I'm kind of like a drag mother," says Brandi Roberts, "in that I have a lot of drag children. I help with hair, makeup, shopping--it's what I love."

In whatever passes for real life, Brandi is a 45-year-old man who lives simply, among his beaded gowns, with his twenty-year-old daughter. By day he does hair. By night, for the past fifteen years, he's appeared in drag shows all over the country, where he serves as a motherly presence to those who have yet to understand the intricacies of press-on nails and big, big artificial hair. Like any other maternal figure, he's always been a bit more protective of his less popular children, which explains his latest cause: a pageant for drag queens over 200 pounds, who Brandi says don't have a fighting chance in the world of organized beauty.

"The judges are conditioned to size eight," he explains. "When a large person competes in a group of smaller queens, they just aren't going to win."

Irked by this trend, Brandi--who at six-foot-two and "200-something" pounds is no size eight himself--decided to start Denver's first pageant for larger drag queens. Along with fellow queen (and perfect size ten) Vaden Andress, Brandi bought franchise rights to a Houston pageant known as Miss Gay U.S.A. At Large. At Large is an offshoot of the ten-year-old Miss Gay U.S.A. pageant, which is expected to draw 100 finalists from up to fifty states to its finals in Dayton, Ohio, this spring.

"At Large has been going on for five years now," Brandi explains. "It's already very, very popular, because everyone is equal. We expect to have somewhere between forty and sixty contestants at the finals."

Two winners--first place and first runner-up--will be winnowed down from the hopefuls who compete at the Denver pageant, set for March 12 at the Ye Olde Matchmaker Pub.

"The person that wins will be able to speak on a mike, address a crowd and really be a representative for Denver," Roberts says. "They'll compete in three categories: The interview, which shows how calm, poised, witty and intelligent you are; and then there's evening wear and talent, most of which is lip-synching, but anything goes. There will be lots of costumes and lots of expense--just like a real girl pageant."

This is fine with Robert Gonzales, a 22-year-old customer-service rep for US West who says he is often mistaken for a "real girl" when he dresses as his drag alter ego, Jasmine.

"It's kind of funny," he says. "I'll tell these straight men: `Look, I'm not a girl,' and they'll say, `I don't care.' Well, I do. I don't need their ex-wife shooting me. Besides, I dress up as a woman as an entertainment. Being mistaken for a woman in everyday life does not give me a thrill. That would make me a transvestite, which I'm not. I'm a drag queen--but, of course, the doctors lump us all together."

An avid singer and dancer since elementary school, Gonzales got the urge to do drag at eighteen. Already, he says, he's placed first and second in two local pageants-- despite the fact that he was the largest contestant in both.

"I'm not intimidated by the smaller queens," he shrugs. "I can dance as good as any of them, I'm just as pretty and I can wear clothes just as well. I had a 31-inch waist once, too, but then I met my lover, and we've been together four years now. I guess love makes you fat."

Now leveled off at 250 pounds, the five-foot-ten-inch Gonzales believes he can out-sing and out-dance the run-of-the-mill queens who "look beautiful, but all they do is stand there." The At Large pageant, he hopes, will be his ticket onto the national scene. "If I was to run for the small title, I would have no chance," he says flatly. "Miss USA winners are show-girl types--they even wear little pasties. Obviously," he laughs, "I can't do that."

He does, however, plan to wear a plunging, backless gown for his Aretha Franklin talent number--which will feature a set change in midsong. His outfit for the judges' interview will be considerably more sedate. "I'm gonna do it as a boy, in fact," he says, "to show that I keep my drag self separate from my life, just like if I were in a band. I want them to know that I'm as proud to be a man as I am to be a fabulous entertainer."

Should this fabulous persona win him the state title, Gonzales says he will have no qualms about being designated not just plain gorgeous, but large and gorgeous.

"Screw that," he says good-naturedly. "I feel good about myself. I tell fit people: `Look, I work as hard at my figure as you do. It costs me just as much to go to McDonald's as it costs you to go to Bally's.'"

"Size eventually becomes so unimportant," agrees fellow contestant Jerry Reese, who's been Bubblz LaRue for twenty years. "Especially when you're a hundred million years old in drag years, like me."

Reese is actually 47 and a mild-mannered technical writer at US West by day. Several nights each week, however, he becomes a cross-dressing comedian so talented he once did a road tour with Las Vegas's famed Boylesque review. "Drag is a warm, dear, old friend," he explains. "Growing up in small-town Texas, I thought I was an ugly boy--but when I got all dolled up in a dress, everybody loved me. I hide behind that drag a lot, even now. We queens are the stereotypical sissies, but when it comes to raising money, they call us. I've raised a lot of money for a lot of organizations. A lot of people have been helped because I put on a dress."

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