Bronson invites everyone to a drag bbq on Saturday night. Mada and Kalale are not really that down but they’ll go. Paul wants us all to have amazing looks. I am excited but try not to show it. I go shopping at Renaissance and the woman who works at the changing rooms looks at me funny when I keep bringing dresses and skirts to try on. I try on a skirt and it looks great with the white button down I’m wearing so I decide to do a Catholic school girl look. I grab a tie that matches the skirt. I have dangling cross earrings that’ll be perfect.
At the bbq there is meat and chips and plenty of beer. There are wigs and dresses and Paul has a killer pair of heels but the energy is a little low. Everyone is feeling tired. We’re hungover from partying yesterday, or we’re in school or we’ve been working hard all week, in restaurants and bars, in retail and low-level office jobs.
Paul brings me a blonde wig that I tie back into a ponytail to show off the earrings. Meredith does my makeup: pink lips and smudged eyeliner.
“It looks so good,” my friends say. “It’s so messy. Like you just gave the quarterback a blowjob.”
Nobody can agree on where to go out. Bronson’s original plan was to go to the village but not everyone is down. There is a rave at the train tracks and Cousins at Le Ritz and an after-hours at the Durocher lofts. Drugs arrive and make everything more confusing.
Tony told her friends to meet us in the village but everyone keeps flip-flopping. The boys decide to go to Sky Bar. Mada is meeting up with Lindsey at the train tracks. Kalale is like fuck no, I’m not going to the village. The crew splits up. I tell Kalale I want to show off my look! She’s like yeah, with the boys. She is right. I know what she means when she says it.
In the uber my wig is hot and my makeup is smearing. Joel is already at Sky Bar on the rooftop patio. This makes us all very excited. I crack the window, stick my head out for the breeze.
“I tend to go rogue in village bars,” I say.
“Please don’t,” says Paul. “We have to stick together.”
Outside Sky Bar, we smoke a cigarette, take a few snaps, try to hype each other up. Everyone on St Catherine is just in their civilian drag. We definitely stand out. Nobody shaved their facial hair so pieces of wig keep getting caught in our beards. Inside my backpack there are sandals for Paul incase he gets tired in heels. I sling it over one shoulder like a delinquent Catholic school girl in the movies.
“You look like the bitchiest girl from my high school,” says Leah. “Her name was Laura McNeil.” Leah is wearing a pristine grey wig and long chiffon robe. She looks incredible, like an eccentric yet refined art professor.
“OMG totally,” I say. “I’m totally Laura McNeil right now.”
The bar is multilevelled so for a while we scamper from floor to floor, trying to find our bearings. We perform for each other, as if to be like, yeah cool c’mon let’s go! We have to keep each other confident. There are hundreds of people in the bar but it’s spread out so that every new room looks somehow under filled.
A bouncer shows us up to the rooftop patio. We meet Joel at a table and order drinks. Things get quiet. The energy is calmer up here. There is a breeze. You can see the tops of buildings but nothing’s tall enough to obstruct the dark blue sky.
I wish the others were here to laugh and throw shade. I text Mada and tell her that I love her.
We go back into the club and dance a little bit more. People come up to Paul and compliment him on his look. People come up to Bronson and people come up to Joel. Nobody comes up to me except the bouncer, who says I have to check my bag and then escorts me by the arm to the coat check. All the people who I came here with are white. I don’t have any change for the coat check so I try to get them to check my bag for free but they’re not having it so I stash it in the corner. This is the only time I go rogue at Sky Bar.
Back at Bronson’s, everyone is feeling tired again. It’s around 3am and we’re running low on cigarettes. We decide that if we’re going to make it to the after hours we have to leave soon, otherwise we’ll lose steam. We drink the last of the beers and sprinkle the rest of the drugs into cups of water that we knock back quickly. Bronson and Joel take off their wigs. They’re equally handsome, with or without them. I take my wig off too. Mada texts me and says that she loves me.
“So you’re not going to wear your drag anymore?” asks Paul. Nobody answers. He is upset. “I don’t want to be the only one in drag. You only want to take it off so you can get laid.”
He has a point. I do want to get laid and I do think that this will be easier to accomplish out of drag. I do potentially want to go rogue at the after hours and I think that will be easier to accomplish out of drag as well. I feel gross for thinking these things.
But it is more complicated than that. This is only a week after the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people died. This is after years of violent attacks against trans woman and black men.
It’s why we are all so tired, at least in part. It creates an extra layer of fatigue: where do we go to dance fucked up all night long and not die? Where do we go to get laid and not die? Who is here in this room with us? Who is not here in this room with us? What are we going to wear? Who will get harassed on the street, by the police or a random stranger or someone who we all know, sometimes in darkness but often in broad daylight, in the exact same look that any of us could’ve been wearing? How are we going to get home?
Paul catches a cab outside of Bronson’s and ushers the group inside of it. We are all in our drag again. He’s convinced us. I wish I could explain how beautiful Paul looks tonight, in the three hundred dollar blue sequin dress and the suede pumps pinching his toes.
“C’mon, get in,” he says to me.
“No,” I say. “That’s alright. You guys go on without me. I think I just gonna walk home.”
Paul gives me an irritated look but he’s past the point of caring enough to convince me to go out. It’s too late. He gets in the cab and slams the door. He just wants to party. The cab drives away. I’ve gone rogue.
I stop at a 24hr gas station to buy cigarettes. I look myself in the security camera. My wig is missing. It must’ve fallen off somewhere on the street or maybe I wasn’t actually wearing it when I left Bronson’s. I can’t remember. The eyeliner’s smudgy. My lips are a big pink smear. Meredith touched it up before we left.
It’s 4am and the sun is rising on St Laurent. On the street I walk slowly and deliberately, heel toe heel toe. The street is empty. No one is there to brush past me. All the businesses are closed. I walk past the roti shop, the interior design place, the sports bar that used to be a gay bar two years ago when I got a public urination ticket for peeing in the alley outside of it.
When do you have the opportunity to just completely feel yourself like this? I turn the street into my runway. I hold my arms open, palms up, my backpack slung over one shoulder. My earrings, they dangle. The swish of my skirt. My head is held to the sky that turns baby blue and pink with morning. It’s sticky and hot. So hot. I can feel the makeup dripping down my face. My feet hurt but I own it. Heel toe, heel toe, heel toe. I am almost home. There’s an electro beat that thumps to the west. Through the chirp of the birds I can hear it.
Cason Sharpe is a writer based in Montreal. He is one half of the podcast Two Hungry Children. Find him on Twitter @casonsharpe.