Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)

By Brittany Hailer


It’s safe in the city to love in a doorway

A drag queen grabs my waist and launches me into The Tube. I am her mini-me, dressed to compliment her red and black outfit. She is larger than life and everyone else on the train. I am a cis white fish, her humble assistant on this journey. Jim Henson-esque googly eyes line the lapel of her blazer. Her hair is a gigantic cherry tutu. She is over seven feet tall.

Two women ask to take her photo by gesturing and smiling. The way she holds the pole in the train car, you’d think you’d found the center of the earth’s axis. It is Bourgeoisie driving this metro into another galaxy. I look at her and think: club kids and gender fuck are the only things right in this world.

She takes me to Madame JoJo’s in SOHO: the drag queen Moulin Rouge; the red mouth, the mother womb that drips with sequins, bared chests and androgyny.

If you want it, boys, get it here.

When I first meet Bourgeoisie, she isn’t even a concept.

Barely nineteen, Joey introduces himself to outside a pub in Roehampton, London. He asks me where I am from and we quickly realize we’ve both escaped the same tiny county at the southern-most-tip of rural Maryland. He is wearing electric blue eyeliner. Bourgeoisie is a character Joey sketches at night and imagines being.

Joey is the first person in my life to ever say things like:

Gender binary




Gender Fuck

AIDS won’t kill me

You’re a Diamond Dog.

I'll make you a deal, like any other candidate

We’ll pretend we’re walking home, cause your future’s at stake.

Six months after we first meet, Joey tells me he’s been in a K-hole for four days but a man is taking care of him.  His eyes are street craters. He has the teeth of a nicotine pirate. He tells me he lets strangers fuck him for drugs and cash.

“I’ve never made as much money as I do now,” he says.

“But, are you wearing protection?”

But there's a shop on the corner that's selling papier mache

Making bullet-proof faces; Charlie Manson, Cassius Clay

Joey is married to an Englishman, a former client.  After I’ve graduated and moved back to the states, he invites me to London to visit.

“My husband is dying. He’s leaving me everything. Tomorrow night, I’m doing a show. We’re going out,” Joey says.

I know better than to ask questions.

Bourgeoisie has erupted all over their flat. I sleep on a bed that doubles as Joey’s workstation. I wake up with glitter and googly eyes in my hair, crinoline sprouting between my legs.

Before the drag show, we go to see the David Bowie exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We fumble through the dark of the eerie and surreal exhibits. We are required to wear headphones that pulse Bowie’s range of voices between the lobes, the galaxies, in our heads.  

Joey brings a sketch pad, scrutinizes Bowie’s tailored suits, his famed Kansai Yamamoto striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour.  I note that Bowie is short. The mannequin’s face meets my face and I think, you genius. He is glamazon, but he is small. He’s just a kid who refused to not stare back.

I watch Joey look at himself in the reflection of the museum’s glass case. Bowie’s asymmetrical pupils dare him to become another, and another and another. I can see it in both their faces. I realize we all want to see our reflection in the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Major Tom.

“He’s the reason I started drag,” Joey says.

I look at the scrawled handwriting of “David Jones.”

“His music introduced me to poetry.”

This, to me, is religion. The hidden journals and wardrobes of our alien-angel. Our freak god. Whatever he may be.

Bowie makes kids like us bulletproof.

Do you think that your face looks the same?

Then let it be, it’s all I ever wanted

It’s a street with a deal, and a taste

It’s got claws, it’s got me, it’s got you..

In Madame JoJo’s Bourgeoisie leaves me to go backstage and prepare for her debut. I stand, waiting for a drink in six-inch heels. I have two bras on and I’m certain my tits are going to pop out onto the bar. A very handsy marine-type asks if he can feel my crotch. When it dawns on him that I am a cis-girl, he reacts with disgust, calls me a bitch.

I move to the dance floor, where I emerge into a forest of eyelashes. These creatures are skyscrapers, arms stretched to the planets. I am Alice among the flowers. I am enraptured. They dance with me; I am twirled and spun, teeth gleaming under neon hues.

`It is here that I become someone else. Someone voluptuous and fish nets. Someone stardust, who is not man, or woman, or human, or mortal.

           It is writing this that I become it again, change it, believe it, and change it again.

Then, Bourgeoisie takes the stage.

She shouts to the crowd of freaks.

Her cherry hair covers us all like momma’s first kiss.

It’s a sweet thing.



photo credit: Michael James

Brittany Hailer has taught creative writing workshops in a women's rehabilitation center and at the Allegheny County Jail. She is managing editor for IDK Magazine. Her work has appeared in Tiny Donkey, Gravel Magazine, HEArt Online, and Pittsburgh City Paper. She earned an MFA in nonfiction from Chatham University and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.