My friends and I, along with a few hundred other poofters, would doll up in regalia guaranteed to make real drag queens clench their teeth and shudder. Those true drag queens might aim for the illusion of femininity, the very soul of she‑ness, but Southern Decadence in general, and my pals in particular, shot more for a burlesque of all aspects of feminine apparel. We had an unhygienic collection we worked from called The Drag Bag, a seemingly bottomless supply of dresses, rhinestones, purses, chiffon what-nots, and wigs, wigs, wigs. Just getting together an outfit from all the scraps was pretty darned hilarious, believe me.
The “parade” would gather at a shitty little bar named the Golden Lantern, but much better known as the Golden Latrine, and slither off on a completely unplanned march from bar to bar though out the French Quarter. I never made it to the end of the route, since the aimless, drunken wandering always wore me out. One year, they wound up on the steps of the Moon Landing facing Jackson Square belting out “God Bless America”. I have no idea why, I’m pretty sure no one does.
Another year I was pretty, let me tell you, a lavender beehive, purple pumps and a gold lame miniskirt I made by sewing a scrap of fabric to a jock strap. I remember those damn pumps cause they were new and hurt so much I wound up jettisoning them and walking home in my stockings. I’m not saying that I’m certain I converted to HIV positive because of that, but you know, it’s possible. If you’ve ever seen the streets of the Quarter on a hot summer afternoon, I know you’d agree. My, how people stared. It might have been because of the beehive, or it might have been because I was barefoot.
One time my friend Robert wore a hoop skirt on his head like a mantilla from Mars and people cheered. Another year my other dear friend Magda blew up balloons and wore them like a crinoline under a gauzy little party frock. Again, cheering. We went out in the rain, we went out in the miserable heat, we went out in dresses so ugly they made you squint. I loved it.
I’m glad I got to experience it when I did. If you go to the main website for Southern Decadence now you will see not one reference to drag. It’s all muscley boys tweaking with their shirts off. Certainly, that’s not something I sneer at, I love dem mucscley boys. But it could be anywhere, anytime – Folsom Street Fair, Gay Pride in Sacramento, Halloween in Pittsburgh. It can never replace the thrill of appearing on Royal Street in a cherry red ball gown with plastic crystal chandelier pendants in my hair. Those were the days.