FROM GOD-CHILD TO DRAG-QUEEN
A Journey of Self Discovery and Creative Freedom: Part 3
by Caleb McMullen
For five months, whenever I was in The Tap, my new home, I was never without a martini glass. I was living the half-full life. I mean, quite literally, my glass was always at least half full, the owner made sure of it. It turns out, I was funnier and partied hardier when the booze was flowing freely, and it did. I know this to be true because I can barely remember it.
In fact, the time I worked at The Tap is a complete blur to me, filled to the gills with stories that ran right into the next of drunken debauchery amid the old men and strippers. It’s amazing to me how I went through my second semester of second year theatre school living this double life; because that is exactly what it was: my escape, my life of delusion every Saturday night.
After three hours of drinking, lip-syncing and make-up applying, she was ready: the best version of me; the version that held so much potential; my dream. My roommates at the time would be smoking pot in the garage when I would say my goodbyes for the evening. I would bat my eyelashes, do a little twirl, pretend I was Cinderella off to the ball (in all reality, the make-up did have a short life expectancy, and I would most assuredly turn into a pumpkin by at least 2 am).
And into the taxi I would go, to have an amusing (if not incredibly awkward) conversation with the unassuming taxi driver who was only trying to make a living for his immigrant family. But, I suppose a fare from a drag queen was as good as a fare from anyone else, and I never ran into trouble. (cont'd)
The taxi would pull up to the side of The Tap, the driver would often open the door for me, and I would waltz into the club, the reigning Queen of the Strip (Club). It was glorious. Within seconds, a martini would be made and brought over to me. Someone would grab my bag of tricks (or rather my bag of costume changes) and bring it up to my area of the change room. The strippers would all say their hellos with loving kisses. And I would smile and drink and dance and smoke. I never had to ask for a coat to keep warm as I would flounce out into the winter wonderland of the back patio to have my fifth, sixth, twentieth cigarette of the night. As soon as the heel hit the snow, a jacket would hit my shoulders. I was never treated so well in my life.
At first my presence in the club was confusing to the regular patrons who had grown quite accustomed to the dreary monotony of the strip club. They would sit in their dark corners taking mental photographs of dick after dick as strippers paraded themselves around the stage, up and down poles, upside down, back and forth, all for these sad old men as they wasted away their final years, regretting lost childhoods.
And then there was Trinity, who went into the dark corners to smile and say hello. So many men were affronted by this experience, but they grew to love her and welcome her and invite her into their evenings. I felt like Trinity, in all her vanity and delusion, brought a little joy into these men’s lives, men whose names I have long forgotten or never bothered to learn in the first place.
I didn’t usually have much planned in regards to the dancing, but goddamn it, I was funny.
And then there were the shows. There were always two, one at 12 and one at 1. By 12 I was drunk; by 1 I was drunk and high, a cocktail of stimulants and narcotics, of booze, spirit and make-believe.
In retrospect, I was never very good. I usually didn’t know all the words to the songs I was lip-syncing and dancing to. I didn’t usually have much planned in regards to the dancing, but goddamn it, I was funny. Once the song was over and the microphone was turned on, that’s when I shone. That’s when I could be me and do what I was exceptionally good at: speaking, making people laugh, making people smile, welcoming these sad old men into my make-believe world of fantastic light. In my world, there was nothing but celebration. I revelled in this, and so did the club patrons.
One of my favourite bits that I did in this ‘stand-up-comic’ portion of my show was called “The Mormon Minute”. You see, around the same time as my drag show took place, I had a small Mormon infestation because I had accidentally ordered a Book of Mormon from the Mormon website and in doing so, gave them my address in Windsor. I was exceptionally high at the time on Tylenol 3 being that I had just gotten my wisdom teeth out. Moments after I clicked ‘submit’ I realized the consequences of my actions. And sure enough, two weeks later there was a knock on the door.
I open the door to one of the most gorgeous men I have ever laid eyes on: Elder Madden.
I was cooking dinner at the time, so while cursing under my breath at this incredibly unwelcomed distraction, I open the door to one of the most gorgeous men I have ever laid eyes on: Elder Madden. I will never forget that name; tall, blond, blue eyed and straight out of Bible College in Utah, on his Missionary trip to Windsor, Ontario (and Gomorrah).
To make a long story short, I included what I called “The Mormon Minute” into my drag routine where I would catalogue all the dirty thoughts that ran through my head for Elder Madden as he would petition me to see the light and turn from my wicked ways. Oh, if he could read my thoughts (something I don’t think Mormons can do), he would have spread his wings and fly (something Mormons can indeed do) himself back to the Promised Land.
