I’ve always wanted a gay friend.
This secret desire has been carried with me throughout my life, and on a particular, unsuspecting night in Vancouver, the strength of this unfulfilled desire becomes increasingly apparent. I had arrived at the theatre, struggling to swing open the tall glass doors to get out of the chilling cold. After attempting to follow the receptionist’s directions without success, I realized my opportunity when it was presented, and followed some other model types to an area I would later learn is termed backstage left.
Unmade models lined the narrow hallway, each staring into their phones like an oracle. I was assigned my makeup artist almost immediately by the event director, who, with her short purple hair and dramatic cat eyes, could have passed for a makeup artist herself. She leaned over the railing of the raised portion of the room, which was packed with makeup artists and their subjects. “Are you here for Rimpy’s show?” she inquired.
Placed in the capable hands of Charlie, who I later learned prefers to go by Charles, my mind became excited at the prospect. Charlie was immediately cool in my books, with his long dark hair and almond highlights, exotic facial features, and a flamboyant take the bull by the horns charisma.
“Are you a model?” Charlie said, teasingly.
“No, not really. I’m the designer’s friend,” I explained, slightly embarrassed.
Charlie stared at me through squinted eyes, not making an effort to hide his skepticism.
“Okay, model airplane,” he continued. “I’ll give you twenty dollars if you say something bitchy about someone else.”
I stammered and laughed suddenly as he dragged his makeup brush across my eyelid. Eyes half open, I peered at him through my dusted lashes. He pulled the brush away, resting his elbow on his hip and jutted his makeup brush out angularly into the little moving space available. He pursed his lips, tapping his foot impatiently.
I realized he was serious.
Scrambling for something witty to say, I managed a feeble “I can’t think of anything… but I’m really not that nice.”
He laughed and waved his hands dismissively, turning to reload his brush. He came at me again, signalling for me to look down, and darkened the creases of my eyelids.
“So, model airplane, what do you do?” he asked inquisitively, as he began to fill in my sparse eyebrows. “Ugh, this looks disgusting! Do we have another brow colour, something a little less… white lady?”
A makeup artist behind me rustled to fulfill his wish. Charlie accepted the favour with a thank you, and then looked at me encouragingly.
I straightened my shoulders. “I’m still figuring it out,” I manage. “How about you?”
“I do makeup for some events like these, and I do drag makeup, too,” he said, continuing without hesitation. “Over the summer I performed in a Spice Girls tribute band for the pride parade. It was incredible. We performed at Stanley Park, and at first it was five hundred, then a thousand, then ten thousand people.” His hands curled into excited fists near his chin.
I smiled in response, still unable to manage anything intelligible.
Moving onto my face with a proud smile, he held up a foundation pallet next to my cheek and examined my skin. “Your little freckles,” he said, petting my nose with a feeble curl of his hand.
I laughed nervously. “I’m not usually this tanned. I just got back from Florida.”
“Florida?!” he screeched. I realized with enthusiasm that Florida’s a trigger for Charlie, listening intently as he launched into a story of a Miami trip gone wrong, which started as a party extravaganza and ended with a brokenhearted Charlie at the hands of an attractive, elusive Pablo.
“He took me back to his incredible mansion, and maybe I was a little tipsy and stayed the night,” he said with a forced flippancy. “And then he never called me again.”
A moment of silence fell between us.
“That damn Pablo,” I said, opening my eyes to sympathize with poor Charlie.
He stepped back, crossing his arms. “You know, that’s why I prefer the older, average-looking men,” he justified. “The good-looking ones just lay there and think they don’t have to do anything for it. It’s like, Hello… you’ve got to work for it my friend!”
The small room filled with laughter, reminding me that Charlie wasn’t my exclusive entertainment. The other makeup artists and models were smiling ear to ear, and as Charlie finished up the final touches while singing along to Spice Girls’ Say you’ll be there, I realized that I had missed my opportunity.
He gave me the final sign-off with a satisfied nod of his head, and wished me a good show and a good life.
I thanked him and walked away, saddened, the unsung words emblazoned in my mind forever.
Will you be my gay friend?