My drag diaries: How inclusivity (and glitter) changes lives

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Made up in their standard performance mugs, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Ginger Minj and Raja walked onto the stage at the Castro Theatre with about as much grace as an already wasted wine mom. I watched Hytes pretend to pee in a trash can, Minj pretend to not know the moves to a dance sequence and Raja feign comical disappointment in herself for being indecisive. It was all almost cartoonish, too ridiculous to be taken as seriously as your standard theater production.

And it wasn’t taken seriously at all — not as a sterile theater show, at least. The show was a riot, with the audience unifying in an uproarious cackle each time something outrageous happened (which was all the time). There was nothing more genuine, though, than the joy that crossed everybody’s faces as each scene catapulted into the next. I joined in with the crowd, shaking with laughter, gasping and screaming, covering my mouth in glee. With tears streaming out of my eyes, the only way my dumbfounded self could show my appreciation was to clap vigorously after each joke sequence, musical number and dramatic scene.

If I could sum up the world of drag in one word, it’d be “camp.” It’s the Met Gala beyond what your wildest dreams could conjure up. With this weapon of unapologetic unconventionality under their belts, the three drag queens easily commanded a theater full of screaming gay men — and, of course, me.

Over the past couple of years, Brooke Lynn, Ginger and Raja have become household names to me, alongside hundreds more. My exposure to drag began in high school, when I’d jokingly send GIFs from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to one of my friends to annoy her with the heavily made-up men strutting around the stage. When I first started attending drag shows at the urging of one of my friends in my senior year, they were no more than a way for me to escape the mundaneness of school, life and the forms of entertainment I had become comfortable with.

But over time, drag transformed into a way for me to explore my own femininity. Drag is a full expression of hyperfemininity, complete with glitter, fake eyelashes and overdrawn lips, and I found these exaggerations interesting. By watching these men, I began to adapt their little quirks, how they held themselves with poise and confidence. I felt more comfortable with myself as I watched them exude confidence across stages and runways.

Sometimes, I would confuse myself with why I found such enjoyment in drag. Why was a young brown girl infatuated with a show put on by grown men in makeup and heels taller than what I could walk in? (For real, I still don’t know how they do it.) “I shouldn’t like this,” I told myself. “Reflecting on my womanhood through men? What a strange and convoluted way to get in touch with yourself, Pooja.” I thought girls weren’t allowed to love drag, regardless of whether they were straight or not. It’s a scene populated heavily by gay men — surely, there was nowhere for someone like me to fit in.

But, you see, that’s the kicker. I might get a few judgemental stares when I attend shows, but drag has never alienated me — neither the content, nor the crowds, nor the queens. In a world so hellbent on the status quo, drag refuses to be bound by any rules; as an art form, it refuses to exclude anyone. There are bio (female-identifying) drag queens, drag kings and even child queens.

I’ve been stanning drag unwaveringly for nearly two years now. I’ve been to my fair share of drag shows, and every one is life-changing. Drag allows me be an enthusiastic queer ally, one who embraces the drag community instead of holding it at arm’s length and admiring it from afar. Drag is a perfect example of powerhouse LGBTQ+ artists carving out a place for themselves in society. The art form is a bridge, an olive branch, extending between divides in sexuality. It’s a gem that truly unites the crowd it attracts.

In terms of its energy, watching a drag show is like going to a popular strip club — except instead of strippers, drag queens in latex, sequins and an inch of foundation are the ones getting dollar bills stuffed into their bras as they lip-sync and death-drop to their hearts’ content. These shows are an intimate experience for everyone involved and, importantly, a full immersion into a vein of queer culture. It’s all about unapologetically being yourself in a setting where all eyes are on you. Drag queens feed off of attention, and as I’ve learned, as an audience member you shouldn’t be bothered by the attention you may receive at shows, either.

Drag isn’t just a celebration of LGBTQ+ culture. It’s a political statement and an exciting display of fashion, beauty and presenting our bodies in such an exaggerated way that we actually come to love how we look. So I kindly make this request of my readers: Go to a drag show. Dunk yourself into a hallmark of queerness. Even if it’s the absolute last thing you want to do, let your small sliver of curiosity drive your night. If you’re anything like me, you may never look back.

Contact Pooja Bale at [email protected].