This is what I look like.
(Yes, the pink glasses are fake. As was that tattoo. As is that woman.)
And no, I'm not a career drag queen. And, after the experience of BECOMING one, I'm not too sure I'll ever do it again. But it was a spectacular experience, a checkmark on my Bucket List, and a teaching moment to be sure.
HOW IT BEGAN
Last year I promoted my self-published novel, Gulliver Travels at NYC drag queen and Showbiz Spitfire Paige Turner's weekly Sunday night show, SLURP Sundays at Vlada in Hell's Kitchen. I came up on stage, smiled and waved, sat on a stool, and chatted with Paige about the book.
The audience, to be frank, wasn't having it. It was a fine interview. But this was a drag show. A cabaret of chicks. They wanted pizzazz! And excitement! And dick jokes! Not some writer prattling on about his book.
Then, on May 1st of this year, the professionally published and updated version of my novel, Gulliver Takes Manhattan went on sale around the world. Paige invited me on her show again. I said yes, of course... but I had to fix the format from last year. I needed to do something new.
The idea hit me like someone had snuck up behind me and flung a textbook at my head.
I texted Paige and said, "Hey, for my appearance this year, what if I did drag?"
"You're kidding," she texted back.
"I am not." I said.
"Well shit. I can't wait to see this."
I went on Facebook and said I would be doing drag. One time only, and never again. I didn't expect the response that I received: over 1,000 collective likes. Over 500 comments. 350 retweets. Every single one of my social accounts lit up like a telephone switchboard during a Talk to Lady Gaga radio segment.
People were coming in from Jersey, Westchester, Long Island, Upstate, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere just to see this. Half thought it would be a shit show. The other half were pretty sure it would be a shitshow.
Regardless, a lot of people were coming to Vlada for Slurp Sundays that week.
And my drag name? Well, I owe the credit to that to my friend James. The name was so simple it was stupid. Plus, it was genius: GiGi Twenty, named after the Facebook group I created, GG20.
This was going to happen, after all.
Or, maybe it wasn't
I have always joked that I could never be a drag queen. I'm too stocky. I have the shoulders of a linebacker. I have a huge tiki-statuesque head. And I was also in the midst of revisions of the sequel to my novel, Gulliver Takes Five, which is set for release in November of this year.
AKA: I didn't have time to actually learn and do drag. And I had no goddamn idea what to do.
Paige herself was very busy, with a photoshoot for Time Out New York, and her many weekly shows, and just being one of the city's most popular and in-demand queens. She texted me some tips, like where I could buy a wig, and get an outfit.
But it was too much stress. I was lashed to my keyboard and pounding out edits to Gulliver Takes Five. I was afraid that I might let everyone down and just show up as plain ol' Justin Luke.
Jimmy Prada is a fabulous man of many talents. He DJs. He bartends. He's cute (that's a talent... trust). He also runs a weekly Bingo night at Patron in the low 50s in Hell's Kitchen every Monday. The guacamole is fresh-made (and you can get it spicy). The margaritas are served in buckets and are very, very cheap.
Jimmy invited me to come and guest host on his Bingo show on Monday, May 7th to promote Gulliver Takes Manhattan. I took him up on it. We had a great crowd, and awesome chemistry. Another guest on the show, a weekly guest to be more specific was the drag queen Tasha Salad.
Tasha lives in Kentucky and flies to NYC once a week, just for Bingo, and any other gigs she may have. I met her two years ago at the premiere of Paige Turner and Austin Helms' live drag reality show at New World Stages, So You Think You Can Drag.
I told Tasha of my drag woes, and she became my guardian angel with one sentence: "I'll take care of you, babe. No sweat. See you Sunday."
And take care of me she did.
Two hours. TWO HOURS. That's how long it took Tasha Salad to do my face. I sat in a folding chair in my living room, head back, neck screaming in agony as she ravished my visage with layers and layers of makeup.
She glue-sticked down my eyebrows and drew new ones in.
She contoured and RE-contoured my nose. My cheeks. My chin.
She glued top AND bottom eyelashes to my eyes.
She coated my entire upper half in makeup that I STILL am seeing on the collar of my coat.
I wasn't going to shave my legs, so instead I wore THREE pairs of pantyhose: two tan on the bottom, one nude on top.
I wore one of Tasha's red-head wigs, which she hair-sprayed to the point that it became a ginger rock formation. She put me in her dress, gave me a matching pair of sparkly sleeves.
I refused to wear high heels. I didn't have time to learn how to walk in them. And the last thing I wanted was to trip and cause a YouTube moment on the stage in front of hundreds of gay strangers and friends.
All of this happened in front of my friends Patrick and Scott, and my boyfriend Joe. They got to see the transformation. I refused to.
Instead, I faced away from the mirror. Kept my eyes closed most of the time. After two hours, Tasha instructed me to turn around. I felt like Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the original Batman film. "The mirror... THE MIRROR!" (Mirror Smash! Cackling! Evil actions! Montage Museum takeover with henchmen who look like Kid 'N Play!)
I couldn't believe what I saw. It was like looking into some magical Harry Potter mirror. I still FELT like me... but I looked nothing like me. I actually sorta looked like my deceased grandmother when she was in HER thirties.
I had to laugh. I had to shake my head. I had to run... because we were late. Scott, Patrick and Joe became my drag slaves. They held my phone and my books and everything else. We ran to Vlada... and somehow arrived early.
I spent the thirty minutes before my debut (and retirement) drinking and watching San Francisco drag queen Jackie Coxx and Paige practice their hilarious choreography to a brilliant song they had written that week.
Meanwhile, Tasha, out of drag, spent at least ten minutes tending to my wig, and "fluffing" this ridiculously gorgeous red coat while explaining to me the proper way that I would spin on stage, drop the coat, and "reveal" the dress underneath.
See it for yourself:
I have learned the following things from my night as a drag queen:
1. I will probably NEVER do it again
2. Drag queens deserve a lot more credit and cash than they make in NYC
3. I will always walk like a man, I can't help it
4. A spotlight in your face transports you to another world
5. Don't bother with too much choreography, when you hit the stage you forget everything and end up making shit up
Doing drag is a commitment. It is a JOB.
The best drag queens make you think "Oh wow. I can totally be a drag queen! I'll just walk around being fierce and fabulous."
Well, partner, you're wrong. Good luck looking fabulous and fierce with your face feeling like it's covered in a gallon of cement. Good luck walking gaily as your dick is pushed back so far it's somewhere in your butt crack. Good luck being blinded by a spotlight, overheated to exhaustion, while your bobby-pinned hair screams under an itchy wig.
I didn't even walk in heels. Good luck doing that too.
A fabulous drag queen is no doubt screaming in pain and discomfort under that smiling, saccharine exterior.
So be sure to tip them. They deserve more singles than your wallet could EVER carry.
xo GiGi Twenty