The first time I saw an episode of Rupaul’s Drag Race, it was Season 14, Episode 10, at a streaming party. Other guests called it the worst game of snatch game ever. It reaffirmed my decision to not participate in the mainstream cultural phenomenon. This was a sign the straights must have gotten to it.
I was raised by the mentality of native Hispanic Catholic liberals who will tell you it’s ok to like men if you don’t act like a girl, genuinely thinking they’re being progressive.
Visiting Baltimore, I found myself at the Eagle, introduced to Jesus Quispe, its owner.
Regulars call him Q. In the past, my experience with the Eagle brand had always involved more leather and fewer women, especially in New York. Baltimore’s venue boasts multiple floors and rooms – including a cruisy one for men with the lights turned off – but it manages to present itself as less intimidating for patrons who are not male.
Q asked me if I was familiar with Daya Betty, a drag contestant from season 14, scheduled to perform that evening. In a tone more standoffish than Jlo, I proudly announced I didn’t know her.
He gifted me a few drink tokens and said to follow him. At first, the venue feels like a labyrinth with its different turns and entryways in the dark lighting. He led me upstairs and hushed me when passing a pitch-black entry, though the noises coming from the room quickly let me know no one was being held against their will. The backstage entrance was adjacent, where all the drag queens get ready.
I’ve watched drag in the past only when they happened to coincidently be occurring at the same bar where I was hanging out. I never planned for it, and in today’s gay scene, it’s impossible to avoid them. I rationalized I go out to unwind, catch up with friends, or flirt with strangers. Drag was not my definition of entertainment, but then again, neither was making love to men once upon a time.
When turned on, a drag queen could be one of the most intimidating creatures on Earth. Most likely, this is because they’re allowed to orchestrate a personality that fits whatever they want to embody. The most insecure person rises as a contoured phoenix with a wig, glued-on nails, and lashes.
Watching them in the midst of taking off who they are as people and putting on their respective fantasies humanized the art form. And that’s what each queen embodied, human art. So I decided to capture them like, how do you say: one of your French men dressed as girls.
The biggest surprise was witnessing Daya Betty perform on stage from right behind her. The crowd embraced her with the eagerness of any other major artist who has achieved national recognition, so why couldn’t I? In my own version of progressiveness, I failed to make room for people less inhibited than me. Imposing ideas and limitations is the opposite of what it means to be queer.
Luckily, you only need to be willing to watch a talented drag queen perform to understand the hype and know you’ll be back for more.
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