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Keeping it real

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Whoever said that drag queens are afraid of the light?

Mary K Mart, Minnie Mart, Tequila Rose, Cruella and Betty Ford were just some of the boys-who-would-be-girls who recently braved the unflattering lights of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh for Drag Bingo, a fundraiser for the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina.

On the pulpit-cum-stage, Mistress of Ceremonies Mary K Mart, standing under a mountainous heap of hair and beside a trunk labeled "Trailer Park Road Show," called the numbers and handed out prizes ranging from a pair of Melissa Etheridge tickets to latex body paint. "BVD's" (Bingo Verifying Divas) in sequined dresses and bejewelled tiaras roamed like Vegas showgirls among the tables, checking cards, passing out free prizes and giving away (ahem) hot dogs, during what surely had to be the rowdiest night of Bingo ever played in the Triangle.

The crowd was as eclectic as could be, a hardy mix of gay and straight (with a few in between), the quite young and the very old (including a few white-haired ladies, presumably Sunday afternoon Bingo regulars, looking bewildered but game).

Latecomers, surprised to find players rising in a kind of orgiastic wave when Mary called out "O-69," were summoned to the front and gently humiliated as punishment for not joining in (a specialty of drag queens). Tequila Rose entertained in between sets of cards, singing first "Respect," and later "Killing Me Softly." "I feel inappropriate making all these gyrating moves up here," she said during her performance, smiling demurely at the audience but looking not a bit ashamed.

The AAS-C patterned their first ever drag bingo event after a similar one in Philadelphia, which has raised more than $1 million for several different AIDS organizations over the past 10 years. Although the Raleigh event surprised organizers by raising over $5,000, that barely makes a dent in the $100,000 deficit the organization faces after United Way funding cuts and draconian insurance rate increases. More events will follow, with the next Drag Bingo night scheduled for Saturday, June 29, from 7-11 p.m.

Toward the end of the evening, Tequila Rose took the mike and shared an anecdote from the question-and-answer segment of her last drag pageant, when she was asked, "Where do drag queens belong in the gay community?"

"I don't think we play enough of a vital role," she replied. "We need to stand up for the causes that we really believe in and show people that we're more than just men in dresses."

The hair, the nails and the jewels may have been ersatz, but the sentiment was real.

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