Drag Queen: Undressed


DRAG QUEEN: UNDRESSED
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THE SHOW
It was our first drag show. It surprised me because we live in Texas and Austin HAS to be the drag-iest city in Texas, right? But alas, I was a drag show virgin. I left my kids with a sitter, was delightfully surprised that my husband thought it would be fun, and off we went, using our valuable time away from the kids to go support a friend. Pannica Tack would be announced as candidate for Empress XXI of The United Court of Austin, a prestigious honor. My husband and I walked in to see her smiling face right away – PHEW! No awkward standing around pretending this was totally normal for us! She immediately introduced us to the current reigning Empress, Anastasia Fabre Davis, who did a great job making us feel welcome. We ordered drinks and mingled with a group of Queens. We may have been the only heteros in the place, but we were welcomed with open arms.

Pannica Tack is formally announced as candidate for Empress XXI of The United Court of Austin

Pannica Tack is formally announced as candidate for Empress XXI of The United Court of Austin

The night was filled with surprises and realizations of how little I know about drag. As the show began, the crowd fell silent, and the MC introduced the first performer. The music started as a Queen made her way out onto the floor lip synching a song that deserved to be belted out in all of it’s glory. Then my stomach jumped into my throat when I saw people lining up with dollars.

Did I accidentally walk into some kind of Drag strip club? What was going on?! And how exactly were they going to take off all those layers of clothes? Having already seen how complex getting dressed in drag was, I couldn’t imagine any of those clothes coming off gracefully on the floor. I’m pretty open minded, but male strippers are NOT my thing (regardless of what kind of clothes they are taking off). I glanced at my husband to see if he was as concerned as I was.

The performer took the dollars, curtsied to the tipper, and dropped the money in a large pot. I tagged someone walking by and asked what was going on. Apparently this is how drag performers are typically paid – through tips. All of their prep, beauty and grace is rewarded from the audience.

What made this particular event more spectacular is that all of the money tipped was going to charity. AWESOME! I shuffled through my clutch and my husband’s pockets for cash. As a member of the United Court of Austin Pannica Tack helps raise funds for charitable organizations! BOOM! Philanthropy is not only a part of the show – it’s the point! I absolutely love their work. The United Court of Austin works to raise financial support and supply services for all kinds of agencies that work to fight diseases like HIV, AIDS and breast cancer. Some of these organizations are: AIDS Services of Austin (ASA), Project Transitions, Breast Cancer Resource Center, Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklorico, SPCA, Battered Women’s Shelters, and Wright House Wellness Center (WHWC). They have raised over $600,000 for these and other charities since 1994.

The next performer was someone I knew, and I was a little shocked to see him.

Darrell (Hardeaux Tack), Pannica's partner, has been nominated as Emperor XXI

Darrell (Hardeaux Tack), Pannica’s partner, has been nominated as Emperor

It was Pannica’s partner, Hardeux Tack, whom I mostly know as Darrell. But he was wearing men’s clothes! And he was singing for himself! I had expected to see only men wearing women’s clothing. The surprises didn’t

stop there – throughout the night people of all genders presenting as all genders took to the floor. There were even women who performed as women – wearing less make-up and sequins than I was wearing! The one thing they ALL did was perform songs that were belt-worthy. Not only that, but all kinds of songs; rock, country, theater tunes and even one rendition of Let it Go, the popular song from Frozen. As the parents of two girls my husband and I smirked at each other as we recognized the tune. At one point I leaned over and told him I was having flashbacks to performing Celine Dion songs in my bedroom when I was a little girl. OK, so maybe I still do from time to time. I might be more of a Queen than I realized!

I was IN LOVE. We had SO much fun! This was the Candidate Announcements, so EVERYone who is involved with the The United Court of Austin, as well as guests from the other six Courts in Texas, were there. We met people from all over the state – even WACO! Having formerly lived in Waco you better believe I found them and asked them all kinds of questions. I’m a white straight girl and I found Waco oppressive, I can’t imagine trying to run a drag show there!

