Sissy That Walk AND That Talk

Every profession has it’s own jargon. If you want to be “in” you have got to learn the jargon. You can look up RuPaul’s Drag Race Dictionary when you have some extra time to study. You know between the three hours it’s going to take you to apply makeup and the twenty hours to build a fine wardrobe. OR you can take my crash course and brush up on the details as you go.

First, no matter how campy (over-the-top funny) a drag queen is, she also wants to be fishy (pretty). She wants to look like a convincing woman especially if she is a pageant queen. And to come clean, fishy does refer to, in vernacular speech, that odor associated with unclean female parts. I don’t mean to air anyone’s dirty laundry I just highly respect etymology (the study of the origin words). The best way for any “girl’ to achieve such a look is to beat, or apply the perfect amount of makeup to achieve the perfect look. But beating can be so subjective, can’t it?

Next the bitch (used in an endearing empowering way, like the word sister) needs to create that body-ody-ody (we are referring to a plentitude of curves here). Hopefully, she has a drag mother (experienced queen) who showed her how to put it all together. Once she has it all in place she’s ready to WERK (perform)!

When she gets up there and starts her act she has got to be fierce (powerful, intense, beautiful, and talented). Her job is to captivate the audience and illicit hollers and dollaz (tips). If she does, this is for the gods (perfect) and everyone else will gag (react in shock positively).If she does not pull this off she might be a booger (ugly queen). But don’t you ever dare say her drag is busted (not very good or convincing). I mean, you don’t know her like that. And if you do say something be prepared to be read (get a tongue-lashing or be told off).

Stick to this beginner’s lexicon and your initial entrance into the drag world will go as smoothly as a novice can possibly expect. Don’t forget! Lawd have fun, BOOTS (an exclamatory interjection to show emotion)!

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Fieldnotes: Voyeur Nightclub

Voyeur Nightclub is located at 1221 St. James Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. St. James Street is a narrow cobblestone road flanked by narrow uneven Old City sidewalks. Both Voyeur’s “front” and “back” entrances face the street. The first is a single door with three steps up that leads into a hall like entrance with a half-wall (from the floor up to about 4 feet). This creates a place for customers to enter in an orderly line which snakes around at the end of the 15 foot hall, where the half-wall ends. A desk runs parallel to that hall and then also snakes around to a six foot long three foot wide ramp. Cover fees are collected at the desk and light sensitive stamps are applied to entrants’ wrists. Carpet, walls, and desk are all painted black. At the bottom of the short narrow ramp is the second entrance which is double doors. There are three short steep steps in from the street to a ten foot by twelve foot foyer type area. Through a doorless entranceway is the main area of the club. The main spaces changes depending on the event for the evening. during the “Cash for Queens” competition the stage is to the left upon entering. It is a “T” shape with the bottom half used much like a runway during performances. To the right is a long bar. A few feet in is a support beam about three feet from the bar. The space looks like a rehabbed industrial throwback. Everything in here is black as well. Straight ahead along the back wall is another bar up two short in height steps that span the length of the bar. The bar extends back about 20 feet. There are no stools at either of the bars. To the left of the second bar, divided by a wall is a small unisex bathroom with a door about 2 feet wide. Inside is a urinal, a stall and a sink. you can touch any of the three form the center of the very small space. Not that I would touch any since my wheelchair does not fit through the door. Along the last wall to the left is a step up to a seating area. The space has a series of booths along the back wall that create one long booth. At the far left when facing this wall there is a six foot long railing. Tonight in front of the “T” shaped stage is one table, made up of two smaller round tables, at the foot of the stage. There are two tables to the left of the stage and three to the right. In an arch shape behind the middle table are fifteen chairs. The curtain made from individual long pieces of fabric is alternating red and black. Above the stage curtain is a balcony like area where the DJ and his equipment are housed. Large speakers hang on the wall facing down over the clientele on either side. The whole space is framed by a balcony area and the drag queens prepare and change upstairs. They enter and exit the stage from a black curtained door stage right between the stage itself and the area with the booths and railing.

Reflections: Interview with Schlomo Steel

When I first encountered Schlomo Steel’s WordPress blog http://schlomosteel.com/ while researching what to wear and how to behave at a drag show I was enchanted. His voice snatches your attention and his perspective makes you think beyond your comfort zone bubble. It’s a stream of consciousness organized into examples, vignettes, and anecdotes that sweep you from beginning to end and leave you scrolling to the next blog post to learn more. Learn here is the operative word, because through his blog and subsequent interview I have learned a lot about drag queens, drag culture, and the gay community.

