How I Learned to Relax and Love Drag Queens

It’s Gay Pride Month for a few more days. I’m as gay in June as I am July through May, but I think one big difference is that the world’s drag queens probably see the light of day more now than any other time of year. So much sunlight bouncing off so many sequins. What is the SPF on that foundation, girl?

The other day, I was at a Gay Pride kick-off reception at an ad agency in Manhattan. They had set up a couple of bars in their lobby and conference room. Beers, cocktails, something called a “drag-me-to-the-bartini” (it involved mango nectar) and a curiously strong vodka and raspberry lemonade mixture.

The company I work for (a certain gay cable network) sponsored the event in an effort to get some face time with an agency with whom we want to drum up some business. Britney and Madonna were turned way up. Wall-mounted flatscreen TVs displayed a DVD loop of promos and clips from RuPaul’s Drag U, The Big Gay Sketch Show, Beautiful People. We had posters up all over the walls advertising our gayest shows. And the place was mobbed with very attractive, very casually dressed creative types. (One guy’s engorged pecs were nearly popping out of a very thin tank top.) Many, many of the guys were by all accounts pretty much gay. And a drag queen named Lady Bukaki (Lady B, if you want to be delicate) was cruising the crowd, stopping to take pictures with the Yuengling-swilling office folk.

So there I was, through some sort of company diversity initiative, sipping cocktails and getting looks from beautiful strangers in what, for all the world, looked like a swank cocktail lounge (Turning your office into a gay bar is business? I’m in.) — and chatting with a gentleman in a wig, makeup and fishnet stockings, named after a Japanese masturbation ritual. I couldn’t help but think, What a strange life — and how wonderful.

Drag queens used to scare the hell out of me. I always admired them as the quintessence of gay pride, but they just seemed so severe and off-limits. A man in a dress done up right can be a colossus of bitchiness, larger than life and not to be crossed. It’s a level of glamour somewhere between clown and high art. Look, but don’t touch. Until a few years ago I couldn’t imagine ever talking to a queen, let alone knowing one.

Then RuPaul’s Drag Race came along. The veil of mystery was lifted to reveal the grueling transformation from ladyboy to lady. Turns out they’re only human, after all. Just gay boys with a dream.

Now drag queens are a major and inescapable part of my job. One project in particular forced me to get over my fear pretty quickly. I had to schedule a handful of queens for a photo shoot for a project called The Dragulator (upload a picture of yourself and turn yourself into a drag queen).

Most of them were a dream to work with and very sweet to me no matter what clothes they were wearing. A few of them canceled on me at the last minute, but we got over it. One of them, who shall remain unnamed, had a total diva moment. I’m glad I had a few queens under my belt before I met her. She might have sent me directly into therapy.

She was late because of the horrendous midday Midtown traffic. When she arrived, building security held her downstairs because her name wasn’t on the access list (even though I’d given them the queens’ names twice). She was fuming — and about ready to turn on her four-inch heels and get the hell out of there when I got downstairs to meet her.

Upstairs she objected to the size of the studio. I pointed out the portraits of musicians and bands hanging on the walls of the dressing room, all of whom had been photographed in that minuscule studio. It got me exactly nowhere. And that was another problem, besides: Sharing this dressing room? You’re kidding, right?

The other queen who had arrived on time knew her and wasn’t offended. Oh hey, girl. Kisses!

The men’s room proved an insufficient alternative, even with me standing guard outside. I knew I was in for it when she walked back out in man drag. She was so done with me. She stood with me toe to toe and Let Me Have It until I was red-faced and broken out in hives all over my neck and chest. In her defense, she did say she felt bad for me that it was apparently my job to convince professionals such as herself to work in these appalling conditions. Let’s just say it was very “I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at the dirt.”

It was overall an amazing and unforgettable experience. And it taught me a few important lessons.

1. Drag queens need a lot of space.

A queen will bring a huge suitcase or a couple of mid-size suitcases, and you’ll be amazed at the volume and quantity of items that explode out of those bags and how quickly and completely it fills a room. Remember Mary Poppins’ carpet bag? Doctor Who’s TARDIS — bigger on the inside than it is on the outside? These ladies should buy stock in Space Bags. (And they could do wonders for the New York real estate market.)

Oh, and Do Not Try to share that space. A queen might share a wig or a dress, but she has some gigantic dresses to steam out and some very expensive shoes to look after. Step off.

2. We’re working on drag time, honey.

Oh, you have a schedule? How cute. Yeah, I’ll be there when I be there, girl.

3. A queen does not want to be seen in her finery without full make-up.

We only needed shots of them from the neck down, so they didn’t have to do their hair or their make-up. Some of them loved it. So easy! Some of them were nervous: Promise me these pictures of me in boy face will not end up on Facebook!

Wise application of these sacred truths will doubtless get me far in life. I can only hope that I now have the skills required to respectfully befriend a queen or two. Just a gay boy with a dream.


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