The bringers of Bling Bling

Last year’s Bling Bling Fling, the yearly fundraiser hootenanny for the Martinez Street Womens Center, had as its theme “Masquerade Ball — Let the Magic Begin.” The high-spirited, costume-heavy function served as a more raucous, less elitist version of Truman Capote’s storied Black and White Ball; members of SA’s feminist, activist, art, queer, and nonprofit worlds, from struggling artists to well-heeled philanthropists, collided in Marie Antionette-era duds and elaborate masks, many of them taken to the giddy extreme — one guest cut an eyehole in a garage-sale landscape painting, and new spouses Chris Sauter and Rick Frederick made an outrageously beautiful king and queen of the ball.

In ’09, Bling Bling raged atop the Artpace patio roof; this year — rather sweetly, somehow — this party-for-a-cause is all set to unfold within the historical walls of the Bonham Exchange, one of the United States’ oldest gay bars, and a rug-cuttin’ Mecca for San Antonians (and tourists!) of all stripes. And who better to host Bling Bling than the ladies who keep the Bonham jumpin’…

Honey, all hail The Queens.

Genius. Drag Queens: Promotoras of Fierce Style! Supplying that power, Je ne sais quoi glam and electricians tape-enhanced tetas for breast health awareness and after-school counseling! Neighbor helping neighbor, Gurrl to girl!

One recent Thursday evening, the Current caught up with some of the ladies who’ve donated their time, effort and performances to Bling Bling, chatting with them just before the Bonham’s weekly drag talent show. In the office reception area in the back 40 of the Bonham’s enormous premises, the ladies gathered for their last-minute primping. The smoky, dimly-lit little foyer and the end of the hallway held all the magic of a sanctum sanctorum. Queens strode around in various states of deshabille, cinched waists and adjusted wigs, and issued verbal bitchslaps to each other and warm welcomes to us.

“Of course I’m a social activist, and completely supportive of anything that helps women out,” crooned Odyssey Whitney Nicole. A freelance MAC makeup artist, she promised also to help consult with make-up application for staffers and volunteers, and to lend her Miss Piggy costume to Quinn Mogendorfer, one of the event’s presenters.

“Every day is a drag, baby,” noted a cheery, phantasmagorically statuesque, self-styled Beyonce, adding with a wink, “Oh dear… which hair to wear?”

Asked about the parallels between drag performers and girls and women at-risk, Joleen Garcia, the Center’s executive director, is ready to answer. “It’s not an easy road in either case,” she notes. “Women carry such a great burden in our culture, and we still have a lot to overcome…`women, girls, and drag queens` should work together, and be fabulous! I know `the drag queens` have had to overcome a lot to be who they are and celebrate who they are. Also, there are girls and women in our programs who are lesbians, who are queer and who face a real struggle in being accepted by their local community. In this way, I really think drag queens are actually good role models!”

We made our way back to our perch in the strobe-lit front Video Lounge, with its walls of blazing TV monitors, where a motley crew of audience members waited, some planted on barstools surrounding drink-piled tables, others wandering around: drunk soldiers, twink-drag enthusiasts, several couples all across the gender-matchup spectrum engaged in the telltale awkwardnesses of first dates, and a completely discombobulated sixty-something white couple sitting shell-shocked on barstools (my guess is that they were tourists staying nearby and had no idea what they were walking into). Even more conspicuous was a group of maybe 11 out-of-towners, twenty- and thirty-something women revealed to be in SATX for an army wives’ convention. They sat in closely-nestled chairs stage right, drinks in hands, looking wary.

Finally, the formidable and ruthlessly professional Alayna Marquez, the Bonham’s drag-performer emcee for all events, took the stage and the mic and pretty much killed it for the next hour. Part glamorous telenovela doyenne, part wicked stand-up comic, and a human mood transformer, Ms. Marquez reminded me of an imperious and eagle-eyed third-grade teacher: If you try to hide, scrunch down, or avert your gaze, she’s guaranteed to call you out. At first, the audience seemed intimidated, a little restless (except one of the soldiers, too drunk to speak and slumped over a table) and slightly hesitant.

This state of affairs did not last long. Alayna poked and prodded the audience members into enjoying themselves, asking for names and hometowns, her returning jibes just saucy enough to loosen us up. People began to laugh, cheer, dance, and to tip the performers with dollar bills. The contest, structured so that each queen got at least two songs, with costume changes, began to heat up. Alayna did a couple songs too, and betrayed a fondness for vintage disco.

The Bonham atmosphere became suffused, overwhelmed, seduced by the ritual illusions of drag. The ladies exploded with high kicks, devised hilarious music choices (one lady chose Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” as her lipsync object), and shocked with their frequent executions of that ol’ drag-choreography chestnut; the bionic-speed drop from upright into deep splits, hitting the floor splayed with an unsettling thwacking sound. That’s surely a groin-punishing move but beauty is pain, and pain beauty, and that’s all you need to know on Thursday nights at the Bonham. So. Much. Hair. We watchers decided on our favorites. The army wives fell hard for Beyonce: During one of the towering beauty’s showstopping numbers, one particularly timid-seeming lady waited until Beyonce had turned her back to that audience section and strode towards another, then scurried forward, hurled a ball-wadded dollar onto the floor, then fled back to her chair, the whole maneuver taking about four seconds.

Alayna and Beyonce engaged in heady ad-lib repartee, also. Alayna, spotting my camera after having made a deliciously off-color remark, said to me, “Girl, are you still taping? Oh no, I’m going back to jail.”

The crowd, now sweaty and electrified, roared.

“Last time I was in jail, bitch, I got segregated. Girl, I had TV and everything. Worst two hours of my life.”

“I was in for FOUR WEEKS!” Beyonce hollered, to general audience approval. “Gen pop! I loved it! You could go to the commissary! Get some chips, get a sandwich…”

The theme of this year’s Bling Bling is “It’s a Hollywood thing!” I think I speak for the Martinez Street staff, the drag queens, and the volunteers as well as myself: We’re all looking forward to donning Hollywood costumes and capering around. It’s like Heaven with a cash bar! Now, if only actual-Hollywood would come up with something this entertaining, or worthy. •

Bling-Bling Fling: It’s a Hollywood thing!
7pm Thu Sept 30
$15/ea, $25/pair
The Bonham Exchange
411 Bonham