All it took for my mother to reassess her Christian beliefs was a fake orgasm in a gay bar. It was a place neither she or I could have ever imagined her going. While she had plenty of gay and lesbian friends, she also believed in a religion that condemned homosexuality— something that I found to be hypocritical. She refused to question her Christian denomination’s convictions. After all, it had gotten her through her father’s fatal heart attack the summer before her sophomore year in college and then, shortly after, her mother’s misdiagnosis and admission to a psych ward. This faith gave her strength when her older brother died in a head-on car collision and his body had to be identified, and while her younger brother helplessly withered away from Leukemia. When it seemed like she had no one else to lose, her husband left her for another woman.
At times faith was the only thing holding my mother together; and it was also the only thing we ever argued about. Yet, when she discovered that her co-worker Michael didn’t have anyone attending his drag show performance for support, my very determined mother rounded up as many colleagues as possible to make sure he got the thunderous applause he deserved.
No longer with her husband— a man who used to refuse to be seen with her eccentric co-workers—she was excited to have Friday night plans, even if it was in an environment that made her uncomfortable. She sought out shelter at one of circular high-tops in the back with her co-workers trailing behind. As the DJ started the music for the opening number, ten RuPaul wannabes sashayed from behind the black curtain. Even without their platform heels, the performers towered over six feet tall. They cartwheeled, they tumbled and they gyrated before dramatically ending with a split just as the last notes of “I Touch Myself” faded.
“Surely that gives them splinters in their crotch,” my mother jokingly whispered to the group.
With the act done, my mother strained her eyes against the candlelight to see that the drag queen making her way towards the table was in fact her co-worker. Michael had become Marsha and boy (or should I say girl?) was Marsha beautiful! She was shellacked in a tight mini dress that sparkled with sequins and had a purple feather boa wrapped around her neck. Despite the ceiling fans, her fake lashes struggled to stay on from the city’s stifling summer heat. Her lips dripped in boysenberry lip-gloss and she had skillfully painted on new eyebrows that arched.
“I don’t mean to be intrusive, but how do you prepare…you know…down there for the show?” My mother boldly inquired.
Laughing, Marsha replied, “We tuck our junk.”
Before Marsha could notice the shock on my mother’s face or indulge any more of her probing questions, the bell rang signaling the next act. But this time it was a contest open to the audience. If there was anything to snap my mother out of her homophobic uneasiness, it was free stuff. My mother eagerly raised her hand and was handed a mic for the lip sync battle. Her soundless delivery of “I’m Coming Out” landed her one of the few spots as a finalist.
Perhaps spurred on by her frozen Daiquiri or the judgement-free ambiance, my mother decided to continue with round two of the contest—acting out an earth-shattering orgasm. The bright spotlight forced all eyes on her as she climbed onto the wooden stage. Full-length windows behind her looked out onto the sidewalks of 17th and Chestnut, allowing commuters the chance to view my fifty-two-year-old mother’s moment of ecstasy in its entirety.
Closing her eyes, she gained the confidence to fully commit. Slumping against the windowpane, she felt around blindly, trying to grab onto anything as she started to pant. As the moaning grew louder and louder, the smokers outside choked on their cigarettes and the commuters that had been so eager to get home now stopped to gawk.
She exclaimed, “Ohhhhhh! Gawwwd!” before going limp on the floor.
The room erupted in laughter and applause. As she got up from the floor blushing, she was quickly crowned the winner. Despite having just separated from her husband, my mother’s performance had outshined some contestants who were still married. She had earned the grand prize! It was the soundtrack that anyone would want to listen to for their next orgasm, Macy Gray’s latest CD.
We argued less about religion after that. I like to think my mother left her reservations about this different way of life on that stage— that as she reached her faux climax, she also reached the end of her resistance to accept others. My mother and I would always have conflicting opinions about the church, that would not change. But she was starting to realize that perhaps the scripture wasn’t necessarily black and white, just as I was growing to respect religion’s important role for her.