The fifth annual Catastrophe pageant, an evening of catastrophically bad drag, took place on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, at The Saloon. The evening’s five contestants vied to see who could present the worst and most outrageously tasteless drag persona. The stage names of the contestants are a clue to the nature of the evening: Mama Sass, Iphelia Moore, Ivana Trousersnake, Polly Parton (Dolly’s younger sister), and Dame Vanessa Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Duchess of Duct Tape. The event was a fundraiser for Minnesota Leather Pride.
From a superficial point of view, I thought the Catastrophe pageant was wickedly entertaining. But on further reflection, I discovered new kinds of genius and brilliance in the community andculture that created and enjoyed this extremely twisted pageant.
At first glance, Catastrophe might have looked like nothing more than an evening of bad drag. But no—this was drag that was purposely, ironically, wittily bad. It takes people with at least good taste, and preferably exquisite taste, to make tastelessness funny and entertaining. (Russ King, the man behind Miss Richfield 1981, is a master at this.) Without underpinnings of wit and good taste, bad drag is not that entertaining. And tastelessness is just—well, tasteless.
Just as members of this community can take bad drag and transform it into an entertaining evening, over the years many members of the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish community have learned, as a matter of survival, how to perform another kind of transformation.
Everyone in this alternative community has something about them that is “different” and not “normal.” We probably have gotten the message that this difference is “sick” or otherwise not okay. We probably have experienced disapproval, rejection, hate, and the stigma of being made to feel like a weirdo or a misfit. But we have learned how to transform these negative experiences into positives: approval, acceptance, and love for ourselves and for the other “misfits” and “weirdos” in our community.
We make this transformation by deeply examining, thinking about, and coming to terms with the ways we don’t seem to fit into society’s expectations. We become able to embrace what makes us different, whether the differences are a matter of gender, orientation, race, or interests. We celebrate the ways we don’t conform. We no longer worry so much about not fitting in. Instead we’re busy being and becoming what’s right for us, not what we’ve heard should be right. Expectations that might be okay for the “normal” majority don’t work for us, and we have suffered under these expectations for years. No longer.
We celebrate, and are proud of, our supposed weirdness because we realize that for us, it’s not weird. It’s who we are. If someone has a problem with us, we realize it’s their problem—it’s not ours unless we take it on.
Furthermore, the diversity in the GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish communities—diversity in age, race, gender, affectional preference, interests, and other aspects of sexuality—offers an amazing opportunity for learning and enrichment. I can learn a lot about issues I personally haven’t had to wrestle with by hearing how other people have wrestled with them. This can be an opportunity for learning to understand and empathize with other people—an opportunity that members of more homogeneous and more “normal” communities don’t have. I am reminded of Auntie Mame’s famous line: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” No wonder Auntie Mame has long been a gay touchstone.
Here’s another pop-culture reference: The recent passing of Penny Marshall, one of the stars of the award-winning television sitcom Laverne & Shirley, prompted me to draw parallels between that show and our community. Each weekly edition of that show was about Laverne’s and Shirley’s heroism in overcoming the barriers of being female, young and working-class. Likewise, in the combined GLBT and leather/BDSM/fetish community we celebrate the ways we overcome the barriers we have to deal with. We all are heroes in this community, each in our own way.
The singer of the opening theme song for Laverne & Shirley sang about “doing it our way” and “making our dreams come true.” That’s what I think people in this community, GLBT and/or kinky, are doing. And it’s wonderful to see and wonderful to be a part of.
I will end this column with the ceremonial blessing that was given at the beginning of the Catastrophe pageant by the drag-nuns of the Ladies of the Lakes, the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The blessing, slightly paraphrased here, is a great summing-up of the way our community celebrates diversity: “Blessed are the misfits; the sissies; the boydykes; the trans folk; the high femmes; the sex workers; the authentic; the disidentified; the gender illusionists; the non-normative; the genderqueers; the kinksters; the differently abled; the hot fat girls; the weirdo queers. Blessed is the spectrum; blessed is consent; blessed is respect; and blessed are the beloved who I didn’t describe, who I couldn’t describe, will learn to describe, and respect, and love. Amen, ah-women, ah-trans folk, ah-everyone.”