The Gospel According to Cabaret
My mom goes to church with a drag queen. Mom has taken me to a drag show at a local gay bar, and Sunday night, we saw her friend’s debut cabaret-style show. Helena Handbasket told some jokes and sang some songs.
She also shared some her story, how she got to be the one on-stage. Beautiful really. In real life, he is a quiet man, with the same partner for 21 years. He used to write obituaries for the local newspaper. But he wished he could let loose and be funny and come out of his shell. (He came out of the closet years ago.)
So, he developed this alter ego, this fabulous, funny, and fearless character. And Helena is all those things. All decked out in boobs and sequins, this courageous woman is able to stand in the spotlight and shine. She also feels pretty.
That is what caught my attention. When she put on a nice dress, she felt pretty. And that’s a good feeling. Even for a gay guy from a small town. Maybe especially for a gay guy from a small town. When Helena dons her custom-made duds, she feels like she glows, and she has confidence. She is comfortable in her skin, rather her three pairs of pantyhose and thick layer of make-up and hairsprayed wig.
And she loves her voice! She was singing, and when she carried out a long note, she said, “I love my voice!”
That’s what we all hope for, to be comfortable in our own body. We want to feel pretty (no matter what our size or shape or sex or sexuality). We want courage to stand up on stage and sing or speak or shake our booty. We want to love our voice and be able to use it. We want confidence to know that what we say and do matters and makes a difference.
Helena Handbasket definitely makes a difference. She brings a unique perspective to something. And it’s not drag queen-ism or homosexuality. It’s church.
Like many of our LGBTIQ sisters and brothers, Helena’s true identity was hurt by the church, made to be the “other,” something wrong or diseased.
But at the Sunday night show, there was an entire of church-goers, including the pastor and her wife. Helena was proud to share that she now attends a church that welcomes everybody. This new and completely Open and Affirming church, Bluegrass United Church of Christ, reaches a group of people who previously have been shunned by the religious institution, which supposedly preaches a God of love and acceptance. But this congregation actually practices what it preaches, celebrates diversity, and engages in outreach, well beyond LGBTIQ issues btw. Once an outsider to the church, Helena is now making accidental commercials for her community of faith from the cabaret stage.
The church has made a difference in Helena’s life, and she in turn, makes a difference in the life of her church and the surrounding community. God shines through the shy gay man, and the extraordinary, flamboyant drag queen. Dressing up allows Helena to enact the control and power that has always been inside. No longer pushed aside, she is letting the Spirit guide her as she continues on the journey, meeting others where they are. And she makes us laugh and enjoy the ride.
Thanks be for this Beautiful Child of God.
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Former international fashion model Rev. Sarah Renfro seeks to boost the body image of young women by educating them on the myths of media and focusing on divine within. She also preaches and teaches about marriage and divorce, motherhood, ministry, and mental illness.