Karin Kallmaker: That Time When I Was Saved by a Drag Queen

That title sounds so dramatic, but when it comes to 2020 and beyond, life has been dramatic to the point where it feels like the new normal. So there I was struggling to write Simply the Best, finding joy in very little beyond my closest circle of family and friends, beloved books and games, and reruns of old familiar TV, when a foray into something new and a visit from my son led me to HBO’s first season of “The Doom Patrol.”

Which led me to Danny the Street, and the cast cover of Kelly Clarkson’s “People Like Us.” This rendition fell on my ears like something new. In the story, it lifted Danny the Street’s depression, and saved a haven for people too fabulous to survive elsewhere in the world. Alan Mingo Jr. (Kinky Boots et al) as Maura Lee Karupt created a showstopper with powerful, colorful, soulful drag queen fabulosity.

It felt like it had been ages since I’d tapped my toes along with music. Hello Spotify (another entrant into my life, thanks again to my son). I queued up that version and was immediately recommended yet more songs by drag queens and divas.

So that’s how I got from Maura Lee Karupt to this gem:

Official video “I Am America” by Shea Diamond

There it is: exuberance in spite of adversity. Proud authenticity, irreverence, and survival in answer to the endless hostility, violence, and demonization aimed at drag queens, transpeople, and the rest of us nonconformists. Shea Diamond’s declaration “I am America” got through the fog of the daily news and sounded a chord in me that had fallen silent. Because I am America, for all its glory and faults, baby, I am America too.

This how America walk. This how America talk. This how America is.

Simply the Best by Karin Kallmaker – available for pre-order now and purchase on 8/12!

I cranked it in the car every chance I got from New Year’s Day 2021 onward. Simply the Best, the book I’d been struggling to write for more than 2 years, was off to the editor 3 months later.

I haven’t stopped singing “This how America is.” Because #WEREHERE. This song and more is what showed me how Alice Cabot’s despair over both the state of the world and her seeming inability to do anything about it could be eased. Like me, she needed an out, proud, drag queen to remind her that it is enough to be queer, here, and daring to show our love. That’s how we change the world.

Karin Kallmaker’s new novel, Simply the Best, will be available from Bella Books on August 12. She’s always written about women who love women and isn’t likely to change. Her addiction to TimTams, coffee, and Taytos won’t likely change either.

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