Background story for Alan Beckstead's Halloween Series writtern by Jeffrey Smith
View Alan Beckstead's Halloween Series here:
A Long Time Ago in a Kingdom by the Sea
Once upon time in the midst of the AIDS plague in San Francisco, the Muscle System Gym, sponsored a fund raising Ball during Halloween. It soon became a sold out event with one requirement: attendees were required to wear drag. The buffed gym bunnies took to the task competitively, emptying the city of wigs and oversized pumps. The venue was moved to Collingwood School gymnasium, complete with searchlights, runway and profession photographers.
In 1993 a group of ten friends decided to go to the Ball.decided to try the runway. With the supervision of their close friend, Connie Cocktail, they were driven by the project. One magical afternoon in a Goodwill Store, one of the group spotted ten amazing Jessica McClintock sample wedding gowns. Within minutes the gowns were at the checkout: The Brides in Search of a Husband were born. On the night of the Ball, the group gathered at a hidden 1870s cottage on Hartford Street. Novices to be sure, but each quickly took to hairspray, eye shadow and lip gloss. Queen size panty hose and oversized pumps were another challenge. The cocktails flowed and the brides emerged from the cloud of hairspray, primed for their debut. The virgin brides walked to Castro Street a bit unsteadily but having a really great time. Reiner, Mark, Jeff, Bill, Gary, John, and the rest were transformed into Misti, Rachel, Nicole, Dixie, Gretta, Connie and…. Traffic stopped to let the group hurry to the nuptials. Up the steps, on to the runway and into the ball. Never had such a profusion of white lace, organza, dotted Swiss, tulle and satin been seen in the Castro. A lesbian couple from Oakland stopped to take photos, finger the fabrics and asked where the brides found the dresses. When told the gowns were Jessica McClintock, they exclaimed “These are SERIOUS drag queens!!!”
Two months later the defrocked brides gathered to plan next year’s runway. A gay Russian fashion designer, Leo, offered to design and sew individual gowns. What coup. Several cocktail party fittings later, the gowns debuted. All were made of black satin yet each had one contrasting color representing gay handkerchief codes. Couture required some serious accessories and the former brides scoured the city. The little cottage on Hartford was bursting on the night of ball. The novice drag queens had morphed in to “seasoned” prima donnas, The Ivana Sisters: Ivana do it for money; Ivana do it with dildos, Ivana do it with pee, and so forth. Up the runway again, this time posing for photographers and waiting crowds. After the Ball they piled into a rented Limo and headed to the Eagle, South of Market. Every year the bar held a Leathers & Feathers Contest. In the early 90’s leather bars were not particularly welcoming of drag. The Ivana Sisters marched through the leather crowd. There were gasps, unflattering comments and surprise. Mr. Marcus, leather journalist and emcee extraordinaire, was speechless. Up on the stage, an Ivana asked Marcus if he recognized the group. Suddenly he stepped back looked closely turned to the crowd and announced that these queens are Eagle regular guys!! The Ivana Sisters won the Leathers & Feathers contest that night.
More than 20 years has passed since those nights. The Muscle System Ball continued for a few more years and the Brides, Ivanas evolved. AIDS claimed the lives of three of the friends, group, others have survived the epidemic; three couples in the original group are no longer together. Most have remained in the Bay Area and remain in touch. Every Halloween, each walk down Castro Street with memories and smiles in their eyes.