Opinion: Hey, Gayborhood Drag Queens, It’s Time To Up Your Game


Three years ago, if you’d told me that I would spend every weekend being called “Fat Butt” by the local drag queens, I would have said, “Uh, no way. I’m afraid of drag queens.”

It wasn’t the “guy in a dress” thing. It was the clown thing. I’m terrified of them. The bright makeup, the colorful costumes, being able to fit seven or eight of them in a single cab—you know, the typical clown fear. And I had a hard time disassociating the two.

However, in the nearly two years I’ve been hanging out in the Gayborhood, I’ve lost my clown-based fear of queens, only to have it replaced by an appreciation for the art. Lately, though, there’s a boredom creeping in. I’m tired of seeing essentially the same show week after week. Similar costumes. The same songs. Between Top 40 radio and weekly drag shows, I’m getting a double dose of the already-repetitive songs the music industry pushes on us.

In recent months, I’ve heard whispers in the Gayborhood about too much drag. Too much glitter, too much shade, too much drama, too many eyelashes, too many wigs. If you stroll down the rainbow-clad three-block radius we call our home away from home, it’s easy to see why. There are drag shows, drag competitions, drag brunches, drag lunches, drag wars. If there’s a gay event, a drag queen is either performing or hosting.

Now, I’m not suggesting that these queens “sashay away” (see what I did there?), I would merely suggest that, like Madonna and Cher before them, they reinvent themselves. It may be time to rethink what drag is. Is the future of drag in the genderqueer royalty we saw in Rudy Flesher’s “The Notorious OMG,” or is it in the rising local interest in “Boylesque,” a boy version of burlesque? Maybe it’s the underrated drag kings that should be sharing the stage. Or maybe it’s an avant-garde, genderfuck’d, tuxedo-wearing queen sporting a blonde pixie cut and rocking a yo-yo. There are no rules in drag, but everyone seems to be following the same formula.

Reinvention doesn’t mean that you need to be shocking. We all wish we could be Lady Gaga and pour fake blood all over ourselves while pooping a cross. But in a world where Game of Thrones dominates our televisions, shock art suddenly doesn’t seem quite so shocking anymore. The new drag age could be as simple as merely being in drag while doing something entirely out of the ordinary. Why not have a drag juggler, or drag magician, or a drag comedian. We’ve all seen Eddie Izzard (or maybe you haven’t, I don’t know your life) who frequently cross-dresses in his standup routines; and though it technically isn’t drag, it begs the question of whether drag can be something other than lip-syncing to Gaga, Beyoncé or Katy.

You can sense people’s hunger for something new in their Gayborhood performances. Competitions in singing, standup, and burlesque are sprouting up and gathering pretty decent-sized audiences, along with inspiring others in the community to do the same thing. It’s hard to be inspired when you’re not interested in shaving your beard or applying crazy amounts of makeup and glitter. When’s the last time you heard slam poetry at a gay bar? Okay, maybe that’s not a great example. But I’d rather be living in a neighborhood that pushes boundaries and challenges its visitors and residents, not mimicks what it sees on Real Housewives.

Let’s face it, drag will never die out in the Gayborhood, or even LGBTQ culture. Everyone loves a good drag show. They’re fun, and they used to be a little different. But the scene, boosted in part by Rupaul’s Drag Race, became very popular very quickly. And, like Lady Gaga before them, there’s bound to be a little backlash after a cultural take-over. It’s not up to me to decide where drag should go, it’s up to the queens. I think there’s the potential drag could transcend this monotonous phase of “boys in dresses” and become something really truly awesome.

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  • David

    Amen and thank you! There are some seriously talented performing artists in this town, both queens (such as Martha Graham Cracker) and kings (such as Van Nguyen). But so many others have no reason to be on a stage save that they are cross-dressed. Way too many curated drag performances look like open mic nights. Spare me.

  • ActiveShooter

    It’s really time that we stopped oppressing the drag queens and finally let them have sex-reassignment surgery live onstage under the limelight! It’s totally problematic and patriarchical that nothing has been done about this!

  • Adam

    I just wish the drag queens in Philly could learn how to match their mouths to the words they’re ostensibly lipsynching to. You know, the little things. (The shade of it all!)

  • Josefine

    There is a history of avant-garde drag in Philly bars. I and these artists stop doing it because audiences do not pay attention, audiences don’t want to be drunk and uncomfortable, and people do not tip avant-garde art. They tip pop that makes them feel good. They do not tip things that take longer than five minutes.

    Don’t point to the drag queens – look at the bars and the spaces that can’t handle tough art.

  • AA

    You get what you pay for, and the Clubs don’t pay well!

  • Hrh Mortimer

    Put on some heels and show us how it’s done.

  • Guest

    ugh. everybody’s a critic,,,I set the bar…c’mon babe jump over it!

  • Jacob

    I’ve seen drag queens push boundaries constantly on stage so when I see anything less, it’s just laughably bad. I know queens that create characters and stories with their art and they don’t care if they get tipped less. Theirs is a crown of originality.