by Joshua Hennen

SAN FRANCISCO California - After last month’s visit to a snake-handling church in West Virginia (see October’s issue online) I felt that a story about a prominent San Francisco drag show would be a good counterpoint for the November issue.  That said, I booked a flight and made a reservation for “Fauxgirls,” a show billed as “San Francisco’s  Favorite Drag Revue.”

Since the show was booked on a Saturday night and I arrived on a Thursday, that left me plenty of time to explore the city.  So I visited the normal attractions that San Francisco has to offer, during the course of which I discovered that a transsexual drag show was to be held on Friday night.  This one, I was assured, would be “more adventurous” than Fauxgirls.  The more adventurous reader can view the story about my experiences online by clicking on the story entitled, “The Gulch.”

At ten o'clock Saturday night I found the place where the Fauxgirls show was to be held:  Kimo’s Bar and Penthouse Lounge.  It was a corner bar and upon entering I quickly realized that the gala could not possibly be held in such a small, dingy establishment.  So I advanced up a stairway which lay at one corner of the barroom  and would, I believed, take me to the “Penthouse.”  The well-worn carpeting of the stairs were blackened at precisely the same spots that I was stepping, leading me to believe that I was not the first to haunt the place, though the tinges of red in the vestigial fibers also led me to believe that I would not be the last.

After reaching the top, I could see that the penthouse was rectangular in shape and that the staircase ran up one of the long walls.  In front of me stood a poorly constructed tiki bar with bar tables to match.  As I turned to look behind me to survey the stage, I was promptly greeted by Bonnie, a transvestite cocktail waitress.

“Hello,” she said with heartiness, her muscular shoulders betrayed by the spaghetti straps of her black dress.  “How many in your party?”

I responded that I had a reservation for one, after which she explained that the show was to be very crowded and that I might have to be seated with another group, as a large bachelorette party had just arrived.  While the clinking of cocktail glasses, flashing of camera bulbs, and boisterous behavior of about twenty young women at a table gave strong credence to Bonnie’s statement, I was nevertheless seated at a small table by myself.

Having time to examine my surroundings, I noticed that the penthouse was relatively narrow with tables facing the stage that consisted of a small wooden platform with black curtains behind it.  All of the contents of the room were arranged so as to allow the dancers to descend the performance area and mingle amongst the guests, which they freely took advantage of as I was to soon find out.   The walls, incidentally, were dark red with black trim at the floors and ceiling.  It was quite the garish scene.

At this point, I was approached by a man named David, who clearly wished to get to know me better.  In an aggressive and forthright manner he asked my name, where I was from, and other personal details.  After explaining that I was there to write a story about the upcoming show and for no other purpose, he apparently realized that he would not be taking me home and retired to another table on the other side of the room, but still within eyesight of me.

And so now it was finally time for the big show.  The proprietor of the Fauxgirls act announced from a cleverly concealed sound booth not far from the tiki bar that the host for tonight’s event was to be Miss Shelly Wilde, the “Texas Rose.”  As a spotlight swirled about the darkened room looking for the host, it lit predictably at the center of the stage and out stepped Miss Wilde, who was made up to look like Liza Minnelli.  The packed house roared with approval as whistles and catcalls bellowed from the audience.  A well-fed “Liza,” draped in a sparkling dress and adorned with a long, black scarf, began dancing and lip synching the tune, “Teach Me Tonight.”

No sooner was the audience getting used to the appearance of Miss Wilde and the loud cabaret-style music, than she advanced down the center of the room, there being a path cleared for the purpose.  Stopping to look down at a large, flabby man seated to her left, she drew close, grabbed his head, and buried his face in her belly.  Laughter and cheers spread throughout the room, the epicenter being the soused young lady friends of the bride-to-be.  The corpulent man was also greatly entertained by the display and heartily rewarded her with a cash tip.

At the end of the performance, Miss Wilde returned to the stage and gave plenty of funny, obscenity laced jokes, one-liners, and zingers about both audience members and performers.  Finally, she introduced the next performer with the words, “And now, the lovely Chanel!”  As Miss Wilde exited to the back of the penthouse through the spectators, Chanel emerged from behind the black curtain to a slow, nondescript tune.

The delicate Chanel!  Adorned in a purple, strapless gown made of velvet with a purple featherboa to match, she was replete with an elaborate, platinum blonde wig that stood a full twelve inches above her head.  As if this were not enough to establish her elegance, she wore an ornate, diamond encrusted necklace that draped her chest.  Since her gown tightly wrapped her body, I could not blame her for choosing a slow tempo tune to which to perform.  Nevertheless, she also made her rounds into the audience.

While Chanel’s act was closing, I decided to order a second martini.  Because the previous one was improperly made, I decided to write precise instructions to the bartender when Bonnie brought me another.  “I didn’t order this,” I said.  I was stunned, thinking that she had read my mind and ordered another drink for me.  Other forces were at work, however.  “He ordered it for you,” she responded, pointing across the room to David. I looked over at him when she said this, and he winked with a devilish grin.  Somewhat disconcerted, I hoisted the martini glass in his direction and nodded to thank him for the spirits.  He winked again.

