In high school, when I took my hags with me to Tiger Heat on Thursday nights, they always loved it–most of it, anyway. They loved the upbeat atmosphere, they loved the strobe lights, and they loved the dancing and the music. The one thing they’ve never been keen on, however, is the idea of drag queens. I would ask them why, and they always gave elusive responses, obviously trying not to offend their gay best friend. Truth be told, there’s something intimidating about a man dressing up like a woman, and since I had no experience to direct me otherwise, I never really questioned my friends’ aversion to drag.
Aside from the minimal drag exposure at 18 clubs, I had no experience with drag until The Queen of queens herself, Ru Paul, came into my life through season 4 of the show Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I was hooked after the first episode. Admittedly, the initial draw came from the super-high heels, sparkles and glitter, huge wigs, and bejeweled eyelashes. I had never seen drag as being glamorous before, but Latrice Royale really knew how to make those sapphire rhinestones look regal. For those of you who don’t know, Latrice was drag race’s season 4 “Miss Congeniality,” also known as the queen whom everyone wanted to win but was tragically sent home before her time, and she was a 300 pound black man. Latrice and the other queens wear more sparkles and higher heels than any man could even imagine exist. Most men would never even dream about wearing these outfits, but then again, neither would most women. A 40 year old, 300 pound black man could never pass for a real woman, but he can still make a damn good drag queen, and that’s because the point of doing drag is not to dress and act like a woman, but instead like a drag queen. The point is that doing drag is a spectacle, a production, and drag queens are caricatures, not men trying to be women.
So, what gives? What’s with this aversion people feel towards these queens? For a while, especially after so much exposure to drag, I still didn’t understand where this mistrust about the drag community came from, but unlike before, now I’m thinking about it. People look at drag through the wrong lens; they see a man trying to be a woman and doing a terrible job. Society really mistrusts this guy because he’s doing it wrong: if he wants so badly to be a woman, then why doesn’t he conform to the typical ideas of fashion, makeup and other ideas of beauty that society values?
The answer of course, is that this is not the goal of drag: the man trying to be a woman and doing the worst job is the drag queen doing the best job. While femininity is no doubt the starting point of drag, drag culture actually says that queens should, rather than try to blend in, go above and beyond the starting point, standing out and being a unique individual that doesn’t fit into any gender binary. If society could realize the real goal of a fierce drag queen–to stand out, to defy expectations, to push limits, and to have a damn good time while doing it–they could begin to appreciate drag art, and this suspicion veiling drag culture could finally be lifted.