A day in the life of a drag performer.
June 27, 2009
It’s 4 a.m., and I’m all snug in my bed. Suddenly, I awake to the sound of my alarm clock, jump up turn it off, and my heart is a racing. It’s time to shower, shave and put on a face. Yes, that’s right: makeup, lashes, pads and a wig. “Why is this crazy girl getting all dolled up—and so early?” you ask. Well, I am getting ready for an interview on Channel 15 News this morning with my two wonderful friends, Kimmy and my drag sister MiMi Jackson. What, pray tell, would we be doing on the news this morning and in drag? Well, Kimmy is putting on a show later tonight called the Annual Drag Down Cancer Comedy Benefit—an evening of performances, fun and spectacles to fight cancer. Our local news team heard about this wonderful event and wanted to know more about it.
Now it’s 5 a.m., and I’m painting away, bringing Miss Josie Lynn to life. I am so excited and so nervous. This, to me, is what it truly feels like to be alive, and I love every minute of it.
6 a.m., I’m pressed to the mirror drawing on some lips. In the corner of my eye, I see Miss MiMi Jackson. Now my heart is doing double time. She says, “Girl, this is really happening; it really is,” and then she gives me that wonderful smile that reassures me that this will be a day to remember. Now, on to the finishing touches: pads, hose, outfit, hair and jewelry.
By 6:10 a.m., we are in the car and off to the studio. The Channel 15 studio is just down the street from where I live, and we arrive in no time. Kimmy is in the parking lot waiting for us. We all walk up to the guest door and are escorted in and taken to the main news room where all the magic happens. There, we are introduced to the morning team: Barclay Pollak and Michelle Riell—two wonderful reporters who made us feel so welcome. Next, our mics are clipped to us: up, around, through and under (being concealed by our outfits), and now … 3-2-1, showtime!
Our interviewers ask about the show and what it involves. Kimmy goes first, then MiMi, then me. We tell why we are doing this—loved ones we know who are living with cancer and those we have lost to this dreadful disease. Then we describe what we will be doing at the benefit that night, with the main objective to raise lots of money through performance, through comedy, through drag. And then I smile, thinking to myself, “This is why I do what I do, and why I love what I do.”
By 6:30 a.m. the interview is over. We walk back to our vehicles, and MiMi turns to us and says, “Well, here we are all dressed up. Now we need a place to go.” We all talk it over and think … Coffee … Downtown … What a great idea! So, we get into our vehicles and hit the Beltline. This is a Saturday morning, and the Capitol Square Farmers’ Market is in full swing. What a fun way to promote this awesome show, walking around the square during a Farmers’ Market in full drag. And that’s exactly what we did—coffee in one hand, show fliers in the other.
We arrive downtown and as I’m getting out of the car, I start to get a little nervous. But, I am compelled to move forward. I want to be in charge of today and make this a great experience, so we walk up toward the Capitol. MiMi and I enter the little coffee shop on the square, and walking up to the counter, we see a woman smiling at us. She says, “I just saw you two on TV; you both look great.” Then all of a sudden, I’m not so nervous anymore. We place our order, chit-chat with the employees for a bit, and head outside to wait for Kimmy. What a beautiful day! The sun is shining, the temperature is perfect, in the mid-70s, and for a couple of men in dresses, we couldn’t ask for better weather. Then we see Kimmy walking toward us. She is smiling from ear to ear, and I can tell she is as excited as we are.
It’s 7:00 a.m. now, and the three of us are walking through the Farmers’ Market. The expressions and looks that we are getting range from raised eyebrows of surprise to big smiles as we make our way around the square. We stop occasionally to answer questions, have our picture taken, or just to chat. The three of us have to chuckle as we hear comments ranging from “That’s a man!” to “I love that outfit,” to “Did you see his legs? I could never wear a skirt like that. Look at those legs.” Then, I tell myself I’m so glad we did this, but it’s time to head home, remove our many layers, and rest up for a big night.
By 9:00 a.m. I’m home: wig off, heels off, washing my face. I’m turning back into Joel. I put on some comfy clothes, sink into my couch and let out a big sigh.
