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.