by Chad Anderson
“Guys, tonight, we are gonna play drag queen bingo.”
“What’s a drag queen?” one son asked.
“What’s bingo?” the other asked.
I sat down on the floor to explain that bingo was a game where someone called out numbers, and you and to watch your card to get patterns of numbers and the first one to get it won prizes. With a visual demonstration, they quickly understood.
Explaining drag queens was a little trickier.
“You know how some of Dad’s friends are transgender?” The boys nodded, remembering what that meant. “And you know how last Christmas, your uncle dressed as a girl for Halloween, but he isn’t transgender, and he’s not a girl, right?”
“Right, of course.”
“Well, drag queens are kind of like that. They aren’t transgender. They are men who like to dress up like women, sometimes in pretty silly costumes so that they can perform. They are more like, well, like clowns. They usually wear big, big wigs, and lots of makeup, and silly dresses. Some of them have a giant bra on with, like, decorations on it. And they are really silly and funny.”
The boys asked a few questions, but they swiftly understood the concept.
My 9-year-old, J, remembered a recent rerun of Pokemon he’d seen where the character Jigglypuff sings and puts everyone to sleep, then draws marker all over their faces. “What if Jigglypuff put everyone in this house to sleep and then turned them into silly drag queens before they woke up?” We all shared a laugh.
A few hours later, we walked up to the church cultural hall where the bingo event is held. Several dozen people packed in at round tables. There were hugs and greetings exchanged around the room, people purchasing snacks and cards, and coats hung on the backs of chairs. As the event began, the announcer, over a microphone, welcomed four drag queens out on the floor. One had a floral dress, a bright wig, and a thick mustache. The most extravagant was Petunia Pap Smear, who happened to be a friend of mine, wearing a large brassiere with fluorescent tassels spilling out of each breast, a giant cartoon-like wig that looked like flames, and huge plastic spectacles. My sons watched the queens with amusement, fascination, and confusion, as they paraded around explaining charitable donations, party fouls, and complex rules.
Over the following hour, the kids learned how to monitor their bingo cards, to find the right numbers under each letter and how to check the board for marked off numbers, and how to listen for the rules for each round, regarding bingo, blackout, center square, etc. Petunia came up behind me at one point and asked quietly if the kids might enjoy getting a party foul, and I shook my head no, at least not yet. So as the night went on, other tables were fouled, for inane reasons such as sending a text message or having their elbows on the table. Tables with party fouls move to the center of the room, where they put on a large and frilly hat, then grab a butterfly net, dance around to music and collect money from the other tables. All of the money collected goes to a local charity of some kind. The entire set-up was elaborate and adorable.
About 20 minutes into the event, A, my younger son, age 6, grew a bit bored and wanted to be entertained. I pulled out a notebook full of scrap paper and a pen — items I packed in just for this eventuality. I gave him a few drawing assignments, and he passed his bingo card to someone else as he drew pictures titled “the War of the Gorillas”, “the Healthy Vegetable Patch”, and “Spaceships Invade Earth!” A is a prolific artist, one who focuses on delightful details, taking the assignment and embellishing it with elements all his own. In “the Healthy Vegetable Patch” for example, he drew a plot of dirt with growing vegetables, then drew an entire family of spiders who lived above the patch. As he showed me the drawing, he told me each of the spiders’ names. The spider family included two children, one who “always gets into trouble” and one who is “very boring.” I’m consistently delighted by his art.
Growing bored again, A wanted more assignments. I looked around, then smiled, giving him the assignment to draw “Drag Queen Bingo.” Sticking his tongue out slightly, he looked around the room, examined the different drag queens, and then sketched them in adorable detail. He drew four figures in two rows, each with arms and legs spread out, as if performing, singing, and dancing perhaps, or just posing. With four different hairstyles and appearances, and each with long eyelashes, he detailed the four queens. One had shaggy hair and a thick mustache; her toes turned inward. One had on a skirt over pants, with enormous lashes and a stacked wig on her head. One had long flowing hair, a round stomach, and a large bra with tassels hanging from the tips. The last was impossibly skinny with a tiny head and long braids. While they weren’t direct reflections of the queens present, they were close enough, and as we passed the drawing around the table, we all laughed in delight.
During the next bingo break, I walked the drawing up to Petunia, who held the microphone, and told her about it. She laughed, and soon she held the picture up for the assembled crowd, laughing about it and telling others that it was perhaps just a bit too accurate.
“Can the young man who drew this picture please stand up?”
A stood up on his chair and took a small bow as instructed.
“Such realism!” Petunia said. “How accurate! Whatever inspired you to draw such a thing?”
In his husky voice, A shouted back across the crowd, heard by all. “My dad made me do it!”
As the crowd erupted in laughter, I felt my cheeks turn pink with happy embarrassment. During the final break, my sons and I stood up and got a picture with the queens, and during the drive home, they laughed about how much fun they’d had.
For a brief moment, I thought back to my youth. Even a decade earlier, if I had heard of something like “drag queen bingo” I would have tsked, seeing it as something frivolous, sinful, and certainly not a family activity. That night, I’d sat with my sons in a room full of people in love with life and having an incredible time. We were happy, laughing, and entertained. And I celebrated the new moments that I got to share with my sons, even as men in jeweled bras and wigs ran around.
Chad Anderson blogs at snapshotsofchad.com and has a new book out, “Gay Mormon Dad,” available at bit.ly/GayMormonDad