I sat in my car a few minutes before 11 a.m. this morning and watched one of those wonderfully Athens scenes: on one side of Hancock Street, tidy white families hurried up the hill to the Methodist church service while on the other side of Hancock, two glamorous drag queens welcomed guests to brunch at The National. Jacqueline Daniels and Yasmine Alexander serve on the board of the Boybutante AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $800,000 for AIDS services in Northeast Georgia. My kind of people, plus brunch.
Even though I spent all day in bed with a stomach ache yesterday, I wasn’t about to miss brunch with Bryn and Jill. So I slapped on some stretchy clothes and put my hair in a pony tail…as usual. But as I sat there in the car, knowing that these queens had been painting up for HOURS to get ready for the show, I figured I could at least put in a teensy effort to look festive.
I reached in my purse and unzipped the makeup pocket. I’m surprised there weren’t cobwebs blocking the zipper. I haven’t worn makeup for months. I put on a little bit in the car on the way to Daddy’s memorial service, and when I turned around to speak to the kids, Carlos grinned in wonder and asked, “Mama, what you do to your face?”
I drew a narrow black line across my upper lids then skooshed the corners a bit with the tip of my finger. I considered the “Wine With Everything” lipstick but thought that might be a bit too steep of a leap, so I dug around in the bottom of the bag to find a Burt’s Bees with a little bordeaux tint to it. Two lines across my eyes and a swipe across the lips and I made my way down the sidewalk. There are drag queens…and then there are drab queens, like me.
Most of my rebellion against makeup is that I think it’s ridiculous that I have to draw lines above my eyes or color my lips to be considered “finished” or “dressed” in this world. In the words of writer Erin McKean:
You Don’t Have to Be Pretty. You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked “female”.
I’m not saying that you SHOULDN’T be pretty if you want to. (You don’t owe UN-prettiness to feminism, in other words.) Pretty is pleasant, and fun, and satisfying, and makes people smile, often even at you.
But some of my disuse of makeup has come from seeking out invisibility. I’ve been depressed lately and my therapist has pointed out before that I recede into black clothes, pony tails, and blank face when I want to disappear. That’s my Drab Queen attire.
I don’t know if it was hanging out with drag queens, or with my friends, or the mimosas, but I got in a really good place this morning. Jill and I talked about writing, Bryn smooched everyone in the house. I clutched my pearls while Lacie Bruce proved that she’s got all the right junk in all the right places:
Looking around that room, I realized that nobody there gave a shit about whether I painted my face or didn’t paint my face. Not my old friends, not the strangers, not the artists who had been painting for hours. Nobody cared whether I had more junk in the trunk than I did twenty years ago. People were there to enjoy themselves–having some fun for a great cause while Peter Dale served brunch. And all I had to do to participate was….participate.
After the show, we hung around on the sidewalk so the restaurant crew could prepare for the afternoon seating. We talked about 80s hair and Aqua Net. We talked about the vagaries of boobs and gravity. That led to talking about our grandmothers. The delightful Lori Divine told how her grandmother could roll a Virginia Slim’s 120 from one side of her mouth to the other as she painted on her blood red lipstick. Then Jacqueline said, “One thing I love about drag is the Coty powder. It reminds me of my grandmother.”
Oh. My. Goodness.
Just the other day, I was thinking about Grandmama Eunice and that little round cardboard box of Coty powder that she kept on the edge of the mantle in the dining room, right next to the makeup mirror and the good light from the tall window. She wouldn’t have left the house without her lipstick on straight and a little dusting of powder. I wanted to smell that powder again because that’s what she smelled like when I hugged her.
That moment on the sidewalk was beautiful, because of the makeup. I love how if you talk to anyone and tell stories long enough, there’s always that moment of connection. Where your story and my story cross paths and we learn that we have something in common, even if it’s the smell of our grandmothers’ face powder.
I might just draw two lines across my eyelids tomorrow in homage to these queens. I might be ready for the world to look at me again.