Queen for a Night
I am writing to you from two strained calf muscles and a very itchy chest. The Ms. WESA Pageant has now passed and my hair is starting to return with a vengeance. Madonna once asked “do you know what it feels like for a girl?” and after this weekend I can safely answer yes - and it is not easy.
Rewind to my apartment last Friday afternoon and you will find me jumping in and out of the shower for two and a half hours. Five Mach 3 Razors, 3 AAA batteries and one expensive can of Biotherm Men’s Shaving Cream later I had successfully shaved all the hair from the bottom of my ears to the top of my belly button. Too exhausted to continue on to my legs, I popped open a beer, put on my ball cap and headed out the door to make a seven o’clock game.
Zoom into Saturday morning at ten o’clock and you will find me waking up in bed next to my teammate Holotta. Zoom out and you will see piles of women’s clothes and empty beer bottles dispersed all over the floor. Holotta won the crown last year and came over after the game to help me arrange my outfits. One beer turned into another and the two of us stayed up half the night walking around my apartment in stilettos and drinking on my patio in full drag. It was fabulous.
The clock strikes noon and after four cups of coffee I am running late to complete my final errands before the show: ticket drop-offs, cosmetic purchases and last-minute costume adjustments. My suitcase packed, I whip out the door, run down the stairs, and then danger strikes. My stomach takes an unexpected turn for the worse and I am forced to turn back around. This cannot be happening. I don’t know whether it was the beer, Hawaiian Chicken burger from the night before, or nerves but I spend the next three hours sick in my apartment. Not good.
3:00 sharp and Holotta rolls in front of my apartment to drive us to our make-up appointment downtown. My face without colour and my stomach so empty it hurts, I crawl into his passenger seat with a bottle of orange Gatorade and an unspoken wish the show was any other night but tonight.
“Get it together, Fox” I say to myself quietly taking one deep breath after another. “It’s just nerves … now calm the F down.”
Twenty minutes later and I am lying on the couch of one of the most popular drag queens in town. With a vodka-cran in his hand, Holotta is getting his make-up done on the vinyl chair behind me; tonight is his step-down number and he must give up the crown. Eighties music streams out from the speakers attached to the living room wall: pop bands I am too young to remember, tracks from Madonna’s True Blue album, and Kylie’s live “Showgirls” comeback concert after recovering from breast cancer. From where I am lying I count at least ten wigs of every shape, colour and texture propped on Styrofoam heads. The door to the front closet is folded open and a sequin-studded jacket sparkles like a diamond in the rough. I am in a movie and I love it. Holotta has transformed and it is now my turn to go up.
The kitchen table is covered in make-up containers, nail polish bottles and fake-eyelash packets. Climbing into the hot-seat, I place my hand over my stomach and apologize I have not said more than two words since walking in. I am not myself and pretty soon I will be even less so. I smile and close my eyes. Ten minutes later, I turn my head to the mirror to the right and see that my eyebrows are gone. My face is covered in powder and my freckles have all but disappeared. Another fifteen minutes pass and I turn my head to the right once again. Everything is new, from my eyebrows to my eyelashes, my cheeks to my lips. The drag queen is an artist and my face is her creation.
I open up the zipper to my suitcase and pull out the auburn wig that I bought from a friendly Japanese couple at a hooker store on East Hastings. I slide it over my head and close my eyes as a mist of hairspray settles on top of me. I then pull out my black corset, take a deep breath in, and Holotta struggles to clip-it up. I feel like Kate Winslett in Titanic when her mother straps her in while scolding her about Cal: “We have nothing, nothing, don’t you understand that!” Next, I fill in the spaces where breasts should be with two sets of .99 cent shoulder pads. I unfold the size-6 lavender dress I am opening with and Holotta zips it up in the back. He then sets up a pair of three-inch-faux-alligator stilettos on the floor before me, and I force each of my feet into them like I am Cinderella’s bitch step-sister. He helps me on to my feet and the transition is complete. I look in the mirror one final time before going and see ginger*SNAP looking back at me.
It is 5:15 and Holotta and I return late to our friend Patsy’s place for a pre-game party with the team. Patsy is a former Ms. WESA Champion and went down in history after competing in the contest six times. Around the league, he is referred to affectionately as the ‘Susan Lucci of the Pageant.’ One by one each of my teammates arrive with an assorted variety of liquor in tow: gin, vodka, coolers. A champagne cork pops and the festivities have officially begun. With a plastic cup of bubbly and I drown two stomach pills in the washroom and feel as if I am getting the true beauty queen experience. Everyone on the team is floored by my make-up. Apparently I don’t look that bad as a girl.
shoppers drug mart snapshotSeven-thirty and a little bit tipsy Holotta and I take one-step at a time as we descend the stairs of the apartment on to Davie Street.
The sun is shining, the temperature is boiling and for a second I fear I might melt. We embark on a packed sidewalk followed by an entourage of teammates wheeling our luggage. On one arm, a dollar-store matching purse dangles from my wrist. In the other hand lies the neck of an empty champagne bottle.
Stumbling down the sidewalk I watch from under my aviators as the prying eyes of every passerby turns to me. On this grad night I am the naughty prom girl. In character, I tilt my head back, open my mouth and tilt the champagne bottle upside down above it. To my complete surprise the bottle is not empty. Bubbly pours out all over my face and I close my Angelina Jolie-lips just in time to stop from choking. The lot of us cannot stop laughing. I stop in the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot for a make-up check and pose for a picture.
