Fatal Friday – June 28

Sometimes, you find yourself mid-conversation with an intensely charged and intelligent woman in a space full of erotic toys and fetish gear. At least you do if you’re ever invited to a sex educators mixer. The event took place in the Sexploratorium, recently re-located to 317 South Street. We took our usual walking detour to get there, [not lost at all, ahem] toyed with the thought of hopping a wall into a churchyard, and finally wound up at the shop around 8pm.

Five hours earlier, we were sitting in a kitchen discussing our respective research for our Fulbright grant applications over custom gorditas and chocolate milkshakes. The conversation transitioned to past loves and romances, horrendous kissing techniques and bad dates. Eventually we stood up and got mint iced tea, finally deciding to make the sacrifice…. to actually put pants on. [Yes, it’s hot out there.] It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper Fatal Friday, you see. But hopefully we’re not out of practice.

Now, back to the Sexploratorium. Once inside, we did a whirlwind tour of the first and second floors, which were dripping with leather restraints, BDSM How-To books, gags, corsets and whips. Eventually we made it to the third level where we found a lovely setup of deep red, carpeted floors, chairs, and baked goods. The space was occupied by a varied and beautifully passionate group of fellow educators. Soon we were absorbed in conversation with two of these women, Susana Mayer, Ph.D and the Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale. Throughout the course of the evening, Nicole took a Sex and the Bible quiz, after which she learned that she was not erudite enough to be a Sexy Bible Scholar. While the Reverend Beverly Dale spoke with Nicole about the intersection of sexual and spiritual, Darragh spoke to Dr. Mayer regarding rape culture both here and internationally, touching upon the topic of ‘safe sex’ versus “responsible sex.” At some point, the conversations organically merged together and everyone ate homemade snicker-doodle cookies and exchanged business cards.

Before, the Reverend had observed to Nicole that part of spirituality is in righteous living. Speaking to us both, she elaborated on the beauty of a religion founded on incarnation–a God entering into human flesh–explaining that, for her, Christian faith should be the most loving, most sex-positive expression possible. Needless to say, we were blown away by the experiences and insight of these outspoken educators. We are seriously considering presenting a class ourselves, and most certainly attending some events that the program Passion 101 offers. We left with a giddy high from good conversations and the offer of a potential chance to put together a panel series.

However, our night was far from over. Making our way back to Broad Street, we devoured some vegetarian fare at Govindas, but we quickly rushed away to make it to The Venture Inn. There, we had a birthday to attend, or rather two birthdays, and we didn’t want to be late. We had a very festive drag show to get to.

Miss Scarlett Bleu, second from the left, performed two numbers on her birthday. She sang live to the whole place, and absolutely rocked it! Darragh screamed in delight as Miss Scarlett hit baritone lows and cooed of true love, the eve after DOMA had been knocked off its rocker. The night was particularly important, as Scarlett’s parents had shown up for the first time to see her perform in full queen regalia. At the end of her second number, she went over to where her mom was sitting and dropped down into her lap, at which point we both nearly cried. So touching, so supportive, so fun!

A successful Fatal Friday we think! 

-FF

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Back to Basics…

This Spring has been a roller-coaster of feminist studies in and out of the classroom. Between two women’s studies courses and a lot of relevant experiences outside of school, I have really powered through the past few months by trying to lace a continuous theme of advocacy in to all my projects. Because of all my running around, writing posts on Fatal Femmes has gone to the back burner, but now that finals are almost over, I can begin to get back to the swing of things. Let this post be a summation of my feminism this semester as well as the jumpstart to a Summer of analysis and media critique!

First, January 16th was the last feminist dinner party I was invited to by my friend and the activist artist, Phoebe Bachman. This dinner marked the end of a multi-meal performance piece that Phoebe was hosting for the long-term research project, “Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces,” that she had been conducting for months on feminist creators. I was so thrilled and honored to be included in her work as both a documented subject and as a participant. I guess I was a little surprised that I was picked because although I am very open about my feminist politics, I never count myself as an artist. I write and paint, film and edit, but I never seem to consider myself as a creator. I have begun to rethink the idea in recent weeks.

