I’ve not always been a drag queen. At first, I was merely mourning. A part of me can’t help wishing I had religion. You know? Not faith necessarily, but the structure of religion. Grieving is a horrid, horrid thing when you’re a non-. People tend to think that a non- is as concrete a concept as the concept itself, but it’s not. You really are left out in the wind, with no guidance. Instead of one authority, one clear voice on the subject, you fall prey to everyone and their grandmother’s definition of the ritual of loss. To their unwanted advice.
‘Be strong—Whatever you do, don’t repress.’
‘Wear black—It’s best to move on.’
‘Throw away her things—Keep every memento.’
And that dreaded question of funeral or celebration of life. How often I had that thought, I can’t say. That it would be so much better to be religious. No, not just religious, but orthodox… something. How clear the path would be. How rehearsed its actors. And I, free to be guided through the experience of loss, never doubting.
Instead, look at me now. See what I have become. See what the world has made of me. Dragged hither and thither by a merciless tide, with eddies of contradictory advice and powerful undertows of wilful self-sabotage. What a curious fall from grace. Don’t laugh. Idiosyncratic? Well, that is the question, isn’t it? That is to say, had I always possessed the soul of a transvestite? Of a queen? I imagine that’s what you mean?
Well… no, I don’t believe it. There is such devastating beauty in what I have become, all plumage and powder and hair. You know that part of me that wished to be orthodox? Don’t listen to it… One is liable to say anything in such dire straits as mine. Retroactively. But my wanting to be orthodox is about as consequential as that part of me which believes that my man exterior, all muddy boots and facial hair, had been but a cocoon; my marriage but a chrysalis. That is to say, a phase. The last phase. The last phase before the burgeoning of the latent queen I was destined to become. Folly. But perhaps you may judge by yourself.
I will not bore you with the main elements to this glorious metamorphosis of mine, from the drab submissive husband I once was. But rather, I’ll focus on the most nit-picking details. For, there, the devil lies in wait, rubbing his hands, knowing where the path that I was treading lead; even as I, myself, remained ignorant of it.
‘Be strong—Don’t repress.’ Before you ask me, there is no way for me to filter through the fog of grief to name who it was of all the gloomy characters that crawl out of the woodwork when someone dies, that offered me these conflicting pieces of advice. But I nonetheless choose, now, to read in these words a diagnosis, rather than a treatment for the condition that is grief. ‘Be strong’ was my wife. ‘Don’t repress’ was me.
I know you don’t believe me. You look at me now; how completely I embody the destination of my wayward pilgrimage. So you don’t see who I was.
My wife was always the porch-light to my moth, you see? Yes, this was true. I’m ashamed to say that only in death did I discover her a moon. No. Why should I be ashamed? Have you ever heard of a moth that ignores the call of the porch light, in case it turns out not to be the moon? She bloomed so bright! I was only blinded by her. Mesmerised. Only in her total eclipse, was I able to glimpse her true essence. Only when her light was extinguished did I wake up. And I was out there. Not on the porch floor, but drifting through space.
But I’m getting a little metaphorical here. You know, I could never fathom why through the sea of admirers, I was the one she chose. Life had, somehow, carved me into the exact key for her lock. The type of person to both listen to her siren call and navigate the deadly shoals to her. Ha! It must have surprised even her, though it is too late now to ask. I felt a pauper in her royal presence. In my worse moments a charity case. In my best… what? A worthy charity? Do you understand how unreachable the moon? How rarefied the air of the upper-atmosphere which is not even the nano- to the unimaginable airless reaches that separated us?
Oh, she was strong, my sweet girl. Not least for loving me. Sure, one idealises post-mortem. Suffice to say I felt erased in her presence. Illuminated, from her standpoint; but blind. Blind!
And therein lies the first step, the fork in the road that would eventually lead me here. Why? Of course, our minds are not yet tuned to one another… When I say ‘erased’ you think ‘repression’, and indeed that is where I led you with the ‘be strong—don’t repress’ counterpoint. But, the truth is, it is not her presence that erased me. She was just the neon light that exposed everything that was already there. Who was I? And it’s self-deprecation. I was not wretched. I was bland. And if I mentioned a cocoon earlier, believe it as a testament of transcendence. She was the trauma to my eventual genius. I was always going to lose her. That is just the nature of those who burn so bright.
Not a moment with her was my inner world not set aswirl by musings on luck and loss. There is tragedy there. But there is also a secret beauty, there, that only eyes tinted by sadness can behold. Loss makes life so… sweet. And in this way, I believe the cocoon is a symbol of mourning. But you knew this also. However, can you understand that, before her, I would have made this cocoon my home? Some souls are predestined to melancholia. Some souls have that specific hollow in them, which will fill-up regardless of events. Understand that I would never have emerged from this cocoon.
