Written by Buff Faye & Lilli Frost, Compiled and Edited by Buff Faye
The Evolution of Drag
The evolution of drag some say dates back to Shakespeare when men dressing as girls would perform plays on stage. Others say drag goes even further back in time. Many cultures and indigenous people found divergent ways to express themselves through hair, makeup, attire and body characteristics. Therein lies the confusion between definitions, identities and labels over time and within different cultures.
The history of the term “drag” from the 1960s has been used to denote transgender, genderqueer and non-binary people. The transgender pioneer Sylvia Rivera was quoted saying, “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.” Whether accurately at the time or due to a lack of language to discuss gender, the term “drag” has since evolved in how we see the term’s usage today in the United States.
It is important to understand that drag is not gender identity. Cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people are not drag kings or drag queens. However, these gender identities may choose to also be a drag queen, drag king or any self-expressive spectrum of a masculine/feminine performer.
Drag is more or less viewed today as a creative art form and/or a means of self-expression. Therefore, it falls more accurately under the umbrella of gender expression — how we express our gender. It should be noted that for many drag is more of a performance or act of entertainment. Similar to the 1920s and 1930’s “Pansy Craze,” where a male performer who sang with a high vocal range would dress as a woman in drag with a feminine expression. These performances were nothing out of the ordinary, and these men were hailed as celebrities. It was not until the 1940s when drag culture went underground.
Communication theorists would say that language is the sharing of meaning. Words are defined by our shared experience. And today just like all language, “drag” continues to evolve.
Many today argue that drag exists for entertainment, art and creative expression. This seems to be today’s view of “What is Drag?” Basically, drag is “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But if you dig deeper within communities you will find so much more.
What is Drag?
Drag at its core is an individual’s self-expression. So that means every day you dress, what you wear, how you appear is “drag.” And in the words of RuPaul, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” While I love the simplicity of this definition of drag, it is quite expansive and may be problematic to some who don’t see their office attire as drag. It is likely that most people view drag as something different or falling outside the gender norms. And yet others view drag as a form of entertainment, creativity and artistry.
For the sake of this feature, let us look at some of the diversity of drag we have in the Carolina area. Find each drag style and the artist who showcases the genre the best. Please keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list of drag, nor do these genres and sub-genres represent the entire drag performer. This brief feature of drag artists demonstrates how fortunate we are in the Queen City to have such a diversity of drag.
As the name suggests these are the queens who light up the dance floor. Death drops, splits, high kicks and lots of energy are what makes these drag entertainers stand out — oh, and don’t forget the wigs whipping back and forth.
Camp drag is wild, funny and entertaining. And that would be Patti O’Furniture. It is typically an entertainer who is quick-witted on their heels, and these drag queens use musical satire and comedy to humor the crowd. The goal is to keep you laughing. Ha. Ha.
The gorgeous drag queen is by far the most popular. Kassandra is simply breath-taking and beautiful. While other drag genres are gaining in popularity, still most drag queens today want to be pretty. Glamour queens often compete in pageants and are known for their flawless and fierce looks.
Definitely a form of drag art that is often underestimated in the drag scene — and it’s growing rapidly. Vegas VanDank is a staple in the Charlotte community with their outrageous artistry. No surprise, Vegas is the monarch of a huge drag family. These artists see expression as a fluid art form — no boobs, no hip pads, hair is good in all places. Nobody wants to be put in a gender box of expressing oneself. There are no rules. Gender nonconforming/androgyous drag artists say “fuck gender.”
Kay Kay Lavelle
Bearded Drag Queen
Many would call the “Bearded Queen” non-conforming and that is true. There is now a National Bearded Queen Pageant System. It is basically a drag queen who does not shave their facial hair. Kay Kay definitely has the beard and can be found entertaining across the Carolinas. Just like any genre, there can be subgenres that “Bearded Queens” fall under too.
Opposite of a drag queen, a drag king is masculine drag that depicts men who are celebrities in their performances. Sometimes that means boy bands, country western male singers or male rap artists. Oliver Clothesoff is one of the most creative with his mix of pop culture with his male illusion performances.
Celebrity drag queen impersonators are another very popular form of drag that has been around for ages and is yet gaining again in popularity. Jamie Monroe is absolutely known for her “Stevie Nicks” and does it to a tee. There are many celebrity drag impersonators in Charlotte — whether it be Cher, Tina Turner, Dolly or Madonna.
