Part 11: Strut Pout Put It Out

Fish a shape out of that sequined cocktail dress, then strike a pose and vogue that motherfucker. Ten minutes to show time. You look in the mirror and that wig is singing, baby baby baby where did our love go? Tease it, slick it, beehive it bigger because you’re going to walk like Diana Ross in Mahogany. Well do you like the things that life is showing you? The blood orange dress from a drab suitcase where your mother hid her past life. By now you have excavated every aspect of her womanhood, even her birth control. The heels from one the boys’ mothers—no you didn’t ask how, when, why, what the fuck. The wig from Ralph’s mom back when she was swinging in London. And you wonder if you shimmy hard enough will it sound like the strings in To Sir With Love? Fuck Lulu, you’re a supreme. Nine minutes. Mix Kool Aid with Vaseline: lipstick. A match and shoe polish: eyeliner. A cream your mother no longer uses, the color of white women in the sun too long: foundation.
Schoolboys have been hissing faggot in your wake for so long that you mistake familiarity for its own kind of affection. You enter a classroom like every day is an episode of Cheers and you’re Norm, but instead of your name, the chorus says batty-boy and one other guy, just for variety says, homo. Fifth form, seven months into being the most unpopular boy in school. You were always kinda disliked, but something about boys with adolescence crashing and burning in a school of only boys, makes everything worse. A school full of boys is always on the lookout for non-boys. A school without girls means nobody is here to protect you. Eight minutes.
There is nothing in the putting on of makeup that should lead to any sort of nostalgia. But at fourteen, eleven is already somebody else’s memory. But you’re behind a curtain functioning as backstage. All the boys around you are putting on costumes, but only yours is an identity bait and switch. It’s a play for the School Arts Festival. A murder mystery. You’re the only junior we spoke to. You get to solve the mystery. You’re the hero of the play. We need the points; it doesn’t even have to be good. Oh, you have to wear a dress. You look at these boys, all seniors and competitive, even in a drama festival and a Depeche Mode song jumps out at you. God has a sicker sense of humor than even you could have guessed. He’s been fucking with you for laughs for four years now, but whose joke is this? There’s a line in Crime and Punishment, a book you read for fun, about Raskolnikov moving without thought and that’s all you remember, because no thinking could go into this. The boy called faggot is about to put on a dress. Right in front the same boys carrying words like weapons. Words never hurt the deaf. Every other freakboy carries lacerations on their backs. Seven minutes.
There is no why in narrative. Why is backward movement. Why is pop psychology, why is reading too much into when. Fuck why, just roll with how. How does a boy called fag wear a dress? Go for the beauty you’ve always seen in sequins and heels. No, fucking faggot. Go for dumpiness and slapstick—the granny in Jamaican plays was always a man anyway. No, the bigger part of you wanted to wear a dress in front of people for years—don’t act like this isn’t part of it. Go for actual beauty, but what is that? At the base of beauty is deep skin and the pouring of Savlon, Dettol, antiseptic, and toilet bowl cleaner into the bath water never made your skin any lighter despite soaking for hours, blood rising red to the skin because your mouth wouldn’t scream.
Five minutes. Go for what boys like.
Those five words hit you like they came from the mountaintop. Offer it, bitch. The boy that boys hate will become a girl that boys like and throw a wrench into the adolescent horn dog machine. Fuck kabuki, you’ll be the Barbie doll that every boy tried to fuck at least once before they made it with the maid. Tame the beehive till it looks like Princess Di. Wrap a belt around the waist like a corset—nobody needs to breathe. Grab two tennis balls from the actor beside you and make your boobs pop. No, take two mints, tape down on tennis balls, stick back in and watch nipples pop out of boobs pop out of dress. It’s not that the song in La Cage Aux Folles suddenly made sense. It’s that it was the smartest fucking thing the bible never told you. House is burning down and you’re taking every single son of a bitch with it. Three minutes.
Remember your lines. Remember your direction. You’re the ditz secretary who solves the mystery and foils the killer. Fuck the lines; you don’t need lines, you need to remember to hum Strut which each step. Sing it then stomp it:
Put it out
That’s what
You want
From women
Come on
Taking me for
The seniors look at you. Powder, eyeliner, you look too good. Woman boobs and black stockings to hide hairy legs. Lips rouged red, ready to blow boys with a pucker. You like this too much. Out in the audience are loud boys who have always called you sissy. You’re taking that girl pose to hell and dragging them with you. If they think you’re faggot now, watch when they run out of gawk. Watch how they run out of shock, watch how the very thing they said you’d become, you become in excelsis deo. Watch them watch you and shake up what they think makes a normal boy horny. Drag them to where sex is a gray area so deep it’s darker than black.  The announcer announces your play. The seniors head on stage, delivering flat line about the dastard suspect; they only want to get through this. You realize that you’ve been waiting for this all year. You didn’t know until that very moment that there are one million ways to say fuck you and only one needs words. Slip on those high heels. Clip on those earrings. Ball your two hands into fists, put your chin on lift off.
You’re on.

Front page image by Max Wolfe.

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Marlon James

About the Author

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. He is the winner of the 2015 Man Booker award for his third novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings. His first novel, John Crow's Devil (Akashic Books, 2005) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was a New York Times Editors' Choice. The novel was published in the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy in 2008. His second novel, The Book of Night Women (Riverhead 2009), won the 2010 Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Image Award, and The Minnesota Book Award, and was New York Magazine's third best book of the year. Marlon was Go On Girl! Book Club's 2012 Author of the year.
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