My apartment is a clash between vaudevillian costume warehouse and hipster boutique. Feather boas wrestle with striped cardigans on my shagpile carpet, while in drawers and dressers secret wars are won and lost between fake nails, high heels, powders, lashes, brushes, sponges and ancient aftershave, two-dollar razors and stale socks. My greasy road bike has toe-clips, fixed gears and a shiny blue beehive wig in its basket. A poster of Alfred Kinsey hangs above my bed, his Scale reminding me of my own gradual slide. And then, of course, there is all the glitter.
Glitter spreads through apartments like stars spread through galaxies. It shimmers and glimmers, exposing darkness and foreign spaces. It is infinite. To attempt to rid your house of glitter is futile, there is no team you can call, no special formula sold for $9.95, no predatory species to introduce, all you can do is submit.
The apartment’s air is thick with stale smoke and the sweet smell of unfinished alcohol. I open the window and the room inhales a clean breath of air, and the debauchery and arguments of last night wash out with the breeze onto the street below.
A trail of black ants teems in through the window, persistent little fucks. I track them down the wall and drop to my knees as they traverse the carpet, joining in the search for their destination. They weave through the shagpile forest, then follow invisible chemical trails up a wooden leg and gather in circles on the kitchen table. The small workers harvest the sugary impressions left by overfilled cups and glasses while the bigger ones guard the perimeter of the group.
My phone shakes the table. It’s Lilly.
‘Heya,’ I say.
‘Where are you,’ she demands with a familiar tone that implies culpability; stern, yet with a twang.
‘At home. Where should I be?’
The answer with Lilly is always somewhere else.
‘It’s Saturday, you said you would take Dane to his game.’
‘Oh shit.’ My hand slips from under my head and hits the table, the ants scatter like diamantes. I know nothing about soccer and dread the two hours of forced palaver with the imbecilic soccer Dads. None of which are hot.
‘Why can’t you?’ I ask, as the ants reorganize into their roles.
‘We’ve had this planned for over a week, I have work,’ Lilly forces.
‘The female ant is always the worker, right?’
‘What are you talking about, John?’ I hear concern sink into her voice. ‘Have you been on another bender?’
Lilly jumps between conclusions like a rampant STI. ‘No, the ants are just back again,’ I reply.
‘Okay, well I think the workers are infertile, which means Dane — who is your child in case you’ve forgotten — disproves your “worker” theory. Maybe I’m the queen.’
‘I think I’m more qualified for that role, honey,’ I laugh. Then I become conscious of my finger twirling a strand of hair, and stop.
She laughs too. The shared mirth feels good, another coat of paint on the ugly wallpaper of our past.
‘Well, are you coming or not, kick off is in an hour.’
‘Yeah, yeah, wouldn’t miss it for the world. I can’t have him tonight though. I’ve got a show at the Pony.’
‘Okay, drop him off after.’
‘See you.’ I hang up and silence refills the room. It feels deeper than before, as if our conversation left a vacuum. Even the ants have disappeared; probably back to their nest, sharing the sweet plunder with the colony.
My hangover creeps into the silence like a Trojan carrying a pounding headache.
If I’ve got the kid today I’ll need a clear head. His energy is both beautiful and overwhelming. It can get on top of you if you’re not prepared. The cure for any hangover is the three S’s: shit, shower and shave.
To save time I sit on the toilet while I work the electric razor over my chin and neck. Tiny hairs fall onto the porcelain seat, and eventually join the other nondescript scum that lines the floor.
In the shower I turn on both taps and push up against the cold tiles. The gas heater protests with clunks and rattles and then finally acquiesces. Warm water flows through the old iron pipes. The pressure swings between sharp needles and a dribble.
I soak up what water I can, lather soap over my body and face then scrub off last night’s skin. I shed the lipstick and mascara and sticky glue left from fake eyelashes. Pools of pink and blue eye shadow gather around my feet before disappearing through the drain. Manly thoughts resurface in my head.
Once dried, I walk over to the sliding wardrobe to decide the day’s attire. I pull open the male door and grab a pair of light blue jeans, an Adidas polo shirt and my fluoro orange trainers.
