At Mad Donna’s, a restaurant in Nashville, you have the opportunity to wine, dine, and listen to drag queens rant as they randomly shout out numbers. You get to play drag bingo.
Every Tuesday at 8 pm, various people of all ages come to Mad Donna’s to experience this wonderful game. When you first walk upstairs you are greeted with groups of people sitting at tables drinking and laughing. Not one person in the entire room looked upset. Luckily, Hunter and I were able to experience this fascinating game, albeit we did not win one of the penis prizes (sigh). We did, however, take away some things that were not material.
Drag bingo combines almost every concept that we have discussed thus far. These women show extreme sexual subjectivity — they openly accept their identities and sexuality in front of everyone. One of the drag queens was actually participating in a documentary about the drag culture, and she had the maker of the documentary there filming her. The entire room felt judgment-free; everyone there simply wanted to have fun. In Kimberly Tauches’s article “Transgendering: Challenging the ‘normal,’” she argues that transgenders, on a daily basis, deal with challenges with public spaces, such as bathrooms (NSS 138). Rather than succumbing to the judgmental stares and hurtful criticism, these women took pride in who they are, which was shown by their sassy rhetoric and constant self-assurance. They were not arrogant, vain, or cocky, but rather confident in their identity and what they want in life. At one point, one performer (who we assumed to not be transgendered) took a break between bingo rounds and performed a choreographed strip tease. The look of confidence that took over the woman’s face was enough to give every woman in the room enough courage to try it herself. What is observed is sexual subjectivity appears to be contagious. When one person is observed confident in their actions, then it encourages others to be unapologetic as well.
During the bingo, we happened to look over and see this young girl who looks to be around the age of twelve. She appeared to be having fun, but her attendance at the bingo could be seen as controversial. To this young girl, these experiences could be beneficial to her understanding of sexuality in this new time. She is exposed to these confident women, who are pushing the boundaries of gender binaries and it is shaping her into a scholarly individual. To her, being transgender might not be seen as abnormal. But on the other side of the debate, the adult language and content might be seen as inappropriate.
One prominent aspect of the night was money. The bingo cards themselves were free; however, ordering food (and giving tips) was not required, but highly encouraged. This shows that sex does sell, which is exactly what Steven Seidman argues in “Theoretical perspectives” (NSS 5). These women utilize their bodies and their unique personas to sell food and, on this day specifically, raise money and awareness for breast cancer research. They directly called out the women who were present to donate because they “also have tatas, so this should be important to [them].” Because the cards were free, it encourages people to buy food and drinks while playing. This restaurant is not cheap, so people justify their food and drink purchases by stating that the card(s) is/are free. The cost of the food and drink(s) can well exceed the price the card would have if it were sold.
Readers: we really want you to think about a few things. We thoroughly enjoyed this experience and the way these women embraced their bodies and identities, but we want to know what you think based on our analysis. Do you think that this is a fun way to earn money, or are these women being exploited? Do you think these women have anything to prove to their audience? If so, what? Lastly, do you think these women’s personas are an accurate representation of their every day life, or do they just dress in drag for the audience? If so, what is the benefit? What do you think about the aspect of young children attending these events? Do the benefits outweigh the consequences?
If you’re interested in attending the fabulous drag bingo and sharing this amazing experience with us, go to Mad Donna’s! It is located at 1313 Woodland St, Nashville, TN 37206. On Tuesday’s, drag bingo starts at 8pm and it is only a 15 minute drive from campus. For any questions, call (615) 226-1617.