Posted on 05 April 2012.
Shannon Jenkins, Associate Writer, Lifestyle & Culture
Long before RuPaul’s hit show, the Armorettes were running their very own Drag Races. Held every Easter Sunday in the parking lot of Burkhart’s Pub, the popular event draws hundreds of people while raising money for a worthy cause. The Drag Races began sometime after the Armorettes were formed in 1979. So far, the best guess is 1982.
They may not remember exactly when the races started, but the Armorettes sure know how to throw a good time. I had the pleasure of talking with three of the campy entertainers one evening at Roxx, and Ally Yankadic, Sofonda Cox and Princess Alberta Bananahammock certainly kept me entertained. Here’s how it all went down:
Shannon: So, tell me about the Drag Races.
Sofonda: It’s the biggest event we have every year. There’s a mix of drag and festival-like games. People wear elaborate bonnets they’ve made. The Drag Races come from our main event which is a relay race where you dress up in drag. The winner of the Drag Races gets the option to perform with us that night.
Ally: The way the Drag Races work is you start at the starting line, you run to one end of the parking lot and you put on a dress. Then you run back to the other end of the parking lot and you put on makeup and you run back to the other end of the parking lot and you put on a bra. Then you run back and put on high heels and walk like a lady across the finish line. The crowd really gets into watching everyone running back and forth. Last year one of the games was Snap Your Wiener where we took a string, tied a Vienna sausage to it and you had to lower it from your belt buckle and squat down and get a mouse trap to snap on your sausage.
Sofonda: My personal favorite game is Hide the Easter Eggs on the Drag Queen. The contestants are blindfolded and have to search our bodies to find the Easter eggs. There’s always a chocolate egg they have to find and that’s the winner.
Shannon: How did the Races get started?
Alberta: They started at the Armory but I don’t know what the story behind it is.
Ally: It just seemed like a good day to get drunk.
Shannon: Alberta, you won last year’s Races. What prompted you to participate?
Alberta: I just wanted to get out there and have as much fun as I could. When they said the person who won could perform with the Armorettes I was all over it. I wasn’t going to let anyone beat me.
Sofonda: We almost sent him back for not walking like a lady.
Alberta: I did walk like a lady!
Ally: He was the only one who did walk like a lady.
Sofonda: He tried to walk like a lady.
Alberta: Well, I’m not very ladylike.
Ally: He walked. The others just took off running.
Alberta: I’m not very fishy. Where were we?
Shannon: You won the Drag Races.
Alberta: Yeah it was a good time. I’ve been watching the Armorettes since I was 21, so since ’91. Then I became friends with some of the Armorettes and I knew them on a different level. There was a lot of encouragement from them for me to become more involved and consider joining the group. So it was like testing the waters with the Drag Races. As I’m getting older I want to find different ways to get involved with the community instead of just attending and donating. I want to be more of a leader.
Shannon: How did you get started, Ally?
Ally: Sofonda. I had never done drag before 2009. I was a bowler and entered the Miss Gutterball Tournament. It just so happens that I won. So I did drag for a year. The person who crowned me was Sevanda Cox, who was the prior year’s Miss Gutterball winner. We had bowled together and played football together and he ended up saying to me, “You really should audition for the Armorettes.” I was just ready to be done with it. I did my drag three times and I was like, “Uh, no.” But the Armorettes are something special and they’re a force within the community. It’s a way for me to give back. I can do something that’s meaningful and that was what mattered.
Shannon: How about you, Sofonda?
Sofonda: Mine is kind of a spiteful story. I was dating someone who tried out for Miss Gutterball and did not win. He tried out for the group and did not get in. While I was dating him I tried to give him advice on what he needed to do for his numbers and his response was, “Honey, I don’t mean to be rude but you don’t know what they’re looking for.” So after I caught him cheating on me I kicked him out. Miss Barfly rolled around and I tried out and won every category. And then I auditioned for the group and got in. I accidentally included him on an email list that told him I had done all that. One of the questions the Armorettes actually asked me was, “Are you doing this out of spite?” Miss Barfly I was doing out of spite but I auditioned for the group because I had guest spotted with them and became really attached to their cause and the group. I realized what an amazing thing they were doing with the community and what a difference they were making.
Ally: That’s the thing. You get to see how much it means to those charities. Sometimes you give them a check that makes their budget for the year. It’s the shortfall they were looking for and allows them to stay open and do business for another year. It’s an honor to be able to help these charities, even if it’s one dollar at a time. We’ve had some numbers where we only got a buck or two.
Alberta: You come back with three dollars and you think, “Wow, I thought that was a funny number.”
Ally: Three dollars makes a difference!
Sofonda: You think you must be wrong and you start digging through your titties and you still don’t have any more money.
Alberta: It’s in there somewhere.
Ally: So, it really is a joy to experience.
Alberta: Digging through your titties.
Sofonda: Some don’t have titties.
Alberta: They get caught in my chest hair.
Shannon: I can imagine. So, how much money do you usually raise?
Ally: Usually the combination of events raises at least $1,500. In past years I’ve heard of numbers much bigger and better in a better economy but we’re just happy to get whatever people can donate.
Sofonda: And honestly the only time we make money for the cause is when we’re performing the numbers. Easter is a little more about us giving back to the people who support us all the time. It’s more about the games.
Alberta: It’s like customer appreciation day.
Sofonda: Yeah, so it’s not as much about the bucket at Easter. We don’t charge for anyone to play the games. It’s more about camaraderie and getting to know the Armorettes.
Shannon: What does it mean to be an Armorette?
Ally: We don’t approach drag the way you expect traditional drag to be done. This is camp. You’re coming to a comedy show. Some of us look glamorous. Some of us still have our beards. But all of us are there to entertain. It’s all about us doing the job and trying to raise money for HIV and AIDS awareness and to find a cure for this horrible disease that has haunted the community for so long. We will make a difference.
Sofonda: And almost every Armorette agrees that if there was a cure tomorrow some of us would burn our bras and dresses and be done. That’s why we do it.