A welcome relief came from David’s pawing at me when “The Texas Rose” introduced Bobby Ashton, the only male performer to not dress in drag.  I was not disappointed for Bobby was clearly trained in the theatrical arts and played his part well.  He performed the piece “Mr. Cellophane” from the hit Broadway production Chicago.

Mr. Ashton’s costume consisted of baggy trousers, a white shirt, an outsized coat, and a large, black bowtie.  With conspicuous patches on his clothing and paint on his face, he pantomimed the lines:

I tell ya,
Mister Celophane,
Shoulda been my name.
Mister Cellophane,
‘Cause you can look right through me…

After such an entertaining act, I was amazed to see “Tiger Lilly” burst upon the stage and into the audience with all of the energy of a crazed cat.  With the loud and pulsing techno music as a backdrop, she cut quite the figure, not to mention that we had met each other the night before at Diva’s Bar and Lounge. (See the previously mentioned online story, “The Gulch”).

Being of Asian descent and wearing a massive, black feather headdress studded with sparkly jewels, she resembled some sort of Vietnamese peacock.  Her attire was definitely meant to attract as much attention.  Her corset was of black vinyl as were her elbow high gloves.  With knee high boots also of black vinyl, she salaciously twirled about the penthouse, stopping at various tables to engage the guests (both men and women alike), and cheerfully accept tips.  These found a temporary home in the top of her corset.

Flitting past my small table, she looked over and lit her eyes on mine.  Turning to face me to the exclusion of every other occupant in the place, she made a highly provocative comment that is too coarse to print here but may be found in the companion story.  I’m certain that my face flushed with embarrassment as she said this, even though I should have been used to her propositions by then.

Next, a few other drag queens performed ceremoniously as the spectators became more inebriated with every act.  The table of the wedding party was becoming extremely excited with every passing moment as they restlessly swilled beer and cocktails.  It seemed that a nearly irresistible impulse to dance was weighing heavily upon them.  My suspicions were confirmed as two or three would stand in place to dance with each other.  Other guests didn’t seem to suffer the same malady although the crowd was becoming louder and more jovial generally.  But at a particular table two gay men took the show very seriously, the one wearing shorts with tall tube socks.  His extraordinarily round glasses lenses completed the odd picture as the two men never seemed to utter a word to one another.

Once again Shelly Wilde took her turn.  Sashaying from behind the curtain that she somehow managed to get behind after relinquishing her hosting responsibilities, she did the Broadway number “Start Spreading the News.”  Apparently gratified by this familiar tune, the audience positively surged with enthusiasm as the roaring and whistling reached a near deafening pitch.  On just hearing the commotion, an outsider would think that there were ten times the number of people in that penthouse.  This act by  the black dressed “Texas Rose” was the pivot point for the evening as the music and alcohol were whipping the crowd into a heady lather.

Time for Tiger Lilly again, now arrayed in an orange, vinyl dress with an orange and white umbrella that when twirled resembled a child’s spinning top.  She exhibited less energy than before but took time to give a bawdy lap dance to one of the women at the bride’s table.  With loud “ooohs & aaahs” the spectators laughed with great volume.  I wish that I could remember what the tune was to which she danced, but after her performance, she took a seat next to me and engaged me in a conversation that made me greatly uncomfortable since it involved solicitations of an adult nature.  Even some of the surrounding women noticed Tiger Lilly’s attachment to me and teasingly mouthed the words, “She likes you!  Ha, ha, ha!” They seemed to be entertained by the whole affair.  I, however, was becoming more uncomfortable by the moment.

Bobby Ashton’s next performance was truly grand.  He was bedecked with the most elaborate costume of the night to accompany the Stevie Wonder tune “Superstition.”  He was so diligent in his revue that he didn’t seem to notice the many hands in the air with cash tips.  By now at my third martini, I was wondering when the show might end for the crowd was becoming rowdy, instigated by the bride’s table.  The women were up and down in their seats like jack-in-the-boxes, obviously “feeling the music.”

A few other acts and finally the breaking point for the audience came.  Bobby Ashton, dressed in zebra print tights, a gray sleeveless shirt, fingerless gloves, and a policeman’s cap stepped out to the tune “I gotta feeling,” by the Black Eyed Peas.  The mere sound of the music drove the people from their seats like lemmings from a ship.  The area was crowded beyond belief and so many writhing bodies striking dance moves couldn’t help but bump tables and knock over drinks.  The host Shelly Wilde was soon heard booming over the speakers that everyone needed to get “the hell off of the dance floor.”  When this obtained no desired effect, she screeched with a tinge of desperation in her voice, “If you’re not a performer than get your ass back in a seat!”  This exhortation seemed to drive the crowd into even more of a frenzy.

Now I was greatly concerned about my safety as I looked instinctively over at the table where David sat.  I could feel his steely glare by a sixth sense and sure enough, his eyes were bearing down on me.  Concerned that the incorrigibly aggressive man may try to take advantage of the deteriorating circumstances, I scooped up my pocket-sized memo pad and camera while simultaneously shoving them into my coat pockets.  Leaping to my feet and forcing my way through the melee, I stumbled to the stairs while overhearing “The Texas Rose” trying to regain control over the situation.  I was soon down the steps and out the door, glad to be greeted by the safety of  downtown San Francisco at midnight.