Q Is for QueenbyBethanyJ©
Transgender-themed stories which I hope will be of interest to those who like women, or would like to be a woman. Which includes me!
As I belted out the final chorus of 'Summertime', I felt the heel on my right shoe buckle. Of course, being a professional, I carried on to the end. Never let the punters down, the show must go on and all that. At the end I curtsied, I smiled, I blew kisses, it was actually a pretty good audience. I'd enjoyed the show too, the three Madonna numbers had gone well and the dancers in the 'Material Girl' spot - OK, just three of them, local guys from the Dramatic Society brought in to dress things up a bit - had done well. I was sure one of them had been a bit too keen - I got the distinct impression one of the six hands had gone up the slit in my skirt just a little further than was necessary for the proper artistic effect.
The Shirley Temple songs? Well, I'm never too sure how good I look in a blue gingham dress and short socks. Glam I can do, very well. But sweet and twee, I'm not so sure. I never really enjoyed it but I know some of the punters got a kick out of it. Anyway just after I came off I managed to hobble to my dressing room and change my shoes for the expected onslaught of fans.
Dressing room? Well, an ante-room off the entrance lobby of the hall, just past the ladies' loos. Actually compared with some I'd known it wasn't bad at all. And the hall had been better than I'd seen of late. The Celebration Hall, Cannock, I can recommend it to any self-respecting drag queen. Nice crowd of people. You can tell an audience for my sort of act by the number of women there and Cannock had provided quite a few. I poured a quick vodka in the dressing room, just a small one with quite a bit of tonic to add to the effect.
Anyway I sat down and turned towards the door, checking my dress, quick look at the make-up in the mirror and touch up my lipstick, a little more blusher. And ready. I waited. I'd asked the stage manager to give me five minutes to sort myself. True to his word there was a quiet tap-tap-tap on the door almost exactly on cue.
"Come in," I called, quietly.
The door opened. The stage manager, a rather exalted title for the guy who sorted the chairs and tables in the hall and handled the curtains, thrust his head round the corner.
"Ready mate? There's about four or five out here. Ready?"
For a moment I couldn't remember his name, then it came to me. James. And he'd been emphatic about that, James and not Jim. And he had done a good job, I'll give him that. The little stage in the hall had been really well set up, nice lighting, the sound had been of a quality I'd not seen or indeed heard for a while. He'd called me mate, I don't think the Celebration Hall had played host - or should that be hostess - to many female impersonators. He'd been really flustered when Martin had gone into the dressing room and Marie - Marie Queen, that is, in the long red gown I almost always wore for my opening set - had come out.
I'd played on it a bit, of course. I mean, in that outfit I knew I looked hot. Any drag queen has her own favourite colour, well I have two. I look good in the right sort of blue but I can look stunning in red, the brighter the better.
So I'd strolled out of the dressing room and walked towards James, smiling and wiggling my arse, thrusting my long legs through the split in my dress as I moved. He'd just stood there open-mouthed. And as I got closer, as he got the whole picture, dress and legs and boobs, carefully made up face and big hair, he'd visibly whitened. For once - and I don't usually do it, I usually stay in role when I'm dressed - I dropped into Martin's voice.
That had really confused him, I don't think he's too bright really. But, like I said, he'd done his job well. Decent services on stage, a nearly full house, I'd really launched into 'Summertime' at the end of my set. And after what I myself judged as a good performance I was ready for the fans. Four or five? Well, better than one or two except that I got the nutter first. There's always one.
"Marie, great show. I saw you in Cinderella in Bradford a few years ago. I've been a big fan ever since".
The slightly wild look in his eyes told me. Nutter. It wasn't the act he'd come to see, and certainly it wasn't 'Martin'. It was 'Marie Queen' the woman. The over-the-top woman sitting there in front of him wearing too much mascara and with enormous gold-effect pendant earrings. But this man wasn't seeing the impersonator he knew was in front of him, he really was seeing a woman. OK, a nutter, but still a fan. He might still buy a CD from the young local lads I'd got selling in the foyer so he needed to be nurtured.
"Hello, so nice to see you. And thanks, I really enjoyed that role and I'm so glad you appreciated it."
