A Dichotomy of Queens

What I learned from meeting my favorite and least favorite reality stars

Driving in Provincetown, Massachusetts, is not easily accomplished, especially for an anxious driver such as myself. My fingernails dug deep into the pliant, rubberized steering wheel as I tried to avoid hitting a stream of oblivious vacationing couples in pastel shirts. Interwoven with the tourists were various street performers. My gaze jumped between a sparkling Elvis impersonator handing out flyers and a drag queen in a tiny, three-wheeled clown car. Suddenly, my sister reached out for my arm and squeezed.

“Brian Firkus!” she gasped. She clamped down with urgency. I kept my eyes fixed on the road ahead and gritted my teeth.

“What the hell are you talking about, Brian Firkus? We’re here to see Jinkx!” Brian Firkus was the out-of-drag name of Rupaul’s Drag Race contestant Trixie Mattel. In drag, Trixie describes her look as “kabuki Polly Pocket”: in short, an overdrawn, Technicolor, beautiful, plastic disaster of a Bratz-doll face. Out of drag, Brian Firkus looks like the nondescript Banana Republic employee who opens your dressing room door while you try on a pantsuit.

“BRIAN FIRKUS. BRIAN FIRKUS.” My sister was jabbing me now, pointing out the window, and I turned to my right. Sure enough, there was Trixie, clad in Bermuda shorts and a baseball cap. He was talking on the phone and leaning against the guardrail that marked off a parking lot. My sister and I gawked at him with what I can only imagine were the terrifying clown-grins of two fans caught by surprise. I could have sworn he made eye contact with me and gave me a tired, grumpy grimace.

After we parked, my sister and I booked it over to where we saw Brian talking on the phone. He was long gone by the time we got there.

***

The real purpose of that night, that three hour drive to Ptown on a Sunday, was to see Jinkx Monsoon, the season five winner of Rupaul’s Drag Race and the winner of our hearts. As a high school graduation present, I bought my sister Molly two meet-and-greet tickets to our favorite queen’s show. And when that day in August finally arrived, we felt honored to embark on that long drive to the Cape, blasting a Spotify playlist of Rupaul’s greatest hits the whole way.

The theater where Jinkx performed was really a glorified pub with a 50-seat stage behind the bar. Molly and I passed it about five times, walking up and down the main drag (no pun intended) of Commercial Street. We finally decided to ask for directions, and we enlisted the help of a bored waitress, who was shuffling menus by the outdoor host’s podium. She directed us around the corner, up a gravel-paved alley to a very unmarked box office window.

When the guy working there handed us our tickets, I asked him what time we should start lining up for the show.

“Oh, you guys have the VIP passes. You can show up right at nine.”

“Wait, really? Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

This surprised me. As a very fandom-involved person, I’m used to staking out venues for hours, scheming to push my way up to the stage, lurking by merch tables to catch a glimpse of performers. The idea that I could just waltz up to my seat at show time was completely alien to me, and I didn’t trust it.

Molly and I returned to the venue at eight, just to be sure. We thought there would be a line around the block, but we were the very first. The two of us took our place behind the VIP red rope and watched moths flicker in and out of the bare bulbs above the box office window.

Slowly, a few middle-aged men filled the line behind us. When a bouncer came to let us into the venue, he looked right and Molly and me and said, “You two must be the meet-and-greet people.” He didn’t even look at our tickets.  

Inside, we were given a couch to ourselves about a foot from the stage and in front of the typical, folding theater seats. It became very clear very quickly just how conspicuous we were in this particular crowd: The remaining seats were filled with vacationing gay men, all with at least 20 years on the two of us, looking for a low-key night out. I’m sure they were casual Drag Race viewers, but I doubted they had seen Jinkx’s documentary. Or her Funny or Die web series. Or the YouTube videos she made with her friends in high school….

Molly and I were the weird nerd girls with a VIP couch.