A few new friends bought us some drinks and we got invited to the after party at a gay club up the street. We danced, we drank, and my husband got hit on all night. My cleavage has never been more useless, but it turns out my man is a hottie so we were still able to get a few free drinks! Lucky for me he is straight as an arrow, but he rather enjoyed the ego stroke. What better compliment than being hit on by a member of a population best known for their great taste? Thank you, Queens, I know my husband is quite the catch.

THE START
Well, it started when I met Pannica at Bedpost Confesssions. After I started The Good Body Project I had gotten the idea that photographing a Drag Queen from start to finish would be quite fascinating, and Pannica was the PERFECT subject.

I went to Pannica’s house for our photography session not knowing exactly what to expect. I honestly didn’t know much about drag other than what I had seen in Too Wong Foo. I had some limited insight from the interactions I had had with her at Bedpost Confessions, but hadn’t asked any hard questions. I was planning to ask Pannica some of those questions and I knew I would put my foot in my mouth at least once before I left. She assured me no questions were off limits, no matter how ignorant they may seem, and promised she would not get offended because she knew I would be coming from a place of genuine curiosity.

Bret Before

Bret Before

When I got there, Bret opened the door. No sequins and feathers, no line dancers or fanfare. I think this was maybe the second time I had ever seen Pannica out of “uniform”, and it was weird. Like seeing a police officer who works in your building in their street clothes. I had to do a bit of a double take! I have always referred to Pannica as a “she” but seeing her as she was in daily life – dressed as a man – my heteronormative brain was doing flips. It was failing at trying to comprehend why Pannica was standing before me in jeans and a t-shirt. I was already dreading the pronoun catastrophe that was likely to come.

THE PRONOUNS
(Disclaimer: I am not an expert on the Transgender community. I give this advice in order to help those unfamiliar with the Trans Community. If you have feedback on this advice please let us know so that we can best serve the general public)

Since pronouns and terminology for men who dress in women’s clothes are the most sensitive, that is naturally the first question I asked. As I set up my lights and back drop Bret explained that it is usually safest to go with the gender that is being presented to you, and if you aren’t sure, ASK. Still, it is not so cut and dry. What do I do when he stands before me as he is in his daily life – a man? When he himself stumbles when he leaves me voice messages?

“Hey doll! It’s Bret… Pannica… WHATEVER. Call me back!”

Well, for the purposes of this piece I will use the pronoun “she” from here on out except where I am speaking of Bret before Pannica was born.

After lots of discussion on drag queens, men, women, trans men, trans women, and the rest of the alphabet soup under the trans umbrella I had an epiphany: drag doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the sexuality or gender identity of the performer – or the viewer. If you enjoy bawdy theater, great music and amazing stage makeup, you’d probably like drag. You don’t have to be transgender, gay – or even in touch with your cisnormativity (if you don’t know what this means, it is probably what you are) – to enjoy the lights, colors, music and fashion that is a Drag Show. Aside from randy queens getting some while they happen to be wearing a dress, this is neither the focus of nor the intent of drag shows. And don’t worry, when queens take their partners to the bathroom at the club it isn’t for risky business, it’s because taking three pairs of hose off to pee is damned near impossible when you are wearing press on nails.

But back to the moment – where was the damn glitter and sequins? Pannica’s home was modestly decorated with simple modern decor, quiteDSC05833 peaceful. I had honestly expected her home to look a little like my good Jewish friend’s parent’s house; plastered in fake gold and other gaudy atrocities. Her partner was in the kitchen cooking carne guisada and their cat dodged playfully around my equipment. We shot her before shots and talked about our favorite music. It was anticlimactic and lovely and… normal. And then…

THE DRAG ROOM
A room bounding with flowers and wigs and gowns and YES! SEQUINS! The adjoining bathroom – stocked with more makeup than I have ever seen a single person own, in every imaginable color, shade and level of “sparkle”. She put my tiny bare-bones make up bag to shame and I was immediately overwhelmed with the endless possibilities of color combinations and blends.

So. Many. BRUSHES.

So. Many. BRUSHES.

