Before the first fingernail snags on a fishnet stocking, before the first armpit ring forms on a red T-shirt covered in oversized ears and unappealing fonts, before the first bitch-fight, drug bust, K-hole, breakup, blow job, "I love you, but I hate you," and "It's a small world after all" so let's try a threesome for the first time, just this once, because we're here in Orlando where things happen, somebody has to cut the goddamned ribbon and call it Gay Days. It happens every year, typically in some rented space full of information tables and humbling finger fare; somebody sings, somebody dances, a politician whereas-es and we all get to fucking, blah, blah, blah.
This year, though, something in the air that smells distinctly like a 1982 Giorgio perfume sample on a tiny piece of paper is hinting at a change. This, I dare say, could be magic.
"So where is the big gay kickoff this year?" Parliament House bartender Taylor serves me up a Kylie shot in preparation.
I wipe my lips. My eyes light up a little like those of a small girl in front of an ear-piercing station at Claire's Boutique.
"This year —" I choke up a little. "This year it is at the mall!"
"Weird," Taylor's eyes roll. "Funny that we're having Tiffany here on Friday. This year's Gay Days theme is totally mall."
Which, you must know, is just about the best thing since the Rubik's Snake first coiled into a cobra! As a child, I lived in malls, more than your average carrot-sucking Jennifer Jason Leigh, plucking candy out of those bag-your-own stores, wending my way through Banana Republic when it used to look like the Congo and not a condo. My mom managed a terrycloth-themed bath store in Panama City Beach — high end! — and during the summers, because she was single and poor and fantastic, she would allow the entire mall to baby-sit me for 12 hours a day. It was then that I had my fantasy of residing in a merchandising metropolis, waiting till all the fluorescent lights flipped off and the last security guard burped up his last Orange Julius so that I could have my run of everything superficial that would make me whole again. It never happened. I am not whole.
But tonight, for just one night, I might be. The folks at GayDays.com and hair queen Gary Lambert have managed a diamond-encrusted coup and convinced the folks at the Florida Mall's Saks Fifth Avenue to close down for the Tuesday evening shuffle-footed delight of teh gehz. As expected In These Hard Times, the place isn't nearly as full as anybody wanted it to be for the big hedonism-meets-pride kickoff, but I'm not complaining. All around me are things that glitter, things that shine, things that if I lived here I could say were mine. Perched atop boxes are some hot male living mannequins — again, playing into my '80s window-dressing fantasy — and somewhere in the middle a transsexual is getting body-painted every desert-hued color of the Fleetwood Mac palette.
"This is amazing!" I lean into Lambert, who let me in on the condition that everything appear amazing, or else he would hunt me down and cut me.
"I hope it gets better," he half-empties.
And with that, like in most fairy tales, things get a little mixed up. I start to see the cracks in Alice's Wonderland, specifically that everybody and everything here seems just a little off. There are Botox ladies in little black dresses staring blankly, moneyed Windermere-types in gay patterned shirt-jean combos 15 years too young for them (white belts!), drag-ish bits of club-kiddery wandering purposefully in mingle-fashion, and, worst of all, there is a serving station scooping mashed potatoes into martini glasses. Still, I'm at a mall at night, living the dream, so I just get a drink and wait for Andrew McCarthy to kiss me back to life.
"I like your sunglasses," Patty Sheehan approaches, placing her hands dangerously close to my neck. She's not Andrew McCarthy!
What follows is the standard presentation, only this time somehow up-marketed into a Logo kind of gay that doesn't, to the best of my knowledge, really exist. Some massive cartoon of a man, Cyon Flare, ostensibly the MC for the evening, climbs onstage in one glittery red platform and one glittery red heel to offer his uneven, warbling chops on a song called "Rise," but only after informing us that we need to "be real." Interesting, because this whole thing is a benefit for Be Real, a gay family support network, but more so because what says "real" like a bustier, fishnets and eye makeup to the top of your forehead? Somebody named Jade from RuPaul's Drag Race — the one with trouble "tucking" — does a split. Yikes.
There is one moment of poignancy when the mother of a son who came out in the '80s stands on the stage to read from her book about the whole thing, saying that she's ashamed his coming out was "all about me." Indeed.
Meanwhile, Sheehan is standing on the sidelines fretting about following singers and drag queens with something as dry and routine as a city proclamation.
"I could go up there and do sign language," I stick out my arms. "I think I remember the moves to Amy Grant's ‘El Shaddai' from eighth grade!"
"Yes! Do it!" she effuses.
Her posse thinks it's a bad idea, as it might offend the deaf, and also shoots down the backup plan for an interpretive dance, because, umm, it might offend the drag queens?
Anyway, Patty takes the stage, reads her whereas-es, and says something like, "I was gonna have Billy Manes do an interpretive dance," eliciting the sound of wealthy crickets from the audience. I'm not even here.
On my way out, I pass by one of the man-nequins, now wearing nothing but underwear, just standing there, all Kim Cattrall lifeless. Something tells me he's not whole, either. Maybe if I kissed firstname.lastname@example.org