Drag Isn’t Just a Job

More than a nighttime hobby for charismatic gays, drag calls those with the divine power to not fall victim to the man.
November 21, 2014

In nearly every ancient indigenous culture, drag queens were praised as spiritual masters—shamans who communicated between the physical and spiritual realms. The job description is more or less intact from those times. We still wear a thick, colorful layer of ceremonious paint on our faces; we still have elaborate headdresses and ornate clothes that suggest sex, stature, and femininity. In fact, the ritual is much more precise—five seconds at any Susanne Bartsch party would hand your average Peruvian shaman his goddamn life. However, in 2014, we can’t help but find ourselves subject to society’s well-seasoned patriarchy, and it’s one that threatens our very existence.

Now, I’m not here for queer theory, so that’s the last time you’ll hear the p-word, but please indulge my flower-power sensibility for a hot minute. I’ll explain. We built civilization with the masculine energy of a tank, steamrolling human progress from mud huts to aqueducts to skyscrapers, promoting a global myopia, and producing present-day crises of imbalance.

Enter the drag queen. Dressing in drag unlocks the wisdom of reality’s subjectivity, the truth that identity—even one as supposedly rigid as gender—can be manipulated at will. But drag queens’ mission statement of reconciliation becomes increasingly difficult to implement as the world clings tighter and tighter to The Man. We’re the last remaining punks who realize the fallacy behind all of our systems and their large-scale imbalances. We commit instead to a full-time fantasy that is far more realized and intentional than those lived by everyone else, making those with rigid realities very uncomfortable. We’ve taken our lives back and cater them to our needs by committing the biggest betrayal against the society in which we live: feminizing the male.

My fear, however, is that queens are falling victim to the imbalances we supposedly reject. For people trying to channel grace and girlish affectation, we certainly bang on our chests in constant competition. And it’s not just the pageant queens of “Miss Gay Whatever” with tall tiaras. Nor is it just the Ru Girls. Even the bearded, subversive underbelly of drag dukes it out for “Miss Underbelly.”

A drag queen who removes her nail polish for a Grindr hook-up wears a costume phonier than her most bedazzled sequined gown. By indulging a reality in which men in nail polish aren’t perfectly fuckable, we render ourselves powerless. By using my given name when I’m out of drag, I commit high treason against the goddess who chose my mortal faggot body as a white-hot conduit for the divine feminine. Drag is a designation. More than a calling, it’s in the DNA. It’s not just a job.

Of course, the fiercest among us are lucky enough to be paid, the hardest working—or maybe simply the luckiest—among us even get paid enough to make a living, and the lottery-winningest among us land on Drag Race. But odds are you’ll make no more than an Applebee’s assistant manager. A workday for us entails excruciating pain from heels and wigs, destroyed skin from makeup, and enough minute expenses to render a savings account unnecessary. Saying, “I only get in drag because I’m getting paid,” betrays your greatest gift. The truth is, we get off on wearing heels because it is the proper uniform for a goddess. We bat our inch-long lashes because we feel flirty. We wear rhinestones and feathers because we like being seen.

Drag found each of us against all odds: through our horrible, dictatorial mothers; through our inability to act professionally and secure a real job; and through our crippling suspicion of life’s meaninglessness—all from behind our locked bedroom doors as we pranced to “Oops…I Did it Again.” We don’t have the luxury of quitting, but lucky for us, the future is female.