Orange County is the Stepford-wife, soccer-mom, cookie-cutter-housing-tract capital of Southern California. It’s a place that projects images of affluence accented by pristinely manicured lawns behind white picket fences. But the world that exists below the surface is a hell of a lot more colorful than that plastic projection. You can take a dip into this funky realm every weekend at the VLVT Lounge in Santa Ana.
On the morning I visited the Drag Brunch, two sets of brides and their maidens sat at long tables placed at opposite ends of the stage. A waiter generously poured champagne into everyone’s vintage coupe glass. Bubbles foam over the top after every pour, eliciting yelps of excitement from the women.
“When Doves Cry” off Prince’s Purple Rain slowly fades out, as a voice calls out over the loudspeaker, “Happy motherfucking Saturday, biiiitttchessss!” A 6-foot-4-inch-tall woman with reddish-brown, shoulder-length hair, broad shoulders and impressively sleek legs gracefully waltzes onto the stage. “Oraaaaaaaange Cooouuunntttyyyyy—like, oh, my goddd, all you bitches look so good with your fake boobs,” says Dani Kay, a witty drag queen who moves more femininely in heels than I do.
“We’ve been in this shit since 9 a.m.,” she informs the crowd, referring to her and her fellow queens’ layers of hair, makeup, pantyhose and heels. “Aaaaaand I’m pretty sure we’re all way more wasted than you ladies. . . . So you better catch the fuck up.”
Glasses of champagne rise in unison, as Dani walks offstage and into the rows of tables. “What’s your name, and why are you here?” she asks the first bride-to-be, a short blonde with well-kempt curls.
“My name is Tiffany, and I’m
“Aw, how sweet!” says Dani. “You’re signing away your freedom. When’s the big day?”
“In March,” replies Tiffany as her bridesmaids laugh.
“Awww,” says Dani. “How long?”
“It’s been about three—”
Tiffany is then interrupted by the sassy hostess. “Yeah, I don’t care how long you’ve been together,” says Dani. “I want to know how long his dick is.”
Every bridesmaid in the room screamed with laughter. Placing her hands over her mouth, Tiffany turns red from laughing—and, no doubt, the booze.
Dani struts through the room, interacting with people at every table. When she saw me with my notebook open, cackling like a hyena as I took notes, she put the microphone in my face. “Well, what are you doing—taking notes? Have I failed already?”
Announcing into a microphone to a large group of people that you’re there reporting on them is akin to asking for pitchforks to be thrown at you—especially under this administration. I feel as if I’m Peter Parker being forced to reveal he’s Spider-Man as I admit my purpose this afternoon.
“All right everyone, put your vaginas away,” Dani says. “We have to tone this show down now because of this bitch. Everyone stop having fun now.”
After talking to Angie, the other bride in the room, Dani introduces the afternoon’s first performer. “Please welcome to the stage Mahaliah Nakita!”
A tall, dark-skinned queen with the biggest, most majestic hair since Diana Ross in the ’70s saunters into vision. A spotlight shines on her as “I Want to Dance With Somebody” overpowers the loud, intoxicated audience. In a stellar red ’80s jumpsuit with a thick, mid-waist belt and black over-the-knee boots, Mahaliah leaps and high-kicks around the room as she lip-synchs to the late Whitney Houston’s hit song, remixed into a faster disco-electronic beat. The women at Angie’s table are riled up, standing and waving their glasses, sloshing bubbly everywhere.
Trina Modele, a Madonna-inspired mariachi bullfighter, follows with “La Isla Bonita.” She cartwheels gracefully across the stage in a glistening corset as though a seasoned cheerleader. “I want to move like her,” remarks the woman sitting next to me. Same, I think.
The next queen wins my award for the best drag name: Wilhelmina Caviar. According to sources, Ms. Caviar performs during the week at Main Street Bar & Cabaret in Laguna Beach. Through various drag-show adventures, I’ve learned queens work their asses off, so doing four shows in a weekend, plus performing during the week takes MAJOR dedication.
Wilhelmina’s curvy silhouette appears as if materializing out of thin air. As the electronic music starts, the rainbow disco ball begins to spin, and Sandra, the birthday girl in the room, starts to scream and rile up the girls at her table while gyrating like a chinchilla in her seat.
The last performer takes the stage: Dani defines the word diva as she dances to Meghan Trainor’s “Me Too,” the chorus of which is “If I was you, I’d want to be me, too.”
During the two-hour show, each queen goes twice. My entire table orders the chilaquiles, which are stellar. I hold chilaquiles to unrealistically high standards, and these are delectable.
Being a woman is inherently difficult—even in 2018. Misogyny still exists, women don’t get paid as much as men, and females are still considered the lesser of the two genders. But there’s something extraordinary about men who flourish in the power of being a woman. Drag queens dance, lip-synch, strut and do cartwheels that land in a split. If it’s possible to swing from a chandelier, they’ll do it while flicking their heads around, then elegantly gliding back onto the floor in 6-inch stilettos—all for the sake of entertainment. And their elaborate hair and makeup take HOURS to do. But they make being a woman look fun as hell.
They say a real man wears pink—but in 2018, real men wear drag.
Drag Brunch at VLVT Lounge, 416 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 277-4492; www.dragbrunchoc.com. Every Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m. & 1:30 p.m. $39.99-$44.99. All ages.