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Following up with her work, Phoebe officially presented her art and research on February 4th at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. I silently joined a “tour” of spectators that she was walking through her exhibit the night of the opening. Although I had been aware of her methodology and work throughout the process of watching her plan everything for almost a year, I was thoroughly impressed by the final execution. She knowingly glanced up and caught my eye and asked me to speak out about the experience of being a participant. I was so content to speak on her behalf. It was wonderful to be a part of someone else’s work. She inspires me.

In February, Temple University’s branch of HerCampus, run by my friend Jaimee Swift, asked me to sit on two informational panels. The first was titled “Young Women in the Media.” Like Phoebe’s dinners, I felt that I held a unique place being the only self-identified academic (or budding academic) in the group. Regardless, I still have a few documentaries under my belt and have picked up an interest in band photography and headshots so I was still counted as media maker. As usual, I was impressed by the women I that I was being associated with and thrilled to sit with them. The other panel was silly as it was about Valentine’s Day and Romance. I tried to be serious at parts when asked to discuss safe sex and consent, with added knowledge about sex toys and why it’s important to communicate partner-to-partner. I was excited to bring two of my friends, Karley Cohen and Tom Diaogistino, onto the panel last minute. They had completely different perspectives and experiences that completely added to the discussion.

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Also in February was the Women’s Way tenth annual Women and Influence Conference at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. I went with two fellow feminists, Melissa Fabello and Nuala Cabral. It was exciting to see accomplished women acknowledged and celebrated, but Melissa and I had a few comments about how to improve the event as a whole. Firstly, we noticed that although Women’s Way did a great job coordinating the conference, many of the workshop sessions lacked interactivity. The topics seemed stiff and centered around business and entrepreneurship, less about the “issues of importance to women, girls, and their families in our region” that the program highlighted. Throughout the day there was great debate as to whether or not women could truly have it all. I hope to attend next year.

I spent quite a bit of time preparing for my first workshop this semester in early March. I was asked by Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to host a media literacy session for their Pot of Gold, or bi-annual adult volunteer day. More than happy to accept, I included in my proposal that Nicole should join me to speak. As my collaborator, she deserves to share in the sharing of knowledge. I was particularly proud of her the day that we presented because not only had we created the workshop together, but it was also her first ever public speaking engagement outside of classroom presentations and our first ever as a team. The workshop was great and the feedback we received was amazing. Comments ranged from “It was thought provoking and on point for what’s going on with tween and teen girls today” to “This workshop invoked a lot of great conversation. It really could have benefited if it was given more time!” 9 out of 10 guests recommended the workshop for future audiences. It was the first time I had ever really worked with adults without children being present. This allowed for flexibility of material, faster teaching and discussion, more examples of current events and, of course, a wide range of debate. After the two sessions we hosted, Nicole and I took time to reflect on being what we called “novice masters,” a term we use to explain the odd relationship we have to our highly specific studies and those outside the field. Being students, particularly undergraduates, we are learning all the time, but to give back by breaking down what we absorb we are the closest thing to “masters” or “experts” that those unfamiliar with such schools of thought may interact with at the time. If anything, it’s a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

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Next was another workshop, later in March, for the GirlTalk Summit hosted by the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, PA. I was asked to do a presentation on media’s glorification of teen pregnancy, a controversial, but incredibly important topic. I suffered through research by making myself watch “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and a few other shows that I really could care less about as a viewer, but as a budding media scholar I do understand that their impact is intense and widespread. I ran three sessions with about two-dozen teenage girls aged 15-19. Some of these young women were already mothers, many watched the shows I discussed and all were identified as “high-risk.” Being from the intercity placed them into a special category that sociologists, educators, politicians and paperwork like to use. I was just excited to interact with young people close to my age that had ideas about how to start talking about what they cared about. I found that when presenting, I must learn to sum up lofty ideas with more examples. Nonetheless, I am happy to have participated. The experience was very important to me.

