The crowd begins to chant, "Diva, diva!" Their hungry screams slice through the vibrating thump of the bass. Red spotlights descend over a glittery black curtain at the back of the small stage, and their voices grow louder. They huddle around tiny, candlelit round red tables, an equal shake of black and white, with just a few more chicks than dudes, and plenty of voluptuous, middle-aged black ladies. All at once, a siren wails and a disco tune explodes from the speakers. The crowd erupts with whistles and applause.
It's Diva. Lips are as red and shiny as a candy apple. Legs are slim, strong, and long, strapped to sparkly gold heels. She is a black goddess rocking an enormous brown wig, gold-leafed eye lids, and a short silvery dress that outlines her tight torso and enormous breasts.
Diva can dance. She points her bits at the crowd and pulses her body to the music. She pumps her thighs, adjusts her chest and shoots her limbs through the air. Butt hurling, legs kicking, she dashes around, her smile growing wider by the minute. Suddenly there's a blinding flash of light, and buckets full of confetti burst in above the stage. Her fans howl in euphoria; Diva's on for barely two minutes before they start throwing bills. She croons into her glittery, gold dildo-shaped microphone, belting disco, purring to the crowd. Diva's voice is a man's.
It's the second Friday of the month at Ice, Hamtramck's most delectable gay club, and the 10,000 square foot place is packed for its monthly "Ultimate Drag Show." The men have pulled out all the stops tonight, and they take the stage in a flurry of feminine glam, from diamonds and disco dresses to lingerie, feathers, gowns and wigs. They boast incredible bodies and killer dance moves, pushing the limits of gender and pulling in the cash.
One queen comes out as Cher singing "Believe," wearing a shocking white, full-bodied superhero-style suit. She has a fire-engine red wig of pin-straight hair, plump breasts, and white boots with spike heels. Toy Alexandria has the hottest figure, although it's too muscled to be completely feminine. Her thick lips are painted gold, and her savage mane of raven tresses reaches past her washboard abs. She has a tight white pleather number, a neck full of bling and mile-high heels. She does a dirty rap stint that racks in fistfuls of bills and later reappears as a feral Lil' Kim in black fringed lingerie. Her silvery white masquerade mask elevates that look to kinky-creepy.
In between songs I meet a short, dark skinned person in a suit who I mistake for a man but who turns out to be a cross-dressing performer (born female) named Bucky. Now nearing 60, Bucky pours her heart out, telling me about her late mother accepting her and how that's all that mattered. When I ask Bucky if she has ever been with a man, she stops abruptly and utters a low grunt, shaking her hand in my face as she stalks off.
Diva returns onstage and scans the crowd for a female volunteer as the girls squeal and hoot. Despite this being a gay bar, tonight is girls-night-out for many. She selects a brunette named Christina, who Diva regards simply as "whore." "Get strapped in, bitch!" Diva shrieks, pushing Christina into a chair before she ties her arms behind her. "You gonna want a drink after this or a nice hot plug, or both," she coos, and the curtains rustle.
Out struts Deisel, wearing only a backwards baseball hat and white pants. He is a dream for these women a towering black hunk of chiseled protoplasm, ready to work for his money. His muscles bulge. His veins pulse. His six- or eight- pack I am too distracted to count is carved deep into his stomach. His body gleams slick with oil under the spotlight. His skin is like chocolate.
Barefoot, Deisel struts assertively back and forth across the stage as if it were his bedroom. In an instant, his pants are off, revealing tight cheetah print briefs that hug his muscled butt like skin. Men and women are out of their seats, banging tables and shrieking in uncontrollable delight. Deisel slinks off the stage, where he grinds patrons of both genders, and the bills are flying.
He doesn't waste time; before his fans can even catch a breath, he peels off his undies, revealing a pair of heavily muscled buns sliced down the middle by the flimsy thread of his black g-string thong. He turns to show us his bulging package, and women move to pat and grab and slap his ass. While he makes his rounds, the intensity with which Deisel stretches, flexes, pulses and throbs sends his fans into hysterics.
