by Joshua Flores
“It’s very easy to look at the world and think, this is all so cruel and so mean. It’s important to not become bitter from it.”RuPaul
How It All Began…
I first became aware of drag at twenty-one years old. I distinctly remember sitting down in the living room with my cousin and turning on my first episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and falling absolutely in love. I witnessed individuals who were proud, flamboyant, and so completely themselves.
Growing up in a conservative family, I’d never tasted such freedom. I longed for it more than anything else. Their clothes, their larger-than-life personalities, and their kindness toward one another were not only inspiring but it was also the start of something beautiful and enriching for me. There were spaces to be queer, places where people would lift you up rather than spit out false narratives about all of the evil inside of me; drag queens reminded me that being different and being proud was a form of art, something to cherish, rather than hide.
To this day, I thank the queens and gays before me for paving the path so people like me can find the light in such complete darkness. They quiet the voices that say we will never be enough, that we will never be loved in the best ways a person can be loved, and that every person who ever told us we were less than simply didn’t have the ability to comprehend the beauty of our identity. There’s room for all of us, straight and gay. I wish I had known that before the age of twenty-one.
My First Drag Show
Freshly graduated from one of the most conservative Christian schools in Southern California, where “acting on homosexuality” as they called it, would lead to a behavior plan, a stack of anti-queer reading material, and possible expulsion, I walked into Strut Orange County, the only queer space in the surrounding area. Even in California, there is still so far we have to go for inclusivity. This is a start.
I walked into the dimly lit hallway: mannequins, disco balls, and multi-colored lights surrounded me. My closeted self was both horrified and giddy to break the rules, pave my own path, and pay my respects to so many years in hiding, in fear, waiting to finally declare myself to the world—a world that might possibly reject me. I took the leap, plunging face first. Thank God that I did.
My friends and I walked into the hazy, neon-lit space, taking in the beauty of our first show. We’d been waiting for weeks and had finally collected the courage to go inside. I didn’t realize how important this would be for me. I was shedding every lie I had been told, never making myself smaller to make my mom happy ever again. I left all of that at the door. I never wanted to turn back or force myself to be something I wasn’t for another human being. I refused to.
The details are fuzzy, I will admit, but soon we were surrounded by queens dancing, singing, and declaring their art so beautifully. I learned that drag was funny, uplifting, inspiring, and unlike any other performance I had ever seen. It was sexy one moment and hilarious the next. There were so many elements, so many emotions I couldn’t describe. There were so many colors, plenty of Britney Spears songs, more disco balls than I’d ever encountered, and more importantly—so much joy. Everyone had a smile. There wasn’t a sad person in the room.
From that moment on, I knew this was something special, an art that beckoned every loner, every outcast, and every queer person to celebrate their differences and express themselves however they chose—silly, sexy, athletic, comedic, and everything in-between. Drag truly is an art.
“Don’t Get Bitter, Just Get Better”
It is so easy to fall prey to being bitter in light of recent drag bans across the United States. More than ever, we understand the widespread hate, fear, and anger shown toward the queer community, specifically from religious groups. As a queer Christian and someone who was raised in conservative circles, it is heartbreaking seeing so many people in my own life, family, and communities turning their backs on queer people and voting for harmful legislation and politicians who have ignored the queer community and done everything in their power to push us back into the closet.
Drag does not correlate to provocative sex acts as many might have you believe. Just like anything, of course, there are some drag performances for kids and others aimed at adults. But drag in itself is not sexual, harmful, or something to be banned from the public. Why is something suddenly sexual because it is queer? Why must we be pigeonholed, made to feel dirty and unlovable because of who we choose to love, marry, and spend our lives with? Drag gives us an avenue to express ourselves and a chance to gather with other people who identify as LGBTQIA+ and find solace in our shared life experiences.
Drag helped me to better love myself and to see that being proud was never a bad thing. I had to unlearn so much of the hate and confusion I faced as a child and young adult and drag was one of the many things that helped me come out and live more authentically. To this day, I still struggle in certain situations to be wholly myself, I still find myself censoring my opinions and my identity to make other people comfortable. I try to work on this daily.
I thank drag queens for persisting, despite such harsh pushback. Yes, each Sunday there are protesters outside of the club saying we are going to hell, but you still perform. Legislation continues to make it harder and harder for you to perform, but you continue to share with us your love for the art. I will forever be grateful to every drag queen who continues to do what they love, regardless of the consequences.
To every drag performer, thank you for giving me the opportunity to love myself and others better. Thank you for living your authentic selves unapologetically. Loving yourself in the face of opposition is one of the bravest things a person can do, and I have seen this displayed time and time again through drag.
This is why we must fight for drag– so every queer child, teen, and adult has the chance to see they are not alone and that being queer is a gift, not a burden. You are bold, beautiful, and talented.