GAY global news

It’s Time to Start Living: Drag Show Celebrates LGBTQ Seniors

Written by

By Kit O’Connell

We’ll always be bosom buddies, friends, sisters and pals. We’ll always be bosom buddies; if life should reject you, there’s me to protect you. If I say that your tongue is vicious, if I call you uncouth, it’s simply that who else but a bosom buddy will sit down and tell you the truth …

At first, you might think that just another drag show is taking place on a Sunday afternoon, in the small leather bar tucked away unobtrusively in the corner of a strip mall at the northern edge of Austin, Texas. It takes a lot to stand out in a city that’s in love with drag, where you can catch a different drag show, packed with talented young queens and kings, every day of the week. 

But there’s something different about the Absolutely Fabulous Sunday Brunch at the Austin Eagle, beyond just the retro choice to open the show with drag queens Minnie Bar and Martini DeVille dancing and lip-syncing to “Bosom Buddies,” from the 1956 Broadway hit Mame. The difference is that every queen that Sunday is a drag performer over 50. 

“Having a place that I can go that I feel welcome, that I can go be around other folks my age, who are within my cultural realm is healing and very, very important,” said Minnie Bar, who is 67 years old and known in his daily life as Rob Faubion. 

“That’s one of the main reasons we wanted to do this show: Come have fun. Come see some older guys doing female impersonation doing songs you remember,” Minnie Bar said. “You know, it’s something that you will actually know and can sing along with.”

The show is hosted on the first Sunday of every month by the Southern Ladies Social League, a trio of queens who all take on the role of genteel (if secretly bawdy) older women. 

All the money raised at the brunches, offered by the handful from the eager audience, goes to local charities that help build the LGBTQ community. The organizers are especially focused on helping queer elders. Recent studies show LGBTQ elders are more likely to age with less support than their straight counterparts. Since the event began, the Absolutely Fabulous Sunday Brunch collected over $8,000 for groups like that day’s beneficiary, Rainbow Connections ATX, an organization that provides connections, support and advocacy for older queer residents. 

Although he’s taken on many roles over the years, including serving as former publisher of Shout, an LGBTQ newspaper covering Texas events that ran from 2004 to 2008, Faubion said first and foremost, he considers himself an actor. 

“I’ve been acting professionally since my teens doing a lot of TV, movies, commercials [and] quite a bit of theater [including] international tours and a very brief stint on Broadway,” he said.

Faubion came out of the closet in the 1990s and began performing during that time with the ironically-named “Austin Baptist Women’s Group,” which had performed drag fundraisers since the 80s. Beginning in 2004, Faubion became the director of the popular ‘La Cage’ show in Austin, a classy drag revue that routinely saw hundreds in attendance, and which he grew over the years at a succession of gay clubs until it ultimately landed at Oil Can Harry’s, Austin’s oldest continuously running LGBTQ+ venue. Each performer took on two major roles a night as a classic songstress and had to actually learn the words, rather than simply lip-syncing. 

“Someone would come out as Cher, and then you’d see them 20 minutes later and they’re Lady Gaga, with a completely different personality and performance style in addition to the look,” Faubion said. 

The successful, long-running show was part of a 2000s renaissance at queer clubs around Texas. Perhaps not coincidentally this fruitful period, which also includes the heyday of Shout, happened during the same era that saw the landmark 2003 Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, that essentially legalized the ability to be out and gay by overturning sodomy laws which had made it illegal to be queer nationwide.

The popularity of the Sunday night revues helped spur other clubs in town to offer competing shows, revitalizing a formerly dull night. He said these shows helped break down barriers at gay clubs that had historically been resistant to allowing drag queens and gender-nonconforming people inside. And, as more and more straight people attended drag shows too, he believes it contributed to an atmosphere of growing acceptance in Austin that blossomed during the same era. 

“Gays and lesbians were easy targets during the 80s and 90s, but not anymore because we came out and were visible,” Faubion said. “So that today’s generation doesn’t have to go through what we went through.” 

But now, as he’s aged into his 60s, he said he gets ignored in the city’s clubs, even when he’s simply seeking a drink and friendly conversation. 

“I feel invisible when I go downtown,” Faubion said. “Which is a shame because I have got so much knowledge and experience.” 

That’s why spaces like the Austin Eagle, which prides itself on welcoming adults of all ages, body shapes, sexual orientation and gender expression, are so important to the city’s LGBTQ community. A glance around the room as that Sunday show filled up supported the notion that this was a space that welcomes all kinds.

In addition to the core trio, each brunch features a rotating series of special guests, like Topaz, who, in his late 60s, is probably the city’s oldest actively performing Black drag queen. A tall, elegant queen, his performances evoke Tina Turner or Diana Ross at the height of their careers. As he lip-synced and posed, the Eagle’s kitchen crew came out to cheer him on. The vibe may be more casual than Faubion’s show two decades ago, with donations crammed into an overflowing pride-themed reusable grocery bag, but these queens are just as dedicated to putting on a good show. Performers like Topaz have been doing this since the heights of the AIDS crisis when drag revues all too often served as fundraisers for medical care or funerals.  

Places like the Austin Eagle and events like the Absolutely Fabulous Sunday Brunch help preserve queer culture and LGBTQ history and raise money for those even older, the surviving members of the Stonewall generation.

As the show came to an end, Minnie Bar and Martini Deville returned to the stage to lead a smiling crowd in a sing-along, this time to “No Time at All” from the musical Pippin—a song that encourages listeners not to let their lives go to waste:

Oh, it’s time to start livin’, time to take a little from this world we’re given. Time to take time cause spring will turn to fall in just no time at all…

“This show is vital for us as performers because it’s something we need for ourselves, it’s healing for us,” Faubion said. “I think it’s very vital for our community for those of us that are older because we don’t have anything like this that speaks to us where we are in our journey.”


Leave a Comment