When Drag Queens Ruled the World

It wasn't so long ago, and it certainly wasn't far away

To that end, Novak managed to chart new territory by lip-syncing to Madonna's anti-abortion "Papa Don't Preach" with a then-pregnant Madonna sitting in the front row of the audience. At a key moment, the faux-pregnant Novak punctured a water-filled condom under her own belly-engorged dress. Though the real Madonna declined to join in the howls and applause, "I believe I'm the first drag queen to have her water break onstage," Novak enthuses proudly.

For Desi, now a successful salon owner in Boston, looking back on the Beach's drag queens and their progression from provocateurs to props is a bittersweet affair. Surveying his images hung on the Cinematheque's walls, he's at a loss for many of his subjects' whereabouts: "Some are rich, some are dead, and some are just missing." He's also unsure of that scene's precise cause of death, whether it was killed off by soaring real-estate values or the natural life expectancy of any underground movement -- though his shot of Taffy Lynn, snarling for the camera as she holds up a dime bag of cocaine, provides a further clue. "It was a great party, but you knew it had to end," Desi muses. "You can't keep that momentum up."

Novak, however, isn't ready for her curtain call just yet, even if she is one of the last of her original troupe still slipping into high heels. "As long as people will have me, I'll still perform. I'm a ham -- a big, needy ham," she admits with a laugh. "Thank God that when I put the drag on at 22, I did it as an old lady. I never knew I'd grow into the part. I've become the elder stateswoman of drag, the Madeleine Albright of transvestites."

"The Lost & Found Years" is on display until May 10 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 512 Española Way; 305-673-4567.

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