High Heels, Tiaras and Glitter...
By Conraad Jonas, South Africa special correspondent.
Drag queens, once seen as a disgrace, are now revered as the first true ambassadors of the LGBTI community! “It is often noted that the Stonewall riots of June 27, 1969 in New York City were inspired and led by drag queens,” (Wikipedia 2010).
We drag because of the “SHEER, IRRESISTIBLE GODDAMN GLAMOUR OF IT ALL!” (Stonewall 1995). Basically, ‘beauty queens’, young or experienced, drag because this is their inherent right of freedom – “[It] facilitates the freedom of expression within my feminine character in speech or presentation as a performing or modelling queen” says Durbanite, Yaya Knowles. Drag queens were the first behind the scene and in the spotlight that made the mark for all LGBTI people to come out of the closet and start fighting for equal rights, through protest and liberating drag shows.
(Eva Monroe & Karl-Heinz Michel & Miss B)
“Dragging is much more than just having a closet-full of beautiful dresses and shoes, or emptying my partner’s bank account,” (Claudette Lee-Cooper). It is more than “painting the town pink with friends” (Megan Carreira) where they can let their hair down [excuse the pun], “... with the chance to ‘escape’ from the serious and stressful, everyday, world we live in” (Olivia May). “This is an outlet for expression, fun and creativity to distinctify [sec] ourselves” says Cape Tonian Kat Gilardi, and “imagine any gay club without Queens – it would be colourless” (Natasha Lewis). But this is also about “creating a platform where you can make a positive difference in the gay community through the form of a special art technique!” says the legendary Bianca Bouvia, better known as Miss B. Our own Miss Gay Pretoria, Nomi Peron, stated that through being a drag artist, “I discovered aspects of myself I never knew existed: my artistic and feminine side, my confidence, and, when I started performing, the ability to inspire and educate.”
(Megan Carreira & Claudette Lee Cooper)
In South Africa, one of the queens that influenced our community the most, would be local beauty queen and performer, writer and director of shows as well as manager of gay clubs, Bianca Bouvia. Miss B has had a huge impact on our community, supporting and representing the LGBTI community wherever she went, speaking out and fighting against homophobia and laying the foundations for the next generations in all spheres of the gay scene. As “the Queen Bee”, she has stood up for the well-being of gays and lesbians alike, and most definitely and defiantly, stood up for the queens!
According to Miss B, the fine art of drag is not for the fainthearted, nor to be taken lightly. Or as Miss Gay Western Cape, Kat would say: “The art of women impersonation is more than just putting on a dress; shoes and a bit of make-up. No! It takes time, dedication and determination to perfect our own individual expression!” However, there are pitfalls, as Miss Legends 2009, Claudette, warns. “If you would like to pursue this art, do it full-heartedly. Go out and do it properly, as this remains the “Name” that will be carried with you until you decide to end this art form. If you want to do it for a joke, rather don’t do it at all.” There have been many battles fought to make the Queens acceptable in our society, and it can take only one ‘would-be-Queen’ to throw it all away if it is seen or interpreted misleadingly by the wrong person or media group.
(Megan Carreira / Yaya Knowles / Claudette Lee Cooper)
We all need role models in life to encourage or inspire us (saluting the first drag queens that were role models to us all), like Miss. B. When asking the queens, “Who is your role model?” most of them said that it was Miss B. She has always been a great icon and inspiration for them, drawing the outline of a picture and leaving the colouring part to them. Yet they could always ask for help and advice, and Bianca always reminded them to, no matter what, “keep your feet firm on the ground, not only as your drag persona but as a boy too!”
Most of the gay community in South Africa would be able to tell you a story with Miss B in the headlines. She has made a great impact not only on the lives of young drag queens but in most gay and lesbian people’s lives too. She is known for being a straight-forward person, not sugar-coating any topic or situation, and never just agreeing without good reason and facts; and for this reason she is not only loved but also disliked by many.
(The Elegant, Legendary, Miss B)
Miss B: “Because I am not someone that is a “Ja-broer”, I believe in what I stand for, always keeping strong and full-hearting in every event or task.”
