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'Faux Queens' bend gender-bending

SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) - Wendi Plains is a drag queen trapped in a woman's body, a female impersonator who has the misfortune of being female herself.

Tragic? Not quite. For Plains and others like her, there is the "Faux Queen Pageant," where a gaggle of real-life ladies strut their stuff at the contest billed as the world's one and only event for women perfecting the drag queen's cocky swagger.

Call it crazy, call it weird, but for San Francisco just call it just another gender-bending way of being wacky and wonderful, said Ruby Toosday, an honest-to-goodness (read male) drag queen who helped organize the 6th annual contest.

"It is a chance for the women to be outrageous, get up on stage and do stuff way over the top," said Toosday, dressed in a slinky black mini-dress and black garters. "As far as I know this is the only event of its kind anywhere."

Over-the-top indeed. Think outlandishly big hair, dragon lady stick-on nails, strategically placed extra padding, and way, way too much makeup for the 13 contestants vamping it up at the event, held in a bar in Potrero Hill neighborhood, an eclectic mix of newcomers and longtime residents.

Plains, who went trashy cowgirl in a frilly powder blue skirt with white fringes, ruffled red shirt, boots, plastic silver eyelashes and loads of glitter, wowed the crowd with her own take on the "all-American" girl.

Marching on stage with dozens of stars dangling off her cowgirl hat, Plains lip-synced the patriotic country tune "U.S. of A." while two Boy Scouts in uniforms saluted, waved American flags and lighted her sparklers for a truly grand finale.

"For me it's about having a good time," said Plains, normally known as Julia Mitchell, who took top honors in the contest that raised money for two local nonprofit groups. "I kind of feel like drag queens shouldn't have all the fun."

It also gives the women a venue to realize their drag-queen dreams as many clubs featuring female impersonators do not allow real women to perform, Toosday said.

While San Francisco has long boasted "virgin queen" events for first-time male drag artists and "drag king" contests for women dressing up as men, Toosday and others decided to launch the faux queen contest after hearing tales of female friends who could not find places to exhibit their feminine sides.

"I sort of heard stories of friends who got fired (from drag clubs) for being women," Toosday said. "It seemed like we had definitely hit a nerve."

It is not easy being a female female impersonator, or a female impersonator impersonator. It takes flamboyance, confidence and a bit of attitude, said Gotta Slott, whose outfit and bright lipstick made her look like a psychedelic candy striper.

In the end it is mainly the clothes that make the queen -- "having a huge wardrobe," Slott opined.

One question is what drives participants to take part in the ultimate dressup, which some may see as reinforcing negative female stereotypes or even portraying women as objects.

Resplendent in a super-puffy pink wig, blue dress, gold boots, an apron and extra padding on her rear end, Miss Lady Multi said for her it was a way of expressing herself.

"I love to dress up and to ultra-express feminine aspects and play with them and get into the juicy skin of it," said Multi, who gave her Earth name as D.J. Polywog and her age as "old enough to know better."

Others agreed that dressing up made them feel more feminine, while still others said they were just out to have a good time or were encouraged by male drag-queen friends. Most, like Slott, said female drag queens are able to turn unflattering stereotypes of women on their heads.

"It is like reclaiming the terms of how woman are defined," said Slott, otherwise known as Kathleen Morford. "In this way we get to embrace feminine stereotypes."

The event consisted of a question-and-answer session followed by a talent show where the participants took turns gyrating, slinking and pouting across the small stage, sometimes simulating acts that would earn a movie an adult rating.

The crowd cheered them on, hooting at some of the more lascivious acts and showing their appreciation by throwing money at the stage. The judges preferred to let the contestants earn their support in exchange for free drinks.

"If you really want to show a drag queen your love give 'em some money," Toosday exhorted before starting the show.

Perhaps the final arbiter of the faux queens' authenticity were the male drag queens in attendance, who gave a hearty stamp of approval to their female counterparts.

Lucia Love, a local actor and award-winning drag queen, said the idea of females impersonating him was odd but at the same time wonderful -- not in the least because his favorite movie, "Victor/Victoria," was about a woman impersonating a male female impersonator.

"Drag queens would be nowhere without women," said Love.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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