You Too Can Be a Duke or Duchess at the Imperial Court of NY


Not even crappy cell phone pics can dim this kind of luminosity. Well, maybe a little.

I’ve never been one to appreciate serious role-playing situations: Dungeons and Dragons are not my cup of tea; I tend to scoff at Renaissance Fairs; and cosplay gives me the creeps. I do, however, always enjoy a night of good, old-fashioned drag, so when I was offered a ticket to the Imperial Court of New York’s Twenty-Second Annual Night of a Thousand Gowns last weekend at the Marriott Marquis, I donned a glittery gown and a pair of high heels and joined the party. Never mind that I’m already nearly six feet tall, my stiletto suede boots gave me nothing on the towering “women” at this gala.

Thanks to the artist/Polaroid-toting Tom Pollack, I got to join a table of downtown misfits in their own rights — which included members of the Pixie Harlots, Coney Island Mermaids, and burlesque and boylesque performers. Folks in their line of work aren’t shocked by much, but by the midnight coronation ceremony, as thousands stood and cheered for their new Emperor and Empress, my tablemates sat with mouths dropped open and eyes wide, or in laughing fits (ok, those may have been brought on by Bunny Love and Bambi’s, uh, smoking lounge under the table). The next day when I spoke to La JohnJoseph, the boylesque star, I asked him if it had all been a hallucination, a wild, trippy, pot-induced dream. “Oh no, it was all very real,” said JJ. I feel like we’re blood sisters now, having shared something very, very special.

Besides, you can’t make up the things that transpired there — the elaborate coronation being a sort of trippy tribute to The Lion King and Gone With the Wind (with a strong leather contingent, mind you); the knighting of Lady Bunny and Rollerina; guest appearances by Christine Quinn, Cynthia Nixon and Project Runway’s Chris March; an endless performance by disco legend-turned soccer mom France Joli; and gowns — so many gowns — embodied by queens the likes of Her Imperial Majesty Dowager Empress XX Gefil Tefish, Her Grace Duchess Summer Fall Winter Spring, Her Royal Highess Princess Royale Barbie Queue, and more. Each and every member of the court was introduced to the newest reigning monarchs, Emperor XVII Rob Hunter de Woofs and Empress XXII Charlene Chivoe, followed by a mad tranny dash to the Viennese dessert table, queens clamoring for a mini crème brulee and a stop off at the ice cream bar, lipstick smeared with whipped cream (so what if I’m guilty of that, too?).

I’ve been to a lot of drag parties and gay galas in my time, but this one best brought together the worlds of high-brow entertainment and fundraising by rich gays with a distinct and completely fabulous subculture — one that’s by no means exclusive. Titles are available for purchase, and a cool $150 will get you a Duchess or Countess of your very own (and the proceeds go to charity!). Next year, I fully intend to bow down to the Emperor and Empress as a Countess myself, before I rush off to the desserts once again.