Outside Celebrities, I spot three of my TKO girls, including my forever West End girl, Joy. I strut up to them and say in a sultry voice, “why hello ladies.” Joy has no clue who I am and I am just as floored as she is in the moment it takes for her to figures it out. A second later, I hear my name called and return promptly to my escort. Led through a crowd of hundreds of people, I am guided downstairs into the basement of the bar. I take off my sunglasses and see a crowd of half-naked men wearing make-up. It appears I have found the right place. There are thirteen leagues in the team this year and thirteen rookies competing for the crown.
the dressing roomNavigating my way through the competition, I set-up shop in an empty corner and my teammate John helps me to unpack my suitcase. I strip down into my under-garments which include a pair of XS black underwear that I bought three years ago and have never worn because they cut off the circulation below my waist. Luckily I was born a grower and not a shower so I have no problems with tucking. John helps me into my Charlie’s Angels bathing suit and anxiously ties up the straps on the back.
I bought the swimsuit from the Winners downtown. I took it off the rack, walked up to the sales girl and asked her how I’d know if it would fit. “Well you have to try it on,” she replied with no time to decide what her appropriate reaction should be. Walking to the change-room, I counted the number of botoxed eyes that followed me to the back of the store: eighteen.
John finishes tying the knot and turns me around. He puts his hands on both of my arms and tells me that I look beautiful. He then touches up my make-up and applies a liberal amount of lip gloss to make my mouth shine. These two actions he would repeat several more times throughout the night. I don’t know if ginger*SNAP could have made it through the night without him.
8:15 and it is time to compete in the bathing suit competition. All the contestants are lined up in order and I am eleventh up to bat. In front of me stands Lady Gaga, a six-foot tall man with broad shoulders and a medium build. Behind me smiles the only King in the competition. She is wearing a plastic male-chest and a glued on mustache. Although the league is predominantly composed of gay men, there are several female players and straight man that play too. It is not exclusive.
When my turn is up, I am led out into the crowd and up towards the stage. I climb each step carefully and look up to find myself half-naked in front of a packed-house of screaming people. I bear the sash of my team across my chest and am introduced over the loud speakers as “Miss Ginger Snap.” Without a moment’s hesitation I work it. I snap, I bend, I strut until I am no longer sure what to do with myself. Apparently the contestants are supposed to leave the stage on their own accord: I did not know this so I accidentally overstayed my time to shine. Whatever, I looked fucking fabulous.
Making a hasty exit, I took one rushed step down and almost became fashion road-kill. My balance coming out from under me, I heard the crowd yelp and saw an audience member raise out his arms to catch me. At the very last second I managed to regain my footing and skip down the next step to hit the ground vertical.
The swimsuit part of the competition is over.
9:00 and I am downstairs dressed for my main number. I am performing “Bulletproof” by LaRoux and have costumed myself in a Lara Croft-style outfit. Big black patent-leather boots rise up from my feet while camouflage booty shorts fall only inches down from my waist. Strapped around my upper body is the black corset wrapped in a hot-pink tank top to accentuate each of my breasts. I hear my name called and ascend back up the stairs to take my position on deck.
On ground level, I listen to the uproar for Lady Gaga as he performs the last dance moves to an impeccably choreographed version of “Telephone.” The crowd goes wild once the song is over and it occurs to me that he just hit a grand-slam. It’s on bitch. Shuffling to the side so he can pass me, I walk to the stage with my two hot male back-up dancers behind me. The spotlight comes up, the music starts and I am determined not to strike-out. I don’t.
Once the performances are finished, we all take to the stage one final time to hear the top-three announced. I am dressed in my final evening gown for this occasion, a sparkling red dress with two small straps and a questionable slit down the side. In front of me stands Lady Gaga again and for the first time we speak. He is a perfect gentleman and I congratulate him on his performance. Just before we head back on, I adjust his fake China-made hair and he props out his elbow for me to wrap my arm around. I recite the lyrics to “Man, I feel like a woman” as he leads me back to the stage helping me with each step along the way.
The top-three are announced and I am not one of them. Stopping myself from making a scene, I excuse myself from the spotlight graciously and descend back into the crowd. Within seconds I run into my TKO girls again who are absolutely thrilled.
“Fuck you!” exclaims one of the ladies, a blonde-bombshell if there ever was one, “do you know how much I would kill for legs like that?”
“Thank you,” I respond meekly, returning her a smile.
Joy then takes me gently by the arm and moves her mouth up close to my ear and says, “I am not a lesbian but if I were, I would definitely do you.”
“Thank you,” I respond meekly, returning her a smile.
Ten-thousand cameras flash and I catch a glimpse of Lady Gaga accept his crown as Ms. WESA 2010. He may well be the Queen in this pageant but to me he is the King of this night. It is a well deserved win and I scream as loud as I can before choking on a piece of my hair. More flashes pop and each time my eyes readjust I see a new strange man staring at me. I have never been noticed this much at a gay bar in my life. My softball Coach comes into focus and I give him a big hug. I then shake the hands of my teammates and feel a hand settle of my shoulder. I turn around to see my sister. Standing with her partner and a group of her friends, she led my largest personal cheering section in the house. The two of us pose for picture and the thought shutters down my spine, “dear God what if my father sees this?”
Midnight and the party has started but my night is finished. It is time for this crab to return to his shell. I return downstairs to collect my things and notice that John has organized and packed up all my belongings. It is a nice feeling to belong to a team. I wheel my suitcase outside the bar into the crowd and find Holotta to say goodbye. Showing some leg, I hail a cab on Davie and return home to a hot shower and a bottle of nail polish remover. I pack ginger*SNAP up and place her safely in my closet. She gave me an experience that I will never forget and taught me more about myself in one night than I could have ever learned in a lifetime. I may have not won the Pageant in the end, but my reward has been much greater than I could have ever expected.