Barbara Burning Bush
These would be drag queens that dress in drag for a good cause. During the AIDS crisis, drag queens often did charity benefit shows to bring communities together in a bar and help raise money for people living with HIV/AIDS. Barbara Burning Bush is doing that still today with the RAIN Drag Bingo fundraiser for supporting those impacted and living with HIV/AIDS. She comes out annually for this amazing charity benefit.
Robyn O’Ladies & Charlotte Douglas
Drag has its roots in the theater with Shakespeare, so it is expected that some drag queens would be all about theatrical shows and productions. Robyn O’Ladies and Charlotte Douglas are all about church revivals and gospel hours. These queens do not rely on traditional bar venues to perform or showcase their talents, but rather they take their drag creativity to the theater. Most of these drag queens actually act, sing and dance.
Cory Caleb Chanel-Iman
Male entertainment is not new; however, I would say in Charlotte it has seen a resurgence. Cory Caleb Chanel-Iman has been doing it for a while now. This genre is best described as men who dress up to entertain as men in a masculine portrayal of a celebrity and/or to entertain in general. There are lots of rhinestones and costumes of course.
Femme Queens have been defined as cisgender women who are drag queens. They entertain in a feminine expression and are full-fledge drag queens. Jazmine Monet always goes the extra-mile with fabulous costumes and big hair.
Remember: Remember gender identity and gender expression are not the same. And sexual orientation has nothing to do with a person’s gender identity or gender expression. Any questions? Search the Internet for Gender Unicorn. It is a great visual for understanding distinctively the terms sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
How to get your Drag On: 5 Tips for the Newcomer to Drag
If you’re a baby drag queen, king, or someone who doesn’t quite know how to begin their drag career, it can seem a bit overwhelming to figure out how to get started in the drag scene. You’ve got to learn the makeup for your face, you’ve got to learn the politics of getting booked, and you’ve got to find the strength to not give up on yourself when you hit the inevitable roadblocks along the way. Fortunately, there are entertainers, like me, who have come before you who can help you with answering some of the questions you might have when it comes to getting started. Here are my five tips for being a successful newcomer.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to have bad makeup days. You’re going to lose some competitions. When I started doing drag a few years ago, I was quite hard on myself the first time I lost a talent show. I was just as hard on myself when I lost the next one. Then I was a bit harder on myself when I lost my third one, but those losses gave me the experience and the critiques I needed to improve and grow. You’re going to have bad days, and you’re going to fail. You can’t let those failures slow your momentum. Grow from the mistakes, and don’t stop improving.
Remember the way it feels to be new. You might be the new kid on the block for a month, maybe two, but there will be someone else who comes along soon after you. As you mature and as you improve, don’t disrespect the people who come after you. Help others the way you want to be helped, treat others the way you want to be treated, and you may be surprised by the friendships you gain.
Ask once, ask twice, then give it a rest. As your talents develop and you begin gaining positive attention, you will likely be asked to perform on a slower night of the week or, if you’re lucky like I was, then you could be asked to perform at one of the larger venues in town on a busier night. Some show directors will offer you booking opportunities, but others you will have to approach. In my experience, asking for a booking once is normal, asking for a booking twice is still polite, but asking a third time is a bit pointless. If you’ve reached out to a show director twice and you haven’t been given a date, chances are you aren’t what they want. There are any number of reasons why a show director won’t book you, so again, don’t sweat the small stuff. Not everyone is meant for every job.
Keep your mess off Facebook. Part of being a drag queen is being a smart business person. If you are upset with a show director, if you are upset with a fellow queen, if you are upset with how someone behaved at a show, then it’s best to take a break from the Internet and think twice about that nasty Facebook status. Show directors, your fans and your friends see everything. You don’t need to build a bad reputation for yourself in the beginning of your career. Sure, we all mess up, but when you can, limit Facebook to cat memes and selfies.
Wash your drag. To this day, there are seasoned queens who need to find Dove in a soapless place. It’s easily the simplest rule to follow, and it’s the rule that makes the biggest difference in how show directors and bar patrons are going to receive you. You sweat in your drag. You go outside in your drag. You drink cocktails in your drag. It needs to be washed. No one wants to work with a queen who smells like a fart in a mitten. If you’ve had two to three shows in a row, it’s more than likely time to wash your tights, and if your costumes start to smell too much like Fritos and regret, then it’s time to get them dry cleaned.
So there you have it! These are my five tips to being a successful newcomer. Put yourself out there, don’t beat yourself up about your mistakes, and remember that one day you’ll score 10s across the board — just don’t be discouraged before that day comes. Stay fabulous, friends. XOXO.
— by Lilli Frost