He is a gender-bending Barbie girl.
Mirroring the lyrics of the Aqua song that's reverberating throughout the hotel ballroom, Holliday is the type of Barbie you can "undress everywhere." He sports a vacant grin as he cycles through five changes of clothes--or flat pieces of foam painted to look like clothes--plucking each from the suitcase and attaching it to the tape on his chest. Holliday starts his routine wearing a floral party dress, becomes a cheerleader and finishes the song as a dominatrix with a riding crop. He slips into and out of identities as easily as Barbie does outfits.
Holliday has been a Tucson drag-show fixture for 15 years. He performs for the adrenaline rush. He performs because it pays. But he also performs because it enables him to give back to the community that has helped him find his niche. That's why for the past eight Christmases, he has rounded up other female illusionists to help raise money for families struggling to make ends meet.
"There are children out there who are in need, and if we can lend a helping hand a couple of times a year, or as often as possible--if that's the least I can do, then that's amazing," says Holliday, 38.
Throughout December, female illusionists dedicate individual numbers at Tucson bars and nightclubs to raising money for the families. All the tips for those routines are donated and pooled together.
After adding up the money, Holliday and others buy presents and household items. They then deliver the goods to the families, Holliday says.
"Since I don't have deep financial pockets, I utilize drag as my way of giving back to the community," says 33-year-old Bunny Fu Fu, or Mark Fetgatter.
This year, Frankie Barker, who is one of Holliday's co-workers at Elements Salon, 2201 N. Country Club Road, spoke with her daughter's third-grade teacher about "adopting" a family in need. The teacher provided her with information on a single family of five. Employees at the salon also chipped in, Barker says.
Holliday and three others spent about $825 at Target for the family. They bought shoes, coats, pajamas, jeans, hats, gloves and toys for the three children, ages 10, 9 and 7. For the household, they purchased pillows, sheets, towels, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Topping it off was a $300 gift card for Fry's grocery stores.
Holliday and company then drove it all over to the family's two-room trailer. He says the young parents, who spoke little English, had no idea how most of the money was raised.
This was the first year Diana Flair--also known as Jason Lattimore--was able to meet the family, even though he had donated tips before.
"The kids were real sweet," says Flair, 23. "We had to keep them inside so they wouldn't peek and see what they got. They said 'hi' and 'thank you.' Cute kids."
Barker says Holliday found out about her plans to have the salon support a family, and then decided to add the drag queens' money pool to hers.
"Larry (Holliday) has a huge heart," she says. "He's a very helpful, caring, giving person, and I feel blessed to have him and know him as my friend."
Throughout the year, Holliday sets the tone for Tucson's close-knit drag community through his charity work with organizations like the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation and Wingspan, as well as the sage advice he gives budding performers. He's also a hard-working entrepreneur, selling a line of rhinestone jewelry on the Web at www.madeforaqueen.com.
Many illusionists say Holliday is the matriarch of a Tucson drag community that operates like a big family. Calmly presiding over last-minute arrangements at a recent performance, Holliday put aside his own preparations to offer his expertise on styling wigs and jewelry making, and to jot down the song list for the DJ.
"In drag, he's like mama," says 19-year-old Benjamin Healy, whose stage name is Jessica Deveraux. "He helps us pretty much with anything we need. We all go to him when we need supplies--wigs, shoes, jewelry, glue, makeup. He's just there to help us grow and help us to get what we wanna achieve."
Holliday, 38, was raised in Alexander, Iowa--a town of 200 people. An outgoing kid who worked hard at his education, choir and theater, he says his best friends were the "druggies, the people who were the partiers," because he fit in when he was with them.
"It was a very nice upbringing, but growing up gay in a small town, you feel very alienated," he says. "You just couldn't tell people who you were, and you had to be very closeted. It made me more tolerant of things that weren't 'normal.' It made me work harder at being a good human being.
"I had been the victim of ridicule in my life as a young man," Holliday continues. "I can definitely understand how these kids in school will go in with a gun and shoot people. I can definitely understand how they're feeling, because they've been ridiculed by other people their age."
Holliday says he got treatment in 1987 for the drug problem he picked up with the party crowd. He then moved to Tucson in January 1989, where he became enamored with a drag show he caught at a local bar. The desire to act, which he hadn't felt since graduating high school, was awakened.
"I knew I could do it, so I went to K-mart and bought my first dress, and the rest is history," says Holliday. "It's a drug; if you enjoy it, you'll want to do it again and again and again."
Since that first foray, his lip-synching routines have evolved into off-color romps. He also sings; A recent audience was in stitches over a ditty that referred to gay sex in racy detail, to the tune of Lou Bega's Mambo #5.
"It's extremely easy for me after 15 years," Holliday says. "Putting on the makeup? Easy. Putting on the costume? Easy. For me, the hardest part is getting the hair styled. But the actual performing itself is very easy for me."
Holliday has seen a lot of people come and go, in the Tucson drag community and in life. The week before Christmas, he confides that a friend was at the end of a 20-year fight with HIV.
"I'm heartbroken because I'm losing a friend, but I'm happy because he's not having to live and suffer," he says. "I've dealt with it so much that it's not a bad thing anymore. The worst part about death is the selfishness we all feel because we're losing a friend."
According to Holliday, giving to people--as he does every year to his adopted families--is what soothes him. "When I was shopping, I was completely focused on the family and the happiness this is going to bring them, and the gratification that it brings to me," he says. "It helps take my mind off things."