Inside my fridge are more condiments than food. In the back I find a Tupperware containing some old dumplings. I eat them while standing, skol a cup of water which tastes like bourbon and descend the two flights of stairs onto the street.
My apartment sits above a second-hand bookstore. It was once quietly dilapidated, another business withering into obsolescence in a town still shuddering after its steel industry collapsed. That was until the owner bought a coffee machine and hired a barista. Now I am forced to push through chairs and tables and people and their breakfasts every time I leave my apartment.
My car is parked in the industrial estate two blocks over. To park on my street now costs two dollars an hour and to acquire a permit from the council is $120. The industrial estate is free. Except for the broken window I had to have repaired last month.
It takes three attempts to turn the engine over and a heavy foot on the accelerator. In the rear vision mirror blue exhaust fumes drift out into the blue sky. The old green Corolla is one of this town’s many failing assets, slowly rolling towards its expiry date.
Lilly lives in the neighbouring suburb. She moved out nearly two years back and took Dane with her. Our break-up was what many would call civilized, though I doubt if that is possible. We smashed things, cried and shouted words that can never be withdrawn. Her name remains on the lease of my apartment and we are comfortable enough to share dresses and makeup, even though she completely lacks style.
I pull into the driveway of her two-bedroom home. A home the same as any other home on the street. White doors, blue roofs, shitty grass and mailboxes constantly full with letters addressed to Mr and Mrs Williams or Petersham or Fitzhenry, notifying them of the contention of their mainstream lives.
The car convulses as it stops. Dane shoots out of nowhere and appears next to my door. He is already dressed in his soccer uniform — blue shorts and blue shirt with a white seven on the back. I think seven is the number worn by his favourite player, some dark-skinned Spanish guy.
Dane looks quite professional in his red leather boots with studs, which I think were an expensive Christmas present, his long socks pulled up over his shin pads. I motion for him to stand back so that he won’t get hit by the door, and when he refuses to move I gently push it into him to create room to climb out.
‘How’s it going kiddo?’ I ask.
‘Dad!’ he shouts, and jumps onto my legs. ‘You’re late.’
‘I know, I’m sorry mate. I got caught in traffic,’ I lie, into his eager blue eyes.
‘That’s okay, kick off isn’t for another hour,’ he says.
I silently curse Lilly for rushing me without reason.
‘Big game today?’ I ask him.
‘Yup, if we win we get a place in the finals.’
‘Woah, that’s great,’ I reply, with as much enthusiasm as I can muster. Being a dad sometimes feels like an unavoidable cliché, just another costume to be worn. Once you have a child you are provided with these scripted conversations — from blockbuster movies, trash books, and other fathers — which, if accurately followed, get you recognized as a good dad.
‘Then you’ll receive a big trophy to add to your collection,’ I say.
‘Mum reckons I might win best and fairest this year,’ Dane replies, while standing on my feet. His studs start digging into my toes, reminding me of bruises left by a pair of red stilettos.
‘Where is your Mum?’ I ask, as I move him onto the grass.
I look up to see Lilly watching me from the doorway.
‘Your car sounds like a tired prostitute with her last client of the night,’ she says.
‘Yeah, she has nearly earned her retirement,’ I reply.
‘Have you been checking the oil?’ Lilly asks, as she walks over, eyeing the car with a mix of disdain and pity.
‘I’m not really sure how,’ I reply, feeling unsteady as the gender seesaw shifts. Our hug is forced and lifeless, like two plastic dolls jammed together.
‘Well is the “check engine” light on?’ she asks.
‘Look, Lill, I don’t know what that is but I’m sure it’s fine. The car has survived this long.’
‘Well the engine sounds louder than usual. You know if you kept the oil topped up it would survive much longer.’
‘Don’t you have work?’ I protest.
‘Not for twenty minutes, it’s only a half day.’
Based on our stock of old arguments I predict the outcome of the conversation. Lilly turns into a bitch and then I lose, so I hasten the process.
‘Okay, fine, how do you do it?’
Lilly goes back inside to find some oil, leaving me with Dane.
They say kids look like their mums when they’re older and their dads when they’re young, but there’s little similarity between Dane and me. His hair is beach blonde and bounces and curls; mine is stone brown and sits flat against my face. His thin lips share nothing with my full lips. His chin is already more pronounced than my own.
