A Queen Down Under
By Jesse Archer
Sydney�s Mardi Gras is the hot gay core of the universe. One week a year, thousands of gay men migrate Down Under, drawn by Kylie, budgie-smuggling Speedos, or perhaps in solidarity with the marsupial: We both use the same hole for everything.
This year I had another reason to cross the international date line into eternal jet lag. The hit film The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert has been adapted as a showstopping musical and is now playing in Sydney. In the neighborhood of Darlinghurst I�m eating dinner with my friend Matthew and, among others, a producer in charge of Priscilla�s Mardi Gras float.
In the parade, I am told, the Priscilla bus will be trailed by a gigantic stiletto. �Would you like to march as an extra?� the producer asks, but my world is on pause. I can see only that exquisite silver stiletto, fabrics billowing beautifully behind. Forget marching as an extra. �Can I be on the heel?� I plead, knowing full well this is so gay.
I use the term approvingly. So gay meaning cheekily impressed. So gay as in �I opened your fridge, girl, and poppers fell out!� Inexplicably, so gay is also employed to signify something lame, something ordinary people would never do, be, or say. Fortunately, we can�t all be ordinary.
Every so often we should take a moment to soak in a bath of gay�own it, drip in it, wallow in it, and get drunk on it�if only to sustain the tedious trudge to our next gay binge, which all basically boils down to one imperative: I have to get on that high heel.
I show the producer my pageant wave: a marvelous elbow-elbow, wrist-wrist-wrist. I'm a triple threat, I tell him. I sing, dance, and deep-throat. He says he'll make a few calls; he�ll get me on the heel. Finally, it�s happened to me.
Lies. A week later Matthew informs me that said producer can�t get me on the heel. Did he even try? How hard? Apparently, they found a �celebrity� drag queen for that lofty position. Celebrity nothing. I believe they mean local talent. �You�ll still be in the parade,� says Matthew. �They need people to push the heel.�
Is this some kind of consolation? This was to be my big glorious moment. This was supposed to be so gay! Now, not only am I demoted from the top of the heel, I�m planted at the back. Pushing it. Like a philistine.
�The producer worked really hard just to get you near the heel,� says Matthew. Near the heel�as if it were the ruby slippers of Oz. OK, it sort of is. �You will be a keeper of the stiletto,� he says. �It�s an important job.� Absolutely it�s an important job. If an oversize stiletto tumbles over onto Oxford Street, sending a hapless �celebrity� flying headlong into the crowds, it�s my job.
On parade day we line up, and there she is: Cindy Pastel, the one who won the heel. She cautiously climbs up the steep, slippery stiletto slope. My kingdom for a fistful of marbles. She sits pretty in her perch, sewn up into a silver sequined bodysuit with a matching head wrap swirling skyward. Cindy is a shimmering, glimmering, galactic piece of work, and I hate to say it: She looks amazing.
A parade organizer tells me her life was the inspiration for the original Priscilla film, so I�ll try to be respectful. Looking up at her professional paint job, I ask, �How long did it take you to do your makeup?� Cindy answers, �I didn't. I have people to do that for me.� That�s it, bitch. Prepare to crowd-surf.
The parade kicks off. At varying intervals I start swift 180-degree spins of the heel, but Cindy won�t fall off. In fact, she seems to love it. Strangely, so do I. I won�t let her fall. The crowd roars, and we�re all in this together.
Up ahead, 250 Kylie Minogue impersonators are dancing; behind me is a sea of choreographed lifeguards in Speedos; above sparkles a queen in a two-story sequined stiletto. I fear I may spontaneously combust into pixie glitter. This is as gay as it gets. Or is that as good as it gets? I�m not sure there�s a difference.