Portland's premier drag queen. At this point I'd been to a few drag shows, which I enjoyed for the novelty but I hadn't yet developed an appreciation of drag as a form of performance art.
I was soon to learn this type of charitable activity is typical for Darcelle and her partner Roxy, who not only opened their home to total strangers for their cause, but also went out of their way to make the experience unforgettable.
Darcelle, who was undoubtably busy putting on her face, was to make a dramatic entrance a little later. In the mean time, Roxy, not in drag but in a dapper suit, took it upon himself to make us feel at home and serve as docent. First stop was the bar in the parlor, staffed with a volunteer bartender. The bar was to be the nexus of our house tour.
For the next hour we were entertained and educated as Roxy told a story for each room, getting so expressive at points that we occasionally had to dodge a slosh of his cocktail. At one point Joe made us laugh by trying to catch Roxy's overflow with his own glass. They'd put an amazing amount of work into their making their home a showcase.
It wasn't a cluttered old house but had more the feel of a historic landmark turned into a museum. A monument to camp and kitsch. There was a "handbag room" dedicated to Darcelle's purse collection. There was a room with a Japanese theme complete with a red circular bed which I suspect rotated. Even the unfinished attic had stories of times past, ghosts present and plans future. As Roxy was telling us about the ghost which resides there, the attic stairs began to creak. It was only one of the "servants" with a message. The Mistress was ready.
"We only have one rule when we have dinner guests," Darcelle instructed as we approached the large, elegantly appointed dining table. "You can sit wherever you like as long as you are not seated next to anyone with whom you've ever had sex. Oral counts." Good natured confusion ensued as the dinner guests looked for an amenable seat. I found myself sitting on Darcelle's left.
Dinner was excellent, with several courses brought out by pleasant servers. We gave an ovation to the chef when she came out to introduce herself and check on us. The conversation and laughter flowed easily. It's interesting now to think back on it how, at a table of ten, I was able to have such an intimate conversation with our host.
I'm sure I asked questions which showed my ignorance and naivety of the art of drag. But Darcelle was more than happy to share her story only to turn the tables by inquiring about myself. The details are cloudy after all this time, but I remember feeling like I was the most interesting person in the room to her. She was amazingly warm and caring. Maternal even. We talked about the coming-out process, both hers and mine, and I explained how I was still in the closet where I worked. And with my parents.
I don't know exactly how it came to pass, but Darcelle made me promise that evening I was going to be true to myself. Far from idle banter over dessert, this promise had the gravity of a vow to a close friend. And my very first step toward being true was to come out to my family. It was clear this was to be done with a sense of urgency, which I believed came from her own personal experience. "Your parents have the right to know the same person I see here, because I know as a parent myself how proud they'll be." Then she added, "I realize there's an instinctive fear of rejection, but to wait any longer would only be unfair to them. And to yourself."
The next day I nervously called my folks to tell them I'd be making a trip home to see them. As nice as that sounded, they were going to be on vacation in Florida for the next couple weeks. "Okay, I'll see you when you get back." I remember feeling relieved to have a little more time to prepare. The time was finally right. It was in Florida where Mom had her stroke. In the following five years of her life, the time was never right. I now understood why Darcelle was so insistent.
Within a few months of my trip to Portland, I said goodbye to my homophobic, misogynistic work environment and had a new job. On my first Friday there I joined some of my new coworkers for happy hour. I was talking with the VP of Customer Service when another gentleman joined us. The VP introduced me to the company President, who asked right off the bat, "Are you gay?"
The VP looked embarrassed, but I remembered my pact with Darcelle, swallowed my instinctive fear and responded immediately. "Yes, I am."
"Told you!" he grinned as he nudged the red-faced VP in the ribs. "You'll like it here, we have a lot of homos. Right Greg?"
I was myself there for ten years.