Bingo queens: Durham drag night raises money for AIDS nonprofit

Sep. 15, 2013 @ 02:13 PM

A half-hour until showtime, seven fabulous queens were putting the finishing touches on their eyebrows and pulling up their hosiery. Their fingers flitted through cans of hairspray, lipstick tubes and foundation brushes.

“I like how it’s called ‘Manly,’” said Winnie Baygo, smirking as she motioned to the name of her eye shadow color palette.

But while slipping into bejeweled stiletto heels and taming massive manes of blonde hair, they were anything but.

A night of drag bingo took over the Durham Armory Saturday to raise money for the Carolina Alliance of AIDS Services, a nonprofit that focuses on HIV/AIDS education, prevention and patient advocacy in the state.

They use drag, honey, to do so much more than put on a flashy, flirty show, they’ll say. But part of the fun is the transformation beforehand.

“A good foundation, and powder,” said Clair Krug of her transformation secrets. “And good genes help.”

Krug’s from Wilmington, and she’s traveled as far as Virginia and Georgia to dress up in drag. When she was younger, she wanted to be Cher. Diana Ross. Lena Horne was her idol. She just didn’t know at the time she was the “wrong color and the wrong sex” to do it.

She changed into a slinky flower dress with a train that evening, and she slid sparkly flower rings onto her long fingers. Her show name that night was Miss Bee Haven.

Blonde wigs on Styrofoam heads lined the window sill of the aged building. Hair spray canisters littered the tables as the queens peered into makeup mirrors, crafting their high, dark-blushed cheekbones.

Birdie Monae started her drag career four years ago, when she created a perfect trailer park persona at her first show at Flex Nightclub in Raleigh. Saturday night, she was going by Miss Conception, complete with a baby belly.

“How many months is that?” someone asked, rubbing her fake stomach.

“I think it’s about six,” Monae said.

The queens in their final 15 minutes adjusted their padding and skirts, giving themselves ba-bam curves and sleek legs.

“Drag is a winter sport,” said Mary K. Mart, pointing to the layers of fabric and stockings they use for the look.

By day, Mart is Randy Light, the development and special event coordinator at the Carolina Alliance of AIDS Services. This is his 11th year organizing drag bingo, and they’ve performed in about 100 bingo shows and raised nearly $1 million since for the organization. They have seven bingo nights on the books for 2014.

“I think everyone knows someone who is infected or affected by HIV,” Mart said, adding that HIV/AIDS isn’t just “a gay thing.”

The seven girls stick close. Some are neighbors by day, others met under the stage lights at night. They’ll make fun of each other on and off stage, but they’ll also help tease each other’s hair and apply fake crimson fingernails.

Being on stage in your drag persona is like wearing a mask, Mart said. It’s Halloween, but all the time. It’s easier that way to be flirty, more outgoing, and to help change people’s minds who may have pre-conceived reservations about drag.

“Welcome to the love boat,” Mart said, fluffing the skirts of her sailor outfit. She wore a white sailor hat, with diamond-hooped earrings sparkling around her jawline, and she watched as Marilyn Merlot, her co-host for the evening, teased her hair so it was about a foot high off her forehead.

“That’s a lot of hair,” Mart commented. “Marilyn doesn’t tease her hair; She pisses it off.”

For SweetPea Willow Carlisle, raising money for HIV/AIDS is personal, because she knows people who “weren’t born with that and they got it by accident.”

“I do it for them,” she said. It’s her tribute to friends and an art form that she gives her all.

The queens lined up, mindful of the hems of their dresses as they strutted around in their sharp stilettos. One last spritz of hair spray, one last bra adjustment, and it was time.

More than 100 people were ready with bingo cards in the auditorium of the Durham Armory. They applauded as Mart entered through the double doors, lip-synching to Pink’s “Blow Me One Last Kiss.”

As she and Merlot began explaining the rules, the microphone started to squeal.

“It wouldn’t be drag bingo without testicle difficulties,” Mart quipped, prompting laughter from the crowd.

They counted the number of bingo virgins there that night, and they made everyone stand and hold up their bingo markers. The crowd repeated after them:

“Even though bingo is just a silly game, I will continue to play bingo until this (HIV/AIDS) crisis is over. Fabulous!”

Then the hunt for the winning card began. B3. G50. I23.


Want to attend the final drag bingo nights of the year? Two more are scheduled for Oct. 19 and Dec. 14 at the Durham Armory. Visit for more information.