So, I've kinda been reluctant to mention it, but here's what I got up to this weekend: a beauty pageant.
Obviously it wasn't my idea. In my opinion, entering teenage girls in these ogle-fests is just about the trashiest thing you can do. We should be teaching girls to handle attackers before we teach them to prance around onstage in ballgowns and swimwear. But unfortunately, like most things in life, it comes down to money. Namely, I'm currently part of a family that doesn't have much, and every little bit helps.
First prize in the Junior Miss Energy pageant, sponsored by some coal company or other, is a scholarship, which I'm sure would a be great help to the real Lauren, who has told me she intends to become a nurse. Runners-up are given smaller cash prizes, which I figured would also be nice. I have to admit it was inviting to think I might win some money I could call my own, instead of just getting by on a weekly allowance like a kid.
I waffled back and forth for weeks about whether this kind of thing would be in my wheelhouse, and I'd be lying if I said my little performance at Lake Erie had nothing to do with it... public adoration is a hell of a drug, and being a pretty girl singing drunken karaoke is a lot more endearing than a 30-year-old dude doing the same. On the outside, it seems like anyone with a pretty smile and half a brain ought to do well in a pageant, but don't kid yourself. The girls who do enter take them deadly seriously, and the amount of preparation that goes in quite honestly baffled me once I saw it up close. But I thought hey, this whole year is looking to be a giant loss for me, what's a Saturday of humiliation?
The whole day was a bit of a debacle, mostly consisting of standing around like a dumbass in a dress trying not to look bored. Even though the entry was open - all that was required was a headshot, filling out a questionnaire and proof of residence in Pennsylvania - a lot of these girls are seasoned vets with coaches and routines down pat, and they don't really take kindly to outsiders. I even knew a few of them, such as Lauren's friend Dana, who ended up in the top ten. The atmosphere was described to me as being a fair bit looser than normal for these things: this pageant was small stakes compared to a lot of the ones that run around here. A practice run for some of these girls.
Sitting there tucking my goodies into a strapless prom dress, I felt like I stood out more than ever. More than once I just let out a loud sigh: "Tyler, how the fuck did you let it come to this?" as Susan slathered my face with blush and mascara, over a heavy base to mask the slight breakout around my forehead and temples. I wanted to scream out for everyone to just get away from me, but it was one of those times I just had to draw on my reserves of strength, even going back to basic training... sure, my life has become a joke, and I've learned to roll with the punches, but even this felt like a bit of a leap.
As I sat still for this, I gritted my teeth. I felt every shred of supposed masculinity fleeing my girlish body... it's one thing to sit around the house as a girl, but to get dolled up like that? I didn't even get that much done for the Prom. But as one of you nice commenters said (ahem) I ought to "man up" and face this... hell, it takes a special kinda man to wear that much makeup, not to mention boob tape and thong underwear. And the shoes, by God almighty, the shoes. I'll have blisters for weeks, and it was only a few hours.
The whole thing took place over about four of the longest hours of my life, in a full auditorium of like 300 people. It was hosted by a witless, jabbering morning radio team, Dale and Wendy, the latter of whom approached me backstage to make faux-red carpet chitchat about "who I was wearing," and was disappointed when my answer was a flat "I dunno."
While the other girls were onstage, I looked out to the audience. I wasn't sure what I expected to see. Mostly family members of the various entrants, and a few pageant aficionados (middle-aged gay men.) I felt a fair bit better once I realized only a very small portion of the room was going to be actively slobbering over the girls... probably a smaller portion than most rooms I've been in since being this way. Hm.
The first half was the interview portion, conducted in the eveningwear. All fifty girls were given 45 seconds to respond to one of those ridiculous stock questions. A lot of them gave bland stock answers to q's about education, poverty, world peace, etc. I was actually asked something about what I would do if money were no object, and I managed to cobble together something about providing medical care to the less-fortunate. It wasn't the most polished delivery, but it must have won someone over, because I made it to the top 25.
The next round was the talent portion, which was... bad. For the last two months I've taken singing lessons in Lauren's place, and as much as her instructor was completely distraught at my sudden loss of talent, I feel like since then I've made progress from being completely incapable to merely bad. I gave a warbling, nasal, admittedly gutwrenchingly terrible delivery of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a song I had only learned a week earlier, even though Lauren had been singing it for years. I saw Wizard of Oz one time when I was at my grandma's trailer, give me a break.
So I didn't make it to the top ten.
The final portion was the swimwear contest. The top ten all paraded around in skimpy bikinis (we had all been instructed to bring a simple black bikini. Mine was more modest than most of course) and answered another interview question. I watched from the wing and thought about the oddness of it all. Here I am, a grown man in the body of a teenage girl, watching these undeniably sexy teenage girls who are made up to be pretty much indistinguishable from grown women. I couldn't tell what kind of slippery slope I was headed down, if it was healthier for me to watch or turn away.
"Better them than me," I thought, but I couldn't deny my bitterness at coming up short. I guess deep down I'm pretty competitive. Maybe I should have listed my talent as rifle assembly or egg-poaching, two things I can actually do.
Still, I assured Susan afterward that I was feeling alright about it, and she said we'd do better next time (pointedly, she said "we.") Paul offered the helpful observation that it looked like I was nervous. Thanks for showing up, Paul.
The worst part was that Meg was there to see the whole hot mess. Even worse, she got the dang thing on video. "Please, God," I begged her, "No YouTube."
She agreed, and said she hoped maybe someday we'd laugh about it. I said that day was a long time off... maybe when I've got hair on my knuckles and wear a size 13 shoe again, we can talk.
She invited me over to her place, where we proceeded to get hammered. Wade was there, so I was nominally in character, but I lost track of this as the night went on, and whatever Meg and I said to each other probably just baffled him and ultimately flew over his head. Came off as drunken nonsense.
I did, however, leave a pretty damning voicemail on Dana's phone, which was half congratulations and half jealous drunken rambling. I honestly can't remember what I said, but hopefully it was all... flattering.
Anyway, with that all behind me, I have to say it wasn't as terrible as I thought. Just putting on makeup and a dress isn't that terrible. We all dress up and play pretend every day. No, having to live up to a room of strangers' idea of "beauty and poise" is real the nightmare. And shit, isn't that just a handy symbol for the entire experience of being a woman?
I'm no angel, but I'm trying to do right by Lauren, and if competing in another one of these somewhere down the line will make her life, or my time living it any easier, I'll put it under consideration. But there's gotta be an easier way to make a buck.