Photos and story by Treva Flores
The three performers were beautiful beyond compare. Their gowns sheathed around their bodies tighter than saran wrap, revealing every curve. Their hair was big, curly and glamorous as it draped across their shoulders. They glided across the stage with style. Then they lip-synced to Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five” with passion, thriving off the attention and energy of the room.
They were the kind of woman I aspire to be: Sexy yet elegant.
As men, they made a better woman than me.
It was my first time attending The Menagerie’s “Throw Down, Drag Down, Drag Race” and I was in luck. It was finals week of the season four competition.
The contestants lip-synced their hearts out on stage, while my heart pounded as I watched them compete for the grand prize of $1,000.
Men performing as women is nothing new.
“From the 1870s to the 1920s, pantomime began the rise of drag. As a way of mocking females, men would put on acts as if they were women, characterizing femininity. It was until the 20s to 30s period that the first LGBT bars and meeting places began to be created. Called the ‘pansy craze,’ we begin to see the start of ‘the gay bar,’ where homosexuals could meet each other, and drag performances were just one part of the entertainment,” wrote Stephanie Racca in Odyssey Online.
I was one of the few women in the audience with the majority being comprised of men or other drag queens. There wasn’t an open seat in the house. The front row tables had been reserved for “V.I.P.’s” so I was glad I came early and snagged a seat at the bar.
My cisgender femininity didn’t feel like an issue as the performers came out on stage. Everyone was there to have a good time. The crowd cheered and applauded every time a performance became the slightest bit erotic, from men kissing each other on stage to drag queens touching their own body parts in unison with the music.
Unfortunately, I had left my dollar bills at home. I didn’t know the contestants collected money as they performed. They walked around the club in their high heels and fishnet stockings gathering money from every hand that reached out towards them. The execution was effortless as if it was part of the routine.
I ordered a hard apple cider to relieve my own tensions of bringing my boyfriend to a gay bar. He seemed relaxed and fully invested in the competition.
Drag races have been popularized outside of the LGBTQ community by a reality television series known as “RuPauls Drag Race” that aired in 2009.
“Well, nightclubs had been dying because of social media. They used to be spaces where you’d go to meet a friendly stranger [laughs]. I think our show has given people another reason to go to a nightclub. That’s a good thing for clubs. Our show has opened it up to more people,” said RuPaul in an interview with the L.A. Times.
Later on in the evening I scrambled to move the empty bottle in front of me. Kendra Onixxx had hopped up onto the bar as if stepping onto a fashion runway. She was a tall, tan competitor dressed in a bright orange outfit made to look like a dinosaur.
Despite her crazy outfit her confidence radiated while she walked across the bar. It was like watching a scene from “Coyote Ugly.”
“I had a lot of drag friends and I kept looking at the girls on stage like OK, you know they look cute, but I could perform better than them. My friend told me if you can perform better than them then do it and I did,” said Onixxx, while on stage. “The first time my wig fell off, I wasn’t even tucked, boys underwear and I still got third place in six-inch $200 pumps.”
When I watched Onixxx dance, hop on the bar and walk around the V.I.P. tables in her heels that night, I felt the intensity of her competitive side.
She didn’t stumble once in her heels, a talent I have not yet mastered.
I also couldn’t believe how intense the lip-synching had become. For the past 11 weeks these performers had been competing, creating costumes and pulling off make-up looks that are incredibly complex.
“This has been a hard competition, but it has been an experience and I f***in’ loved it. I worked all week,” said Diva Dean, while on stage. “I asked both designers, I was like can y’all help me and one of them was like I’m helping Kendra the other one was like I’m helping Borgia and I said alright well I sewed all this my f***in’ self.”
The audience went wild with cheer and praise for Dean’s hard work. The most impressive dress of all was worn during her performance for the third round, the showstopper.
As the song “Impossible” by Whitney Houston from “Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” played, Dean acted out the part of the fairy godmother in a golden dress that looked robe-like and shimmered in the light. The outfit itself wasn’t all too impressive until she twirled in a circle on stage. She transformed her dress into a more subtle gold color. It looked similar to the dress Houston wore in the movie.
Dean’s performance impressed me. I smiled as she glided around the stage making magic happen.
It takes me an hour to style my hair with a little bit of hairspray, put on natural looking make-up and a t-shirt. I can only imagine the amount of time it takes for these performances to happen.
I only have three dresses in my closet and four pairs of three-inch heels that are only worn on special occasions. If I put on fake eyelashes it takes me at least 30 minutes. Then it takes me another 10 minutes to try and get the perfect winged eyeliner.
Dean’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed.
Borgia Bloom blew my mind when she lip-synched to “Be Our Guest” from the movie “Beauty and the Beast.” She had five performers join her on stage. One performer was dressed like Mrs. Potts, while the others dressed like the dishes.
Another man wore only a white ascot tie and bright blue booty shorts. I cheered and clapped along as he danced with Bloom and her entourage. She won my vote with her final performance.
“As soon as I walked in the door I knew I was home,” said Bloom about the first time she entered the Menagerie. She spoke about a past drag race where a regular performer, Melody Sings, beat her in the competition. That never stopped her because she loves The Menagerie and wants to keep performing in drag.
When the performers spoke and danced it was clear that this was where they belonged. Even as an outsider I could see how dedicated the performers were. I belonged there too.
I felt anxious for the contestants as we waited for the results. They each brought their own style and flare to the stage. They were the type of woman I would like to be.
Confident, sexy and extravagant.
The performers put on this show in the hopes of winning $1,000, which isn’t a lot compared to the $100,000 they could win on a show like “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” They still rocked it.
It’s hard work being a woman and these men were able to pull it off gracefully.
The competition was enticing and showed me that if you try hard to put your all into something, you can be whoever you want to be and do whatever you want to do without fear of judgment.
In the end, Onixxx was crowned the season four winner. But Bloom was the real champion to me, coming in second place. My boyfriend agreed.
The results proved that even though there was only one recipient of the grand prize, each contestant was a winner for making it this far. Not only as a contestant, but as a drag queen.
I was a winner too. I was a winner for getting the courage to step outside my comfort zone and attend an event I never thought I would go to. A drag race.
In the end, I took away their confidence, their ability to break gender norms and their overall attitudes toward being different in a society that pressures us all to be the same.
“These kids against all odds have said, ‘You know what, society? I know you want me to fit inside this box, but I’m not going to. I’m going to do my own thing.’ That’s really a great message for everyone,” said RuPaul, as quoted in an article from the O.C. Register. “If you have a dream where people have said, ‘You can’t do that,’ our show is an instruction book for anyone watching.”
Now the only thing left for me to do is to put on my lipstick, tease my hair and practice walking around in a pair of stilettos as I wait for the next drag race to begin.
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