DRAG FOR ALL: A Brief History of the Faux Queen Pageant
By Ruby Toosday
I was probably in some altered state when I chanced a glance at the Finocchio’s ad in the Pink Section. Finocchio’s was a safe, touristy female impersonator club on Broadway that had been around since the ‘30s or so. Their headline advertised “Fabulous Female Impersonators” which for some reason brought to my mind, “Fabulous Shemale Impersonators.” But what would a Shemale Impersonator be? Switching to Spock mode, I deduced that to impersonate a shemale, one would have to be a female dressed like a Drag Queen.
I knew lots of women that fit that description. The gifted chanteuse, Connie Champagne, always described herself as a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body. In San Francisco, she had a huge gay following, performing in many gay clubs; but once in New York, I think, she showed up for a gig and they said “You looked like a drag queen in your photos. You can’t perform here. You’re a woman!” Then there was dancer & choreographer extraordinaire Trashina Cann. Having been fired from her stripper job in Austin, I believe, when her wig kept falling off her shaved head, she got all dolled up & got a paying gig in a drag bar. She was the new little queen who, unlike most of the other performers, always showed up & left fully “dressed.” All went well for awhile, until they discovered her “secret identity” & fired her!
I was deeply offended and wanted to do something to end this brutal oppression and hateful discrimination of my drag sisters--but mostly I figured that a show featuring genetically challenged drag queens (the politically correct description) would be a real hoot. After amusing myself greatly with these ponderings, the next time I talked to Diet...........
Before I go further, I feel I must digress, if briefly, to present a woefully incomplete backstory. Diet POPSTiTUTE was a unique performer, personality & impresario who along with the other POPSTiTUTES in 1990 started KLUBSTiTUTE. It seemed to embody a joyfully cynical queer-punk-glam ethos & for over five years presented a wild blend of live music, spoken word, drag shows, theater, fashion, culture, twisted theme parties, etc. Being an acolyte of Andy Warhol, Diet took to heart his 15 minutes of fame commandment & would put almost anyone on stage at least once, though to get invited back, one had to be pretty good or really, really bad. My first drag performance was at KLUBSTiTUTE, I did get invited back & over the years did scores of shows with Diet. Beyond the party & entertainment, KLUBSTiTUTE was a community & to many it was like family. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Diet & KLUBSTiTUTE changed my life & both are sorely missed.
...so I talked to Diet & suggested we do a women’s drag queen show--though he wasn’t overly impressed at first. In the spring of ‘95, we had done the Virgin Queen Contest (for First Time Drag Queens), which debuted 10 -15 new drag performers every year. It was the first benefit fundraiser for Prop 215, the first successful medical marijuana law. It was a huge success and immediately we started planning the next one. A bit after that, Diet called me up & said more or less, “You know that idea for the women’s drag show, let’s do that, only make it a contest, oh, & it’s gonna be two weeks from Sunday.” Given Diet’s booking practices, this was not all that unusual though still maddening. He often had open slots in the schedule that he filled at the last minute but this was a lot to get together on short notice--but we did it for Diet!
KLUBSTiTUTE had been at 15-20 different locations over the years & at that point was on Sunday nights at La India Bonita, a dive Latina drag club in the Mission, so, of course, it was then called La KLUBSTiTUTA. Over the next few days, we came up with the term Faux-Queen to describe it, though the posters read “The Fabulous She-Male Impersonator Contest! DQ’s (Drag Queens) Trapped in RG’s (Real Girls’) Bodies! La KLUBSTiTUTA’S 1995 Faux-Queen!” The door price was $3 cheap, up a lot from the $.99 cheap of 5 years earlier.