This aside, we cannot forget the family and friends who helped and supported their choices – moms asking for fashion advice and dads intrigued about things that would make any ‘woMan’ blush!
(Kat Gilardi & Life Partner, Errol Stroebel )
Many local role models impacted on the “gurlz” interviewed here; like Miss Legends 2009, Chi-Chi Rodriguez (for Claudette), Scarlett Mercedes (for Kat) and Charl Van Den Berg – Mr. Gay World 2010- (for Megan). But also international superstars like Celine Dion, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres (for Olivia Mia) and RuPaul (for Natasha) influenced their lives. Nevertheless, all of them knew that they wanted to perfect this aesthetic art from a very early age, and let’s be honest, with big brand names like Versace and Coco Chanel as gay icons, who does not have a little girl inside of them, screaming to come out!
When looking back at the history of drag queens, we can all see and admit that this art has come a long way. As Claudette would say: “From plastic to 'Fabulosity’”, this form of expression has not only grown but is being perfected and tested to its limits with more people – gay and straight – coming to accept and honour its influences! Yes, there is still a lot that has to be accomplished in certain areas, but, without a doubt, there is a great future ahead for the queens in modelling and performing, to carrying out this legacy for generations to come. “When you are able to find the balance between yourself as a queen and a boy with your feet firm on the ground you know you are heading in the right direction to success,” says Miss B.
Especially when looking at competitions and pageants, these are growing bigger and more professional every year, where queens compete for the title of their club, region, province or even nationally. The girls not only walk in bikinis and ten-inch heels, or ball gowns that would make anyone of Victorian nobility cry with jealousy. They also show off their talents on the dance floor or their acting abilities on stage! Says Natasha: “Having performed at various venues, some people actually thought I was a real woman!”
Even though queens in the twenty-first century have been accepted much easier, and with a more open mind than in the past, there are still some people that often give them the cold shoulder or bad remark, but everyone is entitled to their opinion and the queens take this as positive criticism so that they can improve and create a better future for those who still want to pursue this lifestyle. “People are generally shocked when they learn what my day jobs is (an attorney), after seeing this queen in high heels in front of them... then they realise that I’m just a normal person with a normal life,” says Miss Mardi Gras 2010, Megan.
We all need to remember that this is a lifestyle they chose as an individual, and we have no right to judge or criticise them, as they don’t criticise us. They are still human; they are still the same person when they are in drag; and even though they may wear women’s clothing, heels and make up, the only true difference is that they sit differently, have more ‘ladylike’ manners and feel free to be more spontaneous and creative than when they are in boys’ clothing!
If two people of the same gender, or of different race, or different religions, can hold hands and love each other, accepting not only themselves and their differing backgrounds, who are we to judge each other in our own community? It is time to stop the backstabbing, cheating and bitchiness in our community, for how can we fight for our rights and stand for a better future for this community, if we can’t even stand together as one under the rainbow flag!
(Bianca Bouvia with Karl-Heinz Michel)
Nowadays, it is seen as normal when to lovers of the same gender hold hands. I say, it is now time to take the other hand and hold it out to the rest of our community and start standing together as one, not only in having a monogamous relationship with your partner, but to start having a monogamous relationship as a united LGBTI community, where we all stand for the same rights and want the same thing, and no longer feel the need to break and tear each other down!
(Natasha Lewis with Conraad Jonas)
To perfect this art of dragging you must always remember you are not alone, there are many queens out there willing to help, that have gone through the same problems and struggles that you have, so just seek advice and you will receive! In closing, to quote Bianca: “Listen to both compliments and constructive criticism and use that to build yourself up even higher; but most of all remember to keep your feet firm on the ground”; because once you lose the ground you lose sight, not only of yourself as a individual and unique queen in your own genre, but also the ability to have fun whilst living through your drag persona! As Miss B would say: Don’t just dream it, be it!
Drag queens:the voice and colour of our LGBTI Rainbow Flag!
To know more about the Queens, click HERE
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