This ball’s got balls

Four men and one woman cross dress for a cause

FINISHING TOUCHES<br>Prana Johnston gets a makeover, complete with jewelry, by Krystal Bailey (left) and his wife, Meagen, for the annual Closet Ball.

Prana Johnston gets a makeover, complete with jewelry, by Krystal Bailey (left) and his wife, Meagen, for the annual Closet Ball.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

The Closet Ball, July 13 at the Park Tower Pavilion.

Prana Johnston didn’t look like your typical drag queen as he slouched in his chair, wearing baggy jeans and holding a Bud Light. He was understandably a little nervous because his in-laws would be watching as he donned a dress and high heels to prance around to Carrie Underwood. He was married earlier this year—and yes, his wife would be there, too. In fact, she was one of his sponsors.

Johnston talked about wearing women’s clothing at the Closet Ball for years, but never got around to it until last weekend. During the annual pageant, a handful of contestants who had never dressed in drag got the chance to parade around in high heels (or cowboy boots in one case) for charity.

The ball’s organizer, Deryl Northcote, whose alter-ego is Claudette de Versailles, explained that straight men are often intrigued by having the chance to dress in drag.

“It’s almost like a weird dare, but not like a fraternity where there’s sheep involved,” said Northcote, the current Sovereign Majesty Empress of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Czaristic Dynasty (ISCCD).

The ISCCD is the local chapter of an international group that works to increase tolerance for the gay community all over the world.

Although Chico still has a way to go, Northcote said the town has become a lot more tolerant of alternative lifestyles than when he first moved here 19 years ago.

The ISCCD donates its proceeds to a number of local charities, but does so with more flair than your typical bake sale or car wash. The Closet Ball is only one of the 12 fundraisers the nonprofit puts on every year. The 2007 event raked in $1,000 before expenses, and the charity will be chosen at the end of the year.

For the first part of the ball, held at the thoroughly decorated Park Tower Pavilion, contestants came out in their everyday attire and were rated on how masculine or feminine they were, depending on their sex. Then it was off to the backstage area, where stylists had one hour to transform their subjects. The men shaved their faces, chests, backs, legs and yes, even armpits before going through the process of hair, clothes and makeup.

STRUTTING HIS STUFF<br>This cowboy is actually Amber Machado, the only female to participate in the evening of cross-dressing for charity.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

Obviously, there’s more to this than coconut-shell bikinis and grass skirts. The men got a crash course in what it’s like to be a woman, complete with nylons, makeup, girdles and cleavage.

During the transition, the professional drag queens donned their high heels and entertained the crowd—some 50 or 60 strong. Some were better than others, although all had exquisite makeup and hair so loaded with hairspray that it seemed to defy gravity. One gentleman in drag resembled Stevie Nicks, capturing the witchy woman’s mannerisms so well you almost had to remind yourself that she was actually a man.

Most of the entertainers lip-synced to songs by the likes of Melissa Etheridge and Rihanna as audience members handed them dollar bills. Midge Matel de Versailles performed a strip tease to Britney Spears’ “Toxic” in a pair of glowing platforms so high it would put most women to shame.

The lip-syncing halted briefly as local punk rockers Dirty Sister performed during the intermission. Then it was time for the five contestants to strut their stuff: Amber Machado, the only female contestant, became Dusty Rae; Shenisan Lee became Nyka Moon; Jeff Egbert Jr. became Jeanette Jordy; Prana Johnston became Carry Underwear; and Billy Roberts became Lucky.

There were some wobbly moments, and it was immediately evident who had practiced walking in heels and who hadn’t. Each contestant performed a singing and dancing act that had the audience laughing and applauding, and there were shouts from the other queens to “work it like you own it.” Machado was crowned King and Johnston was Queen of the Closet Ball at the end of the evening.

Johnston admitted the experience gave him a newfound respect for the things women have to go through in order to be “beautiful” for men. He especially sympathizes with women who wear heels.

“I think it sucks, and I do not envy them,” Johnston said.

His wife, Meagen, made him wear heels around the house to practice for the competition. Johnston even topped his personal bowling record on one of his video games for the Nintendo Wii, which he played in heels on the carpeted floor.

But it wasn’t just the shoes that gave Johnston fits: “Corsets suck ass.”