And, to keep him sweet, I smiled. I held out my jewelled decorated right hand. He didn't shake it, he held it and he kissed it! Actually very gently but it still surprised me. I shuffled a little in my seat, crossing my legs so he'd have a good view of my thighs as we sat there. He enjoyed that!
Although most of the time, for all sorts of practical reasons, I wear a long dress or a gown for most of my sets, I do realise I have good-looking legs. And for my final three songs, a bit of a medley rather than an actual impersonation of a particular artiste, I've always thought that a tight blue mini-dress sent the audience away with good memories of Marie Queen.
I chatted with that first guy for a couple of minutes more until I decided he'd had enough. I asked him if he wanted a signed photo and he said 'yes'. I thought I knew which one he'd pick but I was wrong, he went for the one in the blue mini-dress, the one I was wearing at the time. I wrote 'For Harry, with love, Marie Q' and a couple of X marks. He liked that, he also liked the hand on his bum and the brief kiss I planted on his cheek as he was turning towards the door. 'Keep the punters happy,' the golden rule, he might feel good enough to buy something at the merchandising table on the way out.
The next two fans were just fans, or at least local guys who had come along to the Hall when they'd seen there was a show on. One of them did actually comment on how 'good' in the sense of 'realistic' I looked on the posters advertising the show. I asked which one, I knew there were two different ones, and he told me it was the one showing me in that same blue dress.
After that I got a couple, husband and wife, which isn't all that rare really if you think about it. While some men might go along to a show like that for the vicarious thrill in seeing a man dressed up as a woman, lots of guys either couldn't or wouldn't want to go on their own or even with mates. The couple introduced themselves, or rather he did, as 'Keith and this is my wife Sarah'. I sat them down and took a brief sip from my vodka, and smiled, about to go into my spiel about 'nice to see you and I hope you enjoyed the show' and so on. But Keith cut me short.
"We saw you, Marie, several years ago in a summer season at Blackpool. With Jim Kennery. The comic."
I didn't need them to tell me that, I'd known Jim well before he tragically died a couple of years after that show. He was really more than just a comic, he'd have made a good character actor if he'd had the breaks.
"It was after that show, Marie, it was our first holiday together and I'd taken Sarah and we really did laugh so much, you and Jim were so funny together. Like when you did that sketch with you in the French maid's outfit and him as the master of the house and he kept getting in the way of your duster..."
Keith trailed off in laughter, Sarah was giggling too. And I was smiling, almost laughing too. I'd actually kissed Jim once after a show. He'd asked me about being a guy in girl's clothes and did I ever go out like that. And when I'd told him I sometimes did, not often, he'd wanted to know what I'd do if ever I got chatted up. I told him it had happened a couple of times and ended up kissing him to show I could do so convincingly as a woman. OK so I only ever did that once, that season anyway, but it made me smile thinking about it.
"...and after we'd stopped laughing Keith's arms were round me, and we hugged, and he proposed. And we're still together after all these years."
It wasn't many years ago really, and after they'd shown me their photos from Keith's wallet and told me how old their eldest son was, I realised he might well have been conceived on that holiday. He seemed the right age. They did say they'd enjoyed the show and I showed Sarah the 'diamonds' I used for the Material Girl song. We both agreed they looked even better than the ones on the original video though I've no doubt most of hers on that shoot were fake, just like mine.
I ended up signing two photos for them, both of me in the red dress I'd opened with, and shook their hands gently as they left. Maybe that Blackpool season had been the pinnacle of my career, certainly it had been the best paid. I'd been on the same money as Jim and he was quite a big star at that time.
As they left I reflected on the years in-between, they'd been good for quite a long time. Summer seasons, pantomimes, it was only recently they'd begun to dry up. What with all the new acts around, and the Internet and the up-and-coming 'girls' on the scene, there was beginning to be not so much work for drag queens like me. Not in the big time at least, I knew I could keep on working the clubs and halls for a few years yet.
I'd never really had the ambition to go for the big time, not like acts such as Ru or Danni. I'd once had an enquiry from the Palladium, that was as good as it got although that came to nothing. But the income was steady specially with the merchandising I'd built up, the two CDs I'd recorded on a minor label. And the calendars I still did every year, when I did get a panto they sold well. I'd even seen one on a garage wall in Middlesbrough, in June it was, open at October's picture which thrilled me. Because that October photo was one of the best I'd ever had done, me in a white boob-tube and mini-skirt and showing cleavage for all I was worth. Untouched too, the picture that is, the boobs were all mine - or at least my breast-forms.
