Lessons in Being Nina: Andy's experience

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

Back in 19[makes garbled sound], during my senior year of high school, I received "most creative costume" honors from the yearbook committee for my half-man/half-woman Halloween getup. But like Walter White on "Breaking Bad," there were no half-measures when I turned up at 400 West Rich in Franklinton on a recent Sunday for a full drag queen makeover, courtesy of Virginia West. Here are a handful of things I learned throughout the process.

Lesson #1: I would not do well with hair.

I've never had cool hair, which is why I didn't sweat it when my hairline went all Eddie Munster in my early 20s. Going from a buzz cut to luxurious, flowing brown locks proved a difficult adjustment, and days later I can still feel ghost hairs stuck in the corner of my mouth.

Lesson #2: The need to create a character.

In my day-to-day life I prefer to keep a relatively low profile, which is impossible to do while painted up like a Vegas showgirl and wearing a dress that could barely contain my (implant augmented) bosom. For the photo shoot I had to say goodbye to Andy and hello to Regina "Rags" Melbourne, a name that prompted several in the room to adopt Vaudeville-era accents as they spun tales of her Rags-to-riches past.

Lesson #3: Nina West knows the words to New Kids on the Block's "Step by Step."

And she will belt them out like a drill sergeant when called for ("STEP ONE!").

Lesson #4: Makeup is a total pain in the ass to remove.

Writer Drew Magary recently penned a piece for GQ about the developing (if small) market for male cosmetics, but the concealer, tanner, etc. he employed bore little resemblance to the thick stage makeup slathered on my face. "Vegetable oil is good for getting this stuff off," Nina suggested at several points throughout the afternoon, though I'm betting some kind of paint thinner/sandpaper combo might have been most effective.

Lesson #5: The importance of stepping out of your comfort zone.

This was not an assignment I relished (I generally abhor getting my photo taken, and I prefer to tell stories rather than step into them), but it was a unique chance to get a glimpse into a world with which I had little familiarity. Besides, remaining open to new experiences - even potentially uncomfortable ones - is an essential part of continuing to grow as a person. I can't envision a scenario where I'll ever again need to don drag, but I can certainly appreciate why Nina/Virginia/et al. enjoy getting glammed up and flaunting the bigger, more colorful aspects of their massive personalities. I thank them again for inviting us in with such open arms - even if I did wind up looking like Cher and Ted Leo mashed together in one of those "If They Mated" scenarios.