As Pannica began the process of applying her make up we talked about things that heteronormative people say, “How do you walk in those shoes?!?!”, and the things I never knew drag queens said about each other, “She’s fishy”, meaning she really looks like a woman. Seeing the process of her gluing her eyebrows down, yes, with an Elmer’s stick of glue, and paint over them to make her face completely white I understood clearly why one might call someone who likes to sleep with a drag queen in drag a “clown f**ker” (OMG, I KNOW I KNOW! Her words, not mine!).gettingready-05918

So with the basic “what to say/what not to say/what we can say but you can’t say” talk out of the way we moved onto eye make up and Pannica’s back story.

THE BACK STORY
Bret was born in a tiny town in East Texas. The only indication of his future as a drag queen was his love of theater and one moment when he was about five years old. He wore his mother’s slip and high heels, a mop for a wig and a dinglehopper (fork, for those of you who aren’t up-to-date on your Little Mermaid trivia) to brush his imaginary red locks. If only his mother

Fun With Eyebrows!

Fun With Eyebrows!

had known she would be seeing much more of this some day when he was an adult! He escaped in 2005 when he went to college and upon graduation in 2009 he moved to Austin and found “home”. In June 2011 his friends convinced him to dress up in drag for his birthday… and Pannica was born. She performed her first show over Thanksgiving of 2011 at an amateur night at a bar, ironically named “Decisions”, in Longview, Texas. A crazy night where she prepped only one piece and a single ensemble. Upon arrival, despite calling ahead to confirm how many pieces to bring, the emcee asked her for the music for her two pieces, leaving her to do one on the fly in her (luckily) adorable undies. She won anyway! From there she went on to perform many more shows and become a member of the prestigious United Court of Austin.

She tells me about her favorite shows and epic fails (think 40’s era sailorette gone tragic hot mess) as she adds the contour to her face, using different shades to create the illusion of high cheek bones, a slimmer nose and less defined jawbone. Seeing how complicated this makeup application process has me staring in awe. How does one learn such a skill?!gettingreadycandids-06095

THE MOMS
Well. that’s why there are drag mothers! Yes, that’s a thing! And Pannica is one lucky girl – she has TWO. They guide her through the complexities of drag-hood – the politics, the makeup, and any other help she asks for.

As Pannica speaks admiringly of her drag mothers she applies the contour gettingreadycandids-06167of her eye make up. She stops and looks at me in all seriousness and says “When you edit these photos keep in mind, If I can’t achieve it with make up, it shouldn’t be done in photoshop.” Yes, ma’am, no photoshop will be touching those glamorous eyes! They are bright and beautiful with layers upon layers of color and contour. I can see how important this is to her. The self control required to not itch your face as to not ruin the hard work put into all of this makeup is admirable. It makes my face itch just thinking of it!

Once the makeup is finished Pannica’s boyish features are looking quite feminine. As each layer goes on you can see the dramatic effect it creates, but it seems disjointed on this male body.gettingreadycandids-06184

THE BODY, BY ROOMS TO GO
Pannicaposter2-06304 Like, no really. Pannica is a fashion genius and can turn pretty much anything into a gorgeous ensemble, and that is not limited to her clothing. Her nonexistent hips and butt are constructed by – yep, you guessed it – cutting out couch cushions! Brilliant! She places the cushions in the appropriate places and holds them in place with not one, not two, but THREE pairs of hose! (Remember that whole “needing help to go to the bathroom” thing? Yea, this is why.) Those suckers aren’t going anywhere. She told me the key to all of this is really about proportions, and that is how you choose everything. Your heels(the higher the heel the smaller your foot looks), your hips (to match the man shoulders), your makeup and your hair (the bigger the hair the closer to God and the smaller your shoulders look). I consider how little time I spend thinking about any of this in my daily routine.