My mind kicks into high gear. Emotions are running high as I start to reflect and reminisce. I remember my grandma.
This particular memory is from 1996. My grandma is in the hospital with colon cancer in the final stages. There isn’t much the doctors can do for her but make her feel as comfortable as they can. My mom and dad and I drove to Milwaukee to visit her in the hospital. Both my grandparents know all about me—about my being gay and my new love for entertaining as Josie Lynn. They, like my parents, are so loving and have given me the best gift I could ever ask for: the gift of acceptance. I could never ask for anything more. We arrive at the hospital and head up to her room, where my grandpa already is. My grandma is in her bed in an upright position, and as we walk in, her eyes still have that twinkle. She shines her beautiful, beautiful smile, the one that lights up any room. God, I miss that smile. I walk over and give her a hug and kiss, then a big hug for my grandpa.
We all sit around and start talking of this and that, then the topic of Josie Lynn comes up. My mom pulls pictures of me as Josie Lynn out of her purse and we show them to my grandparents. They love them. They can’t get over it; they can’t believe that’s me. While we are looking at the pictures, my aunt and uncle walk in. More hugs and more love fill the room.
Without missing a beat, my grandpa starts to tell a story. My grandpa has the greatest sense of humor, a little on the dry side. He starts to tell about his long-lost granddaughter (my grandparents have six grandsons), going on and on about this granddaughter who after all these years was reunited with Leon and Susan (my parents), and how she has come back into our lives. My aunt had the most confused look on her face, asking, “What? Who is this girl? Were did she come from?” My grandpa continues with his story and even shows them the pictures saying, “Look, here she is.” After a little while, my grandma turns to grandpa and says, “Father.” She always calls him that. “Father, now that’s enough.” So he confesses that the person in the pictures is me. “That’s Joel,” he says. We all had such a great laugh, and the room was so full of love and smiles. I’ll never forget that smile on my grandma’s face that day for as long as live. I love you Grandma, and I miss you so much.
Sitting here on my couch, I’m thinking to myself about how a picture of me in drag combined with a silly story caused so much joy, and it reminds me why I do what I do, and why I love doing what I do.
By 6:00 p.m., I am all rested up, showered, shaved and back in my bathroom putting on makeup. And, once again, my heart is racing. This time, I will wait to do the finishing touches when I get to the High Noon Saloon, our host for tonight’s benefit. I pack the car with all my outfits, jewels, makeup, pads, music and everything else in between.
When I arrive at the bar I am greeted by Kimmy and MiMi, and we all have a great laugh remembering our fun-filled morning. MiMi and I order a drink and hit the dressing room, where we both finish getting ready. Outfits on, hair teased, jewelry in place, we grab our drinks and head back into the main bar.
As we are greeting people, I notice two women sitting at the end of the bar with great big smiles and staring right at us. I’m intrigued, so we walk over to these ladies, and they say, “We saw you this morning at the Farmers’ Market, and because of that we wanted to come out here tonight and see the show.” WOW. You would have thought I had just won the lottery. I am so happy and excited that these two wonderful women came out because of us. I turn to MiMi and say this is going to be a great night.
It’s 7 p.m., and it’s show time. The bar is packed, and energy is at an all-time high. The performers are in the dressing room getting ready for their numbers. The acts tonight range from stand-up to drag queens and kings to musicians, and every performer does an amazing job. The crowd roars and cheers, and of course tips, tips, tips—raising money to help fight the dreadful disease: cancer, a disease that does not discriminate. It does not care what your age, color, religion or sexual orientation is, it will take hold of anyone, anywhere, at any time.
But tonight, cancer will not break us. It will not take hold of us, and it will NOT win. For we are strong when we stand together—together as a community, together as a family. We will continue to prove that for as long as we have each other, and my promise to you is that you will always have me, and I will always be there.
Once again, I remember why I do what I do, and why I love it so very much. Thank you, everyone. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. And remember: Love one another, but mostly, remember to love yourself.