Southern Decadence: the Glory Years

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Today is the annual Southern Decadence in New Orleans. Years ago, when I was a mere baby gay living way down yonder, Southern Decadence, always the Sunday before Labor Day, placed second only to Mardi Gras as my favorite event of the year. Now the day is just one more excuse for a generic circuit party, but in my time, when dinosaurs were still grazing on the ferns in Esplanade Street, it was strictly a drag parade.

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.

7 responses »

  1. Utterly fabulous!But you’re right. It’s become just another stop on the circuit now it seems. Of course, I can see drag parades in TJ Maxx in Metairie nowadays…well, at least I hope that’s what it is.

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  2. Utterly fabulous!But you’re right. It’s become just another stop on the circuit now it seems. Of course, I can see drag parades in TJ Maxx in Metairie nowadays…well, at least I hope that’s what it is.

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  3. I know what you mean. “Back in the day” (in other words, the eighties), North Halsted Market Days was THE big freak fest in Chicago. Anyone who was not of the mainstream was there to see and be seen. So much fun, and so many crazy outfits. Plus there were actually cool things to buy!Now it is totally a big circuit party, taken over by steroid-induced shirtless muscleboys who do their best to look like each other. Same tattoos, same cock rings…Not one ounce of individuality. It’s bizarre to see such conformity, but I guess they need that sort of confirmation that they’re “being gay” the right way.Oh well. I did it…MY way!Anyway, sounds like you did, too. Of course!

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