THE FINAL PRODUCT
As we took the final shots I struggled to get all of her 6’6” (with heels) self into the frame. I am a tall girl, but if you ever want to feel short, stand by a drag queen! The final product was someone totally different than the man who met me at the door. THIS was Pannica, and she was beautiful.gettingreadycandids-06297

While many things surprised me through this whole experience there is one thing that I knew would hold true: Drag Queens are just people. They just enjoy beautiful clothes and lip syncing songs to their hearts desire – and they sure know how to have a heck of a lot of fun! Meeting my new friends brought such laughter and, weirdly, an innocence back into my life. They made me feel like a giddy little girl. So, next time you meet a Queen, don’t take things too seriously and start a conversation! You’ll be surprised what you might learn, or what friends you might make.

And, as Pannica said herself “I don’t take myself too seriously. After all – I’m a grown ass man wearing a dress!”

Pannica Tack: The Final Product

Pannica Tack: The Final Product

 

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What to Expect from Sex When You’re Expecting

This piece was originally performed at Bedpost Confessions while I was eight months pregnant

This piece was originally performed at Bedpost Confessions while I was eight months pregnant

Sexually satisfying your partner requires intuition and communication. Over time you learn how they respond to a certain touch, how you can position yourself *just right*, “practicing” until you know their body almost as well as your own. So what do you do when your partners body keeps changing on you: shape, form, tolerance for touch, getting broader and wider and rounder and whinier until climaxing to a point where you are not allowed to touch her for SIX weeks?! While you end up with one of the most beautiful things that human beings are capable of creating, pregnancy can mean at least 10 months of romantic challenges that require three things: a sense of humor, a strong stomach and the willingness and ability to adapt and follow orders.

So here I am, round, but still sensual. Sensitive but not lacking desire. Growing a person while maintaining my Self. Can you imagine having an orgasm… that another being experiences? I read somewhere once that when a pregnant woman has an orgasm the baby gets a massage as the uterus contracts with ripples of pleasure. I imagine it’s like one of those Hydromassage beds that they have at the mall. They are like tanning beds that you lay in while it sprays pulsing water on you through a plastic barrier. They are quite powerful, much like the gestational orgasm.

I would like to take this moment to remind everyone that there is a natural barrier between your love canal and your baby, so there is no penis-to-fetus-face contact as a *ridiculous* amount of people assume. Yes, your dick is *huge*, but trust me, if you’re imagining punching your baby in the face with the head of your penis – don’t flatter yourself. There is this magical thing called the “cervix” that keeps baby in until the time is right and protects it from penetrating objects. My magical vagina might not prevent unwanted pregnancy but it sure will “legitimately” protect my growing baby. Studies actually show that consistent sex and orgasms have benefits for both mom and baby, including stronger pelvic walls and an increased chance of carrying to full term.

Interestingly enough If you look at mommy forums about sex during pregnancy you will find posts on posts of frustrated pregos whose husbands won’t touch them, but at the same time plenty of women complaining of the loss of their sex drive altogether because of the hormones. Everyone relates to sex differently during pregnancy.

Sexual preferences during pregnancy can differ not only from woman to woman, but from pregnancy to pregnancy – even month to month. EVERYTHING changes. How deep, how fast, how hard, which positions. My husband and I joked that it was like he was having sex with a different woman every night. One night my sore bulging breasts are off limits, the next I would want him to tease them. Sometimes I wanted every inch of his skin to touch me, and other times I couldn’t stand the feel of his sympathy pooch on the stretched out skin of my swollen belly. He listened intently, satisfied to follow orders while I learned how to better explain, or show, exactly what I wanted. My body and my desires changed so much that I felt like I was becoming a completely different woman, and come to think of it, I was. I was becoming a mother, something I had to balance with the sensual goddess of lust that lie in the same body as this innocent new life.

As a woman’s body moves through this beautiful – and sometimes just plain weird – process of growing a baby, each trimester presents its own issues. Early on, in the first trimester, the nausea and exhaustion that comes with growing a baby that doubles in size every week can make it nearly impossible to muster the desire to give so much as a “good old fashioned”, and it comes as no surprise that sex can be difficult to stomach during this time – literally. I have heard horror stories of women trying – and failing – to simply give their man a blow job without stimulating their already sensitive gag reflex. I am glad to say I did not experience this myself.

