Dancing Debutantes Of Drag At A New Hope Club, Tradition Lives.
By Erin Mooney, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT
POSTED: January 19, 1997
NEW HOPE — By day, John Gascot works full time at a Macy’s cosmetic counter. As the sun sets, he is Miss Demeanor, a shapely brunette with curly ringlets that no permanent could replicate. His feet slip into a pair of women’s size 11 heels; his dress size is 14.
Ian Morrison is a Temple student who lives in Northeast Philadelphia. For three months, he has shopped for women’s clothes for Brittany Lynn, his new alter ego. She is somewhat of a frump, so he shops for unfashionable frocks at thrift stores. Brittany is thrifty. Her shoes come from Payless Shoes.
On a recent night, the men competed at the Cartwheel, a New Hope club where drag queen contestants lip-synch and gyrate for a coveted monthly drag queen award.
Several hundred people come to the Monday night shows, according to Georgeann Moses, owner of the Cartwheel. On the last Monday in December, when a drag queen of the month was crowned, more than 200 people crowded around the dance floor to watch the action. It was a mixed crowd: young and old, gay and straight, men and women, plain and flamboyant, buff and out of shape.
“It’s keeping alive a tradition in New Hope,” she said. “It’s theater.”
* Almost three hours before the 11 p.m. show, a tiny dressing room in a far corner of the dark club is a flurry of activity as several drag queens primp and preen. There are flashes of nudity, of tucking and poking, as they squeeze into panty hose, corsets and bustiers. Flowery perfume hangs in the air, a prelude of what the room will smell like as the night wears on and perfumes mingle.
Randy, 39, is a New Hope drag queen who has become well-known for his persona, Monica Rey. He sits before a brightly lighted mirror, putting on lush eyelashes and layers of Chanel makeup. His graying hair is cropped short, and painted brown lines suggest cleavage on his smooth chest. Later, he will wear foam inserts under his clothes to give shape to the lines. Two pairs of dance tights and a pair of Sheer Energy panty hose cover his hairy legs and give them tone.
It has been 19 years since Monica’s performing career was born.
“Drag is not in control of my life,” he said, “but it’s always there.”
He has performed for “busloads of blue-haired ladies” in Las Vegas and a roomful of straight men in Valley Forge, but, he said, the Cartwheel is “the granddaddy” of area drag shows. Monica’s long blonde tresses are familiar to showgoers because she serves as the weekly MC.
He and Monica live together. Her clothes hang in his closets, her spiked heels clutter his shoe racks, and he is constantly on the lookout for good clothing sales.
A hairdresser friend curls and pins the two blond wigs for that evening’s hairdos.
“It’s like helping your girlfriend go to the prom . . . every Monday night,” the friend said.
Brushing out the long hair, Randy said that it had become somewhat easier in recent years for drag queens to exist in public.
“There was a time when it was a little scary to be in drag,” he said. “Now, John Q. Public sees it a little more often.”
Movies such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, have helped expose the lives of drag queens. Ru Paul, the drag queen who has become a household name, has also helped demystify who and what drag queens are.
The hourlong show is a sea of sequins, boas and 5-inch nails. Patrons do not mince words when it comes to critiquing the drag queens in the contest.
When Victoria Michaels, a slender bombshell in 6-inch heels, took the stage, two males standing on the side whispered to each other.
“She must starve herself,” said one.
“She doesn’t,” his companion said. “I’ve seen her eat.
A heavier contestant stepped on stage. On the other side of the room, there were more hushed comments.
“She must be working out, she looks thinner,” said another man to his friend.
Monica Rey said he makes sure he does not judge the contestants for their drag performances.
“I don’t want to play favorites; it’s not my place to judge. When I started, I was pretty scary,” he said.
On a good night, Monica Rey can make several hundred dollars in tips. On average, he said, he makes about $75 each night. He performs professionally and makes a living at being a drag queen.
Gascot has been performing as a drag queen for three years. He started as a cigarette girl in a New York City club. He has found a way to make gender-bending profitable.
“I think everybody should be able to go out and be someone completely different,” he said.
“I think it’s empowering. I think I can be a lot bolder when I’m in drag and can get away with a whole lot more.”
For Christmas, Gascot found presents under the tree from his mother for Miss Demeanor and John. He received a leather coat, colognes and underwear. She received three pairs of stiletto heels, a gold catsuit and matching gloves from Frederick’s of Hollywood.
Sheila Butler and Dan Keown, an older straight couple from Trenton, had a great time at the show. Keown tipped several of the performers and pretended to flirt with some of the drag queens. They said they came for the sheer entertainment and had heard about the show from a friend.
“I just want to know,” Butler said, “why do they have flatter stomachs and better legs than I do?”
Bill Biskup of Bristol came to the show with several friends. The atmosphere at the Monday night shows, he said, is welcoming.
“It’s not a meat market,” Biskup said. “It’s friendly, safe and affordable.”
Rick Cameron, a college student in Philadelphia, and his friends make the trip each Monday just for the show, he said.
“We come here for fun,” he said. “It’s a broad kind of mix. Monica always makes you feel welcome.”
“It’s much more close-knit than other bars,” Cameron said.