Miss Gay USofA and Cate Blanchett Share the Spotlight
by Steve Desroches
Since Aurora Sexton won the Miss Gay USofA Pageant in Dallas last May it’s been a year of adventure. As she’s crisscrossed the country performing in big cities and small towns she’s met all kinds of people and felt the elevated push towards more opportunities winning a national drag title can provide. Sexton knew her year as Miss Gay USofA would be full of surprises, but nothing prepared her for what was going to happen at the Stonewall Inn on an unseasonably warm February night.
Sexton had traveled to New York City to perform at the historic Stonewall Inn in a benefit drag revue for the Newtown Action Alliance, an organization formed by residents of the Connecticut town where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred in December 2012 that works to end gun violence in America. Former Miss Gay Massachusetts USofA Margeaux Powell (a.k.a. Jayson Hayes), a New York based hair and makeup artist, organized the event. At the time Hayes was working as part of the production of The Present, in which actress Cate Blanchett was making her Broadway debut. She was about to make another debut….her first time in drag.
Chit-chatting one day while in the makeup chair, Hayes told Blanchett about his upcoming benefit at the Stonewall and half-jokingly asked her if she’d like to perform. The Australian actress said she’d love to, but only if she could be in drag. So, come that night, the two-time Academy Award winner dug into her country’s Priscilla, Queen of the Desert roots, donning Marlene Dietrich inspired drag, and performed Dusty Springfield’s version of “You Don’t Own Me” at the site of the start of the modern LGBT rights movement. The place went wild and the Internet exploded within minutes. And the evening raised $10,000 for the Newtown Action Alliance.
“She was so fun and carefree,” says Sexton. “She’s really a remarkable woman.”
Sexton, who did Blanchett’s makeup that evening, later performed on stage with her as part of an ensemble performance of a parody of Adele’s “Hello,” all wearing pink pussy hats a la the Women’s March on Washington. The evening was so fabulously intense it vibrated, and it’s something that Sexton says she’ll remember for the rest of her life, especially after she gives up her title and pursues a film and television career of her own. And Provincetown will have a chance to see her perform and be able to say we “saw her when,” as she comes to the Miss Gay Massachusetts and Miss Gay New England Classic Pageants this Patriot’s Day Weekend.
The Colorado native, now based in Nashville via years in Chicago, has long been a superstar on the circuit, particularly in drag pageantry, having also won the title of National Entertainer of the Year in 2011. Throughout her career she has not only entertained, but also always looked for opportunities to work for causes she feels are important, like the benefit at Stonewall or when she spoke on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at the Disarm Hate rally last August for LGBT equality and gun law reform. as well as many AIDS charity events and her work with the Tennessee Equality Project.
Perhaps what Sexton feels most accomplished about is her personal interactions with the people she’s met across the country during her year as Miss Gay USofA. It’s through the person to person contact that she’s been able to share her own story and in turn hear the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people throughout the country. She’s been particularly struck by the appearances she’s made at small-town gay bars in more conservative parts of America.
“I’ve traveled to lots of small towns,” says Sexton. “Some of them treat you like a Hollywood celebrity. I heard stories from people about discrimination in housing, at their jobs. It’s a reminder that despite all the progress, there is still a lot of work to do. They look at you as a symbol of hope for something better. It’s very humbling.”
This trip to Provincetown will be more about celebration, however. After visiting the Cape tip for the first time last Carnival Week, Sexton is ready to learn more about Provincetown and to see who will win the crown and a chance to be her successor at the national pageant this Memorial Day Weekend at the Southside Ballroom in Dallas. The pageant has become a popular Patriot’s Day Weekend tradition with both townies and the crowds of visitors in town for what has become a soft opening to the season for Provincetown.
Pageants have long been an important part of drag culture in America, and drag in general is becoming more mainstream as is evident by RuPaul’s Emmy Award for hosting the cultural phenomena RuPaul’s Drag Race and Blanchett’s appearance at Stonewall. As such, winning a high-profile drag pageant brings with it exposure and opportunities like never before. So when new queens are crowned at the pageant the Sunday of Patriot’s Day Weekend, Sexton has some advice.
“Take advantage of the moment,” says Sexton. “That night you win, it’s all about you. Bask in the glow of it. Revel in it. But once it’s over, it’s not just about you. There are many people who got you there: the pageant promoters, the fans, your community. It’s an opportunity to take in whichever direction you want. Just don’t waste that opportunity, put all your energy in it, and treat people well.”
The pageantry begins at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., on Saturday, April 15 at 8:30 p.m. with A Starry Night, a drag revue featuring former title holders. The Miss Gay Massachusetts USofA and Miss Gay New England Classic USofA Pageants are on Sunday, April 16 at 8:30 p.m. For tickets ($30 general/ $40 VIP each night) and information, go to the box office, call 508.487.1430, or visit onlyatthecrown.com.