‘So how is school?’ I ask him, reciting the lines.
‘I have three girlfriends,’ he boasts while fetching his soccer ball. He passes it to me.
‘Three, well done, what are their names?’ I ask. I mistime my kick and the ball shoots out onto the road.
He runs after it and passes it back over the gutter in a long arc. His coach claims he has the best leg on his team.
‘Rose, Clare and Stacey,’ he says, ‘but I think three is too many, I need to only have two.’
‘Oh no,’ I say, and kick the ball into the bushes this time, ‘but which girls will you keep?’
A frown creeps into his face. ‘I don’t know, I love them all.’
Lilly returns with a bottle of oil and an old rag. She opens the driver side door and fiddles with something under the steering wheel which causes the bonnet to pop up. Her movements are precise and methodical, as if filling a car with oil was somehow natural for her.
She walks around to the front and says to Dane, ‘Did you tell your dad about father’s day at school, yet?’
‘Not yet’ he replies, then turns to me. ‘Mrs Prior said everyone can bring their dads to school on Father’s Day. Will you come please?’
‘Sure thing,’ I say, with instant regret. I look over to Lilly for consolation but her head is busy under the bonnet.
‘Mrs Prior said our dads can tell the class about their jobs, so I told her my dad is a dancer, and she said she’s very excited to hear about your job.’
Even though I can’t see her, I know Lilly is smiling.
‘Did you tell Mrs Prior what type of dancing Daddy does?’ I ask.
‘No, I thought it would be more fun if it was a surprise,’ Dane says.
‘Alright, well maybe it’s best if we keep that a secret until Daddy decides to tell them, okay?’
‘Okay,’ he replies, and runs over to the bush in search of his ball.
I picture Dixxie Coxx performing for Dane’s grade three class, all dolled up — a sparkling beehive wig, drawn eyebrows and pink blush, my size 11 feet jammed into towering heels to accentuate my otherwise flat and hairy bum, which is barely concealed beneath a red sequin dress — while Mrs Prior, the kids and their stalwart dads, proudly dressed in uniforms of tool belts, police badges, ties and blazers, all shift uncomfortably on small plastic chairs in the dimmed light as I sing a tune from No Doubt, most likely Just a Girl, which I bring to life with a sexy dance routine. Thrusting my manicured hands, gyrating my padded hips, I wink at the neighbours and high-kick the air while wide eyes stare at the flat patch where my dick existed before it was taped between my butt cheeks, and Dane joins in on the chorus — take a good look at me, just your typical prototype — his naivety protecting him from the years of abuse to which he has just been condemned.
I jolt as Lilly slams the hood of the Corolla. ‘Should be alright for a few more months,’ she says, as she rubs her greasy hands on a rag.
‘Thank you,’ I force, shaking off my reverie.
Dane jumps into the car and shuts the door.
‘Guess it’s time to go,’ I say to Lilly as I get ready to leave. ‘I’ll drop him back after the game.’
‘Bye,’ she says.
I turn the ignition expecting a battle, but the car starts first time. I will never let Lilly know that she helped, I think as I reverse out of the driveway and head to the soccer fields.
Soccer dads are the bullies of the adult world. Before and after the match they congregate in packs around the canteen, masticating old Chiko Rolls and meaty pies while grumbling nonsense to one another. Phrases like — ‘He’s a good forward, but I think he would play better in midfield’, ‘The wife is giving me the shits at the moment’, or ‘The trip to Bali was nice, though the locals are a bit dodgy’ — get passed around like an old cum rag.
The whistle for kick-off is blown and I congratulate myself on eluding conversation up until now. I pull out a book and hide in its pages among the ambience of shouting dads, referee whistles and panting kids.
At half time I see Mick approaching me from the corner of my eye. Mick is the alpha of the soccer dads, a title most likely awarded because he shouts the loudest at his kid.
‘How’s it going, mate?’ he asks as he slaps my shoulder. Mick is one of those men that feels compelled to touch during conversation. The way his wife sulks around the canteen in those desperately low cut tops, it seems like he should spend more time groping her – there are plenty other men that would.
‘Dane is playing a ripper,’ he says.
‘Yeah he’s got a good leg on him.’ I repeat the coach’s phrase.
