Last night I went out with coworkers from one of my jobs. We went to happy hour and then to a restaurant/bar to see their 9 o’clock drag show. This was the third or fourth time I’ve been to a drag show, though the first time at this particular restaurant. I love them. I think they’re fabulous. And I admit, not being a part of the LGBTQQIA community (I might consider myself A, and I certainly have friends in the other categories, but I can’t claim to really be an active member in the community), I don’t know a whole lot about the history, the culture, the intent, and the psychology behind drag, but I think I do get it a little more than the average layperson who has never been. I would really like to experience one in a bigger city, where maybe they sing instead of lip synch, and where the crowd is a little more diverse. But still, I had so much fun, and I keep thinking how I almost wish I could be on the stage, or at least that I could take sexy lessons from some of the queens, and last night while I was watching, I was trying to figure out why.
One thing is that I think gender play and gender bending is really interesting, fun, and really important in a society where gender is so normalized and binary. At the museum where I work, there is constantly a conversation that in some way leads to “But boys won’t like that” or “We need more girl toys in the gift shop,” and I hate it. But at the same time, I get it, because girls just won’t buy dinosaur puzzles, and boys won’t buy butterfly wands. And even things that should be very neutral at least in its commercialism is totally gender-ified, like a molding kit that you have to buy two of, because one is a brown box with dinosaur moldings and the other is a pink box with flower molding. And much as I like to think that toys should be gender neutral, they aren’t marketed that way, and so kids won’t choose to see them that way. And I’m one to talk, because even with my very liberal parents, who never bought Barbies or Disney stuff, I was still far more interested in cooking and dressing up than I was in trains and dinosaurs. So when people are able to get past the way they were brainwashed and explore other identities and forms of expression, I think it’s awesome. I think a lot of the reason I find it awesome is probably because I don’t really have the confidence (or personal interest) in doing so. I might be hard pressed to remember to put makeup on in the morning, but I love wearing dresses and probably appear to be pretty cisfemale. Because there is no real way to control for nature and nurture when you’ve already been nurtured, I’m not sure how much of that is just the person I was predetermined to be or whether, even with conscientious parents, I was still socialized into being that way. It’s probably a combination of both. So anyone who can overcome socialization is, frankly, awesome, just because that takes a lot of self awareness, confidence, and creativity.
Confidence and creativity are the other things I adore about drag shows. From where I’m sitting, at least, they seem like such an empowering environment. I love to sing and belt, but I’m more apt to be found blending in with a choir than be found with a microphone AND a sparkly dress being loud and solo. I even love karaoke, but I require alcohol and my eyes to be closed to sing out. And I’m only half joking about the sexy lessons. I was very confident as a child, but it didn’t take long for my more shy and self conscious side to take over. Having gigantic breasts and a mother who couldn’t do your frizzy hair will do that for you. I’m very, very happy in my personal bubble and find very few reasons to break out of it. Sometimes I do, but it’s usually when I’m in a hypomanic stage anyway, and I feel crappy about it because I go over the top and can’t stop talking. I think my personality is more suited to being a quiet, introverted person (though most people I know think it’s hilarious to think of me as shy), but sometimes I miss being the girl who was a natural leader (because ever since eighth grade, I’ve lacked the charisma to be seen as one by my peers), who wore crazy colorful dresses (it took my sister to point out that I own almost no shirts that aren’t a solid color or a band, and most of my dresses are solid colors as well), and who would dance or sing for anyone for any reason. And drag queens exude a confidence beyond a regular performer. I think there’s something about the fact that not only are they being confident in the sense that not everyone can get over stage fright, but they’re also performing gender and turning social normativity on its head.
The audience interaction is better than a lot of other performers’ audience banter. Some singers are just awful at sounding natural in the in-betweens at concerts, and it just hurts to hear them try. I love that drag shows are interactive, movable. I love that you tip the performers and perform the tipping ritual in a way that both mimics and makes fun of how you tip strippers, and that again is a form of play with gender identity, social customs, and sexual objectification. I love that people play with the boundaries of appropriate touch, and so far in my experience, no one has felt truly, debilitatingly uncomfortable with that, even if they didn’t expect to have their breasts shaken by a strange man in a wig. I love that the queens come out after the show, in various states of undress/gender re-integration (if that is an appropriate, acceptable made-up term), and just hang out and talk, and unlike many celebrities, are happy to show you that they are real people, not just stage creatures.
Then there’s the simple fact that, at every “normal” club I have been at, the music selection is at best subpar, and at every gay club I’ve gone to, the music selection is awesome. Last night was no exception. Great mix of music both for dancing and lip synching. Singing or lip synching, since you’re probably just singing with low volume anyway, is such a sensitive, emotive, self-exposing thing to to do. So when somebody is able to be that comfortable with exposing themselves in a variety of socially uncomfortable ways, I’m drawn. And I’m jealous.