If Project Runway has taught me anything, it's that my mother is a fag hag. I had no idea until she announced that she just loved Austin Scarlett, Tim Gunn, and the other supergay peeps on the show (although, to her credit, she wasn't too hot on "third person" Suede). There weren't many flamboyant homosexuals in Urbana, Illinois, where I grew up, so I never had a chance to see my mother gravitate toward gay culture. Sadly, if you presented yourself as a flaming Joan Crawford fan in East Central Illinois, life was very, very hard. One friend I had in grade school, Alex, would confide in me that he wished he were a girl. He would cry about it, and I was sad for him, even before I had any concept of "gay" or "transgender." The only thing we really didn't connect on was his love of Barry Manilow. Maybe that's why once junior high came around, and music became the single most important barometer for friendship, we drifted apart. Then we all got the horrible news that he had doused himself with lighter fluid and lit a match, immolating himself. It was a disturbingly operatic way to go, and someone even told me that he was holding a letter from Barry Manilow when he did it. It was all very Lars Von Trier.
So, yeah: gays in smallish towns in Illinois? Not so much. Once I moved to the Bay Area, I wanted to make up for lost time and widen my social circles. First I went to Mills College, where outsiders have dubbed the chicks "Easy Lay or Gay." Sadly, I didn't fall into either category, and neither group seemed open to outsiders. Then I started hanging out at the White Horse bar in Oakland, hoping that some fun group of guys would take me in and dress me up like Veronica Lake and pour cosmos down my throat. Again, no one was interested. I was too young, I guess — if you want to be a fag hag, you have to have some years under your belt. From there, I drifted further into the world of heterosexuality and have remained there ever since.
Recently, however, I've begun to explore the Castro. I'm not so young and foolish as to believe that a kindly group of gays will take me in, but I do enjoy the odd conversation with a stranger at a bar, and the Castro is great for that.
Last week, though, I wasn't in the mood to chitchat. The finale of Project Runway was on television, and I was looking for a bar that would not only be playing the show, but would also have active audience participation. I went to a "video bar" called the Midnight Sun, which plays TV shows at night and jams in music videos during the commercials. The bar is one big square of a room with rainbow flags flanking the tops of the walls, two jumbo screens on each side, and several flatscreens all around.
The place was wall-to-wall and 95 percent male. One of those radio stations that plays lame dance music and has television commercials that show close-ups of dancing people's butts was hosting the Project Runway event in conjunction with the No on Prop. 8 movement and Miller Lite. In short, it was a hella gay party, and I was totally down.
I got in line for a drink, and almost immediately realized why people become fag hags. Gay men can be like the auntie who always saw the good in you, who always noticed that you had long eyelashes and nice calves. The door guy had already called me "gorgeous," and when I pushed past another fellow inside, he said, "Sure thing, sweetheart." (Never mind that they probably have the same compliments for 300-pound men with five-o'clock shadows, dressed up like Liza Minnelli. I'll take what I can get.)
"Well, who is this beautiful creature?" said a guy on my left to his friend, looking me up and down. I introduced myself and blushed. We talked about who we thought was going to win, and we both hoped it would be Korto, though we secretly feared that she would go crazy with the African animal prints. We ran through who we liked (Jerell) and who we didn't (the infamous Kenley), and how awesome Tim Gunn is. "Oh, I would do him in a New York minute," said my new friend, who then lapsed into an impression of Gunn in the bedroom: "Make it work!"
The Miller Lite street team guys surrounded me and adorned me with Mardi Gras beads. "You look lovely!" they gushed, covering my neck in purple plastic. Oh, that this night would never end!
Once the show got under way, the crowd became even more animated. There were some boos and hisses for Kenley, rousing cheering for Korto, and mixed applause for the eventual winner, ol' mousy Leanne.
My new friends and I were a little bit bummed that Korto didn't win. "It was stolen from her!" announced a tall guy drinking a margarita. His lover was leaning on him drunkenly. They both wore wedding rings. I asked them what would happen to their marriage if Prop. 8 passes. "I don't know ..." the taller one said sadly, probably a little miffed that I was bringing them down on such a festive evening.
It was time for me to go to the bathroom, something I had been dreading, since the bar was so goddamn crowded. I was happy to discover there was a women's room here in the first place, so I headed toward it. When I got there, the door was wide open and at least five men were inside peeing in the solid steel toilets (that aren't made for actual butts to sit on) and the sink. "Um ... " I said to one, making eye contact and pointing to the "Women" sign. He shot me a look that said it all in two seconds: Look, sister, this is a gay bar. The sign is just for show, so count your blessings. I peered into the toilets and saw that none of them had been flushed, probably all night. I immediately exited, thinking to myself what my old science teacher used to say when we asked if we could go use the bathroom: "Cross your legs and think 'dry.'"
I went back out to hug my new friends goodbye. "See you later, honey!" one said. "Stay hot!" the other said.
I emerged into the street with an added spring to my step, fueled with the confidence that I had the face of Angelina Jolie and the body of Sophia Loren. I skipped down the stairs at the Castro Muni station. The train was full, save one row of three seats. Two cute skateboarder dudes were on each side, with their boards taking up the middle seat. I glanced at them and fluttered my eyelashes, hoping that they would clear the way for me. They just stared at me blankly and went back to talking.
Oh, well. Back to reality.