“Let’s meet in Union Square.”
That’s what my roommate, Steven, suggested in the morning as the two of us were getting ready for work. We had been waiting for this day for weeks: The night we were finally going to meet our glamazon idol, RuPaul. It was October 2007. Drag Race was still more than a year off but, in our house, Ru was already a queen.
Steven moved in a few months before and we instantly bonded over our love of celebrities like Oprah, Kylie Minogue, and Ru. Foxy Lady was on repeat, with “Happy” our going-out-the-door song as we’d ready to tear up the town. Steven would always say that Ru was the most underrated dance artist of the 1990s. I’d agree, and wonder what he was going to do next. I still loved Ru’s talk show on VH1 and my favorite movie was The Brady Bunch Movie, in which Ru has a small but hilarious cameo. It felt like the time was right for another amazing turn from the supermodel of the world.
That’s why we jumped at the chance when we heard he was hosting a party for Starrbooty’s release on DVD. Since the movie was a spoof of flicks like Foxy Brown and Super Fly, the flyer advised coming dressed as “your favorite Blaxploitation character.” There was even going to be a costume contest!
I’d never done drag before in my life, but I was up for the challenge. Anything to meet one of my idols.
The party was at the Virgin Megastore in Union Square (R.I.P.), where Ru would sign copies of the DVD. We didn’t want to have to walk far in heels so we packed our drag in our bags and took them to work. When I met up with Steven after work, we looked around Union Square, trying to figure out which store had a bathroom big enough for us to transform into our drag personas.
He spotted American Eagle and told me to follow.
We walked into the store and each picked up a sweater from a table on our way to the back. We informed the girl manning the dressing room we wanted to try our items on and, once behind locked doors, quickly began our drag-on-a-dime transformation.
I slipped into vintage white sailor pants and a blue shirt that I tied in a knot at my stomach, coupled with a fake-fur vest, dirty blonde wig, and big ‘70s sunglasses. Steven, meanwhile was in a head-to-toe leopard-print catsuit with a giant Diana Ross afro. He completed his look with a fur coat that looked like he had skinned a Muppet. This was budget drag at its finest.
We strutted past the dressing room monitor, who stood speechless. “It didn’t fit,” Steven said, dropping his sweater in her hands we sashayed out the door and into the night.
We hustled across 14th Street to Virgin, where we expected to be swarmed by a sea of club kids in their craziest getups. Instead we quickly realized, we were two of only four people who had gotten dressed up.
I suppose we could have run in embarrassment. But, taking our queue from Ru, we adjusted our wigs and marched into the event like we owned it. We both felt better when Ru arrived—in full Starrbooty hooker drag with a giant white afro and patterned jumpsuit.
The queen of all queens was in our presence and we could barely handle it. After Ru welcomed the crowd and some of the Starrbooty cast and crew, like director Mike Ruiz and co-star Michael Lucas, it was time for a walk-off. Yes, RuPaul was going to judge the costume contest and crown a winner. So when I say I know know how the girls on Drag Race feel, you best believe me.
Steven and I took the stage and each did our best sashay down the runway in front of Ru and the adoring crowd, who ate up our onstage antics. We had never done drag in front of an audience, so we strutted up and down that stage, serving it as Ru sat behind us, approving with his signature laugh. Then the moment came—and the glamazon announced we were the winners! He took a picture with us and gave us each gift bags filled with RuPaul CDs, a Starrbooty t-shirt and signed DVD. (No check for $100,000, alas.)
After our win, one of the local gay nightlife magazines asked us what our names were for their photo captions. That’s when it dawned on us: We had forgotten to come up with drag names! “Shante Universal,” Steven answered on the fly. I quickly followed with “Christina Applegay.”
The crowd soon disbursed and we made our way onto the subway back to Brooklyn, still in full drag. We were on our way back to our apartment when we stopped for an impromptu photo shoot in the middle of the empty streets of Williamsburg. Shante and Chrstina might not be ready for the Drag Race Hall of Fame, but we had our moment and wanted to document it.
Instead of taking off our ensembles when we finally got home, though, we decided to keep them on for a bit and have a RuPaul dance party. Steven cranked up “Happy” because that’s what we felt that night: Two blissfully happy foxy ladies. And it was all thanks to RuPaul.
Happy birthday, Ru! And thank you for the decades of drag inspiration!