Drag Queen Inside!
Drag Queen Inside!
By Helmut Domagalski
A modern day artform, Drag has grown up into an extensive international entertainment industry, pioneered most famously by Ru Paul and his popular Drag Race television series. But drag has been around a long time! It was in the mid 1800s, gay activist William Dorsey Swann first proclaimed himself the “Queen of Drag”. Our Gayly Dose episode this week was all things drag with an in depth interview with Atlanta drag icon Edie Cheezburger. During our interview, I asked myself, how do I really feel about the art form?
I’m a Disney Princess right?
Call me imaginative, curious, or both, as a four to five year old boy growing up in El Paso, Texas – I often explored gender identity. From the beginning, I simply knew that I was different. Boys like girls and girls like boys, and darn it – when my best guy friend talked to me, I really liked it. I loved being around him. So if girls liked boys, maybe I was a girl?
Some Days I would pretend to have long flowing hair. At night I’d grab my bed sheets and wrap them around myself and sing like a princess. Occasionally I’d sing along to Madonna radio and envision what it might be like for ME to be the Material Girl. I’d even dress-up in some of my mom’s heels and clothes, along with my brothers, curious of what it was like to go through all the pageantry of being a girl.
Ultimately my mother, who caught and disciplined us mostly for disrespecting her belongings (not for being imaginative) showed me that such things weren’t “right” in our society. I conformed to the fact that I was indeed a boy thru and thru. I like being a boy – and presenting as such, but inside, somehow, that princess was still there – brazen, creative, gloriously capable of femininity.
You Gonna Wear a Boa to Thanksgiving?
Honestly, it was not until coming out at age 33 that the concepts of Drag came back to my heart and mind. I’ll never forget my latina cousin’s fear. “Now that you are gay – you aren’t coming to thanksgiving in heels and a boa are you?!”, she concernedly asked. My cousin always enjoyed dressing us up as kids. She had nurtured and encouraged me even in my Barbie play. My cousin knew the diva inside me and was scared at how much it would come out.
Being newly gay, I ABSOLUTELY swung harder into the gestations, attire, and attributes that were flamboyant and stereotypical. I considered this part of our assimilation process. Time to embrace those forbidden behaviors, activities, and attitudes. Time to come into yourself as a gay man and be freed from society’s heteronormative expectations.
For me, Atlanta drag queens performing were everything! Edie Cheezburger, Celeste Holmes, Phoenix, Shawnna Brooks, Lina Lust… the list goes on. They were braver than I could be! Willing to don and strut in the most decadently extravagant outfits and provide entertainment and fun. As a gay man, the reason I enjoyed drag so much in those early coming out years was because what these men were wearing on the outside, represented what I sometimes felt on the inside. Indeed, I learned I can relate to both the masculinity and femininity inside of me. I am capable of keeping up with men in terms of strength or analytics but also with women in terms of empathy and sensitivity. Atlanta drag queens helped me with this discovery.
Dad, You Would Totally Win Ru Paul’s Drag Race…
Fast forward to me and my three daughters’ favorite pastime, yes, it’s Ru Paul’s Drag Race! As soon as I showed them the series they were hooked. My eldest went back and binge watched all the previous seasons. My youngest daughter taught us to “Sissy das Laufen” (Sissy that walk) on our trip to Germany. My daughters can sing “Queens Everywhere” word for word. Their interest and fascination with the world of drag goes on and on. My personal favorites: Bianca Del Rio, Raja, Sasha Velour, Yvie Oddly, Manila Luzon. These queens slay and filet!
Watching drag queens compete has not only become a source of joy and togetherness, we also very much appreciate the lessons of self acceptance and self love that the entertainment promotes.
In a strange and beautiful way, I know that my daughters are able to translate this pageantry and entertainment into the ideals that femininity (or masculinity) in themselves must be embraced, celebrated, and rejoiced. Drag teaches us to pause our judgements or predispositions and enjoy humans as humans – come as you are.
One day, I may create an alter ego and put on some heels, makeup and sashay down a runway. But till then I will, as every good gay should, revel in the realness of our existence that is a unique mix of masculine and feminine. We should be just as brave as Drag queens. Let’s be ourselves when we go to work, when we go out on the town, or when we spend simple time with loved ones. Drag has helped make society a safer and healthier place to simply be – and we should all be grateful for it!