I looked down. I smiled a little. That blue dress was almost as good as that boob-tube outfit had been, I could still create a very attractive figure even then. I caught my reflection again and, oddly, another memory flashed into my mind. Of me in a different blue dress somewhere down in the south-west. I'd decided to go home after the gig en-femme and had even dropped into a pub for a quick drink. I remembered the guy who had chatted me up and his delight when he thought he'd pulled. I'd been a bit down at the time and the attention and the excitement of snogging him had cheered me up no end. Pity I had to leave him in the lurch before he found out he'd been kissing a man in a dress. He'd been nice but almost certainly straight as a die.
There was a knock on the door again. The last one, I thought, James had said 'four or five' and this was the fifth. I was beginning to get a little tired. I'd been up since six and had driven up from Colchester before the show. But, fans are what made me and I had a duty to do my bit. I forced a smile and opened the door.
The last fan was - a little different. He had a suit on for a start. I invited him in and went to sit facing him, not so much trying to keep awake but really just a little jaded. I shrugged it off.
"Hello there, good of you to come," I said maybe just a little too cheerily.
"It's good of you to see me – er, Martin," he replied.
Sometimes that happened. He wasn't sure. At least, unlike the first fan that night, he knew damn well he was in the presence of a female impersonator but he wanted me to feel comfortable too. Not knowing how far to go, since I wasn't on stage at the time being 'Marie Queen'.
"You can call me Marie, if you like," I said in a rather off-hand way. "After all, I look more like a Marie than a Martin, at least I hope I do or I'm out of a job!"
I rarely joked with fans about the subterfuge involved in my act, it surprised me a little that I did just then.
"Oh you certainly do. As Marie, I mean, you look just gorgeous!"
"Why thank you, that's so kind," I said, smiling widely.
He seemed to have something of a grip on how to play this, so many men really can't deal with cross-dressed men whether they be transvestites or drag queens or even genuine transsexuals. But this guy seemed on the ball. He'd just called me 'gorgeous' but 'as Marie'. In other words I was doing the job well, doing a good-quality impersonation.
"No, I mean it. To be honest I wasn't too fond of the Shirley Temple bit of your act but the segments before and after, really you looked stunning. And I love you in that dress, you look so convincing."
Now that floored me. Not that I can't look convincing or at least I hoped I still could, but the make-up a drag queen has to use isn't intended to convince. It's supposed to look good, and attractive, and to over-emphasise female characteristics such as breasts and eyelashes and lips and hair and so on. Some DQs go way over the top, the one time I'd worked with Danni in a revue she'd had a wig about 12 inches tall on top of her head and way, way too much make up.
But I really liked what I was hearing. As we chatted he revealed that he'd actually seen my show a few times in the previous couple of months, whenever it came to a venue in his area, and that he was a big fan. It turned out he'd had one of my CDs for a while and just bought the other before the show, though in fact he didn't have my calendar or any of my T-shirts.
Actually he was maybe a little old for T-shirts anyway. He struck me as more the professional type, the suit seemed quite expensive. And he let slip that when I was due at a club just outside Tamworth the next day, he'd got tickets already. I glanced at the flier pinned on the wall just above his head. Caunston Hall? Yes, I'd done that about three years earlier, I thought. Tamworth, yes.
As he left, after a chat which had gone quite a few minutes longer than usual, I didn't kiss him. It just didn't seem the thing to do. But I did squeeze his hand more than shake it. Then I realised I hadn't offered him an autographed photo. He asked me to autograph the CD he'd bought instead though.
"Can you sign the back please, Marie? That really is a beautiful photo".
I looked at the back to remind myself. Actually he was right, I remembered the photo session. Me in something resembling 'secretary' mode in a white blouse and black skirt with a rather different hair style, same blonde colour though, the colour I think suits me best. I remembered what the photographer had said when he'd shown me the results on the screen.