You laugh. You laugh because you see me now in my disfraz, in the form of a dazzling moth. You can’t take your eyes off me, can you? I am that irresistible curiosity you almost despise for how it seizes your eye and holds on. But no one—and much less I—could have foreseen this end. Sure, you see how bright I shine and cannot bring yourself to imagine how dull I once was. Yes. At last, I see we have arrived at a common understanding. This… let me give a turn so you may contemplate me.
Be-hold! Aren’t I the tits? The very honey and lime of this world?
This! This is what she saw in me. Forged into a diamond by the tremendous pressures of my repression. Dullness, my dear, breeds the saltiest of eccentricities. Oh, she didn’t die for me, don’t be a fool! Here darling, pass me a tissue. I haven’t the time to redo my beauty, I’m on in ten.
Shooof. On in ten! Where was I? Ah yes, you’re kind. You really listen. Wear black. Haha! The notion. Look at me. Wear black? Please… ‘Wear black—move on’. Well, no. I’m dishonest. I did wear black, you’re right. But some religions advise the widow to wear black for a year. So many advised me to dwell in mourning. To explore its murky depths. To give into the experience.
But I have seen my love a moon! Do you understand? A moon! Move on? So the bachelor’s cry. Do not insult me! See Christ on his cross and move on. See Buddha meditating for 49 days and move on. My love was a faith. Not to waver even as the object of my reverence passed on. Only strengthen. Embolden. Needless to say, I did not see these pieces of advice as contradictory. I simply did, well… both.
You know they say grief is a selfish act? Never truer than for me. When I wore black, it was I who I mourned. I knew then that I would never be the same again. No one is, posthumously. I lived for two now. My cocoon was imbued with such colour and spice. Such zest, which life is never not full of, when one looks hard enough.
But I am conniving, aren’t I? You have unveiled my contrivance. If I had done this right, it would have felt more… authentic. Less rehearsed. Never mind. What’s that? Oh, I really must go. Will you humour me? You’re kind.
‘Throw away—keep every memento.’ See how shallow my wish for orthodoxy was? I never truly needed guidance to, well, guide me through this last experience. Some of her things were unmistakably imbued with… with… well, with her. But not all of these were in my possession. Luckily for me, my obsession with these precious items was so easily camouflaged by loss. Everything is forgiven the mourner, you see? I paid a visit to every acquaintance of my wife. Oh, and I was systematic! And devious. I paid improvised visits to them on the pretence of not wanting to be alone. And raided. Raided! Not gracefully, either. I hoarded. Greedy, feverish with covetousness. I pilfered, lied, fought, lost friends and did not care. Still, I do not care. I knew my transformation was imminent and hungered to invest into it every last memento of her. How many lives she had impacted, my wife! What a busy after-hours I discovered her to have. A lover here. A gay friend there. A father figure. A sister-friend, from whom she was inseparable. All in mourning, by their own right. But nothing could get in my way. I wielded the supremacy of my grief to dishonourable lengths. And thus began my collection of her. My moon. Thus began my gathering of all her bits and morcels. A lipstick, here. Heels, there. A scarf, dresses by the half-dozen, a note. Nail polish. Scandalous! Haha. I’m blushing, of course. Am I blushing? Love letters! And not addressed to me. Do you understand? Dear, I sorted through trash. Imagine it. Please, take a moment to. I bought back donated items. Blackmailed. But enough… Yes, enough. You get my point.
Hush now, can you hear them calling me? They love me. Can you hear them whistle? You know, I had never known I could sing. In fact, I am certain I couldn’t. Now hear me sing; hear me whisper; hear me roar all her favourite songs.
How did I do it? Such class… Such chic! Oh, it was not pretty. No. But I was ruthless. She… she was ruthless. My moon demands much of those she believes worthy. And I do NOT disappoint.
Go. Scurry now to your seat. And see how she comes alive. How she sings. How she loves. Loves me. How they love her. All through me. Oh, sweet heaven it hurts. No, don’t leave. I’m sorry. No, I can’t… I… I don’t want to go out there. They’ll devour me. Eat me alive. Devour me to get to… her. I thought I… but no. Never mind, darling. Go! I want to offer this to you. I need to. You understand… I know you do.
And darling, when you see me reach for the moon, hold your breath for me. It’s so ungodly cold up there. How she could ever stand it, I will never know. To be a moon, I mean… Go! Witness an orthodox drag queen, first of her kind! Witness extravagant grief, witness how they yearn for more. Witness how a cheap porch light can shine like the moon.
Here I come my darlings!