The average straight person looks forward to Halloween, a time when they dance and prance, crawl or howl, all effectively disguised from the person they know waits in the mirror. There are usually celebrations, a lack of inhibition and a general feeling of good will, since all of the fears and emotions normally keeping us at bay, are finally set ashore, allowing a true acceptance of who we are. It’s a drag it can’t last for more than a day.
Drag on the other hand, is a time honored, and yes, respected, form of exactly the same thing for the gay community. For years, it was the only window allowing a peek into a culture and world most of us would never know, but were curious about. However, Drag is so much more than just a few feathers and a blast of lip syncing music, honoring the true birth of karaoke. Drag in itself, is the heart of self-expression, living under judgment and political frustration.
Putting gas into the tank of the Texaco Star Theater, Uncle Miltie once amused America from inside a small black and white screen, camping up his masculine appearance with frills, lipstick and over-the-top gestures of faux femininity, proving some did like it hot. It was applauded as comedy and we laughed, and for some there was also a hidden hope to someday slip into a dress, draw on lips and express who they were as well. Entertainment and reality had yet to become the one man show they are now, so Drag continued to be fake flamboyant, and over the top, with a large demographic looking down in laughter.
As years and minds attempted to stretch forward, so did the confidence and stability of Drag, and its performing platform became more than glittered shoes. Although not accepted as it should have been, the acknowledgement of being gay was nevertheless, getting a nod in the mainstream, apart from the stage of ridicule. We aren’t there yet, but we have come a long way baby, and the smokin’ hot talent and beauty emerging from the garden has opened many a closed mind.
Television also changed, offering Drag performers at their best, competing, lip syncing and reading the world whenever we desire a refreshing look at reality. No longer hidden behind darkened club curtains, the positive and reaffirming presence found in this self-acceptance has spread across more than a screen in colorful pride, giving each of us something to strive for ourselves. Social media also developed, offering instant clips and quotes, all zipping by on the fly, letting us feel part of the family as they say.
However, as with anything in life, the direction or evolution of Drag also changed, no longer just a bevy of sequins, wigs and tucks, we now see costumed creations of science fiction fear, and Gothic shades in black, that would please any Lily Mister, happily living on Mocking Gay Lane. This darker side of Drag, and the shade it brings, accent not hopes and dreams, but instead, expose the pain where many performers have lived, and now confident, they dismiss shadows once threatening to consume them, and stereotypes they refuse to fit into.
Likewise, taking a further detour from the Lady Bunny trail we’ve grown to accept and love, intense implications of S&M and lashes far from the eye, are also replacing the over sized bosom and padding, which was once a comfortable norm for those in the audience. I would be remiss; if I didn’t say I find it sad seeing skinny Queens with model perfect make-up, and expensive couture walking the thin line, from in your face to in your heart. I love the Drag Queens that represented the alter egos of uppity old ladies in church, the grandma I wanted, the neighbor I hoped would move in and the sharp tongue saying things I couldn’t, through heavy eye shadow, crystals, glitter and more tulle than heaven could order. However, like the world we live in, it was inevitable darkness would creep into these colors as well.
Lucky for us, there will always be a few Rit dyed in the velvet Queens, still seeing their art as more than self-expression, using slick satin and intense sparkle to lower walls of resistance, impact political points and prove that dress up is more than a holiday statement or something we relegate to an event. In the end, they will also be the ones who continue to keep club and closet doors open, like rainbows across once stormy skies, confirming there is a place for such beauty and uniqueness, against the harsh landscape of ordinary life.
For them I am eternally grateful, and will continue to bask in their overheated, fast Double entendre, below the belt commentaries and punched out satirical statements, always followed by shady diatribes aimed at our dysfunctional human condition. Anyone can play king, wear leather and take control, but only a select few can be a real queen, knowing that a punch from a softly padded underbelly into society will forever say more than anyone can imagine.