"Mom, can you do me a BIG favor? Can you go to the airport tonight and pick up the drag queens?"
Phoebe is the local coordinator for the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association, Alaska's HIV/AIDS education, prevention and advocacy agency. Her work involves teaching classes about HIV transmission and how to prevent it, providing a needle exchange for IV drug users and case management for those who are affected by AIDS and HIV (assisting them with their medical bills, and directing them to the appropriate resources for housing and other needs).
Of course, all these efforts take money to happen, and so the 4As does a huge fundraiser once a year. Last year, Phoebe's first on the job, the fundraising efforts were the largest ever. The fundraiser is Femme Fatale, a three day amateur and professional drag show. Local performers dress up and lip synch and walk and dance on a runway, getting tips from the audience. The amateur competition goes for two nights at a local bar. The professional performers, who travel from Anchorage, performed last night at the Baranof Hotel, doing two shows for a packed house. They volunteered their time and donated their tips.
Anyway, to get back to Thursday, and Phoebe's request that I do her this favor...I remember thinking:
"Well, THAT'S something you don't get asked to do every day!", and then I said yes, of course, I would be happy to help her out.
I went to the airport, not knowing what to expect. Wondering what I should write on the sign I would be holding up for the folks I was meeting: "Welcome, Drag Queens"? I settled for a sign that said "Femme Fatale". I watched the people coming off the plane, nervous that I wouldn't spot them, and finally, a group of very exuberant guys walked out of the security area. I came up to them and said: "Let me guess..." and showed them the sign. They immediately started laughing and one them said: "How did you know?" I introduced myself as Phoebe's mom, and they were effusive in their praise for her and how much they all thought of her and enjoyed working with her on last year's shows and how much they were looking forward to seeing her. And even though I told them my name, they all insisted on calling me "Mama". They told me that I would be their "Mama" for the weekend.
We drove into town after picking up their luggage and I listened to them joking and bantering back and forth, excited to be back in Juneau, happy to be here to help out the 4As, and glad that all their luggage made it, since it contained costumes, makeup and supplies for their performances.
I dropped them off at the hotel, assuring them that I would see them on Saturday (the day I was volunteering), and they asked if I had ever been to a drag show before. I said, no, that it hadn't been something I had experienced. They said that I was in for a treat and said they were looking forward to seeing me on Saturday.
Last night (Saturday), I showed up at the Baranof to help. My job was to check ID's (no one under 21 allowed for the second show) and put armbands on audience members. And then the show started. It was pretty tame for the first half, just singing and dancing and a certain amount of prancing about. The performers all greeted me as they came across the hall to do their numbers. "Mama! You're here! What do you think? Are you having fun?" They were in full costume and make up (where on EARTH do they get women's shoes that big?) and looked...well, fabulous.
The M.C. talked about the 4As and urged people to tip the performers and reminded everyone that all the proceeds, including the tips, were going to the 4As. There was a nice silent auction, and with the exception of one gift basket from what Charles and I call "The Nasty Store", all the auction items were in good taste and appropriate for any non-profit fundraiser.
The second half (this is where I was kind of horrified) was a lot more on the "blue" side - lots of language, and sexual references, and even props, which I had (up until then) only heard about. I poked my head into the ball room to watch and then, blushing, beat a hasty retreat back to the ticket table. Phoebe came over, looking chagrined, and said that she kind of wished that she had asked me to volunteer for the first show, which was more "PG-13" than" R" rated. I assured her that I could take it. I certainly didn't go back into the ballroom and watch the rest of the second half, but I could hear it, and to my surprise, I COULD take it.
Every time one of the performers went past the table after performing, they would ask me how I was doing. "How are you holding up, Mama?" they would ask, "You doing OK?". They could tell that this wasn't my usual...shall we say...milieu.
At the end of the evening, the MC asked Phoebe to come up on the stage and everyone gave her an enormous round of applause. Phoebe thanked the performers, the staff of the hotel, the volunteers and the audience. She told them how much the money and time they donated was appreciated and that it would help so many people. She was gracious, dignified and lovely and I was so proud.
So, now I can say that I have been to a drag show. And I survived. I never would have done such a thing if Phoebe wasn't working for the 4As. But, it is good to stretch oneself occasionally. And it is good for me to remember that underneath all the fancy, glittery costumes, the thick makeup, and yes, even the huge women's shoes, there were a bunch of guys who gave their time and talent to help out their brothers and sisters in need, and to help prevent others from contracting a disease that killed so many for so many years, and that through their efforts, and the work of medical researchers, activists and agencies like the 4As, HIV/AIDS has gone from being a death sentence to a chronic disease. And I remembered that these men, who called me "Mama", are my brothers in Christ.
And I was grateful.