How will he or ’she’ be dressed? I’m curious and queasy at the same time. Is it possible that a figure like Paul O’Grady or Dame Edna will clack across in high heels to the front of this café in Palma’s Plaza España? Imagine a tall man with a husky voice, wearing a wig and gala dress. Will the arrival be heralded by lips painted with glaring red lipstick and face concealed beneath tons of make-up? Certainly, it’ll be embarrassing if such a person takes a seat beside me at the table. People around might gawk and snigger, regarding us as an eccentric gay couple!
It must be something often faced by a ‘normal hetero’ dating a drag queen – those flashy creatures seen in musicals like ‘Rocky Horror Show’, in movies like ‘La Cage aux Folles’ or in a Parisian cabaret. Those alien characteristics – often displayed by gay men – putting into question almost all social conventions regarding informal definitions of being ‘normal’. They are living provocations challenging every sexual orientation.
As an understated guy wearing a baseball cap and beach shirt taps on my shoulder, I think he’s a tourist asking the way. “No, no,” he says, “I’m Javi. We’re supposed to meet here”. The young man switches off his mobile and sits down at the table without attracting anybody’s attention. While I’m eyeing him up, there’s a moment of realisation and mounting sense of relief: it’s not the transvestite artist ‘Tormenta’ (Spanish for thunderstorm) who has appeared, but Javi, the person behind the drag queen.
He proves to be a calm and intelligent conversational partner. Javi avoids standing out in public at all. His cultivated appearance, the earrings, his depilated arms and upper body give him the air of a classy metrosexual (heterosexual man with strong concern for his appearance) from a capital city. Spanish society has some reticence in the acceptance of drag queens and transvestites, he’s arguing. For two years, he worked in German nightclubs and appreciated the easy-going atmosphere and the highly-developed underground world.
Living in his homeland Uruguay and working in Argentina later on for seven years, the now more-than-40-year-old “drag late bloomer” never thought about dressing as a woman. Eighteen years ago he moved to Mallorca looking for a new experience in life. He started working as a technician for a group of artistic performers, where he got to know many friends from the drag queen and transsexual society. Watching them perform, the temptation to try it himself grew. Ten years ago, Javi became a drag queen for the first time.
His skill at this, especially on the microphone, is proved every time he turns into ‘Tormenta’. Take, for example, a Saturday evening in ‘Art Deco’ dance club in Palma’s windmill-district Es Jonquet: more than a hundred Spanish girls from several ‘hen nights’ are getting ready for some convivial drinking in an erotic ambience. Five pretty young boys wearing only pants and showing well-honed bodies provide the ladies’ night warm-up act.
While they’re flirting heavily with the young ‘hens’ suddenly a strange creature appears in the spotlight, which could indeed be Paul O’Grady. The crowd whispers. ‘Tormenta’ prances across the stage in an ultra-feminine way, wearing an ash-blond wig and a glittery evening dress. Beneath it, the platform shoes have elevated her to a height of more than 1.90 metres. As ‘thunderstorm’ speaks into the microphone, the ‘hens’ hear the sound of an unmistakeably masculine voice: “Hey ladies, is the temperature so high inside, or are you so hot?”
‘Tormenta’ entertains with great charisma and elates the female crowd with sweet innuendos like “I’m a thunderstorm and sometimes my lightning strikes some men”, “I’m sure you’re a virgin, darling, with your angel’s face.”
She’s a “moral drag”, however, and doesn’t exaggerate the dirty talk: “My speech is never overtly sexual, although many drag queens use ‘tacos’ dirty talk.” “I prefer innuendo and suggestiveness – that’s much more interesting.” For this evening, Javi changes his costume four times for his employer, the event company ‘Oh! Palma’. The ‘drag dance’ performed by ‘Tormenta’ in a bubble-perm wig, short leather skirt and glittery silken tights is absolutely freaky. She’s jumping around so ostentatiously that everybody’s convulsed with laughter.
Above all, drag queens provide humorous stage entertainment. Javi rejects the stereotype that he enjoys the performance because, as a gay man, he dreams of being a fag. But none of that: he is committed to his masculine character in private life and doesn’t “constantly dream of running around dressed as a woman.” This he does for his job: “I’m one hundred per cent Javi in my everyday clothes; in make-up and disguise, I’m one hundred per cent ‘Tormenta’, being much more cheeky and extrovert for the job. Both roles are important for me, but they’re also strictly separated.”
One part of Javi’s family jigsaw puzzle is his German boyfriend, “who’s a coiffeur and always prepares my wigs perfectly,” he remarks. As ‘Tormenta’ his work family has grown. Drag-colleague ‘Sarah’ – real name Marc – calls ‘Tormenta’ his “big sister”. One reason for that is Marc’s age: just 25 years old. So Javi is something of an idol for the young Mallorcan drag artist, but ‘Tormenta’ hasn’t been the taskmaster of ‘Sarah’.
“I’ve learnt a lot about artistic dancing and posing from my companions in the show performances of Tito’s and Abraxas. Starting at show restaurant Coco La Nuit was very important for my career.”
In normal life Marc is an unpretentious guy like Javi, working as a host in a local waterpark. ‘Sarah’ is much more feminine than ‘Tormenta’ though. Visitors to insider-gay-club “La Demence” – where it’s also possible to meet transsexuals – usually don’t recognise the homegrown drag queen as male. While sexy ‘Sarah’ is mingling with the boys and go-go dancing in the Polígono Son Castelló-based club’s interior, ‘Tormenta’ is responsible for the admission control at the entrance every Saturday night.
One of the three owners of ‘La Demence’, Abo, has taken both ‘Tormenta’ and ‘Sarah’ to his heart: “Everybody laughs when Javi, alias ‘Tormenta’, rejects visitors at the entrance. Inside, young and frivolous drag queens ‘Sarah’ and ‘Kimberley’ are the aesthetic je ne sais quoi which is necessary in a nightclub like this.”Drag queens are no “sweet transvestites from transsexual Transsylvania”, but artistic performers on stage creating “an erotic illusion derived from a masquerade – the same as theatre or musical,” Javi explains. The word DRAG is an abbreviation of “dressed as a girl” – for those who don’t have the urge to find that out for themselves.