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The tail end of April was all over the place. Out of the blue I received an email from a former professor from a few semesters back who asked if I was interested in teaching one of my favorite articles from his class to his current students. I was ecstatic. The writing, “Fraternity Gang Rape,” started with a brief summary of America’s sexual history and eventually discusses present-day rape culture. The day I was to teach, I was surprised to find out that my mentor chose not to assist or comment and left both of his classes up to me. I excitedly spoke as I moved around the classroom. Students, my own peers, followed up with me via email and gave me wonderful feedback. It was an amazing time and really gave me a better idea of how much I think I would enjoy teaching.

During the last weekend in April I was ask to present yet another workshop! This time, I occupied the upstairs lobby of the Warner Hotel in downtown West Chester, PA during the ninth annual West Chester Film Festival. The experience was special because I was also a nominated director. My documentary “The Voices of Time Before They Are Silenced: The Holocaust” was up for Best Pennsylvania Director. During the workshop, titled “Lights, Camera, Action: Women’s Sexuality In and On Film,” I found myself very comfortable with the material I had arranged. I think it was a touchstone of confidence in understanding that I know what I’m talking about. Pretty cool if you ask me! A great discussion was peaked post-speech and carried on for about half-an-hour with yours truly as moderator.

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As of May 7th, I can also say that I may add state lobbying to my feminist activism this semester. Just earlier this week, I went with a few fellow feminists to the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA with Women’s Way. The organization was supporting the efforts of the Polaris Project to advocate for stronger human trafficking laws in the state. According to Polaris, Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the scale when it comes to safety for “victims” or survivors of slavery and does very little to fully prosecute pimps and other traders. Lobbying was really interesting. It was much like a performance of suits and ties and smiles and handshakes. I credit Women’s Way and Polaris and all the other activist group present, but there was something sad about having to dress up to talk about real issues, problems outside the marble and stained glass of the Capitol Building.

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At the Capitol talking to a Senate Rep

While all this was going on outside of school, I was also a student in two women’s studies courses, as aforementioned. One was a foundations course treated as a history class on women’s rights and activism in America and the other was an upper level topics called “Male Perspectives of Women’s Studies.” New to Temple, Dr. Edward Onaci taught both. As the semester eased on, he became more flexible with the format in which he chose to teach. Eventually, both classes came to rely and appreciate a circle approach to roundtable discussion. No raising of hands, just commentary and dialogue. No yelling or fighting, just debate and civil conversation. It reminded me of the circular education paradigm that Gloria Steinem spoke of during a speech I witnessed in November 2012. She emphasized the importance of shared knowledge passed through or across teachers to students and from generation to generation. This approach opposes our current academic institutions’ way where education is treated as another form of class that oppresses those who seemingly do not have access. In “Male Perspectives” I found great frustration in reading the works of men like Rousseau, men who believe women’s place in under them, in society and in the every other context. I have realized that, as Lynda Lange explains in “Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” if nothing else, perhaps reading the works of a man as sexist as Rousseau, who is “the very embodiment of misogyny,” will encourage feminists “to read and view more works by women.”

Lastly, my future endeavors. Besides giving Fatal Femmes a make-over, which Nicole and I both agree that it needs, I have a lot of other projects going on that need time and love ASAP. These include, but are not limited to another workshop for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania coming up Fall 2013, possibly photographing LadyFest in Philadelphia in July, learning how to be a peer health and sexuality educator for Temple University in Fall through the HEART Wellness Resources Center on campus, becoming a Women’s Way media intern this Summer, traveling to Los Angeles to volunteer as a student scholar for NAMLE (the National Association of Media Literacy Education), animating an abstract documentary about gender literacy and word structures titled “WoŸman,” and trying to kick as much as butt as possible on the side.

-Darragh Dandurand Friedman

Hiding in the woods…

……an hour outside of Manhattan, I spent last Thursday and Friday (without Nicole) in a woodsy conference center helping to choose the 2013 National Young Women of Distinction for Girl Scouts USA. In 2011 I was honored to have been selected myself to receive the title, and, a year later, I was asked to be on the selection panel choosing the next class. I cannot tell you how awesome the opportunity was!

