The thick black crust of the mascara sprinkles to the floor like snowflakes. He twitches as he curls the cosmetic wand in a brush stroke against his thin lashes — all four layers of them — finally yielding the rubber-bristled rod to his side and blinking three times before staring into the mirror, wearing near-perfect lashes and a thoughtful gaze.
Josh Plock’s transformation into Misty Maven has only just begun.
“Misty, can you pass the black liner?” asks Omyra Lynn, one of Misty’s several roommates and a fellow Gayborhood drag performer, who sits about three six-inch-heels length apart from Misty at a makeup station dropped into the middle of their kitchen like a Kansas home in Oz.
“God, y’all are always borrowing my shit,” responds Misty, rummaging through her mess of a makeup bag, which is loaded with a motley assortment of MAC- and Halloween-branded products.
At last finding the liner in a bottom corner of the bag and passing it along to Omyra, she continues with her own makeup process, with which she is already behind schedule as she prepares for an Outfest performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” scheduled for the afternoon.
“People don’t realize how long it takes to be a queen,” Misty groans with the cynical, high-pitched tone of a schoolgirl. “I wish I could just slap on cheap makeup like every other queen — but hey, I like being pretty.”
Walking into the queens’ work station on this morning is an all-at-once daunting and captivating experience — almost like walking into an exclusive party you were notably uninvited to. A shirtless queen and roomie — Navaya Shay — sits at one of three chairs adjoined to a white- and hot pink-colored makeup table, touching up her fire-red, female faux-hawk and blotchy eye makeup while sipping on a 16 oz. can of Bud Ice.
“Now these are some fierce-ass lashes,” she mumbles to herself. Gallivanting about the kitchen just behind her, floating around like a mother making sure her kids are ready for school, Satine Harlow — the blonde, buxom beauty and couch-crashing queen of the home — struts from side to side of the room in a half-attempt to prepare for her own outing. “I don’t know what the f— I’m performing today,” she boisterously shouts, making one final pace to the end of the room. She lets out an exaggerated laugh, fixes her chest-length black jacket, and walks outside into the cold fall air to catch a cab.
The growing collection of divas inhabiting the home has led outsiders to dub it “Navaya Shay’s Drag Halfway House” or, alternatively, the “Wayward Home for Lost Drag Queens.” The queens themselves prefer their own title: “Justin Bieber’s Cave of Sexual Magic.”
The particular kitchen space where the queens have chosen to congregate is reflective of the girls’ personas. “Inner beauty doesn’t get you free drinks,” reads a prominently-displayed refrigerator magnet. A speaker system peeks out from two cabinets just above the stove, reverberating Lady Gaga and Rihanna tunes from wall to wall as the ladies prepare their makeup at a disaster zone of a makeup station, which looks as if a hurricane has just blustered through and left empty coffee cups and fabric scraps in its wake. Hanging from an amber-colored cabinet’s handle, meanwhile, is a wig of flowing, frizzy blonde hair Navaya and Omyra are playing tug-of-war over.
“That’s not how you f—ing comb it — let me do it!” shouts Omyra, yanking a thick black comb from Navaya’s hand and moving it against the tangled locks of hair with the force of a cheese grater.
But despite the disorder, the queens — many of whom quickly file out of the home following a few hits of a blunt and chugs of beer, leaving behind only Omyra, Navaya and Misty — appear devoted to sticking by unwritten rules of respect. “People know not to perform this or that song, because they’ll know it’s mine,” Misty explains as she applies a thick line of ivy green face paint connecting her hairline and the corners of her eyes in a sharp V-shape. “You want to own a song, but you also aren’t really trying to one-up anyone,” she continues, setting her brush down on the table. Only 20 minutes into her makeup process, her face is already decidedly more pointed and polygonal, with her mulatto skin now a shade or two lighter and skin blemishes on her cheek caked over with gray-toned foundation.
