Lessons in Being Nina: Abbey’s experience

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From the May 1, 2014 edition

In high school, I participated in every pageant, production and competition I could get into. I’ve given speeches, danced solos and belted show tunes. I’ve never been as uncomfortable in front of people as I was in drag at Nina’s Franklinton headquarters. My drag king alter-ego, Randy Ratchet, wasn’t the best-looking guy, but he taught me a lot about myself. Here are a few key points, for those keeping score at home.

Lesson #1: Black eyes are easier to create than cover up.

It only took Dix Swagger and Jamz Dean, the ladies creating my “look,” about three minutes and a basic eye-shadow palette to create the shiner I donned for the photo shoot. In real life it takes about four days, two tons of foundation and a bag of frozen peas. Don’t ask me how I know.

Lesson #2: I want to play dress-up at Nina West’s studio every day.

There are only a few things I wouldn’t do to have access to Nina West’s closet and makeup collection. Every kind of wig, outfit, prop and accessory at the studio is covered in glitter and awesome. It was like I died and went to drag queen heaven. I was so jealous of Justin’s lashes.

Lesson #3: I have mixed feelings about glue.

I never thought I’d have a firm opinion on glue sticks, until I was trying to wash the adhesive (and the tufts of Nina’s weave sticking to it) off my face. Unlike eyelash glue, the adhesive in glue sticks doesn’t roll up when you rub it with water. In fact, I think water emulsifies it and makes it stickier. Did I mention it hurts like hell? I was still finding my “facial hair” with little balls of glue stuck on my clothes two days later. I took a little piece of Nina home.

Lesson #4: Andy Downing will literally give you the clothes off his back.

I’ve never had to ask such a tall guy to borrow his pants before, but desperate times call for desperate measures. He even patiently waited to change out of his ruffled frock while I washed off the tufts of hair glued to my face.

Lesson #5: You really have to know yourself to do any kind of drag performance.

Whether you’re full-on glitz like Nina, or down and dirty like Jamz Dean, transforming into a character of the opposite sex can be really jarring. Of everyone, I figured I would be the most excited, but my vanity and anxiety were working together in full-force the entire time. My palms were sweating, and I found myself grow increasingly uncomfortable. Giving up control over something as intimate as your personal aesthetic is a hard pill to swallow. Taking off the “armor” I came in left me feeling really naked and vulnerable, and I started to appreciate what the performers deal with off the stage.