Denise Duhamel

The Drag Queen Inside Me

It was a mistake in the late seventies to have curly hair, and mine misbehaved in the worst way. What I wanted were wings, a misnomer for that Farah Fawcett hair that was all the rage--an utter mismatch for curly-tops like me. The hairdresser misunderstood and gave me a A Star is Born perm that he assured me better matched my personality. When I tried to wash it out, the chemical smell mystified my whole family who said the bathroom reeked of rotten eggs, no matter how long they left the windows open. The curls on my head began misbehaving and soon turned to frizz, a misshapen Afro.

At first I thought it was a mistake to stand out. I crawled through my freshman year of high school in my misshapen overalls, hiding my breasts.

But then the drag queens inside me misled me to experiment with oversized accessories--misshapen brooches and clip-on earrings that left telltale misdemeanor green circles on my lobes. I misunderstood gaudy for glamorous. I had my misgivings towards the quiet girls with thin gold chains around their boring necks, small plates spelling out their boring names--Doris, Carol, Ann.

Maybe I was a witch with a Miss Stake through my heart.

I related to drag queens because they worked what they had, despite their misgivings about what should be. If their pretty souls were mismatched with less-than-pretty faces, if their murky demeanors betrayed their pure intentions, they made the most of nature's mistakes with wigs and false eyelashes, misleading everyone with regard to their happiness, their fake smiles understood as real.

The drag queens inside me are a mismatched band of seedy glamour girls:

Down the runway first is Miss Fit,
her walk articulating her elegant loneliness. Miss Demeanor
slouches and shuffles while Miss Understood
sulks in the corner. In the program, "Miss Beehive"
is misspelled as Miss Behave.
Lime mules peek out from under Miss Match's
fuchsia tulle. Miss Lead
coos, "Miss Match, you look fabulous!" The announcer gets
Miss Nomer's name all wrong, and all the girls in me
are mystified by beauty contests in general.

I had a dream in which I had true Miss Star Demeanor and sang to a crowd of screaming fans, no one was mystified by my obvious dream symbols, yet my desire for fame was totally mismatched with my desire to be a poet.

I met a talent agent who wanted to send me out for character actress parts, misfits like The Snapple Lady or the "Where's the Beef?" lady who was mystified by her tiny hamburger in a 70's fast food commercial. But I said No thanks, Miss Creative Management. I thought then it was ingénue or bust.

I once misspelled annual as anal, then fell in love with my mismatched (plaid and stripes) teacher for his kind misshapen question mark in the margin of my term paper. He had no misgivings about my talent, no need to ridicule me in front of the class. Love is probably a misnomer for how I felt.

"Why, oh why, am I always the misled, instead of the leading lady?" I asked the girl who also committed the misdemeanor of being a misfit, misunderstood by nearly everyone, even me, her mystifying make-up a palimpsest for her misgivings.

The boy who sat next to me also misunderstood his own crush on the kind teacher and began to misbehave in creepy super-jock ways, misleading the class and himself.

Tori Spelling and Bette Midler know that inside every girl like me is a gaggle of drag queens spelling it out for her, shaping her drag destiny which is a misnomer for the way she laughs too loud, misunderstood by the standard girls and misled by the regular boys who mistake her as the persistent kooky best friend with the demeanor of a stand-up comic mismatched with her rage at the world and her misgivings about being a misfit in the first place.

We all had misgivings about not being popular or smart enough, mistaking our own clumsy adolescence for a death sentence, mystified by hair which started to grow in strange places and the misshapen patches of acne on our cheeks.

We learned to misbehave by doing the opposite of what every nun preached, a spell of detention only made us understand the power of doodles and daydreams.

We were all mystified by weird teenage feelings, mistaking anything unusual as "queer" or "homo," misnomers for whatever we didn't understand.

If only I really did look like Barbra Streisand, the misfit with the big nose who made it, the misfit who still gets her name misspelled--Barbara instead of Barbra. She takes the lead when it comes to drag queens' imitations though surely she has misgivings when she sees Drag Barbras misbehaving, exaggerating her Funny Girl nasal misgivings and her Prince of Tides long nails. Maybe it was a misdemeanor when she put out that Christmas album and led all her Yentil-loving fans to boo her.

Now it's easy for me to see why I was/am a misfit.
Why I am lipsynching. Why I went bust.

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