OKLAHOMO

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  • I was a runaway gay, a dive bar drag queen, a rhinestone on the nation’s bible belt. I had a gun.

    Mom and Mickey had the kind of marriage that wanted no witnesses and so they decided I was—at age seven—too old to be indoors; the house was locked until nightfall. I wasn't allowed to loiter around our yard either, I couldn't skulk behind its shrubs, so I waited instead in the abutting weed field. The field behind our house stretched from our wire fence to infinity. Its dense unmolested weeds grew several feet tall and had dried to resemble hay. I could sit there unnoticed, like an unnecessary extra from Children of the Corn, until the sun went down.

    Some days from the weeds I saw Mom and Mickey through the family room's rear glass doors. She’d bend her long, shiny legs onto the avocado colored couch cushion, then lean into the recess of his hairy underarm for warmth. If something funny played on the television—something out of view to the exiled—the couple laughed jointly, heartily. They were like newlyweds.

    Some days I saw something else. Fingers would point, hands would flail, then Mickey would grab a handful of Mom's hair, and Mom would grab a faceful of Mickey's fist. I'd climb the fence to bang on the glass door just as my mother's blonde shag haircut collided with the family room's brown shag carpet. Mickey'd open the door to casually push me to the ground like King Kong swatting a tiny effeminate helicopter from the sky. Mom glared at me from the floor as if I'd interrupted intercourse.

    But most days the room was empty, there was nothing to see. I’d close my eyes to quiet my disquiet, focusing all my impotent energy on willing the blue out of the sky. When that failed and daylight lingered intolerably, I prayed—to God, then to Satan—for nightfall. I repeated the cycle until one of them conceded, though their untimeliness made it hard to be certain whom to thank.

    You meet people when you can’t go home, people like Raskell who chased me away with a baseball bat, or Benedict—the Korean Wonder Woman. I met Mort too, a man who owned an arcade, he taught me to play foosball. Foosball lessons aren’t cheap though, there was a price to pay. Mort had been a professional photographer for one of the top modeling schools in Oregon before he moved here to take over the arcade. He missed photography so I agreed to let him practice by taking photos of me in the arcade’s backroom in exchange for the free foosball lessons. Mort was mostly accustomed to photographing girls so he suggested it would be best if I posed how I thought a girl would pose; I thought a girl might blow a kiss and point a finger toward her boobs, Mort agreed. It was nice to have a place to go, especially on hot or cold days. One day I knocked on the arcade door but it was padlocked and no one answered. A few days later it was still locked and the window sign was painted over. It stayed that way until I stopped checking.

    Outdoors again, eventually I stopped going home; I was a runaway, unless you have to be pursued by parents for that term to apply. But—much like a wolfpack that raises a feral boy—a gaggle of drag queens happened along. The glittering gargantuas plucked me from the weeds (curbside really, in the middle of a night). They took me to a pancake house and gave me breakfast, then lessons in lip-sync and a place to sleep; there were prices to pay there too.


    Oklahomo is funny and disturbing, the kaleidoscopic memoir of a poorly chaperoned child, then entirely unchaperoned teen in the gay underground of the nation’s midwest. From an underage mother and violent father figure; to run-ins with police, puritans, pedophiles, and a witch; to working as a barely teenage drag queen in the bible belt of the 1980s—it’s a story that keeps no secrets, no matter how distasteful.