When I get the SMS, I want to say no. I’ve had a bad day: my computer died and the slight cold I’ve had for several days still hasn’t gotten better. What I want to do is sit on my bed and read a book and feel sorry for myself.
But I remember my rule: if you don’t want to do it, you probably should, so I say yes, and that’s how I end up packed into a crowd watching a drag show.
I spend the first several minutes worrying about the fact that the only thing I know about drag culture is that there are politically correct and politically incorrect ways to approach it. I don’t know what constitutes politically correct and what constitutes politically incorrect and I don’t know how I’m approaching it right now. So much for Drag Ball educating the Oberlin community.
Once I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m probably going to inadvertently offend someone, I relax and start watching the show, just in time to catch someone dressed up as Lady Gaga1. He2’s wearing a blond wig and fishnets and lip syncing while a great deal of stage smoke billows around him. The smoke wafts up to where I’m kneeling and I cough. It tastes just like the pit during the wolf chase in Beauty and the Beast.
After Lady Gaga, the songs are–for the most part–in Indonesian, meaning that I only pick out pronouns and words like “love.” This also means that, judging by the times when everyone around me laughs and I don’t, I’m missing out on some of the humor, but since most of the performance is physical anyway, I feel included.
I’m also quite pleased when a Chinese song comes on. Again, I only pick out pronouns and words like “love,” but I figure in this case that’s about on par with everyone else. I end up enjoying this song the most, partially because there’s a lack of Chinese influence in my life right now3 and partially because the costume is fantastic. He’s wearing those long fingernails that you associate with historical China on one hand and expertly manipulating a fan with the other.
The final number includes several people and several songs, one of which I recognize as having been popular at some point, maybe around middle school4. The friend I’m with leans over and asks if I can tell which of the performers is from the dance troupe whose practices I’ve recently started attending. “Is that him?” he asks, pointing.
I shrug. “I can’t tell.”
And I really can’t. The flashing lights and smoke here are completely different from the smoke and lights at Prambanan. And the wigs throw me off.
But when the show is over and we’ve made our way through the crowd, there he is at the exit, waiting for us. He has longer hair than I do and smokey eyes and dangly, sparkly earrings. “Do you remember me?” he says.
“Of course,” I say.
We pose together for a photo and then my friend and I leave, glancing back to see him taking a photo with someone else.
“He says they perform for themselves,” my friend says as we walk back to the parking lot.
“That’s good,” I say.5
1Yes, Judas, I’m still in love with you, too.
2Mainly, I think I’m going to offend people by my use of gender pronouns. In some instances, I think you’re supposed to use she/her/hers to refer to drag queens, but I don’t know what those cases are. I also don’t know what pronouns the performers want me to use, and since Indonesian doesn’t have gendered pronouns, it gets even more complicated. I’m going to use he/him/his in this post, but feel free to substitute in whatever form of ze or she that would make your reading experience the most comfortable.
3Oh CSA, how I miss you.
4Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey!
5And I miss, just a little bit, being in a place where worrying about gender pronouns was a serious thing and where I could wear a red tux in the Science Center at ten at night and no one would look twice.