***

When the lights went down, Jinkx floated up the center aisle to the stage in a floor-length, tiered black dress and a curly red wig. Molly and I whipped our heads around to follow her path, surrounded by the soft upward glow of a spotlight. She sang David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”

The rest of the show exists only in the strange snapshots of my memory—I was too excited to retain it in one continuous scream. Early on, she took a long swallow from her water bottle and did a spit take which landed directly on my sister and me. I remember sending out a mass text to my friends that said something along the lines of, “JINKX SPIT ON ME I AM CLEANSED OF SIN.” The general response to this message was something like: “…ew.”

In the middle of the show, a man from the crowd got up to get a drink. Jinkx called after him, “You better not come back unless you bring me a shot of Grey Goose!” About five minutes later, he returned, dutifully, with a drink for Jinkx, which he delivered to her on stage. “Oh, thanks,” she said. She gave him the once-over, eyebrow arched, crooked smile. “Muscle shirts are for muscles,” she muttered, and took a casual sip of her vodka.

“Where my gays at?!” Her inquiry was met with a roar from the general audience. Cheers, whistles, waves of applause. “And where are my straight allies?” My sister and I gave each other sideways glances before cautiously raising our hands. The rest of the audience was silent. Jinkx snickered at us. “Wow. That was…polite.” She mimed our very lame hand raise and I bit back a flushed, red laugh. It’s a very odd feeling, to be entertained by your own embarrassment.

And it didn’t stop there. Later, she launched into a bit about homophobes, saying, “I’ll show up to your ‘God Hates Fags’ rally walking a guy on a leash with a dog tail butt plug!” To this day, I could not tell you what it was about this particular joke, but I lost it. I doubled over laughing, and even I could tell my reaction was absurd. She pulled away from the mic and gave me an amused nod, as if to say, “Wow, you liked that one, huh?” I nodded back and gave her a weak, shaky thumbs up, my abs cramping.

After the show, the audience filed out, leaving us by ourselves, sitting on our couch, having very little idea what to do. We hemmed and hawed, wondering if we should leave the theater, if Jinkx was outside, but a voice came over the intercom.

“Ladies! If you have meet-and-greet tickets, just stay put. Jinkx will be out in a minute.” The disembodied voice was very clearly that of Major Scales, Jinkx’s piano accompaniment.

“Oh, okay! Thank you!” I called. I had no idea where he was, or if he could hear me, but I yelled my thanks anyway.

There was an unsure pause. Then, a crackle over the speaker. “…you’re welcome.”

When Jinkx came back onstage, she was giant and stunning. I was surprised at how much I had to look up at her, how much more-than-human she was in person as opposed to on TV. She devoured Molly and I in a huge hug, and my mind was suddenly erased of all the many articulate questions I had prepared for her, all my meeting-my-hero talking points. She complimented my Steven Universe T-shirt, and I melted.

Molly presented Jinkx with a piece of fan art she’d painted as a gift, and Jinkx looked at it with rapturous eyes. One of the many Jinkxes my sister had drawn was a picture of her out of drag, at which she exclaimed, “Oh! It’s boy me! Look at that!” She jabbed the paper with a manicured nail.

In the drawing, Jinkx was wearing an eye patch, one of her more memorable workroom looks on Drag Race. “You know, everyone thought I was nuts for wearing that. But I put it on because my contact fell out in the swimming challenge, I swear!”

I found this story incredibly endearing. I couldn’t believe she felt like she needed to justify her outfits to us, the nutso fans who thought everything she did was perfect, who drove three hours to be here.

“I thought it was a look!” I reassured her.

Her eyes widened. She shook her head vigorously side to side. “Nooooo. It wasn’t.”

After the meet and greet, Jinkx and Major offered to walk us out. She gently reminded me on the way not to forget my purse, hon, and I was once again floored by her tiny kindnesses. On the way out, I bought a T-shirt. I asked her to sign it, and she responded, “Of course, sweetheart.”

Molly and I spent the drive home that night in a very contented silence, Jinkx’s The Inevitable Album emanating softly through the speakers.

***

I went to my first drag show at age 18. It was hosted by my school’s Rainbow Alliance, but was mostly an excuse for very straight members of men’s sports teams to put on dresses and gyrate onstage. I found these acts to be misogynistic, transphobic, and, quite frankly, boring. I grimaced my way through them.