He scrambles back to Christina, turning his buttery black back to the crowd. He straddles her, grinds his enormous body against her tiny one, pumps his hips against her. The chair creaks, its legs slip, and the crowd howls. Christina is now flat on the floor, hands still tied below her with Deisel on top. Her legs fly straight up in the air; her body scrumptiously pinned beneath him. He pulses his thick thighs at his fans glossy, taut, and muscled.
Deisel has bills plastered against his glistening hips, and they overflow from the tiny string of his thong like Tarzan's skirt of green. Even the straightest-looking members of the crowd a wrinkled, grey haired white guy in a dress shirt, a fat lady with a Grandma perm offer up their cash. The former takes his time, fixated on Deisel's package as he carefully tucks them against the string.
After the show, Deisel reveals to me that this is only his second time stripping onstage, and that he's made $200 in two minutes. His sexual preference is, he says, "a mystery."
In the club bathroom later, Christina will proudly display Deisel's leopard undies, which she snagged onstage and now guards zipped in her purse. "It's definitely not the first time I've been onstage," she confides, as Diva's niece and mother enter.
Tonight is Diva's mom's birthday and the whole family has come to see her dance, all of them glowing with pride. One, a niece, talks of Diva's talent, how her aunt has been performing since age 16. Diva's mother hoots: "Oh girl, I'm only 27 myself!" She wears a white sweat suit with parrots on the front, an outfit that seems too cutesy for a lady with her spunk. She tells me her favorite act is Diva doing Patti Labelle, and she starts howling along as she enters a stall. "Gramma!" Diva's niece calls to her.
As they leave, the niece chastises birthday mom to wash her hands, and the older woman retorts, "Uh huh. I don't wanna." She pushes past, and I hear her bellow, "I'm gonna go get me something to eat now!" Later, she'll scurry behind Diva as she dances, clicking her heels as she stuffs the tips in a bag to be kept for her daughter.
The most intense get-up of the set is once again Diva's. Tribal music booms and the silhouetted stalks of her headdress stick out above the curtain before she even steps on stage. Diva appears wearing a tight, velvety cheetah print body suit and leather boots, all covered in an in an outrageous display of feathers and fur. Long, striped feathers are splayed from every surface-her headdress, arms, boots, and torso. The spikes of her headdress extend nearly as tall as her body. She spreads her arms, and the crowd explodes as she reveals her feathered wings, the span of which looks to be about eight feet long. Diva parades around in a surge of gold-brown-black quills, all glittery, exotic, and terrifying.
Before the next show I'm standing at the bar when I overhear one man say he's been coming to see Diva for 17 years. Ricky Martin is playing, and charming bartenders in tight crisp shirts fawn over customers with excessive politeness. Fuck stereotypes. And save the chubby female couple fondling each other's massive tits, there are few indications this is a gay club. There are two towering dudes dressed like thugs who turn out to be very polite gay men. There's a group of white ladies wearing nerdy glasses and '90s denim who work together (in the medical field!) and just come for the show. Every other person I talk with is related to one of the queens.
I chat with Shi, who has come from Chicago to see Diva. She and her girlfriend, A, are both mothers who were screwed over by their ex-husbands. Shi likes the queens for their artistic side and for their beauty. She tells me, "It's so hard as a woman to look and feel beautiful ... (These drag queens) feel it in their psyche. When I see a man feeling so beautiful as a woman, it blows my mind." The woman named A likes the queens for their charisma, sophistication and softness. Like everyone I ask, they see the show as a piece of art, not sex. That said, Shi, who's now a lesbian, nods in the direction of one of the queens onstage, leans in and roars, "I sure would take his ass home!"
The next Ultimate Drag Show is Friday, Oct. 12, at Ice, 11425 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-365-1446. Go to icedetroit.net.
Laurie Smolenski is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org