‘You bet, mate.’ Mick says. ‘You coming to the pub the sarvo?’
It is the soccer dad’s weekly ritual to drink beer at the local RSL after the game while their children eat deep-fried food and play in the playground.
‘I can’t, mate, I’ve got work tonight,’ I say, caught off guard without a prepared excuse, knowing it will lead to…
‘Yeah right, where do you work again?’
To which I respond ‘Oh, just at a club in the city.’ I nearly say honey at the end but cram the word back into my mouth.
‘Alright,’ Mick says, and the sound of the whistle draws him back to his spot on the sideline.
I return to my book.
Dane receives Man of the Match for the “great goal” he scored. He begs to catch a ride home with one of the other parents so he can go to the RSL and get hepatitis from the monkey bars while the dads drink mid-strength beer and argue over the game. The parent — I forget his name — offers to drop Dane at his mum’s afterwards, and I’m happy to oblige, knowing I will need some rest if I’m planning to rock the Pony tonight.
I give Dane a hug goodbye, though he seems distracted, eager to celebrate his success with his teammates. I never understood team sports growing up.
I drive home alone. Smooth jazz drifts out of the radio, bobbing and riffing with rolling patience, like a deep sigh of contentment. My eyelids grow heavy.
I park the car and walk the two blocks in a daze. The people sitting at the benches and tables outside my apartment look much the same as before — coffee, food and boredom — except they are now eating meaty bready things instead of eggs.
I tramp up the stairs to my bed, lie down and pass out.
When I wake up, I am disorientated by the darkness. As my brain struggles to identify the time I reach in all directions until my hand finds my phone — 7:00. Fuck.
I draw on that dream of Dixxie performing at Dane’s primary school for inspiration. I tuck my brown hair into the beehive wig and my saggy penis behind my bum (the most action he’s got in weeks). I glue on fake eyelashes that defy gravity. I slide my red sequin dress over padding I tailored out of an old couch cushion. High heels add height and curves. I spread colourful blush, mascara and eye shadow all over my face like a rainbow bukkake. Disguise the man, liberate the diva.
Femininity seeps into my body. My shoulders and neck loosen and my head assumes a bobble. My hands fall at the wrist while one knee bends, pushing out my arse. I stare into the stand-up mirror and my gorgeous eyes flicker back. My glittery lips pout and whisper silent secrets of seduction.
I play my song and go through my routine. My arms flair out with rhythm and cadence, my hips swing and gyrate as I give the air around me an erotic lap dance and a definite hard-on. I become aware of each angle my body creates; like a calligraphy brush, I draw shapes of sex appeal with my reflection.
When the song finishes, I snap back into the moment. My skin tingles as if I’ve had an orgasm. I grab my handbag, blow a kiss to the mirror and my heels echo through the stairwell as I glide down to the street below.
The Chrome Pony is a twenty minute walk from my block. Depending on the time of night, and levels of drunkenness, either whistles or insults spurt out of the gross men I walk by. Some stop to take pictures, others for a phone number.
There was a period when I first started queening, where I drove to work to avoid the harassment. Now I dance in the attention — each passing comment feels like a flash of a fan’s camera, an ode to my rarity. Being straight is easy, but being bent is fun.
There is already a long line zig-zagging between the ropes outside the Pony. The punters are begging for a glimpse of our secret beauties. I sneak around the back into the alley, and hide my nose in my perfumed wrists to avoid the stench of acrid urine. I knock on the door and wait.
Mr. Rogers answers with a hug and kiss on the cheek.
‘Dixxie,’ he shouts. ‘You look fabulous.’
‘Aww, thanks baby,’ I blush, and strut past him into the backroom.
‘Your show starts in ten,’ he says, as he pours me a strong gin and tonic.
He hands the drink to me.
‘There’s a little blonde scout from the Glory here to take you away from me. Don’t get any ideas.’
The Glory is the most prestigious club in town — the Moulin Rouge of drag.
‘A girl?’ I quip, to hide my interest. ‘Since when did a fucking woman scout for drag queens?’
‘Girls can do everything boys can, Dixxie,’ he chides, and walks to the front of house, leaving me alone to prepare for the show.
