(This piece also appears on HuffPost.)
“Where’re you headed?” the cabbie asked Harry, who glanced back at me from the front seat.
“We’re going to Lucky Cheng’s Restaurant,” I said.
Our driver hesitated. “So you’re in the mood for a little Chinese food, huh?”
“No,” I replied. “It’s a dinner-theater drag show.”
“Oh, I know that,” he said, looking at me into the rear view mirror. “Just wanted to make sure you did. Some people go there expecting something else.”
I didn’t know what to expect, but I was up for anything. This was Las Vegas in 2008. And a drag show had been my 17-year-old son’s only request on our four-shows-in three-days trip.
The cab dropped us off in front of a darkened retail space. There was no sign and the place looked closed. We stepped into a dim and cluttered entryway. I was wondering if we were in the right place when a very attractive woman in a strapless silver-sequined dress pushed aside a black curtain. From her greeting, I knew that she, Paris, was really a he.
Paris towered over me atop clear, Cinderella-slipper stilettos. I marveled at her super-model-perfect hair and make up. “Follow me, please,” she said.
As Harry whispered that her dress was really two tube tops, Paris abruptly announced us to the dining room.
“Short bitch walking and her fag,” she yelled.
Everyone laughed. I felt all of my body heat rush to my face. Harry turned to look at me with a huge grin, signing through rapid head bobs that this was going to be fun.
Non-stop bawdy humor was apparently a menu special. During the pre-show dinner, Paris picked up my patchwork snakeskin wristlet by its bangle handle. “Look at this!” she said to Chi Chi, the current Miss Pride Las Vegas. “She’s got a cock ring on her purse!”
Harry laughed while I managed a smirk, stiffening like an over-sprayed wig.
“Who made that thing, anyway?” Chi Chi asked. “Jeffrey Dahmer?”
The drag banter continued. Harry was having a blast. And I felt like a prude. I knew f I were with my girlfriends I’d be lapping up the funny insults too. But I was with my son. I wanted to maintain some decorum. I ordered a vodka martini straight up.
During the stage show, Harry and I tipped all the queens and shared critiques between acts. My drink had loosened me up and I was going with the flow. But my mellow buzz ended when emcee Miss Conception called Harry and five others up on stage for a contest. They were to perform their best imitation of Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm in the movie, When Harry Met Sally. Audience applause would determine the winner.
I gulped as my heart moved up into my throat. I had to listen to my teenage son fake an orgasm? I’d never even said “orgasm” in front of him. I wanted to crawl under the table. But Harry was in his element: center stage. I knew he was going to give it his all. My lips curved to a frozen smile. I took a deep breath and imagined myself invisible.
I knew Harry’s fake orgasm was one of the best, but I could not focus my senses fully on the applause meter. Sound only echoed in my head. I was sure the metallic sensation in my mouth was the taste of extreme embarrassment. I sat with ankles crossed and clapped like a white-gloved monarch, three fingers of my left hand gently tapping the heel of my right hand.
“Hey!” Miss Conception shouted, pointing at me. “You’re with him and you’re not even clapping!”
My face turned the shade of the brick I’d just been hit with. I changed my applause on cue and even shouted a few woo-hoos.
There was a clear winner, and Harry took second place. I was so relieved I didn’t have to watch him down the prize of a Slippery Nipple shooter.
“You did great, honey,” I told him when he returned to the table. “I almost fainted, but you were awesome.”
* * *
At Bushwig 2013 I watched Amber Alert (aka Harry) perform a lip-sync of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” a cappella. You could have heard a false eyelash drop.
Her hair, make up and sequined gown outdid anything we’d seen together in Las Vegas six years earlier. Her look turned heads. Her snarky comments drew laughs. She was doing what she loved. She was a pro. And my heart danced.
My son had invited me into his life that night at Lucky Cheng’s. I didn’t know it then, but drag was another form of his art. It’s who he was and is. I felt lucky to be along for the ride. I clapped until my palms stung.