There are all kinds of queens in this world. There’s Queen Elizabeth and the Queen of Hearts, the Queen Mary and the borough of Queens, but the word ‘queen’ is also a part of Gayspeak and it’s a word that’s used a lot. In technical terms, the word ‘queen’ refers to the type of gay man who exhibits effeminate qualities, the stereotypical characteristic most associated with gay men, but using the term in that sense is mostly for gay men.
Q is for Queen….Drag Queen, that is!
When the general public hears the word ‘queen’ associated with a gay man, they most likely associate it with what is more specifically known as a ‘drag queen.’ Drag queens are an indelible part of gay society. They are the ones who enjoy impersonating the female role and many of them do it up with gusto. Some of them simply make forays out in public in full drag attire while others like to let it all out on the stage, entertaining the masses with their unique brand of entertainment.
Drag queens have been around for as long as I can remember, and they weren’t/aren’t always for entertaining gay people either. In the movie “Torch Song Trilogy,” the lead actor played by Harvey Fierstein, played “Virginia Ham,” a female impersonator at a drag club which catered to the general public.
There’s so much I can say about drag queens, and maybe I’ll get to it all one day, but for now I’d like to share just two things about drag queens from my own experiences: something I love and something, or someone, I remember.
Drag Queen Names
One of the funnest things about drag queens is their names. More often than not I always get a chuckle when one of them is announced upon their performance. There are all sorts of names these performers use as aliases, and some of my favorites are the ones that play on words, such as Arnold Beckhoff’s (Harvey Fierstein’s character) in Torch Song Trilogy. In addition to “Virginia Ham,” he shares some of his past handles with the audience, amusing and titillating titles like “Fonda Boys,” “Bang, Bang La Desh,” “Clare Voyant,” and my personal favorite “Anita Mann.”
There’s a blog called “Tilly Screams” that published its “Canonical List of Drag Queen Names” back in 2008 and some of them are a hoot:
There’s Agnes of Gosh, Carlotta Stolengoods, Dolly Llama, Eva Destruction, Formica Dinette, Gena Lola Golden Gate Bridgeda, Ginger Vitus, Gusty Winds, Hedda Lettuce, Juan Nightstand, Marsha Dimes, Miss Diagnosed, Polly Esther, Rachel Discrimination, Tallulah Bunkbed, Tequila Mockingbird, and Tess Tosterone, to name a few.
A special drag queen I once knew
In my days I’ve had the pleasure (and sometimes displeasure!) of seeing drag shows. My good buddy Blanche and I used to frequent a bar called Crystals back in the day that had a drag show every Sunday night. There was this one performer, Madeline Keith, who was also a bartender on Saturday nights. Keith (his real name) was a tall, handsome guy, American Indian by heritage and sweet as can be.
Anyway, Madeline Keith was the host and headliner each week at Crystals Sunday night drag show. He did this bit every now and again that was simply hysterical! He’d come out in a housedress, with his hair up in a kerchief and curlers and a box of Life cereal in his hands. Shirley Bassey’s “This is My Life” would be playing and Keith would be lip syncing in perfect precision to the words.
She’d sit at a small table that was set up on the stage and proceed to begin making her breakfast, all the while the speed of the song would be getting faster, and his movements would get faster. This continued in classic comedic fashion working its way to a frenzied finish as Bassey began to sound like Minnie Mouse and the Life cereal flew out of the box and all over the place as Keith emphasized the words with flailing expressive arms, all done in perfect sync to the music.
The real Shirley Bassey singing 'This is My Life,' at normal speed!
As people do at a good drag show, many in the appreciative audience came up to the stage to reward the performer with bills, and Keith always got good tips for that one, even from me, but that’s not the only time I would give her a big tip. There was another time I can remember when Madeline Keith did a little something special, and he did it just for me. I remember it vividly because it was the night I was outed to my parents.
Madeline Keith often performed Patti LaBelle tunes, and there was a song by the diva that I had always liked called, ‘Love, Need and Want You.’ I once asked him if he knew it and he told me that he didn’t, but one Saturday night at the club he told me to be sure to be there the following week because he had learned the song and would be doing it just for me. I was excited!
At the time I had been seeing Kevin, who I’ve spoken of before. Kevin lived in Queens (lol) and I had been spending weekends at his house, unbeknownst to my mom and dad. One particular weekend, the same weekend Keith was performing my song, my little brother had been snooping around my bedroom and found some, ahem, magazines under my bed. Now I won’t divulge the nature of these magazines, but I will say that seeing them in my room hidden beneath my bed would give the finder the notion that I was indeed gay.
Being the typical little brother that he was, he went straight (pardon the pun) to my mom and shared with her what he’d found. Lo and behold I came home early from Kevin’s to get ready to watch Keith perform and bam!, mom asked me if I was gay. Now I won’t rehash that whole story again except to say that about two hours after my teary-eyed discussion with mom, I was at Crystals sitting at a table near the stage with my friend Blanche as Madeline Keith played my song. At that moment I was as happy as I’d ever been. My parents knew where I was for the very first time since I’d been going out and Keith was playing a song just for me!
When the song had finished, I grabbed a ten dollar bill out of my pocket and walked on to the stage, placing the tip in the place where drag queens usually get their tips, lol. Keith smiled at me, he was as beautiful as a woman as he was handsome as a man, and gave me a smile, a big kiss, and a loving hug. It wasn’t long after that that Crystals closed and Keith disappeared from the scene. I haven’t seen him or her since then, but I’ll always remember!
Some queens from NYC's 2010 Pride Parade