I hear the crowd cheering for one of the young calves, probably Suzy Xtravaganza or Fanny Balding. They come in dressed as their favourite super-models — Miranda Kerr or Adriana Lima — buying their costumes instead of creating. No feathers or glitter or opulence. Those queens shed their capes for reality, and lose their power along the way.
The applause echoes through the walls and charges my body. From head to toe I can feel the adulation, the people cheering. It’s a physical high, a good high, an addictive high.
Finally I hear my introduction.
‘Ladies and Gentleman, tonight, our featured queen, the sassiest, sexiest, sauciest girl in town, the star rider of the Chrome Pony, and an all round feisty bitch, Dixxie Coxx.’
I channel the most womanly of women. Tina Turner, Coco Chanel and fucking Joan of Arc. I strut out onto the small uneven stage in the old, seedy bar and feel as if I am a princess receiving an Oscar. The lights dim and the cheers dissolve into silent anticipation. The song starts.
‘Strike a pose, strike a pose,’ Madonna sings, and the tingling begins.
I glide my arms to my left and right with precision.
‘Vogue, vogue, vogue.’ My lips and tongue roll over each word in total sync. Then the spotlight blasts into me and the drug hits my bloodstream.
‘Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache. It’s everywhere that you go.’
My mind surrenders to my X chromosome. I give myself up to the goddesses. The body takes the reigns and guides my hips and legs and back. I drip sex and power and desire with every movement. I court the punters, seduce them; we share our hidden desires in a sexy conversation using the language of the body.
‘Oooh, you’ve got to let your body move to the music.’
The words come from deep inside me. The air thickens with excitement. My consciousness is freed. As I slide onto my back and raise one toned, perfect leg, we erupt in sweat and joy and pleasure, and reach a shared climax.
‘Vogue, vogue,’ Madonna sings, as I lay there in ecstasy, hovering in the space above my body.
After the show, the scout from the Glory approaches me in the back room. She has a nose ring and long blonde hair that sits either side of her milky cleavage. Her butch confidence reveals her sexuality. Whether it is the sensation from the show or her, I suddenly feel aroused — my penis gently tugs at its binding between my butt cheeks.
‘Hey, I’m Brigitte. I work for the Glory,’ she says, from between full lips. ‘That was hot.’
‘I’m glad you liked it, honey,’ I reply, and then stiffen my back and shift my weight off my right foot.
‘Would you be interested in dancing for us?’ she asks, and for a moment I think she says ‘me’.
‘Let’s talk,’ I reply.
We find a table and stools in a dark corner at the back of the pub. Two strawberry daiquiris arrive shortly after. Brigitte discusses the Glory — the pay rates, the wild nights, the sorority of queens — and all I can think about is fucking her. It’s like all my pent up masculinity has broken through a dam and is flooding my psyche. Her boobs, her lips, her legs. Her voice is a rope slowly pulling me into heterosexuality
‘Drag queens act like girls because girls aren’t allowed to act like girls anymore. If a girl was to perform as a queen does she would be labelled as a slut or a show-off,’ she says, clearly a feminist.
I drink another daiquiri and pretend to listen to her ranting.
‘It is only men that are truly allowed to enjoy a feminine sexuality,’ she claims.
Brigitte is naughty, a deviant. A deviant can spot a deviant. In the subtle stares, the crossing and uncrossing of legs, the smile upturned at one side. She is whispering sex, sex, sex.
I spend the next hour flirting with her, totally unconscious of wearing fake eyelashes and a wig. And when the bar closes I convince her to come home with me.
We hop out of the taxi, both aware of our plan after making out in the back seat for ten minutes. The front of the bookstore is empty, no furniture impedes us. We giggle up the staircase as our drunken bodies knock into the walls.
I kick my heels off at the front door and push my wig on the floor as she climbs onto my bed.
Kneeling on all fours, she works her jeans down to her ankles, exposing a round peachy arse. With one final throb my penis breaks free from its sticky tape shackles and bursts between my legs. I rip the tape off my foreskin, hike up my dress and stumble towards her awaiting bum.
I grab her hips as I thrust into her, my polished nails leaving red marks on her milky skin. Padding slips from under my dress while she moans and moans.
Our bodies slap into each other and our genitals become one, as the poster of Kinsey stares down at us, somehow smiling.