Drag queen Carla Rossi opened Time-Based Art
’s Critical Mascara
in a video projected onto the screen behind the stage. Covered in her trademark white makeup and Leigh Bowery-esque eye shadow, she explained what this “post-realness drag ball” was supposed to be: “It’s like Paris Is Burning
,” she said, referring to the 1990 documentary about drag balls in New York, “except this time we’re not telling Bell Hooks.”
The real difference, though, between this drag ball and the drag balls of the ‘80s, was an intentional lack of refinement and an emphasis on shock value. Performances were replete with blood, unkempt wigs, body hair and one instance of what looked a lot like black face. Genderfuck ruled the night. Pageant queens stayed far away. It was a sweaty, smutty queer fest that would affirm to same-sex marriage opponents that gays are trying to ruin society. But the crowd reveled in all of it.
This wasn’t the first Portland ball for Kaj-Anne Pepper, the drag mistress of the evening. She competed and won at February’s Love Ball, a similar event at bear bar The Eagle, like Critical Mascara also hosted by Chanticleer Tru. Last night, in the Con-Way warehouse, Pepper made her entrance in a wedding gown, her arms painted blue and her big blonde wig in shambles. Backed by a lone cellist sitting on the stage, she walked to the end of the runway and faced a wind machine, where she basked in her own drama and cheers from the crowd. When Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” began playing, she seized her opportunity to crowd surf, and once placed back on stage, threw a bra pad to the audience.
The competition then ensued. Backed by bouncing club beats, the queens stomped it out on the runway. DieAna Dae won the glamour gore category—basically a runway look challenge—in a runoff against drag queen Shitney Houston. Dae strutted out in a black corset with the mark of a crucifix seemingly burned into her chest and a jeweled crown of thorns around her head. The look fit the self-consciously absurd directive—“express a reaction to 10,000 years of cultural oppression of women, queers and people of color”—and the crowd was on board.
In the hair category, Akela Auer, a woman, handily won. She stepped onto the runway stoically, in a black lace bra, approaching the crowd with eyes that looked possessed. Pausing, she whipped a long, black braided ponytail around her head. Then, defiantly, she ripped it off, threw it into the crowd and tousled her hair into a explosion of tight curls. The crowd lost its shit.
The final challenge, a lip sync between some of the show’s top contenders, came down to Dae and Auer. Dae eventually took home the prize: a studded red and black heel that looked like it belonged to Andre the Giant. The dance party continued for a while after, as by this point it was only 1:15 am. But alas, Portland balls are in another way not like New York’s: Here, queens go to bed earlier.