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The original and unapologetic Schlomo Steel

Honestly I was brave in reaching out to Schlomo, or so I felt, because the biting, sometimes caustic tone of his blog set my brain to “He’ll never respond to me”. The highlights of playful moments, however, encouraged me. I commented on a post in which he said that anyone can bee a drag queen and when he responded I opened a dialogue that lead to an interview schedule, that was rescheduled, but finally came to fruition this past Wednesday, April 15 via Skype. A face framed by a full mane of curly floppy hair, a bushy beard and mustache, and adorned with leopard print cat-eye shaped eyeglasses appeared on my screen and it was go time.

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Miss Dig confessing her alter ego is the songstress Sia.

Schlomo lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan and goes by the drag name Miss Dig. She calls herself a “Clown for the Revolution” and stands for the freedom motto Schlomo adopted at the young age of ten years old  “‘why don’t people just agree to disagree and shut the fuck up already?'” while at the same time advocating having fun! Miss Dig in Schlomo’s words is your “moody teenage daughter”, who is “the most interesting woman in the room”, and despises the fashion world though she’ll probably end up in it because she is “saturated by it”.

Like many of the drag queens I have had the pleasure of interviewing, Schlomo views drag as an art form and especially enjoys the makeup aspect. Makeup application is referred to as painting in the drag world and if you have ever watched an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race on Logo or read my previous blog posts you might already be familiar with the long application process that can take anywhere from 1-6 hours of work and artistry to achieve a precise look. For Schlomo to become Miss Dig it takes between 2-2 1/2 hours, but it is his favorite part of drag preparation and a chance to relax while creating the art of a face.

Once Miss Dig appears with her cleavage in place, Schlomo’s nipples duct taped in place (OUCH!), she is ready to lip sync in her old lady voice and jump around the stage at implausible heights in high high heels. She and Schlomo are drag queen superfans and drag culture’s number one cheerleaders.

Just like every queen has a roll of duct tape, every queen has an opinion on RuPaul and his show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Schlomo’s thoughtful angle is that while RuPaul is helping because he has done the most to shine a positive light on the drag community the fact that the show represents only the narrow definition of RuPaul and his best friend/show judge Michelle Visage hurts drag in the sense that it may not allow for inclusion of various forms of drag aside from fishy queens.

When asked about  an especially memorable drag performance Schlomo told of a pinnacle performance that began with an excruciating migraine that could best be described as “shrieking full body pain”. Instead of opting out Miss Dig decided the show must go on. Schlomo says Miss Dig got on the stage to lip sync for her life. She belted out  Marianne Faithful’s “Why’d Ya Do It?” and “turned how [he] felt into the performance of [a] lifetime”. He distinctly remembers being tipped some 20’s for that act, following it up by downing every last drop of Sprite in the house, and then returning to the stage to turn it out again. No one even suspected he was suffering! How’s that for WERKing through your pain?

Schlomo began doing drag at Rumors Night Club in Grand Rapids and characterizes the Michigan drag scene as one of a sisterhood rather than a cutthroat industry. He thinks this is the choice of his views, because he is not gunning for anyone’s job. He was loosely part of a drag house, but created Miss Dig independently making her “a self-made drag queen”. He has since moved from the area where he performed with this group and has not recently performed. He does have encouraging advice for drag queens starting out. “You will suck. You will fall. You will embarass yourself.You will face dangerous situations. Put on the paint. Strap on the wig. And make sure the only thing that is missing is being ashamed.” He says the only thing he takes seriously in this life is levity and humor. Drag and comedy have had a major impact on his life and he believes there might always be someone in the audience whose life could be touched by his performance. He does what he can do which is entertain and knows that entertainment is a staple of humanity that draws us together.

Drag sometimes seems like an expensive hobby in which the performers spend more money than they ever make, but Schlomo and Miss Dig leave all the queen-wanna-be’s with this impactful nugget of wisdom which can easily extend out to the masses. “Just keep swimming” , Fishies!