Meanwhile, back at The Tap, the partying got hardier, and I was falling into what I later realized was a pit; a trap that I had seen Derek and several other gay friends fall into. It comes with the detachment of reality from the deluded self. Trinity became more and more real and Caleb seemed further and further away. I felt more like myself on Saturdays when I was doused with make-up, tricking the world (and myself) that I was what I appeared to be.
She got messy. Messier and messier. Near the end of her five month reign, Trinity didn’t bother to rehearse, to learn words. She relied on her drunken charm and good looks, which were fading as well. Saturday nights wouldn’t end until well into Sunday morning. After The Tap would close around three, the strippers and I would go to a Chinese restaurant called Jade. What was fun about Jade was that at three on Sunday morning, it would be filled with drunken, rowdy Americans (being that Windsor is a border-town to Detroit). I would flounce into Jade, make-up half sweated off, wig askew, looking like a hot tranny mess. All American eyes were on me: a sea of bewildered hooligans, silenced by the sight of Trinity DiMarco. Miraculously, no one ever caused me trouble and I was, perhaps too far gone to hear any hurtful remarks, but one thing for sure, those Americans went home to their country with a story about how we do in Canada: loud and proud baby!
“Do you do private shows?” It was a question from a new patron who I had never met before. He was asking if I would be a stripping drag-queen; show him the man beneath the mask.
“Honey, for all the time it takes to put this on, it’ll take all that time to take it off, and quite frankly, you don’t look like you can afford it.” The man walked away looking quite bruised, but it got me thinking. I had heard of some of the strippers making hundreds of dollars a night in those private rooms, where apparently naked dancing was the only thing on the menu (and I convinced myself that this was true). And being the eternal opportunist, it got me thinking… How much would I make? And so I dared myself to do it: to be a stripper for one night, see how it goes.
And so I did. And it wasn’t so bad. Not really. I was still on a stage, I still had a persona different from my own; in fact I even had a fake name (as it turns out, all the strippers had for confidentially purposes, I suppose).
But, for all the convincing it took for me to rationalize that it was ok, there was a part of me screaming inside. It was Caleb, it was me screaming, having been neglected for so long, being pushed further and further away. I had fed into the delusion for so long that I allowed myself to sink into this pit of loneliness and angst. Yes, it was fun, but it wasn’t real and as I danced in the red lights as a stripper, it all became too much.
And I finally learned after five months what it was like to be in those private rooms that lined the top floor of The Tap. I would watch as stripper and old man would climb the stairs, go behind the curtain and return again after several songs, both stripper and old man looking sheepish, but satisfied. And finally, curiosity killed the cat (or drag queen).
“Chad, I can’t do it anymore,” was all I could say before the tears began.
I worked as a stripper at The Tap for two sad Saturdays and I was scheduled to work the third after attending a play performed by one of my very close friends. At this point, the sadness was overwhelming and encompassed my every thought, every action. I had hit my rock bottom (and thank God rock bottom wasn’t much lower).
I was standing next to Chad, my very close friend both then and now, when the flood hit. We were having a cigarette before the play.
“Chad, I can’t do it anymore,” was all I could say before the tears began. And I sobbed. I cried uncontrollably for the first time in my adult life. And Chad held me.
I don’t know how long I cried (time seemed to stand still in this moment), but for as long as it took, Chad held me, and I’m so thankful for that. I’m so thankful for him, to have been there. I wasn’t alone and even without explanation, he understood. In fact, months later my friends voiced their very real concerns for my health during those times.
And then the tears stopped. I looked at Chad, who was strong and my hero at that moment and said “I’m done.” We walked into the theatre and watched the play. I never went back to The Tap again.
So, that’s the story about how I went from being a god-child to drag-queen (to stripper). Following this experience, I grew strong, I healed, I learned to love myself, and now, after graduating, I run Mnemonic Theatre Productions, a small independent theatre company that strives to do great things.
But, I don’t regret anything. Every day I am able to use my experiences to understand the human psyche, to dig deeper into my characters. I have a level of empathy for humankind that often gets in the way of my judgement.
We all have our stories. This, just so happens to be mine and I own it and love it, because it is a part of who I am, and has created in me a drive to succeed, to share and to love.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, because stories are all we have. Who we are is a collection of stories, of experiences. They are ours to share. I’m so happy to have had the opportunity to share mine with you.
Caleb McMullen |Artistic Producer |Mnemonic Theatre Productions
Caleb McMullen is the Artistic Producer of Mnemonic Theatre Productions.
Read his blog and view his company’s website at www.mnemonictheatre.com