But the event that night was hosted by a professional drag queen named Jenna Taylor. She was about seven feet tall and wore a tight pink sequined dress that shimmered like mermaid scales. She lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s “Applause” while she straddled one of the boys in the front row. I saw many of my friends squirm in their seats during this performance, visibly uncomfortable. But I was riveted. Jenna was the most dazzling, glamorous person I had ever seen.

As a woman, I’ve often felt that trying to reclaim my sexuality à la Beyoncé or Nicki Minaj or any other strong female celebrity has just, in practice, subjected me further to the male gaze, which is frustrating. I love glamour, and gaudiness, and femininity in the extreme. But I still fear that donning these traits I so idolize will make me complicit in my own exploitation. If I wear a crop top to a bar, there’s a fairly good chance some man is going to grab me without consent, and that’s a sad fact I’ve had to accept. This is why I find drag so appealing: It’s a way for people to be super glamorous and feminine and sexy, all while completely subverting the straight male gaze. Jenna Taylor grinding up against a straight man, in a sparkling gown and giant wig, is the equivalent of saying: “I am not pandering to your gaze, and it’s going to make you uncomfortable. But that doesn’t make me any less sexy. In fact, it makes me even more sexy.”

***

If any Drag Race fan was asked to name Jinkx Monsoon’s archenemy, they would not hesitate to say Roxxxy Andrews. As Alaska said to Roxxxy on this season of All Stars 2, commenting on Roxxxy’s newly toned physique, “Obviously a diet consisting of nothing but hatred for Jinkx Monsoon does a body good.”

I am not a fan of Roxxxy. Anyone who could be mean to Jinkx, the human equivalent of a baby bunny, is not someone I’d care to know. But last Saturday, Ego, Providence’s gay club, hosted a meet-and-greet with Roxxxy. In the interest of journalistic exploration, I decided to attend.

I wore my Jinkx T-shirt.

Ego is a far cry from sleepy, beachy Ptown. There were three male strippers triangulated around a packed dance floor, and drag queens of all shapes and sizes. One dressed as a nun, two as Mario and Luigi (of Nintendo fame), and one with blue face paint and a Hello Kitty backpack. At one point that night, I had a stranger come up to me, throw his arms around me, and ask me to sing along with him to “Bad Romance.” I happily obliged.

Mario was the one to grab a mic and interrupt the dancing. “Everyone with a wrist band can line up here to meet Roxxxy!” I pushed my hair back to make sure Jinkx was visible.

As my time with Roxxxy approached, I started to get nervous. What did I have to say to this person? That I was a big fan of a queen she hated? But I didn’t have any more time to think: A bouncer cut my wristband and corralled me onto a bench next to Roxxxy.

For my opening line, I finally settled on, “Hi, Roxxxy! You look gorgeous!” Which was true. Her hair was a sleek, shoulder length lob, and she wore an elegant, black, floor-length coat over a nude bodysuit. Her legs went on for miles, and I was again shocked at how tiny I was next to this massive Amazon.

She smiled at me, revealing two rows of blindingly perfect teeth. “Oh, thank you!”

I took my place next to her, and we posed for the photographer. She put her hand on my leg. I had spilled a rum and coke on myself a couple hours before, and I was simultaneously embarrassed and pleased that she had to put her hand on my sticky rum leg.

When the photographer finished, she turned to me. “What’s your name?”

“Lindsey.”

“Nice to meet you, Lindsey.”

“It’s nice to meet you, too! You did a great job on All Stars.” This was not true, but I needed something else to say, and I couldn’t, in good conscience, tell her I was not a fan. Besides, it felt like the right thing to do. She was polite, and patient, and put up with meeting a line of 100 strangers, including unappreciative ones such as myself.

“Oh, thank you, sweetie. I’ll see you around tonight, okay?”

I didn’t see her around that night, but I left Ego with the distinct notion that Roxxxy was much more human than I had let myself believe when I saw her on TV.

But you’ll never, ever catch me in a Roxxxy Andrews T-shirt.