Inna Penance made her entire haul of cash on the Fourth of July. As the most sought-after drag queen entertainer tailored to this specific “holiday”—though it was still unclear what Americans were celebrating as they had clearly never managed to detangle themselves from British influence—she could command whatever fee she wanted depending on which venue she chose to grace her presence with. Even New York City offered good money despite the oversaturation of drag queens there. But she never wanted to perform in that town. All it would lead to was the throngs of fame-whoring queens trying to steal elements from her act.
So she usually settled on a quintessentially American town. This year, she chose Philadelphia. Not only because it was where the Declaration of Independence was signed, but because she found it to be the “ultimate American city.” Not solely as a result of it still being an industrial (steelworks in perpetuity) town, but because the most American of people could be found there. By Inna’s estimation, she didn’t find it to be true that “real” America was nothing more than Bible thumpers in the South and fatsos in the Midwest. She believed instead that the core of the American spirit remained alive and well in the enterprising city of Philadelphia. While New York had managed to rip Philly’s cultural and arts relevance away from it (traces of which could still be seen in the Rodin Museum and the Barnes Foundation) long ago, Inna could see that it continued to retain its artistic spirit beneath the whole “blue collar” persona (complete with graffiti). One that furnished plenty of opportunity for gay fetishization. The homos loved a grease-sodden man in some kind of uniform, after all.
She smiled as she was being driven toward the venue and saw a giant billboard advertising her act for that night. Inna’s appearance at Woody’s had made quite a splash around town, with gays, straights and everyone in between expressing interest in buying a ticket. And even though U Bar—the other main homo outpost—liked to bill itself as “unpretentious,” therefore “above drag,” she knew there was some resentment from the owner there, whom Inna had fucked several times before, and so he likely thought he might get some preferential treatment when she made her announcement to perform in Philly that year. Or “Philly Me Up,” as Inna liked to call it. There was no time to worry about politics now, though—Fourth of July or not (arguably the most political holiday in the American arsenal).
“My fellow Americans, let us do penance—Inna Penance—for what shitheads we are,” Inna declared as she took the stage, a giant screen projecting the image of Madonna in the “American Pie” video back to the crowd as she sang the words to the former Don McLean song. The red, white and blue confetti that fell from the ceiling as she leaned into the final chorus sent the crowd into an added frenzy, which reached another crescendo when Inna ripped her sheer blue skirt off to show off the entirety of her red sequined leotard, complete with an embroidered image of a slave shackling George Washington on the bodice.
She had to say she was particularly pleased with the attendees this year. They were just how she thought they would be, and too much time had passed since she had last performed in “The Birthplace of America.” Flashing her Vaseline-spackled teeth to give them her most winsome smile, she delivered another snarky piece of dialogue about the United States, something about how the longest-lasting Dick in politics has turned out to be Cheney. Which, come to think of it, makes everyone else lose their arousal. She then allowed herself a few moments to “get serious” and verklempt when she said that she knew it was easy to talk shit about America, but that was only because everyone held it to such higher standards than other countries. Other countries that had never laid claim to being “the greatest” in the world–even when they, by subjugation of natives and ownership of land benchmarks, actually were. Only in America was braggadocio elevated to an art. Touted with such gall even as people were wearing khaki shorts and shapeless XXXL t-shirts while they declared it.
The audience was putty in her hands now, as they laughed along with her brutal yet loving assessment of “hands down, the most fucked up, sexually repressed country in the world, even to this day.” She added, “At least the Greeks and the Romans could freely admit that their entire political system was founded on taking it up the ass.” She shrugged in resignation as she looked up at the screen behind her, now showcasing a stream of American male political duos, including Clinton and Gore. She then sighed and looked up at the freshly presented image of Taylor Swift. “But in all honesty darlings, we know American politics at this point in time is dictated almost entirely by this Aryan princess right here, Tay Tay. And so, without further ado…”
As she was about to segue into her next song of the act, Swift’s “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” she could see some kind of discrepancy in the crowd. Movements that didn’t jive with the rest of it. Before she could process that a group of homophobic, right-wing white men were the ones responsible for shoving people who thought they had the right to a good time and to simply be themselves aside, the gunfire was already unloading. And it sounded so much like fireworks that Inna almost believed that it could be until she looked down and saw all the blood pouring forth from her chest.
She stared back at the screaming, frantically dispersing crowd, allowing herself just a moment more to think, “Yes, this is the most American city of all” before collapsing to the ground. She saw a few more flashes of carnage before fading away entirely into that “other world,” that better world. Where a perpetual lack of consciousness ensured a drama-free existence and freedom for all.