For a little background, each year ten NYWOD are chosen from all over the country for their outstanding Gold Award work. The Gold Award, the highest achievement a Girl Scout can earn, is a voluntary service project that she takes upon herself to give back to her community, local or global, to make the world a better place. My Gold Award, completed in 2010, was a documentary about Holocaust survivors in the Philadelphia region. Of the nine other girls ranked with me in 2011, there was one that taught federal prisoners in Washington State how to knit blankets for the homeless, while another, at only 15 years old, started working with human trafficking survivors to raise awareness.

The panel that gathered this past week consisted of close to 20 members, including myself. We stayed in cabins tucked into the hillside and each of us read through about 10 projects in one night. The 33 gold awards that were competing to be honored in 2013 were amazing. One girl, from New York, raised almost $30,000 to invest in athletics in her town and a young women from New Jersey successfully lobbied for a law to be passed in her state’s legislature for teen dating abuse education be taught in schools from 7th-12th grade. The choice who to vote for was tough, but worth it. The tally will be officially in a few months, but I am just so excited that I was on the final board for selection.

Thank you GSUSA!

Fatal Friday-Siete

As anyone who knows her can agree, Darragh is at home with spoken words. She has a way of expressing them, using her hands and face and whole body as much as her vocal cords. Listening to her, as I’ve discovered, requires the attention of my eyes as well as ears. Otherwise I don’t get the full meaning of the story. It always amazes me, how well her body language reflects the contours of her thoughts.

Friday’s discussion ranged from personal reservations about makeup, to scientific articles studying evolutionary psychology, to why women wear heels during sex, to the ubiquity of the “orgasm face” in advertising. So just a normal Friday night.

From there we ended up reminiscing, sharing moments from our teen years when we said/did/wrote something odd or or a little embarrassing. (One word: fandom).  If I had to give the entire thing a time frame, I’d say maybe four hours? (That’s longer than I talked to my parents this month.)

What I’m saying is that if there was an Olympic marathon for talkers, we’d make a gold team. Eventually, and with the help of delicious chocolate brownies, we attempted a homework coup. Prince and Sade were on the playlist (bet you didn’t see that coming) and then I turned up the nostalgia with The Tempts. Since I can’t listen to those voices quietly, I began singing along. To my intense surprise and happiness, Darragh joined me. Thoroughly interrupted from homework, I grabbed a sketchbook and began to make blind line drawings.

Around one AM, we had a visitor drop by. The only thing to do in such situations is to have a tea party. Which we did. By then, we were reaching muffin time, that magical time of night when the muffin joke evokes fits of laughter. When our visitor left us, we wandered into the wilds of the Internet. After a detour through AskMen.com, we stumbled into a swamp known to many as “Cosmo.” Bear in mind that this was about 5 in the morning. Mocking and booing and shuddering our way through “30 things to do with a naked man,” we did our best to study all aspects of its ridiculousness for both sexes. We also continued our grand tradition of looking at more boobs and butts than most of our guy friends. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

In the end, we didn’t get drunk, but we may have been a little intoxicated.  Would I have it any other way? Not on your life.

Media Review – “Naughty but Nice”

Dr. Sherril Dodds, scholarly dance professor at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance recently presented her engaging research on Neo-Burlesque performance as social and gender commentary. The lecture was informational to say the least and controversial at the most. I sneaked in as she began to speak and grabbed a seat in the front row. Pulling a notepad and pen out of my bag, I did not stop writing until I had to leave.

As Dodds explained, she has been studying neo-burlesque for several years, interested in how performers communicate more than sexuality and coy femininity while on stage, but when it came to her research, her nose definitely didn’t stay in the books. Dodds went on to show pictures of herself in a UK-based burlesque company, twirling tassels and shaking her groove thang. Throughout her thesis reading, she showed pictures of famous burlesque stars from America and Great Britain, summarized the history of the medium and went on to argue that burlesque has more to do with political statements than showing off what your momma gave you.

As she spoke, her word choices were flowery and articulate and they flowed off her tongue with a hard British accent. She liked using alliterations and metaphors to try to get the audience to imagine that they had attended the same burlesque shows she had seen for her research. The effect was stimulating, but at times took away from what she was trying to prove. This becomes an issue when an educated individual tries to present their research when framed between two wall-size screens with pictures topless women licking their lips. Novelty? Yes. Academic? Yes. Full Communication? Hopefully, hopefully.

