What it’s like to come in last place in a Drag Beauty Pageant
By Eddie Jen
My roommate and I share a secret hand signal for embarrassing public moments. Like when the couple you’re having dinner with starts fighting.
There’s no other way to express your discomfort at that moment — when you can’t talk, you can’t leave — you just have to sit there. That’s when I’d band my index and middle finger together and stroke my palm. And as the couple screams louder, their fight stretching on, and on, I would stroke… and stroke… because I, too, was screaming on the inside.
There is nothing more awkward than having to stand on stage as a contestant in a drag beauty pageant when they’re announcing the winners.
That shit fucking drags on when you’re a dead queen walking.
I knew I didn’t do well, but I didn’t realize how badly I bombed until they started announcing the winners.
It seemed like they were making up new categories right there on the spot.
Best Walk to the Stage from Behind The Bar!
There were only five contestants. The queen next to me was running out of arm space to hold onto all her trophies and bouquets. I was clapping enthusiastically because it gave me something to do with my hands.
For my talent portion, I performed spoken word.
Just to make sure you got that:
Performed. Spoken. Word.
At a drag pageant!
With no backup music, no choreography, no props, no backup dancers.
In a room full of inebriated gay men, surrounded by Cirque du Soleil level queens, I was going to tell a story.
You heard correctly: while all the other queens were doing jump splits and death drops to let’s-lose-our-shit music, I thought it would be a good idea to create a moment from a literary open mic. I would tell a story: one with a beginning, a middle, and end. An epic saga under the 5 minute time limit. There would be flashbacks and unexpected twists, with a witty leit motif (under my drag name: Criminal Law) to tie it all together.
That would be my talent portion.
Looking back, I think I may be smoking a little too much weed.
As they announced yet another winner, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror at the far end of the room.
The way I was standing in my heels — it reminded of a famous Hollywood actor.
When did I turn into Billy Bob Thornton?
It was awkward. Awkward. AWKWARD!
I am not a Drag Queen.
At least not with a capital D and capital Q.
I can’t lip sync.
I’ve never done drag makeup.
I don’t wear padding.
What was I doing on this stage?
It started back in 2019, when the Universe told me my life was changing.
I won my first case. It was my first time representing an actual client. A real person. Not a corporation or a city government. But a thirteen year old Guatemalan boy, who was classified an Unaccompanied Alien Child when he crossed the border.
Me. This ditzy little crossdresser — I finally became a “lawyer” after fifteen years of practicing law.
I went to court. I argued motions. I wrote briefs. I worked on my empathy skills, counseling a scared little boy who never looked me in the eye.
I was practically Ally McBeal.
We got lucky when we won asylum in 2019. Just months later, Trump eliminated the exact portions of the law we gained asylum under.
But we won.
The feeling of winning was contagious.
I started writing again.
I was on a roll.
My goal for 2020 was to keep the changes coming.
I decided I would compete in a drag pageant again, 22 years after my last one.
For my talent portion, I originally planned on doing stand up comedy. I’ve done it fairly successfully in the past — I’ve been booked for legit comedy gigs.
But my old jokes were stale.
2020 is about reinvention. Being purposeful with my creativity. New. Not recycling old shit.
I would smoke a ton of weed and write fresh material.
My drag name would be Criminal Law, because I have a lot of experience being a criminal.
I was one when I first came to this country.
I, too, was an illegal immigrant.
On stage, I told the story of my crazy Chinese mother — the O.G. Dragon Lady. She abandoned me in Taiwan when I was a six year old and I didn’t see her again until I was nine. Illegal immigrants don’t love their kids any less. My trip to the US was the first time I was ever on a plane, and I was mesmerized by my air stewardess: she was the first black woman I’ve ever seen. Frosted eyeshadow on black skin would forever be the epitome of glamour for me.
I told the audience that, while I wasn’t born an American, I would most certainly die an American. Criminal Law was part of the change in what it means to be an American.
Three hundred years ago, we burned witches at the stake. Just 70 years ago we lynched people with impunity. Homosexuality wasn’t decriminalized until 2003.
But I think I lost the crowd back when I talked about my first time seeing a black woman. People everywhere were talking over me. I saw one of the judges check her press-on nails.
I was bombing.
But a weird thing happens when you bomb to your own words.
They may have moved no one else in the room, but I still know what’s true for me.
I choked up as I said the words,
My name is Criminal Law, and
It’s Criminal to lock children up in cages.
I walk off the stage to a canopy of puzzled faces.
One of the judges would later write in my scoresheet: talent???
Now, say it with me.
Curl your index finger and run it across your palm.