Preparing for my Interview with Schlomo Steel

At the start of this class, soon after I chose my topic, I wondered where to I might go next. Once I had written blog posts proposing the topic of drag queens and drag culture and why I wanted to research them I wrote about going to a show. Since I had never attended a show I wanted to know proper etiquette. Like many a novice researcher I used Googled. I typed “What to ear to a drag show” into the omniscient search engine and it brought me back here to wordpress and Schlomo Steel’s page.

I hit upon just what I needed with Schlomo’s blog post So You’re Going to Your First Drag Show! Everything from the initial heads up,”Don’t be scared. The point is to have fun.” to how to behave, tipping and woohoo’ing are encouraged, everything I needed to know was there is a Roman numeral organized outline. Did I mention it was FUNNY! Not only did I laugh that first time I read it or subsequent times that I have referred back to it, but even now as I research for this post I’m rereading lines and guffawing.

Schlomo is a writer of many things drag and many more things LGBTQ. He is unapologetic and steadfast and clear  about his view and beliefs concerning being a gay man in the Midwestern portion of America. Through reading some of his other blog posts, following his Twitter and Facebook accounts I have garnered this information. there are some photos of Schlomo in drag in these social media sites, but our interview will reveal further his/her role in the drag world whether as a performer or not as well as a writer.

One particular question I have asked in my interviews thus far was inspired my Schlomo’s posts. I have noticed within the writing the use of zhe a gender-neutral pronoun, like hir and s/he that, is used in place of traditional gender-specific pronouns. I have received different answers from my various interviewees on the use of this pronoun. One queen uses she interchangeably whether another queen is in drag or not. A second queen used the common rule of in drag we use she out of drag we use he. I am interested in Schlomo’s preference and thoughts on this particular topic since the pronoun appears in some posts, but not in others.

I am also interested in Schlomo’s views on the drag scene from a writer’s perspective. I have only been researching this topic for a few months, while I surmise he is somewhat of an expert. I wonder about the insight he will be able to provide.  I know that writing from the outside in is different from writing from the inside out. I am hoping we meet somewhere in the middle.

Reflections: Interview with Ray Miles, Jr.

Even though I have gotten to know Ray a bit on Facebook and following his drag queen persona Donna Ria’s shenanigans I was still nervous the day of our interview. I sat at the Treehouse Coffee Shop at a table facing a large window over looking the street fidgeting with my notebook and pens when he swept in. I caught his eye and he came over. After our initial greeting with a hug I started out with, “I’m completely nervous because I’m weird and awkward.” This made him smile which I felt put us both at ease.

I told him I did have some questions I wanted to be sure I touched upon, but that I was more interested in getting to know him and his experience with drag culture. Ray is well known in the Philadelphia drag queen scene because he is a promoter who books many queens for shows around the city and promotes them on various social media sites such as Facebook. Most recently he booked Roxi Starr at Bob and Barbara’s Lounge which is not considered a gay bar.

Ray and Donna Ria’s story in drag starts back in August of 2014. Ray was out at night for the first time in drag and was unexpectedly pulled up on stage by none other than former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Mimi Imfurst (who I got to see at my first ever show). The theme of the evening at the Drag Wars event was the 1950’s. Mimi was decked out as Little Orphan Annie when she christened Ray’s drag character as Donna Ria. AND it’s all here on video!

While many drag queens sole source of income comes from performing Ray is in it for the fun. Though he describes himself as shy he loves the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy himself in this environment. He says that drag is helping him become less shy. He is not ever looking to compete on a national or international level, but will participate in Cash for Queens next Thursday, April 16 at Voyeur Nightclub to win $150.

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Donna Ria’s premiere performance, I’ll be there. Will you?

We got to talking about different types of drag styles and how Ray sees Donna Ria forming. Donna is a comedy queen who does not shy away from terms like Camp queen or Clown queen. A comedian at heart Ray says he often has his patrons at the restaurants he serves in laughing and telling him he should be on stage as a comedian. His first ever performance at the show next week will be an upbeat funny 3-5 minutes which is usually standard for such a competition. Donna is an outlet for him to perform both in drag and as a comedian.

