I’ve not always been a drag queen. At first, I was merely mourning. A part of me can’t help wishing I had religion. You know? Not faith necessarily, but the structure of religion. Grieving is a horrid, horrid thing when you’re a “non-”. People tend to think that a “non-” is as concrete a concept as the concept itself, but it’s not. It’s only anything but. The religious: Hindus, Catholics, Muslims… benefit from such a narrowly defined path, guiding them through the mud of life, whispering to them like a mother reassuring a child. To be a “non-” is to be left out in the wind, without guidance. Instead of one authority, one clear voice on the subject, you fall prey to everyone and their grandmother’s definition of the ritual of grieving. To their unsolicited advice.
‘Be strong—Don’t repress.’
‘Wear black—Move on.’
‘Throw away—Keep every memento.’
And I? I couldn’t even decide whether to have a funeral or a celebration of life. How often I had this thought, I can’t say. That it would be so much better to be religious. No, not just religious, but orthodox… something. How clear the path would be. How rehearsed its actors. And I, free to be guided through the experience of loss, never doubting.
Instead, look at me now. See what I have become. See what the world has made of me! See what unguided mourning yields? Dragged hither and thither by a merciless tide, with eddies of contradictory advice and powerful undertows of wilful self-sabotage. What a curious fall from grace, mine. Don’t laugh. Idiosyncratic? Well, that is the question, isn’t it? Had I always possessed the soul of a transvestite? Of a queen? I imagine that’s what you mean? Well… no, I don’t believe I did. There is such devastating beauty in what I have become, all plumage and powder and hair.
You know that part of me that wished to be orthodox? Don’t listen to it… One is liable to say anything when caught in the cross-hairs of emotion. Retroactively. My desire to be orthodox is about as honest a sentiment as my imagining manhood as a cocoon or marriage as a chrysalis. Stages of what I was destined to become. Mere follies of retrospection. A risk of the mourner’s trade. The need to self-aggrandise. To attribute agency, knowing, wisdom… instead of calling it as it was: mere happen-stance. But, in everything, I guess, lurks a lipstick stain of truth. Was my marriage the last phase before the burgeoning of the latent queen you now behold? Perhaps you may judge for yourself.
I will not bore you with the details of this glorious metamorphosis of mine. Rather, I’d like to focus on the minutiae. For, there, the devil lies in wait, rubbing his hands, knowing my final destination even as I, myself, remained oblivious to it.
‘Be strong—Don’t repress.’ Before you ask, there is no way I could ever filter through the fog of grief to single out who offered me these conflicting pieces of advice. There are simply too many gloomy discoloured characters who crawl out of the woodwork when someone dies. Nonetheless, I now choose to read in their words a diagnosis, rather than a treatment for the condition of grief. Symbolically, ‘be strong’ was my wife. ‘Don’t repress’ was me. I know you don’t believe me… You look at me now and see how completely I embody the destination of my wayward pilgrimage, and can’t possibly imagine how unextraordinary I once was. Not a crumb remains of that former self. So, I’m afraid you’ll have to take it on faith.
My wife was always the porchlight to my moth, you see? Oh, it’s a banality, but I assure you it is true. And only in death, I am ashamed to say, did I discover her a moon. Can you conceive it? Nonetheless, none has ever heard of a moth that resists the call of the porchlight, for fear that it might not be the moon. She shone so bright! And I… She was all I could see. I was blinded by her. Mesmerised. Only in her total eclipse, was I able to glimpse her true essence. Only when her light was extinguished, did I wake up. And I was out there. Honey, I was so high up! Not on the porch floor, but drifting somewhere between earth and moon.
I’m getting a little metaphorical here. You know, I could never fathom why, through a sea of admirers, I was the one she chose. Life had, somehow, carved me into the exact key for her lock. The perfect candidate to, at once, listen to her siren call and navigate the deadly shoals to her island. Ha! It must have surprised even her, though it is too late now to ask… I felt a pauper in her royal presence. In my worse moments, a charity case. In my best… what? A worthy charity? Do you understand how unreachable the moon? How rarefied the air of the upper atmosphere, which is not even the nano- to the unimaginable airless reaches that separated us?
Oh, she was strong, my sweet girl. Not least for loving me. Sure, one idealises, post-mortem. Suffice to say I felt erased in her presence. Illuminated, by her, but blind. Invisible!
And that was the first step in my metamorphosis, the fork in the road that would inevitably lead me here. To this… this glorious state of affairs. Why? Of course, our minds are not yet synchronised to one another… When I say ‘erased’, you think ‘repressed’. And indeed, that is where I led you with the ‘be strong—don’t repress’ counterpoint. But the truth is, it is not her presence that erased me. She was just the neon light that exposed everything that was already there. Everything that was missing.
Who was I? Who was I? And it’s not self-deprecation. I was not wretched. I was bland. And if I mentioned a cocoon earlier, it was meant as a testament to my transcendence. She was the trauma to my eventual genius. I was always going to lose her. That is just the nature of those who burn so bright.