Slowly, nausea and exhaustion abide and the amazing “honeymoon” trimester begins. The wonderful time where you finally don’t feel like shit but you aren’t quite so huge that you need a forklift to ride your partner. For me the magic trimester came with some of the most intense, and easily achieved, orgasms. The amount of blood flowing through your body can increase up to 40% during pregnancy, and a good amount of that blood is hanging out doing work in your pelvic region. It makes for a good time in the bedroom. Even when you are asleep.

The dreams induced by the raging hormones are heightened by that lovely increase in pelvic blood flow. A delightful cocktail that results in, for lack of a better term, wet dreams. I have never in my life, aside from during my pregnancies, woken up mid-orgasm. The orgasms were always amazing, and the dreams were always… interesting. Fuck hallucinogens, pregnancy hormones win! From lesbian lovers – sometimes with a surprise penis! – to erotic orgies, even one involving a sea turtle, the dreams were NEVER boring and always woke me up in the best mood. Regardless of why I had such weird pregnancy dreams – or how fucked up I might just be – I wish I could have them all the time, minus the weight gain.830299_498086853588169_1167734650_o

Then, as swiftly as it comes, the honeymoon period abides and in tromps the third trimester. The prepubescent Bigfoot monster emerges with its acne riddled face, hair growing in places where hair should never be, its large belly swallowed into the HUGEness of its breasts, swollen thighs and legs that have not seen a razor in weeks drag waterlogged ankles through painful strides. The third trimester shows no regard for your lofty goals of not gaining more than the “25-35 pounds” suggested during pregnancy and any delusions you had of being that cute “olive on a toothpick” glowing pregnant woman come crashing down. This is when a little sympathy weight on your partner can go a long way… Even the most confident of women can struggle with their body image at this time.

Somehow my hoss of a man still managed to get aroused, even after I lumbered into the room in my sweats and mumu-esque pregnancy top, flopping myself onto the bed as I told him that I would start getting the 50 pillows I needed for support ready if he would help me get my pants off. He happily obliged every time and – if I was lucky – he would go down on me. Pressing his forehead against the lower part of my bulging belly as I tightly close my eyes and imagined beautiful, non-pregnant sex with vigorous penetration. As we started to make love he ignored the uncontrollable gas that came from that which is a pregnant woman’s highly efficient digestive system, enjoying the occasional breeze on his balls. And if I ever asked for a bathroom break he would keep the party going while I was gone. If he has ever thought any of this was gross he never showed it, and has continued to call me beautiful, make love to me and watched me do my yoga poses in the most inappropriate fashion.

As you get closer to giving birth you start to realize that you are prepping for some time without any vaginal access – and don’t even THINK about going near the blood filled, swollen, rear end after that heavy impact from baby and birth, trust me. And, men, I’m sorry but oral just isn’t very high on the priority list when you are in the tornado of exhaustion that is caring for a newborn. You’re on your own for a little while! Don’t worry, you’ll survive.

It took me a few weeks after the marathon of birth to even remember that I used to enjoy this thing called sex. I had this horrible image of my vagina as a black hole, sucking in everything near it, to an unknown place where it would never be seen again! I completely forgot about the sensual goddess. I mean, duh, my miracle organ of a vagina had been stretched to over 200% of it’s previous size! But as time progresses your body returns to normal, pretty much, and you can do almost everything you always did. Although, young children DO have this ability to suck the life out of you, so I’m not sure if I’m just not as adventurous as I used to be, or if I have just been fucking exhausted for three years. Check back with me… in 18 years.

The first time I reached orgasm after birth I was thrilled and terrified all at the same time – relieved that everything still worked. I came back down from the throbbing intensity of my weak pelvic muscles and noticed that my chest was wet. As I sat up I realized that milk was STREAMING from my breasts. I grabbed a shirt from the floor to dam the flood, but nothing I did could get it to stop! WHY DOES NO ONE TALK ABOUT THIS?!

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Pregnancy has been one of the most challenging obstacles my husband and I have overcome together, and we are better people for it. I trust him with my whole being to be able to laugh with me through the hard times, love me through the gross stuff and have patience while we figure out the rest. How bad could it have been if we willingly did it all over again?