It’s 1 a.m. on Thursday morning and I’m sandwiched between a mirrored wall and four drag queens at a booth in an empty gay bar. Although the show’s over, Ann Artist’s blonde wig, adorned with ivy and twigs, remains pinned to her head. Pretty Girl smokes a Newport through her white latex mask and painted black teeth, while Johnny Patches has traded Luna LaVey’s “cunty” black wig for their half–shaved purple hair. Similarly, Icon Ebony–Fierce is male–bodied for the night.
As I rest my head on Ann Artist’s black faux fur coat, I’m almost crying. The tears clawing at my eyes aren’t a consequence of the smoke–laced air. No, I’m crying because Johnny Patches, Ann Artist, Icon Ebony–Fierce, Pretty Girl and the other drag queens I’ve encountered in writing my final piece for ENGL 145 have the balls—albeit tucked—to do what I could never do: completely, to the dark core of my suburban white girl body, be myself.
An hour ago at Tabu, Luna casts Wiccan spells, mouthing the words to the “House of the Rising Sun,” teasing and stripping with an eroticism that Penn girls can only dream of. As Luna mouths “I’m going back to wear that ball and chain,” they violently flip their wig off, revealing Johnny’s slick violet hair beneath. Without hesitating, Johnny continues to run their hands down their body, massaging everything from Luna’s nude bra to the neatly scrolled “everything was beautiful and nothing hurt” tattoo wrapped between the top of Luna’s tights and Johnny’s belly button.
That’s what drag is: the place where Johnny expresses the two people living inside of them; the place where Johnny reaches the harmony of the male and female energy that drives our existence; the place where Johnny makes people “not in the social norm feel in the social norm.”
And yet, most people would not admit to their social abnormality, especially not with a “devil worshipping” drag queen. No, people want drag queens to prance around the stage to Brittany Spears and Demi Lovato, stuffing crumpled singles into their fake tits. They want cheap thrills. Not performance art.
But after the show, squeezed into an empty, windowless bar, Pretty Girl, Ann Artist and Luna LaVey are the social norm.
Ann raises her chipped black nails as RuPaul’s “Supermodel” interrupts Johnny’s story about spitting on Adam Lambert.
“That’s my problem with [name redacted]—she went on RuPaul and said ‘drag means dressing up as a woman.’” Ann’s soft voice fills with frustration, “That’s not what drag means! It means expressing yourself in a way that you can’t in the everyday.”
Icon Ebony–Fierce chimes in excitedly, “It’s all about the illusion and the illusion could be anythinggg.”
“It has nothing to with sex, it has nothing to with gender, it has nothing to do with any of that shit!” Ann pauses as Johnny nods their head in agreement, “It has everything to do with the fact you don’t do this in your normal day.”
Ann puffs on her cigarette, staring vacantly at her smoke clouded reflection in the mirrored wall. “So, who are you inside?”
For me, drag is an aspiration. No, I don’t want to literally become a drag queen or king, but one day I will be able to shake off the wig carefully pinned to my head and rip the lace leotard from my tired frame. One day, I, too, will be Luna LaVey. I will release the outsider pounding at her rib–caged prison.