Firstly, Dodds made it very clear that there is a difference between “stripping” and “burlesque.” Stripping, she described, is when individuals have “economic necessity,” or the priority to meet their safety and physiological needs. In this mindset, they cannot explore the medium with creativity. “Commercialized neo-burlesque focuses less on politics and commentary and more on nudity and ideal feminine sexuality through the male gaze.” Dodds was focused with the influence of authentic neo-burlesque, not its commodified cousin.

Besides authentic neo-burlesque being “good, clean British fun,” Dodds emphasized (every other paragraph, practically) that it empowers women to make choices about how they communicate their gender roles and sexuality. Certainly she was pro-burlesque, but to what extent? Dodds did not view the form as exploitative in the least, apparently. I struggled with this evaluation during the whole lecture. Many of her points were valid in my eyes, but others, well others I just could not morally agree with!

Dodds said that neo-burlesque is an art form that allows “imperfect flesh” to be “celebrated.” That it is a “parody” examining the humorous stereotypes of complicated female identity while mocking expressed feminine behavior and hyper-masculinity. Yes, that’s all fine and dandy and I think it’s great to deconstruct those ideas, especially in a creative manner, but burlesque, no matter what the performer is intending, involves nudity, stripping, teasing and sex. It is male fantasy. It is degrading. It is using one’s body to seek value. I my brain, none of these things are right or rewarding. And even when  try to justify Dodds ideas by saying to myself that burlesque is an opportunity for women to explore sexual power, I fall back and see that it is just another way of seeking male approval.

Burlesque is apparently a lot like Drag in that the performers don’t sing, but instead lip-sync and dance to carefully planned choreography. Dodds says that this offers participants a chance to meticulously plan costume changes, movements and props, therefore creating spectacle and statement. “Facial expressions are social commentary that offer more than just what the smile represents.” Well, what I see is women actively participating in voicelessness, allowing their exposed bodies to speak for themselves with cultural context, not personal. This is detrimental because the audience sees breasts,  butts, curves and sex – a playtoy, instead of a thoughtful individual who may very well have planned a social commentary into their dance. This “voicelessness” represents passivity and perhaps is the exchange for the female to hold court on stage, but she should not have to give up her voice in order to get attention. Her body should not have to be exposed for her to be able to have a platform for opinion. Her ideas should not have to be interjected in-between shimmying, unzipping and flashing. Sex is power, but only temporarily.

First and foremost, Burlesque is a medium that sexualizes and monetizes the female form. Although Dodds enthusiastically commented that cat-calls from the audience are motivating and approving, all parts of me cannot imagine how. Does burlesque actually offer women the freedom to explore their sexuality or can they not get off unless someone else is? With popular forms of media like women’s Cosmopolitan magazine whose sex advice to female readers is largely how to please “your man,” (the mag is almost always heterosexual, mind you) and never to speak out for your own desires, I’m pretty sure that women are being conditioned into these mindsets.

At the end of the day, neo-burlesque as parody, strip, commentary, rebellion, expression, exploration, exploitation or entertainment is mixed messaging. Dodds has a doctoral degree and has proven the ability to deconstruct. The average person does not have that education nor the media literacy training to comprehend the millions of images and texts penetrating their existence from every source imaginable. This is why burlesque is problematic – the commentary is lost somewhere in-between the garters and the feathers.

*May it be known that those who actively participate and enjoy burlesque are not in the wrong, they are expressing themselves, hopefully. I have no issue  with their choice, their bodies and minds are their own. I am sincerely and solely concerned with how our society interprets women, their roles and their bodies through their actions and current privilege discourses. 

Fatal Friday – Seis

10.5.12

This Fatal Friday began like another other…. I was locked in a battle, for an unknown amount of time, with a student trying to take out equipment from the office where Nicole and I work, although she wasn’t on shift. The student and I fought, tooth and nail, he, for his camera, I, for my need to leave the windowless cave. Fifteen minutes later I was free and finally on my way to Nicole and her loving embrace.