We went on to the topic of preparation for a show. I knew the makeup for drag queens is layered on, but I had no idea really of what goes into it. The base for any face is usually actual white cream clown makeup which creates a kind of blank slate for the art of the character face. Many drag queens seem to favor Kryolan, Ben Nye, or MAC Cosmetics as they offer excellent coverage. This fast motion tutorial gives an idea in a little over 6 minutes of what can take hours of makeup application. This video cuts out a few minutes of preparation in which eyebrows are glued in place with a glue stick and covered with foundation. Depending on the look a queen wants to achieve it could take longer or shorter than about 3-4 hours. Ray even mentioned a local drag queen who exclusively uses powder makeup from start to finish and can take up to 6 hours to achieve her look. Ray himself is still learning and does ask other queens to “paint his face” as makeup application is referred to. No matter who applies it Donna Ria’s look is one of exaggerated feminine and over-the-top clownish features.
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Body shots with Donna Ria and Roxi Starr

Next he has to put on body. Achieving the look of a woman’s body on a man’s frame starts with tucking. (We’re gonna get real here folks, so now might be time to look away if you’re squeamish.) Ray politely informed me in the art of disappearing “manhood”, by starting with, “It all just goes back up where it came from”. It seems that many drag queens after tucking will use tape to hold everything in place as per the directions of this wikiHow tutorial with pictures (They are drawings, not photographs), but Ray and his cohort use a shaping garment called a gaff that can be purchased online on specialty sites like gaffpanty.com that cater to men wanting to create a more feminine silhouette.

The rest of the body is layers upon layers. For legs 3-7 pairs of tights hold in the hip and butt pads and make everything look smooth. Three black bras, a tank top, a corset to create a little waist (which is  highly praised and coveted among some groups of drag queens), and finally a full shapewear tank top to keep everything in place. Then Donna slips on a dress and she’s all body-face-attitude ready to go! No wonder Voyeur Nightcub wasn’t heated the night of my first show in eleven degree cold. These queens are insulated!

Ray’s intentions in drag do not center in recognition or celebrity. He is already well known in the Philadelphia community, having even produced hand held fans (remember it gets hot in all that makeup), cell phone covers, and videos promoting drag queens. He ultimately wants to open his own restaurant and perhaps once a week the servers might be drag queens!

Because in the end:

Drilling Down Through the Sources – This is a Research Class Afterall

In order “to create an organized scholarly library of texts found online” I began by downloading Zotero. Soon after I watched several tutorials in order to begin. I am still persevering to learn more about organizing sources further and have been able to use what I have found to garner academic and non-academic sources. I began my research with an article from the Journal of Homosexuality entitled The Absolutely Fabulous but Flawlessly Customary World of Female Impersonators by Steven P. Schacht which I acquired through Rowan’s database. This lead me to a journal called Inside Out: Lesbian theories, gay theories and the article within Boys Will Be Girls: The Politics of Gay Drag by Carole-Anne Tyler. This journal article is archived in Zotero under the journal name as it is available as a PDF. The final article referenced in the prior is The Banality of Gender by Simon Watney.

The articles create a staircase of information in reference to gender in society and the representation of such in drag queen performances. Watney focuses on the expectations of the two genders in society through categories of the law, the state, and sociology. Watney builds “the axes of sexual difference: gender identity and object choice” according to Tyler. Then Tyler contrasts Watney’s ideas from his July 1986 article to inverse theory of sexuality. This theory states that a male child (referred to as  a “future invert”) who becomes homosexual later in adulthood has had a time in childhood in which he strongly identified with a female adult as an authority figure and therefore “inverts” common sexual traits attributed to women in society onto himself. Tyler writing in 1991, however, further goes on to explain that should a gay or lesbian couple have one feminine partner and one “butch” partner the inverse theory does not apply to one of them, because one has not applied the opposite gender’s characteristics to himself or herself through identification with a strong opposite gender adult figure in youth. In this way Tyler dispels both Wantney’s idea of gender imposed solely by societal constructs as well as inverse theory, neither of which were accepted by the gay and lesbian communities in the decade she was writing. Tyler further then goes on to highlight these ideas as connected to or disconnected from drag queens.

Most strongly Tyler hones in on the use of camp in drag performances and its interpretation by the gay community. Campy humor in drag culture is over-the-top theatrics that are bold and irreverent. Clown queens, also referred to as Camp queens, were once looked down upon by the gay community. According to what Tyler writes, “…camp was an embarrassment to the gay community…”  after the Stonewall Riots and perhaps even earlier on. Ideas like Watney’s and those represented by the often disrespectful satire of drag queens are topics Tyler goes back to within her article to represent the importance of drag queens in the historical evolution of the gay community in the United States, while still focusing on distinct gender representations of  homosexual individuals in and out of drag.

