Photos C/O Cindy Cui

By Nadia Business, Contributor

If you had told me five years ago that drag would become mainstream, I would have looked at you funny. Today, queer culture has permeated many aspects of society, from the way we apply our makeup to what we see on our TV screens. Like many others, I found drag during high school. It really let me understand myself in a myriad of ways, from my sense of gender to untapped aspects of my personality. But what even is drag?

Drag is the performance of gender often taken to its extreme. A typical show could include lip syncs, dancing, comedy and more. I would note that drag is different from being transgender, as one is a job or hobby, the other is an identity, respectively. Drag has been used as a tool to help many people discover that they are trans, nonbinary or fluid.

Growing up as a queer, closeted Arab kid was not particularly a fun experience. I was born in Hamilton but I grew up in Beirut, Lebanon where being soft-spoken, polite and sensitive was absolutely not the male norm. I got plenty of ribbing from male peers for being a little too effeminate and just as many tuts from my mother to stop crossing my legs or to “walk like a man”.

When I moved back to Canada near the end of middle school, I had barely accepted the fact that I was gay after years of trying to tell myself otherwise. Queer content did not exist within my own little bubble, which consisted of being bombarded with media idealizing hegemonic masculinity, which had no room for boys like me.

Meanwhile, I had always connected more with female characters — the ones getting wooed who looked beautiful and feminine. When I discovered “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in high school, my outlook on life and similarly, my own self perception, shifted into focus. These drag queens were everything I wanted to be but couldn’t express while living in a home that didn’t understand, during a time where the word “gay” was synonymous with “stupid”.

The queens were sassy, loud, beautiful and oozing with confidence. They had all the traits that I was trying to hide away, but somehow it all clicked. I realized that it’s okay for them to be like that and maybe I could be like that too.

I adapted accordingly, switching my wardrobe to a more colourful ensemble and (not so subtly) hinting to my classmates that I was gay. It was liberating. I finally let myself explore my identity as a gay person, not giving a damn about societal expectations. “Girly things” were not just for girls, I realized, they were just “things”.

I must acknowledge that I did not manage this alone. I was incredibly lucky and privileged to go to a high school that was tolerant and supportive of queer students. More importantly, my friend group consisted of other queer people. I finally wasn’t alone. My friends helped me thrive more than I ever could have on my own.

Finding your community as a queer person is paramount, as many of our biological families reject us for being anything but cisgendered and heterosexual. However, we do get to choose our non-biological families — whether they are friends, teachers, mentors, etc — the people who become your support system, who you get to celebrate your milestones with, like going on your first same-sex date, or finally getting a prescription for hormone replacement therapy. Many of us can’t tell our families this information, for a variety of reasons, be it fear of rejection or of being cut off financially or emotionally.

Until university, drag was always something I had witnessed through a screen, watching when I knew no one could catch me.

The first big change in my life was turning 19, finally giving me access to queer nightlife. A byproduct of homophobia was (and in some places, still is) queer culture going underground, hidden away in bars and nightclubs, inaccessible to questioning youth. As soon as one is of age, you are given access to a slew of new places and a community.

Then, Morgan McMichaels from “Drag Race” was booked to come to McMaster. I was ecstatic, and the day before the show was happening, Campus Events put out a call for students wanting to show off their drag skills. So naturally, without any experience whatsoever, I sent them a message stating my interest! In hindsight, I was truly delusional to think that I could go on stage without a wig or heel to my name. the show was eventually cancelled — but the silver lining was that I got hired by Campus Events through working on the show together!

September 2019 is when I got to see my very first in-person drag show at Supercrawl, featuring many talents that I’m friends with today, such as Karma Kameleon and Hexe Noire. I was giddy watching, and went hoarse cheering. I needed to see more, and as the Hamilton Queer Scene grew, I fell in love with it even more. These were my people — they were loud, they were proud, they were free.

An exciting opportunity was coming up: another queen from “Drag Race”, Jujubee, was booked by Campus Events to perform at McMaster and this time, Mother Nature was not going to intervene. More importantly, due to being part of the events team, I was asked to not only host but open the show. Keep in mind, I had never been in drag before and have only danced in heels and a wig a couple of times. So, I quickly got to work and spent a lot of money.

The fateful night arrived and Nadia Business was born.

The fateful night arrived and Nadia Business was born.

I can confidently say that it was the highlight of my year. I met Jujubee and Karma Kameleon, who both chatted with me and made me feel comfortable. Karma in particular is a queen I greatly admire and has given me advice whenever I needed it. Not quite an official drag mother, but more like my kooky fun step-aunt who has a little too much wine at family gatherings. A drag mother is your mentor, teacher, and part of your chosen family, hence, “mother”. They typically put you in drag for the first time and help turn you from a baby queen to a seasoned performer.

As I did my last check in the mirror, I realized that Nadia was not just a character, but rather an extension of myself. She is the channelling of my “feminine energies” so to speak, and it is incredibly freeing to just be her. It’s not boy-me who’s on stage shaking their butt and making dirty commentary — that’s just Nadia doing what she does best.

I’m a people pleaser at heart, and getting to perform and have people enjoy this part of myself that a heteronormative society has tried to discourage makes me feel welcome and unafraid. Getting to express myself through Nadia has actually made me appreciate my masculinity in addition to my femininity. A long time ago, I used to constantly worry about how masculine I was because I didn’t want people to judge, but now? I’m just as happy in a fitted suit and tie as I am with wearing pounds of makeup and a wig.

I’m a people pleaser at heart, and getting to perform and have people enjoy this part of myself that a heteronormative society has tried to discourage makes me feel welcome and unafraid. Getting to express myself through Nadia has actually made me appreciate my masculinity in addition to my femininity. A long time ago, I used to constantly worry about how masculine I was because I didn’t want people to judge, but now? I’m just as happy in a fitted suit and tie as I am with wearing pounds of makeup and a wig.

Drag is a way to escape society’s, and even our own, expectations of gender — even if only for a night. Contrary to popular belief, drag is not just restricted to cisgendered gay men. As for myself, it has led to understanding and self-acceptance of all aspects that make me who I am today, and who I want to be in the future.  Trans women can be drag queens, some of the most talented queens I know are ciswomen. You can even be an androgynous performer. Drag is an art form and there are no rules. Go wild, put yourself out there and explore who you are and who you want to be. Good luck, and don’t fuck it up.

 

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