Compared to her counterparts, Misty is noticeably more particular with the handling of her makeup, touching the brush to her face like an artist using a paintbrush rather than slathering on hodgepodges of color with the carelessness of a 3-year-old attempting to color inside the lines. She briefly gazes into a small, dirty rectangular mirror connected to a silver-rimmed spotlight placed in front of her before continuing with the application. The thoughtfulness of her makeup is perhaps representative of her three years spent as a professional makeup artist, working New York Fashion Week runway shows, charity events and beautifying personal clients.
By the time Misty hits the one-hour mark, her face begins to look more like an experimental canvas, placing a second layer over her green eye makeup — this time of a sky blue color — with an expressed intention of blending colors together for a more “natural” look. Her eyelids now feature sparkly green glitter — “glittery shit,” as she describes it — that phase her into the fine-tuning of her fake lashes, which she had drunkenly placed into her wallet the night before, requiring her to use drug store Halloween lashes in their stead.
“I don’t recommend doing this,” she says, carefully holding the pointed end of a pair of scissors to the corner of her left eye and snipping away at a corner lash. “Today’s not my day for false—”
“I already gotta poop,” blunders Navaya in the background, storming back into the kitchen. She grabs her crotch and waves her newly-wigged hair from side to side in front of an enormous fan situated next to the makeup table. “I call this my Beyonce look.”
Misty, amused, picks up a red-striped white tube sock with two elastic bands connected to its ends — a gaffe used to “tuck” male genitalia — and playfully gives its ends a tug as if aiming to fling it like a rubber band at Navaya.
Unfazed and doing a once-over glance in a wall mirror while clenching her breasts together, Navaya licks her lips and paces to Maven, jiggling her silicon chest. “Don’t you wanna rest your head in them?”
The girls chuckle.
Two hours later, Maven and Omyra have put the finishing touches on their makeup. Maven lugs a large blue Tupperware container from the basement as Omyra races upstairs to sort through her own wardrobe. She dumps the bin’s insides onto the kitchen floor, revealing her wardrobe options for the day. Spread across the floor is a neon yellow jacket, silk hot-pink undies that would fit perfectly into any Victoria’s Secret collection, a Kris Jenner-cut wig Misty grimaces at, zirconia-studded black high heels, a silver-sequined blouse and a strikingly ordinary beige sweater — among other pickings that her gray-and-white cat Koopa gnawed into as Misty stood undecided. She ultimately settles on a black corset she had stitched back together with an old sewing machine, a combination of three black bras, eggplant leggings to be placed over a foam-padded attachment to her legs, a Shakira-esque wig, a thin-fabric black blouse, a biker-style black leather jacket and a tiara to top off the outfit like a cherry on a sundae.
“I’ll go out in the winter in lingerie — I don’t really care,” she says, tossing on her revealing, busty blouse.
Fully clothed and seemingly ready to go, Misty picks up her wig and shakes it as one would an old, dust-collected rug. “This is the part where I really start to look like a woman — my friends call me ‘Jisty Plaven’ before I put this on, because I look like a half-male, half-female without it,” she laughs, coronating her head with the wig and plumping up her curls with her delicate hands. She smiles, smacks her lips and walks to the mirror.
The finished product of Misty Maven is markedly different from the person demonstrated four hours earlier — her black hipster hat has been replaced with voluptuous, twirling strands of auburn-tipped hair that fall down her face; her partially-zipped red hoodie has been substituted with an effeminate black jacket that hugs her body like a Catwoman suit; her bare feet now boast vixen black high heels with fur collars that collapse as they rise to her ankle; and her face, only slightly resembling previously masculine traits, features smooth, creamy mocha skin with coal-colored eye shadow and plump lips that rival the perfection of a porcelain doll.
She turns from the full-length mirror placed against the wall of the kitchen and moves back to the table, packing up her makeup collection and tossing it into a suitcase she intends to relocate to the dressing room of a local bar, where she plans to perform later. Beneath the mounds of makeup products is a white tabletop stained with the evidence of her daily work — pink imprints of blush and various black scribbles from liner pencils. Misty traces her line of vision to the left and right of the table, scanning for anything of importance left behind, before smirking and maneuvering her personal mirror for one last glance. Content, she reaches her arm to the spotlight atop the mirror and switches it off.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.