Everything was going along just fine until the day it arrived in my mailbox.
I knew what it was. I had been expecting it. But I had also secretly hoped that perhaps they wouldn’t be able to locate me.
Suddenly all of my childhood anxieties came rushing in, sending me into a tailspin.
It was an invitation to my High School Class Reunion.
My roommate shrieked and lunged towards me. The envelope never hit the floor. As I was coming to, I saw him rip the offending packet in half and toss it in the trash.
“Clearly you won’t be going,” he said.
He was right. I had always said that I was never going back, or that wild horses couldn’t drag me, or that it’s just a popularity contest.
Truth be told, my life was going quite well – by Centralia standards, anyway. So I decided to attend. Centralia Senior High School 10 Year Reunion, here I come!
I commissioned some couture looks from some of my designer friends. Stuart, who was listed in the NYC phone directory as Zsa Zsa Gabor, and had designed the American looks for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, created all of my day wear. He gave me extremely tight, black, stretch-denim capri pants, along with a set of oversized, starched cotton, boat neck shirts, each one’s colors and patterns louder than the next.
David Spada, who created couture from o-rings, wire, and bicycle tape, made me a black lycra wrestling singlet, with a silver and black o-ring singlet on top of that, topping it off with a rainbow of colored wire spirals around the neck.
Stephen Sprouse lent me a neon yellow, leather, cropped, bolero jacket for color. I finished off the look with basic-black, steel-toed, Doc Marten boots, more than 30 black, o-ring bracelets on each wrist, and my dyed black hair in a blunt Caesar cut.
Although I looked fabulous, my behavior at the reception could’ve been better. I drank like a fish. I barely spoke to anyone, including my friend Vicki, who grew up down the block from me.
They gave out awards for everything under the sun. I received the award for Most Unusual Profession, and I hadn’t even told them I was a drag queen!
When I went up to get the plastic trophy, one of my worst childhood tormentors, true to form, shouted: “Finley what the fuck are you wearing?”
When I got to the lectern, I snatched my trophy, leaned into the mic, and replied: “More than you make in a year, darling!”
Then I threw my drink on him and left.
What can I say? I fell into every cliché high school reunion trap. All the old insecurities were triggered and firing off everywhere. I did everything I had sworn not to do. When all was said and done, I had been a bigger asshole than any of them.
Stories like these are quite common, of course. I have friends whose stories actually make mine look tame by comparison! Even the most confident of people can regress almost immediately when faced with a high school reunion. Emotional memories are very strong, and some wounds can still be in the process of healing ten years later.
But I forgave myself for my behavior, and was thus much more confident with myself and satisfied with the life I had created.
When Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion came out in 1997, I saw it with a close friend who had also had made a scene at their 10 year reunion. Afterwards, we both swore to attend our 20 year reunions staying true to ourselves, without any manufactured stories searching for some vindication that isn’t really needed and will never be there.
I would love to say that I attended my next reunion and that nothing out of the ordinary occurred but, Kiddlywinks, it is me we’re talking about! I can say that I handled myself with my own style of decorum, of course.
I had planned to attend in a suit, but three days beforehand SHOWTIME sent a mailer to every household in America promoting both their hit series Queer As Folk and their upcoming LGBT films, including Holiday Heart. That movie was directed by Robert Townsend, starred Ving Rhames and Alfre Woodard, and featured appearances by yours truly as Drag Queen #3. There I was, larger than life, wearing a huge white wig, blowing a kiss at America! So I thought: They can’t say they haven’t been warned!
My friend Brett agreed to come along to help keep me in line and make sure I didn’t do anything silly again – especially in a little mini-dress, pink & silver wig, and my signature 8” heels. He also thought that the stories I told about growing up in a cow town were exaggerated. I’ve never heard him get so quiet as when passed the sign stating Centralia City Limits.
Finally, he said: “I can’t believe you came from this.”
I just laughed.
Walking into the venue a fellow classmate turned around and was visibly shocked, but tried to carry on as if nothing was amiss.
“Who are you here with tonight,” he asked me.
“It’s me John,” I answered. “Mark Finley.”
There is a long pause before he replied: “Well, you’ve certainly changed.”
Brett and I made quite the couple that evening: a 7’ tall Queen in a silver and pink wig, and a younger, 5’4”, light blue-eyed boy, several years younger then me, with hair tattooed onto the top of his head.
One third of the crowd was completely dumbstruck. Another were whispering back and forth while pointing our direction. The rest couldn’t make it to our table fast enough! The girls loved the outfit and the guys wanted to know if my tits were real.
Eventually, in order to clear the air once and for all, I stood up and exclaimed, in my best authoritative, masculine voice: “Excuse me. Thank you. Just a little announcement so I don’t have to answer the same questions all night: No, my tits are fake. Yes, his head is tattooed. Yes, I still have my dick. And yes, it’s still bigger than all of yours! Thank you.”
There were no more stupid questions the rest of the evening. In fact it went off without a hitch until it was time for the class picture. Some folks were telling me to move to the back, and others were telling me to sit down front. I chose down front, of course, at which some of the girls took offense.
My friend Janet came to the rescue.
“Don’t mind them,” she said. “Come sit by me. Besides who wants to be next to them in their little black dresses that are oh so three seasons ago anyhow!”
It just goes to show that, no matter what uncomfortable situation you’re in, if you handle yourself with style, class, and a little aplomb, you’re more than likely to find some allies for your cause. Even at a little, cow town, high school reunion.
Be good. Behave. Treat others better than yourself. Always wear a clean pair of underwear. And remember: you’re not alone – you’ve got me!
M’wah – M.