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Moscow’s Moose Lodge holds a hell of a drag show, if you overlook the gay hairstylist — such a cliché — and the purse-lipped senior citizens … wait, no, they’re part of the fun

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The husky drag queen gets down on all fours and crawls along the bingo tables. The crowd cheers. But when she stands, fantasy gives way to reality. The table sags, the particleboard breaks, and she lands tottering on her high heels. “I’m all right,” she shouts, thrusting her arms into the air like Rocky (if Stallone had worn eyeliner and a slutty dress). The audience at Moscow Moose Lodge No. 871 goes wild.

Moose and drag queens?

Sounds like strange bedfellows — even in Moscow. The lodge is less than glam-tastic, with stuffed moose heads and white cinder-block walls. But once a month, the fluorescents go off, the icicle lights go on, and hundreds come to dance to the DJ and watch the performers strut across the duct-taped stage in front of the bingo sign.

“There is no gay bar in this rural part of Idaho. The drag show is all there is,” says Kathy Sprague, who organizes the monthly shows with her partner, Tabitha Simmons. Both belong to the Moose Lodge, less than a mile from the University of Idaho. “We hear all the time from people, ‘You made my college years bearable.’” The shows give refuge to another marginalized group — people under 21. Thanks to the 18-and-older admission policy, the shows attract a lot of minors looking for fun. “Our crowd is at least half straight,” says Simmons, who co-owns Moscow’s Eclectica and Safari Pearl shops with Sprague.

“The shows get straight people to come in and mingle and see that we are all just people,” says David Charawell, who has been coming for five years. “It feels like a family. I know 80, 90 percent of the people here on a first-name basis.”

When the DJ kicks things off, they dance in ebullient clusters like high schoolers, waving their arms. A few songs later, some make a human chain and weave through the crowd. “Everyone just wants to come out and dance,” says DJ Brian Maki.

The lodge warms from all the moving bodies. A few people wear costumes: vampires, hipsters, flappers. “It’s like Mardi Gras meets gay pride meets homecoming,” says Maki, who in real life creates multimedia for Washington State University’s online degree programs.

After Maki plays “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” Claudia Stubblemeyer takes the stage. Everybody sit on the floor, she commands, and leave an aisle in the middle. With the crowd assembled at her feet, it no longer seems like high school. It seems like grade school.

Claudia starts with the rules: “This is a safe, fun environment,” she says. “If you say ‘f---ing faggot or f---ing breeder, this high-heel shoe goes up your ass.” The laughter dies down and she adds: “Without lube.” The audience loves it. Drag queen humor is, after all, much like high school humor with a frisson of extra kink.

In real life, Claudia, aka Chris Bidiman, works for the University of Idaho, where she is earning a degree in school and community health. In following with her studies, she tells the crowd to consider donating bone marrow. The test takes only a little spit on a swab. “Normally I don’t encourage spitting,” she says. “Swallowing, maybe.” The crowd cracks up while her co-host, Aquasha DeLusty, looks as shocked as a person can while wearing a leather corset, zebra top and shredded fishnets.

The performances are often punctuated by little PSAs: Get an HIV test, be careful skateboarding, etc. It’s wholesome here, with drinkers segregated behind a line of tables, and a lack of the sleaze that some of us enjoy.

Aquasha (“uh-KOSH-uh”) is a queen with a real crown, which she won as Miss Gay Idaho 2008. Also known Gordon Mellott, Aquasha used to be a Dempsey’s girl before she left the glitter of Spokane for Moscow. In the real world, she’s a hairstylist — “Yeah, it’s a cliché, I know,” she says — at Regis Salon in the Palouse Mall.

This Saturday night, the show celebrates its 15th anniversary. It’s been held in bars and clubs around the Palouse, most notably at the Beach in downtown Moscow, before it settled in at the Moose Lodge, 210 N. Main St.

Sprague and Simmons met a bit of resistance when they joined the Moose. “Most of the active members are in their 70s and 80s,” Sprague said. “They had no expectation this lesbian couple would come in.”

Longtime Moose member Beatrice Anderson, 85, says a few “older gentlemen” resented the new arrivals. But the couple quickly won acceptance, with Simmons rising to the rank of Senior Regent. “They do a lot of work and make a big donation to the community through fundraising activities,” Anderson says.

“We’ve become very involved with the Moose, which is a surreal experience for us,” Sprague says, “and I’m sure for them on occasion.”

Surreal seems an apt description, especially after watching a drag queen cartwheel through the Moose Lodge. You can leave reality at the door here, like a winter coat, and slip into something more ideal: “It’s a place where everyone can come together,” says attendee Page Hogan. “There’s no discrimination.”

The 15th anniversary Moscow Drag Show is on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 10:30 pm and midnight at the Moscow Moose Lodge, 210 N. Main St.. Doors open at 9 pm, Tickets: $5; $7 at the door. Advance sales at Eclectica/Safari Pearl, 221 E. Third St., Moscow, Idaho. Call (208) 882-9499.

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