executed drag unsettling, as I did on this particular day.

Accidental mother-daughter opposite-matching, with props
Coyote's mouth was completely open in shock (as were pretty much everyone else's).  And his eyes were big as dinner plates.  And I felt it would do no good for me to pretend we weren't all seeing the hot mess we were seeing. I had to say something. But what?! These are the issues we face in provincial little Spokane. What to do? What do say? It didn't seem honest to ignore the spectacle, which normally isn't much of a spectacle, but today she was really amazing.  I had massive internal dissonance.  On the one hand, you know, isn't it okay to hope that some care might be put in to ones appearance?  On the other hand, what was it that I'd posted on Facebook? "Everyone should be able to wear whatever they want whenever they want."  All we legally ask is that privates are covered, and they were.  Um... so who was I really?

I got down at Coyote's level, in front of his eyes, and said, "Remember, Everyone gets to wear whatever they want whenever they want.  And it's impolite to stare." 

I stood up. And I leaned on my cane, suddenly able to handle the store, the noise, the people, the music, the numbers and letters everywhere, for as much time as I needed to pick up the few items on our list, all thanks to my cane. 

And I realized that if S/he can wear slovenly drag, I get to use a cane.  And it's nobody's business if I do.  I can use a cane whenever I need to, or not.  I can use my cane whenever I want to, NEED or not.  I can use my cane for as long as I want, whenever I want, or not. I can use my cane for the rest of my life, if I feel like it, just for kicks.  I don't need to be "bad off enough" to justify it to anyone, even myself.  I love my cane.  It makes space in my brain for other things. And gives me a sense of security as I expand my horizons and test myself against new situations.  And that's the society you and I both want to live in, one where people get to make choices for themselves for what's right for them, and it's none of our damn business.  My brain.  My cane.  My right.

People's reactions to my cane have been almost universally great, probably the bad drag queen can't say that. Not much gawking. Customer service is prompt. People make way for me in a crowd. I feel less need to explain the confused words that sometimes come out of my mouth.  Only once, rounding a corner at the store, was it awkward. This woman and I almost collided and instead of exchanging mumbled "excuse me's" she screamed, "AAAHHH! Oh MY GOD. I'M SO SORRY.  Oh please forgive me. OH MY GOD.  I can't believe myself!!! AUGHH!!!"   I half expected her to thank me for my service.  In such a military town, it's a common enough phrase to anyone in fatigues or with a crutch. But, as a friend recently suggested, perhaps that's what I'll say next time I see our neighborhood drag queen: "Thank you for your service,  and thank you for the sacrifices you have made for my sense of freedom."

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