It was open to all genetically-challenged drag queens except Deena Davenport. Deena was a regular performer & DJ & was so fabulous that Diet figured that no one would enter against her--so he banned her. We got Birdie-Bob Watt, Miss X & Trauma Flintstone to judge. Who better to judge Faux Queens than the best Drag Queens? The Fauxs would do a short interview of stupid pageant questions, then perform a number & get points for drag, talent & personality. We wanted the audience to have a say in the outcome, so we decided they could “vote” by tipping their favorites & each dollar tip would add a point to their score. Performers at KLUBSTiTUTE rarely got paid much (that was never the point) & the tips also sucked (probably too many starving artists.) My ulterior motive was to get them used to tipping the queens, which they did profusely for the contest but went back to normal the next week, alas.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of posters, press releases (which had to be hand delivered), recruiting & orienting contestants & coming up with prizes & a sash for the winner. I spent a lot of time at thrift stores looking for Faux flowers for a bouquet & a Faux fur coat. I kept finding coats that I liked so much, I kept them for myself & finally donated another that I already had for the prize. We may have had something small for the 1st runner up but in true KLUBSTiTUTE tradition, we did have a last place prize: the Too Fish award, for the contestant that was too much of a real girl to be a drag queen. I bought a large flounder, wrapped it in clear plastic, froze it & put a neck chain on it to hang around the Too Fish winner’s neck.
So on Sunday evening, July 9th, 1995, I arrive at the club--only slightly late!--I am the MC afterall. As I approach, I see a crowd out front & wonder if something’s wrong but it’s just the overflow as the club is packed, overly so, in fact. In the months that we’d been at India Bonita, I’d never seen half as many people there. We seem to have struck a chord & with only a little last minute PR. I was also relieved & pleasantly surprised to see that we had 8 or so entrants.
Fans packed so tightly around the tiny stage that I soon realized that if I ever left it, I’d never get back through the crowd--so I debuted each Faux in between squatting gracefully in the stage corner while they performed. The competition was fierce & for awhile it looked like the aforementioned Connie Champagne might win, especially after her boyfriend tipped her with a credit card. We were trying to figure how many points to give for a credit card when we noticed it was Connie’s own card & disallowed it. In the end, just before the club shooed us out the door, the fabulous Coca Dietetica (aka Laurie Bushman) was crowned the First Faux Queen in History.
Scarcely a month later, we lost Diet & an era ended. Some of us set up the KLUBSTiTUTE KOLLECTiVE to keep some of the insanity going, but it was never the same. We did some club shows (She-Haw, the Tragic Queendom, Ruby’s Rated X-Mas, etc), the play Rocky Horror Superstar: the Jesus of Frankenfurter Story, the Virgin Queen Contest, the Faux Queen Pageant and the queer youth oriented PROMSTiTUTES (including “That Sinking Feeling: Go Down on the S.S. KLUBSTiTUTANiC!”). As our numbers rose and eventually fell, we struggled to keep our event financially viable, while never turning anyone away. Soon, we were only producing the two contests.
After that first year the Faux Queen Pageant was always a benefit for various women’s charities & it was a complete benefit--no one was ever paid for producing or working on the event. After that credit card incident, we also made it so all the tips went to the charities. One could still, perhaps, buy their title but it would cost them. As time went on, the top scorers would get hundreds of dollars in tips & eventually the tips raised more money than the door. We also got very good at getting prizes donated until we would have a couple thousand dollars in prize packages. Each contestant (everyone’s a winner!) would get at least a small gift bag of Trannyshack tix, Good Vibration dildos & the like. We also added a new award: Miss Also Ran, a judges choice award for someone they thought deserved recognition but did not quite have the points to be a top finisher.
After a few years, the hot, young & extremely talented actor, writer & web designer (foulplaysf.com) Cameron Eng, who had never met Diet & was neither a woman nor a Queen, joined me as primary producer. I continued to MC for several years but was eventually “promoted” to celebrity judge.
The Pageant kept moving around from larger to smaller and eventually much larger venues. We started to get more & more entries each year. One year we didn’t crown the winner ‘til about 4am so we began to start much earlier and limit the number of contestants. The talent just kept getting better & better, several of the pageants were the best drag shows I’ve ever seen. The numbers also became way more elaborate with large groups of backup dancers, complicated sets, props and even furniture! I remember one who brought in a full couch with chairs, tables, lamps & a console TV. There’s not the space here to describe all the wonderful performances over the years. Maybe someone would like to take all the video tape archives of the shows & upload them for all to see and marvel at.
Eventually, we produced ten not-quite-annual Faux Queen Pageants. Maybe we didn’t change the world--though perhaps a few lives--but we did add a new term to the Lexicon... look up Faux Queen on Wikipedia. I’m also proud that we may have played some small part in guiding Fauxs out of the closet and freeing them from their bonds of oppression or at least giving them a short catch-all term to describe themselves when they’re out and looking fabulous.