When life was a drag and we went wild

By John Lewis

We now live in uncertain times, the old connections are crumbling and it feels anything could happen.

The only safe and acceptable public activity is now golf, unless there's been a big session at the club bar.

But there was a time when people did outrageous things together, in close proximity, just for fun.

This was a time when people had a wild side and expressed themselves with something called The Hidden Talent.

Some people ate spaghetti through their nose, popped their eyeballs out at parties or made lifelike papier-mache animals.

Those people appeared on daytime television, or got double-page spreads in magazines like Papier-Mache Monthly.

Personally, I always thought I was quite good at playing Rossini's William Tell Overture by tapping my head with my knuckles and stretching my mouth into subtly different oval shapes to produce the melody.

A bit like hitting a small, empty drum.

Sadly, nobody ever paid to watch me do this on stage.

However, just when you think life has overlooked you in the talent stakes, along comes that old standby — The Drag Queen.

I once appeared in four Goulburn Valley venues wearing clingy blue polyester pantaloons with large hooped flares, high-heeled golden shoes that played havoc with an old bunion problem, miles of op-shop beads, tonnes of glitter and make-up, topped by an outrageously tall hat of fake flowers.

The effect was quite stunning, particularly if you happened to be in the front row when the high-kick came.

I always appeared with two other drag queens, because I believed there was safety in numbers when you went out at night with falsies on.

We also did a little dance to the Gloria Gaynor number I Will Survive, which I found personally quite inspiring.

You might think it's easy to dress up as a woman and get some laughs. After all, rugby players and firemen do it at parties.

It works by reinforcing the differences between the sexes — the big hairy guy with lipstick and falsies is really emphasising his maleness, by wearing something completely the opposite.

But I found if you actually start to climb inside the skin of an extrovert transsexual intent on surviving the slings and arrows of ordinary society, then the effect can be enervating.

The first time I stepped out under the lights I really enjoyed it.

I pouted, shimmied and swivelled, blew kisses and patted my bum. I was out on the border, in the boondocks of gender.

Big hairy men looked uncomfortable, so did their wives. So did my wife, mainly because my flower hat was falling off.

Then I travelled with a troupe of talented young people to Moama to cheer up a conference of international drainage experts, which wasn't too hard.

When I high-kicked the front row, I nearly lost a shoe which threw my whole dance routine into a shambles.

In that moment, I realised talent is a time-limited thing, and that even the greatest divas have to eventually take up golf.

I stay at home a lot more these days — I've been told it's safer for everyone.