Photos C/O Kyle West
By: Andrew Mrozowski
Concluding McMaster’s Pride Week, the Pride Community Centre in conjunction with Queer Outta Hamilton, put on one of Hamilton’s only open stage drag show at downtown’s Sous Bas. With the turnout being so large that a line extended down the block, this was truly a night that people were going to be talking about for a while.
As I went down the stairs into the club, I was immediately met with the loud chatter of hundreds of people in a dimly lit room. The music played so loud that I could feel it vibrating up from the floor into my bones. Host Troy Boy Parks, a Guelph-based drag queen who knows how to control a crowd, stood on a single runway connected off the main stage.
Drag herstory begins in the mid 1900s during a time when homosexuality was prosecuted. Drag was used to escape the harsh realities of being an outcast of society. Only being practiced at clubs within the back corners of cities, queens would perform allowing the LGBTQ+ community to play with the concept of gender and sexuality in a time when they were not allowed to do so.
Drag was also the community’s reaction to freedom of speech during a time when it was hard to come by. Instead of picketing, they chose to stand up in an elegant way, a way that people would talk about for years to come.
As the LGBTQ+ community became more socially accepted within the world, so did the concept of drag. Present day drag has evolved much more than its predecessor. Modern drag is very much an entertainment-driven performance in which a person dresses extravagantly to amplify overexaggerated male or female characteristics. This along with the rise of drag in popular culture, through the reality TV show, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, made drag culture mainstream.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”, hosted by world-renowned queen RuPaul Charles, enables drag queens from around the United States to compete in various challenges to prove they have what it takes to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. Concluding it’s tenth season in 2018, along with four seasons of an all-star spin-off series, RuPaul has given queens, both amateur and professional, a platform to notoriety within not only the queer community, but society as well.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I know that it can be hard to find your own identity, especially in a society that is not always accepting of others. Some queens do drag because it is their way to express their feminine side in a society that prohibits showing that.
Queens also gain a lot of confidence being on stage performing in front of a crowd with a group of people appreciating them and what they do. This is in part thanks to the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race creating a positive look at drag culture. Confidence on stage can add to the person’s own confidence as they feel validated that others appreciate their craft.
Other queens look at it as creative medium. As a man who has only dressed up as a grandmother once for Halloween, I will be the first to tell you that make up is hard to do! Makeup takes a lot of artistic skill to achieve the look you have in your mind, and some queens find this self-expression to be a form of art in itself.
Every queen has a different take on how they want to deliver their drag extravaganza and what it should contribute to the LGBTQ+ community. Whether it be comedic relief to take the edge off or a rally to vote against a pumpkin president, drag will always be the first voice heard from the community and will always be ever-present.
Standing amongst hundreds of chattering people in a dimly lit room, my eyes flutter back and forth from the stage to the people surrounding me. Watching queen after queen putting the bass in their walk down the runway, I ponder on how we got to where we are today. If you asked me a year ago what I thought about drag, I would have said I don’t care for it.
Enter all my friends, both gay and straight, who didn’t stop raving about drag, I decided to give it a chance. What I ended up seeing was members of a shared community who didn’t care how others looked at them.
I saw members of a shared community who have so much love for one another. RuPaul ends each of her shows by asking contestants: “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” These are words that constantly flow through the LGBTQ+ community.
Drag creates a sense of belonging and safety because you are in an environment amongst people who feel the same way as you. At a drag show, I feel safe because I know that the people around me will always care and support me, as I would them.
Although Pride Week at McMaster must ‘sashay away’ for another year, the progress the community makes will stay and continue to be built upon.
To the future generations of queer youth coming to McMaster, I say this: do not be afraid to be who you are and share it with the rest of the world. Sometimes it seems unfair but be proud. Stand up and fight for what you believe in, but also remember to have fun too.
Be it through drag or another medium that may rise in the years to come, there will always be an audience there for you. To close with the immortal words of Mama Ru, ‘Good luck and don’t fuck it up!’