Savannah Morning News column
June 21, 2015
There are a lot of things to overthink in life. A drag show should not be one of them. Note the motto of Hamburger Mary’s Bar and Grille in Jacksonville, Fl.: “Eat, Drink and be Mary!” Trust me, you may walk in to this block-long establishment on Beach Boulevard, take a seat, look around and have questions. You may wrinkle your brow, shake your head and think what the heck is going on. You may even sneak out your Iphone under the table and check out Wikipedia’s description of drag shows. But that’s when you have to sit back and read the other motto: “ Hamburger Mary’s, where everyone can be Mary.” Drag shows are kitsch. They’re fun. They’re gender-bending. And they’ve been going on a long time. Even Shakespeare employed men to dress up as women in his productions.
Not that Hamburger Mary’s or Jacksonville, Fl., was on my bucket list – or my radar – for the summer. With long days, beautiful night skies and endless possibilities of travel, the summer looms wide open.
But when I found out my neighbor, one of those genuinely nice human beings who walks his dogs in the middle of the street, always says hello, makes sure the garbage cans in the lane are upright, picks up trash, maintains a polite demeanor, participates in the local neighborhood association events and dresses in a low-key manner (not unlike myself) would be performing at Hamburger Mary’s (and that he was carrying the moniker of Miss Gay America and donating a portion of his proceeds to the Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth), well, I just had to go and see for myself.
Don’t ask me to explain. Let’s just say for that night at Hamburger Mary’s my neighbor and I were not dressed anything alike.
The phrase that works best for me is female illusionist.
I could dress this way if I wanted to (it just seems like too much work). I could wear all that make-up (with lots of help). I could lip-synch those songs (except I can’t seem to remember lyrics).
Is this what defines a woman? The fancy clothes, the outrageous makeup, the outlandish jewelry? No, no and no. The closest I could come to a reversal of roles is a woman I knew in Key West who used to dress in a traditional man’s suit and sing (not lip-synch) Sinatra songs. Her motto was, “Can she be Frank with you?”
When I talked to my neighbor on the way out, the voice sounded the same, but I did not know who I was looking at. I knew one person but was looking at another.
At a drag show everyone has a good voice (can you say recorded music?). Everyone can dance (some better than others). Everyone on stage can put on a show (and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg).
Let’s be clear. The performers were men. (A few, I am told, were transgender, ala Caitlin Jenner, but for the Miss Gay USA competitions transgenders are not allowed). The heels they danced and strutted in, knees flying, hips twisting, were narrow and three stories high; the dresses, cut low and jammed with baubles and beads, sparkled and fit oh-so-tight. This was eye candy. Lots of pouty mouths arched eyebrows and painted lips that trembled during singing.
You and I should only look so good.
And yes, the legs were firm, the arms muscled and defined, the hands huge, the fingers laden with big and bold cocktail rings.
“So that’s how you do it,” I gushed to a greeter, whose dark face powder started from the cheeks and traveled upward.
We sat down, we ordered dinner and then someone came around to trade in tens and twenties for single dollar bills (for future tips).
Will they be making seventy-five cents to a man’s dollar, the way women in the real world do? We don’t know. In this case, probably.
And then there were a few announcements.
“How many of you are here for the first time?” the emcee asked the polite, mainstream looking crowd (of course, this was the early show, the first of three). A slew of hands went up.
“How many of you are straight?” Even more hands shot up, probably more than half the audience. “Aha. We call you ‘virgin Marys.’” No embarrassment. No holding back. More laughter.
No matter. This was entertainment. You like Tina Turner singing “Proud Mary” or “What’s Love Got To Do With It”? You like drama and costumes, old music, exaggerated flirting with a menu and ambiance somewhere between Club One (in Savannah) and Applebee’s? You’ll like Hamburger Mary’s.
For more information, contact www.thetrevorproject.org