When we reunited on grassy turf near our campus library, truly reminding each other that, yes, we do exist apart from one another, fireworks shot out of our faces and the leaves on the trees began to sing out songs of joy and merriment. On a non-fictional note, there was a live jazz concert being played farther down the slope and there was a small crowed gathering.

While Nicole and her special man friend listened, and danced, I ran around photographing the three-piece band and mingling with other photographers who seemed to pop up out of no-where. Apparently I was distracted by the spontaneous jazz for so long that Nicole stole my bike and rode it around our bell-tower for four loops to get my attention and I even had enough time to (accidentally) completely ignore my special man friend when he came to visit me in between classes. Oops. I felt like a douchey douche. Creatively I tried to mend the situation by writing an apology poem, but as the sun set, we all realized that there is only one thing that can truly fix all problems: food.

We retired to Nicole’s apartment, a lovely home with the best fridge imaginable (to my knowledge, it always houses ice cream and cake). There, as I ranted about potentially quitting one of my jobs, Nicole and her room-mates cooked homemade Chinese food and even made me a vegetarian side-dish! Oh the love! But the food-gasms didn’t stop there. We chose unanimously to crawl into Nicole’s boyfriend’s van, a juggernaut of vehicle, and ride in search of frozen yogurt. Down one street and up the next we went, crossing through Philadelphia’s Center City in vain, until we gave up and settled on making a bee-line for West Philly.

After successfully gorging ourselves and agreeing that we felt less guilty about the dessert because we ate ours together, we jumped back into boyfriend’s van and headed home for snuggles and Brendan Fraser. The four of us, one room-mate, one significant other and two feminists, fit like puzzles pieces onto the couch as The Mummy Returns (2001) flickered onto the screen. I’m not to proud to say that I hid in Nicole’s armpit when the scarabs began to eat people alive, but you do what you gotta do. It was worth the cuddles.

Brendan looks like a parakeet in this picture…Or perhaps he can see into your soul. Definitely one of the two.

About 30 min. into the movie I had to leave to catch my train at mid-night, but I was concerned that zombie mummies were going to eat me. Nicole, walking me out to my bike, took time to reassure me that she wouldn’t let anything bad happen. “I promise that if you are killed by CGI zombies, I will make sure your soul is guided into the proper after-life.”

All I have to say is, Go Team! Cooked Bananas!

Fatal Friday Cinco

The gods must have willed it, or the stars were in the proper arrangement, because this Friday Darragh and I finally had our painting session! For awhile I was afraid it wouldn’t happen, but when Darragh showed up she explained that she had been detained by a conversation with one of our professors. He had asked if she was on her way to a “Freidal Friday”? That was a euphoric moment for us.

Once at home, we fortified ourselves with chips, salsa, and fresh waffles (provided by my lovely housemate. Merci!) While listening to the comforting scream of Prince music, we unleashed our week’s stress on whatever unsuspecting paper came our way. As we loosened up throughout the evening, we tried more and more experiments. “I’ve given up my need for lines.” Darragh used mainly watercolor and graphite, often splattering the surface with a brush. At one point as Prince was walling, I heard a slap. Out of my peripherals I saw her simply hitting the canvas with her hand. (It became the penis drawing, don’t you know.)

 Meanwhile, I was incising an apple and using it to apply paint like a stamp. Overall, I used graphite, acrylic, watercolors, inks, apple pieces, and my teeth. At one point, Darragh looked up with a flash of joy and exclaimed, “I just learned how to paint tears!”

The night’s revelations only gained momentum from there. We had been invited to see the debut of drag queen Miss Scarlett Bleu at 11 pm that night. So we showed up, fashionably late, at The Venture Inn. We were in the heart of the Philly Gayborhood. What can I say if you weren’t there? Miss Bleu knows how to work it!

The Femmes ended the night dancing in our own little squares of the universe, at a nightclub recommended by Miss Bleu. Darragh had the supreme pleasure of meeting Mirror Man, a guy who ran his hands through her hair and then pushed her aside to look at his reflection with come-hither eyes. From my first drag show to Darragh’s first experience of really ill drunk ladies, this fatal friday was truly a night of firsts!