Last week I was privileged to attend Bette Midler’s “Hulaween,” a benefit for the NY Restoration Project. I have been invited to this annual event for many years, and never had the night free to go, but I’ve always wanted to. I am a huge Bette Midler fan. I have always felt akin to her, her wildness and bravado, her fearlessness and celebrated cleavage, the things I love about her are traits I recognize in myself. Seeing her as a child made me believe I could be in show business. Being invited to her party could have been a dream straight out of my childhood. Willie Nelson was being honored, and Stevie Nicks was going to perform. It was too good to miss.
I brought my dear friend Ian Harvie, the riotously funny and provocative standup comic. Ian is the â€˜tâ€™ in the lgbt. Trangender. He is female bodied but masculine, so feminine pronouns don’t necessarily fit. He’s a great date, and hanging with him is an illuminating realization that the English language fails us constantly. He always astounds me with his grace and gentility, his ever present bravery in the face of this eternally insensitive and brutally stupid world. How do you go on when there are no words for you? Ian is doing it and doing it and doing it well.
Since we were both somewhat challenged in the costume department, we decided to go as ‘butch and femme,’ which we later amended to simply ‘trannies.’ Ian as himself, and me as a Thai Ladyboy. The paparazzi went insane, blinding us with flashbulbs. In between the shouts of “Margaret! Over here! Big smile!! Thatâ€™s it!!!” there were many questions for Ian, mostly
versions of â€œWhat are you?!!â€
We walked into the party, and it was clear there was money up in the club. Bette and Joy Behar auctioned off charity items for hundreds of thousands of dollars to the likes of Martha Stewart, who flitted about the room in a luxurious black fur cape and tiny black velvet ears, a slinky black cat crossing everyoneâ€™s path, and the author of “The South Beach Diet,” who Joy charmingly threatened â€“”If you don’t donate more money, I’m going to say on “The View” that your diet doesn’t work! I’m going to tell them Weight Watchers works better!” It seemed like it was going to be a fun night. The costumes were impressive, tons of Marie Antoinettes and Henry VIIIs and even some Shreks. Lots of lavishly painted Italian leather masks with deliriously long phallic noses and yard upon yard of upholstery fabric painstakingly molded into heavy historically accurate garments. We were laughing at everyone, marveling at the vicar at our table who drained his wineglass with astonishing speed.
Then we both had to go to the bathroom. There was a huge line snaking out of the ladies room, and as soon as we got in it, there was yelling. An older woman, in half a pirate costume, who was putting on her pants on a settee just inside the doorway screamed out “Hey!! There’s a man in here! You’re in the wrong room!!!!” The women were all looking at us. Ian smiled at her and turned, pointing to his chest, indicating that he was indeed in the right room. The woman wouldn’t let up. “Well, you look like a man to meâ€¦” As she continued to grumble and put her other leg into her pants, another woman came up. “I know you!!!! You are at my table!!! So what is this about?!” as she said it, she leaned in and grabbed Ian’s chest! Then she said, “Hey!!! Thatâ€™s pretty good!” and then went back in with BOTH hands!!! Ian said, “Wowâ€¦look at you! Just grabbing away!â€
I was mortified! It was all I could do to restrain myself from grabbing her breasts in response. “How you like me now?!” What the hell!!! Their behavior was appalling. Nothing short of appalling. If it was really a man in there, I doubt they would have caused such a commotion, but since Ian was female bodied, these women felt they could punish, to lash out, because it was one of their own. They had somehow given themselves this permission to gang up, to shame, to rudely question, to unfairly and unduly punish. And for what? For the crime of being true to one’s self? For not adhering to the strict rules of gender?
Ian was still taking it all in stride. This has happened every time he has tried to use the restroom, but it was the first time I had ever witnessed anything like it. I just stood there in line and stewed, as Ian tried to explain that this was an everyday reality for him, an all too common occurrence. I said, â€œJust because it happens all the time doesn’t make it right.â€ I shot daggers out of my eyes at the perps. I couldn’t believe this egregious display of homophobia, hatred and ignorance. I was so ashamed of the women in the restroom. I was so disgusted at their insensitivity and lack of decency and plain old fashioned boundaries. How dare they? These were supposed to be the good guys. Bette Midler is the quintessential gay icon. This is New York, the birthplace of gay rights. How can this happen? I was furious because not only had I been invited to this event, my appearance there had been publicized, my name in bold faced print when the party was dished in the press. Yet, being one of the illustrious celebrity guests did not shield me from the overriding message of the incident. YOU DON’T BELONG!!!!!
Of course it isn’t Bette’s fault. When you have a party, you only have so much control over who will come. Still, I thought that her name and her historic alliance with the queer community would have had more of an impact on those who would take advantage of her hospitality. I’m sad because all this shows that there is so much work left to do. There is so much the world needs to learn. There is still so much that has to change. So much.
When we emerged from our respective stalls, the grabby hands woman came up and sheepishly apologized. Ian graciously accepted. I could feel her eyes search my face for some kind of reprieve. I stared at her hard, to let her know she remained unforgiven. On our way back to the table, two nice women came up to us and apologized for what happened. It was a kind gesture, and helped melt the ice that had formed around me and crystallized the moment. The four of us took a picture together, and I wonder if I look like I have tetanus, because my jaw was locking with anger and regret over all the things I could have said.