What Women Can Learn From Drag Queens
With the recent release of the tenth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, a television show in which drag queen contestants compete in an array of colorful challenges, I finally began to realize the secret behind why the show was so appealing. Outside of the entertainment factor (because who doesn’t enjoy a good lip sync battle), there was a deeper resonance — here was a world of mostly gay men, dressing up as women, and living out their interpretation of womanhood in the largest, most vibrant way.
The more I’ve watched through the years, the more I’ve found myself asking — are they doing “woman” better than I am? Here so many of us are, fighting to find our voice and identity, learning how to embrace our sensuality, cowering from the pressures of social expectations and insecurity. On screen, many of the men that choose to do drag have expressed that dressing up and playing the part of a woman has given them a sense of freedom and power. It was then that I realized there were a few life-changing things I could learn from the queens of drag.
1. The power of an alias, alter-ego, or stage name
I was born Sarah Marie, a perfectly respectable name, but one that was chosen long before I developed a personality. In many ways it is a name that is far more level-headed, feminine, and plain than the person I have grown to be. With my name also comes years of recall, both mine and others’—Sarah the girl who bit a classmate in third grade, Sarah the tall one, Sarah the MTV VJ. Many drag queens were given a masculine name at birth and developing an alter-ego has allowed them to detach from layers of external identity that were not always congruous with how they felt inside. It is how Kurtis Dam-Mikkelsen became Miss Fame, how Jorge Luis Flores Sanchez became Nina Flowers, and how Karl Philip Michael Westerberg became our very own Manila Luzon. Even Beyonce created the Sasha Fierce persona to help her become the larger than life presence we see onstage, and credits Sasha Fierce for creating the Beyonce songs that were more “confident” in nature. Lady Gaga is Stefani Germanotta’s version of a drag name; one that has allowed her to similarly play dress up, and tap into a level of artistry that wouldn’t have been possible as Stefani.
So I tried it. I gave my alter-ego a name. Leona Laflare, a tip of the hat to my astrological sign (Leo) that says I’m supposed to be a limelight loving, confident, roaring individual; as well as an invitation for my inner spark and fire to quit dying with every tiny gust of wind, and to come out full force. Leona is fearless, doesn’t have the nerves and anxiety that Sarah seems to have developed, and puts out far more innovative, daring, and bar-raising work.
I even started dressing differently — pulling clothes from the “save for a special occasion” part of my closet and using them to attend simple things, like tea with a friend.
Which leads me to the next lesson:
2. Use fashion and beauty to amp up your Queen-dom
So here’s where I get a bit hypocritical, because I’ve always been a cheerleader for “less is more” and natural, easy-going choices for beauty and fashion on a day-to-day basis. What I learned from my drag queen mothers, however, is that there is nothing like creating an entire universe of fantasy on the outside to dust out those spiderweb-clogged arteries and allow your superstar lifeblood to come through! Dressing up has always been “work” for me — associated with photoshoots, fashion shows and events, where turning my social persona on, has, in many cases, left me exhausted. But in this context; channeling my inner Queen on the most mundane of days (grocery day) gave an insane pep to my step. There’s a difference in getting glammed up, knowing you’re going to be seen, and when you do it ENTIRELY FOR YOUR OWN PLEASURE. I busted out my most traffic-stopping purple lipstick, and shoes that cost far more than they should, and hopped on the public bus to go grocery shopping. If I told my friends that I, the person who tries so desperately to blend in and not be noticed, found myself dancing freely through the aisles of Whole Foods, they would not believe me. So empowering. Try it sometime.
3. Claim your “flaws” and turn them into your super strength
Drag Race Season 10 participant Daniel Hernandez is a wonderful example of how to embrace your real life hindrances, and make them your drag superpower. Daniel’s drag persona is Kalorie Karbdashian-Williams, a fabulously full-figured, carb-loving diva. While Daniel struggled with being bullied for his weight growing up, creating Kalorie allowed him to embrace his size and use it as the anchor for this fantastic, confident, and life-loving part of himself that was otherwise unlikely to see the light of day.
Which leads me to:
4. Have FUN!
Drag queens have different fortes, but more often than not their strengths lie in serving looks (fashion and beauty) and performance art (singing, acting, dancing, death-dropping). The magical third component that is either incorporated into the looks or performance, but sometimes stands alone, is HUMOR. Be it in the form of “shade” or “reading” (where a queen will make a joke alluding to another queen’s characteristics), or in their drag name of choice, queens understand that being in drag allows them to be viciously frank — simultaneously allowing the audience to delight in an overt brusque-ness and social commentary study in an otherwise politically correct world. Sometimes offensive, but always with a healthy dose of wit, have a good chuckle courtesy of queens with names like: Brianna Cracker (brie on a cracker), Anne Fetamine (amphetamines), Sham Payne, Penny Tentiary, Sarah Palegic, Freida Slaves (addressing race and politics in one fell swoop), Helluva Bottom Carter, Penny Tration, and my personal favorites: Mimi Imfurst, Karen from Finance, and Courtney Act (whose Australian accent makes her name sound like “caught in the act”).
All in all, cattiness and drama aside, the life of a drag queen has allowed me to celebrate life in a different way, and I am here for all it. Let me know if you create a drag persona for yourself, so we can compare notes!
Lead photo from @rupaulsdragrace