In her presence, not for a moment was my inner world not set aswirl by musings on the fleeting nature of happiness and the inevitability of loss. Happiness, you know, is such a wispy, ephemeral thing. There is so little there to hold onto, to contain, to save for later. One can only truly glimpse it momentarily and from a certain angle. Like dust dancing in a ray of sun. But tragedy? Now there’s something with some meat to it. One can so easily stock up on it and hunker down. Like a warm velvety mud, there is no end to the shapes it can take. To what it can darken and soil and masquerade. However, there is also a secret beauty to it. A beauty that only eyes sensitive to sorrow can behold. The knowledge of loss makes life so… precious. Do you know how precious little true essence there is in this world? Most of all there is, is filler, is noise, is chaff, is…
If the cocoon is a symbol of mourning, you must understand that, before her, my moon, it would never have been a transitory state. I would have made mourning my home. Some souls are just predestined to melancholia. Some souls have that specific hollow in them, which will fill up, regardless of circumstances. No, I would never have emerged from this cocoon.
You laugh. You laugh because you see me now in drag, in the form of a dazzling moth. You can’t take your eyes off me, can you? I am that irresistible curiosity you almost despise for how it seizes your eye and holds on. But no one—and much less I—could have foreseen this end. Sure, you see how bright I shine and you can’t bring yourself to imagine just how dull I once was. Yes. At last, I see we have arrived at a common understanding. This… Let me give a turn so you may contemplate me. Be-hold! Aren’t I the tits? The very honey and lime of this world?
This! This is what she saw in me. Forged into a diamond by the tremendous pressures of her love. Dullness, my dear, breeds the saltiest of eccentricities. Oh, she didn’t die for me, don’t be a fool! Here darling, pass me a tissue. I haven’t the time to redo my beauty, I’m on in ten.
Shooof. On in ten! How I wish time would slow. Slow… Slow, so I can, once again, dance alone in the cold light of my moon. But I have a duty now. I must… well, anyway. Where was I? Ah yes, you’re kind. You really listen. Wear black. Ha! The notion! Look at me. Wear black? Please…
‘Wear black—move on’. Well, no. I’m disingenuous. I did wear black, you’re right. But some religions advise the widow to wear black for a year. How many advised me to dwell in mourning. To explore its murky depths. To give into the experience.
But I have seen my love a moon! Do you understand? A moon! Move on? Do not insult me! See Christ on his cross and move on. See Buddha meditating under the bodhi tree and move on. My love was faith. Not meant to waver, even as the object of my reverence passed on. Only strengthen. Embolden. Needless to say, I did not see these pieces of advice as contradictory. I simply did, well… both.
You know they say grieving is a selfish act? Never truer than for me. When I wore black, it was I whom I mourned. I knew then that I would never be the same again. No one is, posthumously. I am living for two now. My cocoon was imbued with such colour and spice. Such zest, which life is never not full of, when one looks hard enough.
But I am conniving, aren’t I? You have unveiled my contrivance. If I had done this right, it would have felt more… authentic. Less rehearsed. Never mind. What’s that? Oh, I really must go on. Will you humour me? You’re kind.
‘Throw away—keep every memento.’ See how shallow my wish for orthodoxy was? I never truly needed guidance to, well, guide me through this last experience. Some of her things were unmistakably imbued with… with… well, with her. But not all of these were in my possession. Luckily for me, my obsession with these precious items was so easily camouflaged by grief. Everything is forgiven the mourner, you see? I paid a visit to every acquaintance of my wife. Oh, and I was systematic! And devious. I paid improvised visits to all of them on the pretence of not wanting to be alone. And raided. Raided! Not gracefully, either. I hoarded. Greedy; feverish with covetousness. I pilfered, lied, fought, lost friends and did not care. Still, I do not care. I knew my metamorphosis was imminent and hungered to invest into it every last memento of her. How many lives she had impacted, my wife, my moon!
What a busy after-hours I discovered her to have. A lover here. A gay friend there. A father-figure. A sister-friend from whom she was inseparable. All in mourning, by their own right. But nothing could get in my way. I wielded the supremacy of my grief, as her widow, to dishonourable lengths. And thus began my collection of her. My moon. Thus began my gathering of all her bits and morsels. A lipstick here. Heels there. A scarf, dresses by the half-dozen, a note. Nail polish. Scandalous! Haha. I’m blushing, of course. Am I blushing? Love letters! And not even addressed to me. Do you understand? Dear, I sorted through trash. Imagine it. Please, take a moment to. I bought back donated items! Blackmailed. But enough… Yes, enough. You get my point.
Hush now. Can you hear them calling me? They love me. Can you hear them whistle? You know, I had never known I could sing. In fact, I am certain I couldn’t. Now hear me! Hear me sing, hear me whisper, hear me roar all her favourite songs!
How did I do it? Such class… Such chic! Oh, it was not pretty. No. But I was ruthless. She… she was ruthless. My moon demands much of those she believes worthy. And I do NOT disappoint.
Go. Scurry now to your seat. And see how she comes alive. How she sings. How she loves. Loves me. How they love her, through me. Oh, sweet heaven how it hurts. No, don’t leave. I’m sorry. No, I can’t… I… I don’t want to go out there. They’ll devour me. Eat me alive. Devour me to get to… her. I thought I… but no. Never mind, darling. Go! I want to offer this to you. I need to. You understand… I know you do.
And darling, when the cold blue light turns on, when you see me reach for the moon, hold your breath for me. It’s so ungodly cold up there. How she could ever stand it, I will never know. To be a moon, I mean… Go! Witness an orthodox drag queen, first of her kind! Witness extravagant grief, witness how they yearn for more. Witness how a cheap porchlight can shine like the moon.
Here I come my darlings