"That one, Martin. I think that one on the back. It is very different from the glamorous red-dress picture we're picking for the front. Really very female, Martin, more of a good quality tranny picture than a drag queen."
Some drag queens refuse to accept the label 'transvestite' but not me. I knew in all honesty I'd be somewhere in-between. If I wasn't doing it for a living I know I'd have been cross-dressing, hiding it from a wife maybe if I'd gone down the 'job-at-the-bank-and-wife-and-two-kids' route. And he was right. I've always liked the photos of me where I do look female more than the showy DQ pictures. Hell, I'd even gone out as a woman, rather than in drag, several times, just to enjoy the experience. I'd always been careful though - apart from that one time in Exeter.
So I signed the CD and then the guy said something interesting.
"You should do a video, Marie."
"A video?" I replied, parrot-fashion sounding rather stupid.
"Yes. I'm sure some of your fans would like that."
I didn't tell him why I hadn't. I relied on live performance and the memories of those who came to see me. And if you've got the video of a performance, why go to see it again? I needed repeat visits and I'd always had the impression, misguided maybe but I'd stuck with it, that making a video would shrink my live audiences. OK, old-fashioned maybe but there you are.
"Well, if you do, I know a company who might help you out. I - er - used to work with them. Do you want me to give you their number?"
"Yes, thank you."
I didn't want to offend him. He took a card out from his wallet and wrote a phone number on the back of one of them. As he handed it over, he smiled a little.
"Ask for Jim Garner, tell him Paul Stisson recommended him to you."
"Paul - ...."
"Stisson. S-T-I-S-S-O-N. I know, it's an odd name but I'm stuck with it. Anyway, I should go, I've kept you long enough."
And then, for the first time in a long time, something happened I wasn't expecting. HE kissed ME! Just briefly, the standard sort of goodbye kiss on the cheek. Well, nearly, his lips stayed in contact with my cheek just a little too long. And when he moved away, just as he turned towards the door, I could see that he was actually blushing. His face wasn't beetroot-coloured but it was quite red.
He was embarrassed, but I could tell he'd really wanted to do that. If he hadn't straight away opened the door and rather dashed out I might have blushed too. I stared after his retreating figure as he walked quickly down the corridor and turned left towards the outside door. James was probably there, to let him out, everyone else was gone. He appeared from round the same corner.
"OK mate, that was the last one. How long? About ten minutes? Fifteen?"
"Sure," I said, this time still in my 'Marie' voice. "Hang on a moment."
And I surprised him, I knew it would be OK since there were probably only him and me left in the building. I took two steps towards him, suddenly feeling very feminine, and went into the Ladies' loo. I saw his face. He definitely was surprised.
After that I did get out in just over twenty minutes, with most of my make-up cleaned off. I'd finish in the shower back at the lodging house. And with 'Marie' packed up in my red case. I checked the CD-sales desk. The young lads who had been selling had gone but James had assured me they could be trusted. Nine CDs sold. The remainder were there, bundled, cash in the tin and ten pounds short, they'd taken the fiver each I'd promised. I slid the remaining 'merchandise' into the smaller case and strolled out into the hall car park. James locked up behind me.
"It went well tonight, I thought," he remarked.
"Yes it did," I said.
Usually I'm quite chatty after a gig, despite being weary. But not this time. The nutter had disturbed me a little, that first fan, and that kiss had too from the last one. I drove to my lodgings and watched just a few minutes of late-night TV with the landlady and her husband, then announced I was off up to my room.
"My friend Vera rang just before you came in, Martin. She was there tonight, she said it was a really good show."
"Well, thank her for me will you?" I said.
And went up to my room. The next day I slept in until after ten. I appreciated the luxury of being able to do that since the next gig wasn't too far away.
"Good morning, Mr King."
I remembered Mrs Watkins from staying with her about six months earlier when I'd had a run - two nights in a row would you believe, and both nearly sold out - in Wolverhampton. And she was always cheerful, nothing seemed to get her down. I really tucked into the full-English breakfast, one of the benefits of never having to watch my figure. Nervous energy, somebody had once said, that I could burn anything off because I used nervous energy being on the go all the time. After that I drove through a couple of country roads up to the M42 to avoid the dreaded M6 and arrived in Tamworth in the early afternoon.