Finally, in The Absolutely Fabulous , But Flawlessy Customary World of Female Impersonators Schacht delves into the argument that drag queens can represent women and femininity as it is in our current culture and at the same time wield stereotypical male power through a drag culture hierarchy. The more feminine a drag queen seems the more successful she is within the echelons of the drag world. Ironically, this convincing representation of female persona is still within the confines of a male competitive structure. Here the author builds on the previous author’s work by stacking the premise that drag queens use customary feminine attributes to gain commonly expected male power and recognition on top of the concept that homosexual male drag queens at some time so closely looked up to or related to a female authority figure as to internalize that as power to be later coveted in adulthood.  The writer goes on to include other societal labels such as nationality and race to further explore interpretation of drag performances and power. By 2008, when Schacht wrote for Journal of Homosexuality the interconnectivity of these three articles over the span of more than a decade not only displays the authors’ uses of the prior work, but also the changes in thinking about the gay community, drag queens, and drag culture.

Preparing for my interview with Ray Miles, Jr./Donna Ria

As you read in my Research Proposal I knew of Ray without knowing I knew a drag queen. Ray is a regular at my dad’s diner and serendipitously our paths crossed in the Into the Woods Drag Show invitation on Facebook. I was finally making the plunge to see a drag show and he was the promoter for the event. After some back and forth on there I finally thought I might meet him at the show, but the frigid night I went he was not there.

We became friends via our personal pages on Facebook and he loved my blog post/review/narrative of my experience at Into the Woods. We spoke through Facebook Messenger a few times regarding getting an interview, but nothing seemed to work out. I noticed he was struggling at his job as a server and wanting to get out bad! He is a professionally trained chef who worked in Disney and runs his own catering business, Chef Ray’s Catering, besides booking shows for his boyfriend Larry Cook/Roxi Starr. Industrious only begins to scratch the surface in his character description.

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The fateful sign

It turns out I had Ray on my mind one evening while strolling through the mall, as all my queens are constantly on my mind these days, and I saw this sign on an easel hiring for servers! Harvest Seasonal Grill and Wine Bar, an upscale self-described new American, vegetarian and vegan restaurant, was looking for staff for its grand opening. I almost rolled by, but thought, “What harm is there in taking a picture and posting it to Ray’s page on Facebook?” Well, long story short, I know, too late, he applied, interviewed, and was called and offered the job before he left the mall parking lot!

I didn’t necessarily do any of that because I thought it would tip Ray’s attention in my favor for an interview. He had already agreed. It was a matter of getting it scheduled, but what I learned from listening to my conscious and doing the kind thing was that I am approaching this just the right way, by being myself. Following Ray’s profile and soon after Roxi’s and then Donna Ria’s (Ray’s alter ego) has led me to many more queens and opportunities and has given me a clear picture to start with to find out who Ray is, who Donna is becoming, and the inner workings of drag.

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The Queen of queens

I have also done what others might call more practical things in preparation for this interview. I have been attending shows in bars and nightclubs, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race every Monday night and live tweeting it, and following the drag queen contestants on that show as well as local, national, and international queens. I am reading articles about all aspects of drag performance from makeup, to padding, to performance choices like lip syncing, dancing, or telling jokes or all three and then some. I am planning to check out wigs and even try all this stuff out myself. I have created a guide of questions that I may or may not actually end up using in my interviews, but regardless the creation of which has gotten me to think about where I would like to start each interview. Though I know I have no plan as to where each interview will end up.

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Donna Ria is ready for her close-up.

What I am finding most helpful, however, is connecting with people. I like their posts of pictures, premiere videos, and pithy quotes when I really like them. I comment, favorite, like, tweet, retweet, comment some more, reblog and connect. I have created some real bonds already even if they are online bonds. In Ray’s case particularly I had one date for an interview set up at a pageant show he was going to perform in, but then found out he wasn’t able to sign up to perform until April 9th. I was dogged while still being nice and polite and have now scheduled an appointment with him for Monday at noon. In general I have not only made myself familiar with drag queens and drag culture for the sake of research in this class, but I have become familiar in genuine appreciation of the hard work and artistry that goes into creating this beautiful illusion every night.