best costume ever!
Wow. My first Fantasy Fest. So much stimuli and activity, my head hasn’t stopped spinning. I’m going to try and put it to paper, knowing that some out there may have a completely different spin on the event. Keep in mind I’m a Fantasy Fest virgin, these are first impressions, subject to change come next year.
Fantasy Fest (FF) was the brain child of Joe Liszka, President of the Monroe County Tourist Development Association, in 1978; a festival created solely to build tourism in a typically slow and beautiful month, not connected to any religious or holiday calendar (check out the official Fantasy Fest website for history, code of conduct, events, etc.). It is now a 10 day extravaganza with too many events to list here, with 10s of thousands of visitors, and more of a heterosexual affair than some think, the big homosexual party being Bone Island, later in the fall. If you’ve never been to Key West during FF, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. It’s raucous, it’s alcohol driven, it’s salacious, it’s hilarious and exhausting. Go with a posse, or girlfriend or boyfriend— but just go.
The nudity: There’s plenty of it, all walking (or staggering) down Duval Street, the designated FF zone. As the week goes on, more clothing comes off. There’s the beautiful, creative and head turning body painting, of course (with some kind of covering between the legs), but there are more bare breasts than anything—painted, bejeweled, pastied and pushed-up. If you’re a breast man or woman, there are many to be enjoyed and some not so much. The “hotties” and the “notties,” all there, just slightly below eye level. Black leather is big for both sexes—between the cheeks, lips, around the neck, cock, down the legs to the boots and back up again. Collars, chains, wigs, masks, stilettos, professional make-up jobs, everything. I was told about “fetish parties,” paid parties at bars for late-middle-aged, heterosexual swingers, where the leather comes off and anything goes—and it goes down on pool tables, dance floors, in swings, bathrooms, against palm trees and under them. I walked to one of these parties and watched those going in, grossly fascinated, but in a very short while all those breasts and buns started to look alike—the new normal. I really wanted to go in and see for myself if it is indeed an orgy, and the bouncer encouraged me to do so, but it will have to wait until next year. I don’t want to go alone, but I do want to go full tilt, meaning I want to look damn good—meaning hundreds on a good costume or paint job.
The costumes: Despite all the attention given to the nudity, the costumes are the showstoppers. You see them everywhere, but the best come out for the Zombie Bike Ride and my favorite, the People’s Parade. Outrageous, jaw-dropping, genius outfits. The best costumes were worn by groups of people, for not only did they look fabulous in mass, they were clearly having the most fun (why I recommend a posse). Twelve or more men and women in shiny, turquoise, mermaid outfits; five Monica Lewinskys; eight flights attendants from Transgender Airways; judges, donalds, baskets of deplorables, dysfunctional marching bands. I am embarrassed to say that I totally failed in the costume department; I’ve never been good at putting a costume together, a craft that has always baffled me, and my FF attempts were no exception. But I was also too cheap, and frankly, I really didn’t care what I looked like—I was there to be a gawker (although I am thinking about what to do next year and who I can do it with). My friend Dean was far and away the most photographed parade participant. Good to hang out with FF royalty. And free liquor the entire parade route, more on that later.
Dean as George, Keith as a Hillary float
Philantrophy: Giving is a huge piece of FF and I was proud of my new hometown and honored to be introduced to that aspect of the festival amid all the bizarre behavior. The Coronation Ball, the Headdress Ball, a 5k, restaurant profit sharing, all for good causes and good times. I learned of one non-profit called the Sister Season Fund, a organization to help those employed in the tourist industry; the bartenders, waiters, hotel housekeepers, who still live and work here during the off season and receive few tips. The Headdress Ball was a gorgeous half-Vegas, half-amateur-hour production to benefit the Key West Business Guild, one of the nation’s top ranking, gay business associations. The Headdress Ball is a competition, locals and out-of-staters vying for small cash prizes and bragging rights for their homemade headdresses, some showgirl, some mechanized, some comic. These brave and crafty souls (close to twenty) played to a whooping packed house, the MC was outstanding, the evening a blast. Kudos to you, Key West.
But Fantasy Fest was not all fabulous in my eyes. I don’t know that I could become an aficionado, I don’t know that my body and brain and pocketbook could manage it every year. I see where I could get tired of it. I wanted a girlfriend with me, I wanted one or more of those wonderful women who make me laugh till I cry. Walking the People’s Parade with a good friend would have made the whole week. There was little to no dancing—hard to believe but true. The big Balls absolutely should have had dance floors. And I’m not totally comfortable with all the drinking; after more then twenty-five years of sobriety and no compulsion to drink and having long ago accepted the fact that this is a drinking world, the outrageous consumption of liquor during this event disturbed me. Shooters are passed out around town like political handbills. I suspect there are many participants who have to get pretty liquored up before dropping trou. There was chatter among my few acquaintances about freedoms, freedom of expression and nudity in particular, and how wonderful that people can enjoy that freedom in Key West. I agree. But off all the freedoms, fantasies and fetishes I have ever sought or still seek, baring my breasts is not one of them. Yes, I hope to do a full body paint sometime, but my fantasies are played out in full regalia in the bedroom, and freedom most recently came to me just 6 blocks from all the madness—in my very private, postage stamp, piece of paradise.
ps – I did not go to the BIG final event, another parade. I had hit my freak show limit. Edge of Old, remember?