I suppose it all started with Drag Bingo.
There is a charity based in Durham that provides services and assistance to those living with HIV and AIDs. To raise money, they periodically hold Drag Bingo, which is pretty much what it sounds like, but I'll explain it anyway. It's bingo with drag queens. See? Pretty much what it sounds like. We all went to the Durham Armory, which had been set up with long tables. The tables had those ink stamper bottles set up at each seat. I learned that those are called "bingo daubers." You could buy hot dogs or veggie burger meals, which came with chips, a drink, and a homemade baked good.
We played bingo. The game was run by a guy in a Santa suit and another guy in a Mrs. Santa suit, who referred to herself as Mary Claus. The game was a little hard to follow, as Mr. and Mrs. Claus bantered back and forth in between calling out numbers. It led one to suspect that maybe the evening was not about bingo. I found this frustrating. You may not know this about me, but I really like bingo. And my favorite bingo of all is Christmas bingo.
When I was a kid, the local fire department used to hold a bingo Christmas party. We went because my dad was on the fire department board or maybe it was because he was just an upstanding citizen in the community. In any case, we all would meet down at the middle school. There was food, and lots of it. And then we played bingo for a couple of hours, until all the prizes, which were donated by local businesses, were gone. Seems like I won something once in a kid's only round. It was only a plastic jumbo candy cane filled with M&Ms, but winning anything was thrilling. I looked forward to that party every year. I haven't gone to that fire department party in years, and I don't even know if they still have it. The last time I went was in college. They had it at the fire department itself rather than at the middle school. It must have been just after 9/11, because they gave everyone patriotic travel coffee mugs.
So as far as I was concerned, Drag Bingo was going to be just like Small Town Fire Department Bingo. And to be honest, Mary Claus looked to be about the same size and shape of the fire chief back in my home town. After the first game, which I did not win, Mary Claus announced that our first performer was Janette. And I guess that is where drag bingo really started earning its name and differentiating itself from Fire Department Bingo. Janette, whose real name is probably something like Larry, came out and lip-synched "Santa Baby."
And that's how the evening went. We played bingo and then a man dressed as a woman came out and lip-synched. As the night went on, the performances got better and better. One of them, a HUGE person, did "Hava Nagila," so it was an interfaith celebration. The final performer did a medley of songs and managed to do a couple of jumps landing in splits. And the crowd went wild!
My more conservative readers are probably looking on all of this with more than a little disapproval. I don't pretend to understand drag. It's fun, but is it just fun? After all, this is something a little more than the football team donning short skirts during the Powderpuff game. This seems to be a lifestyle. These men like to dress up as women and dance. They're not pretending to be women, so I don't know if they want to actually be women or if they just think it's unfair that us girls get to wear all the sparkly stuff. I'm not even sure if they are all even necessarily gay. Maybe they have wives at home. Very understanding wives.
It's all very confusing. Adding to my confusion was the fact that one of the drag queens was a woman, a seventy-one-year-old woman to be precise. She just liked dressing up, too, and she didn't think the fact that she was a woman should stop her. Considering how it hadn't stopped the men, it was hard to argue with her.
But there is a lot to like about Drag Bingo. What I like most about it is how it's this elaborate game of dress-up. No one actually believes that the queens are anything more than men. Sure, they wear dresses and wigs and makeup. But they don't shave their chest hair. They don't disguise their voices. They wear four-inch heels to highlight their manly heights. And they are shaped like men, beer guts and all. It's all a little weird if you're not used to it, but you can't help but notice that they are all just having a great time. They look ridiculous, and they don't care. There, that's what I like about it. I like it when people feel free to be ridiculous because it makes them happy.
There were several more rounds of bingo where I did not win anything. About midway through, there was a raffle. We'd all filled out the back of our tickets to get in and handed them to one of the drag queens that wandered around all evening between costume changes (one of them wore four different outfits throughout the course of the evening). The raffle was for a real, live Christmas tree, donated by one of the sponsors of the evening.
It was pretty weird when they called my name. My girlfriends at the table with me went nuts.
Santa, who had taken off his wig and beard by then, carried my tree out to me. He asked where I wanted it, and I told him to put it on the table. There it sat, bundled up in netting while we played out the rest of the night's rounds of bingo. You can trust me, because I have been there: a tree is a weird thing to win. A girl asked if I needed a tree, and I told her that we had been planning to go out and get one the next day. She proclaimed it to be a Christmas miracle.
After the last performance, the one with the jumps landing in splits, we bundled ourselves up and headed out. One of the girls offered to carry my tree. I think she liked the attention. It was only about five and a half feet tall, so it fit easily in the hatchback. Driving home, I could see where they got the idea for those little tree-shaped car air fresheners.