A New, Inclusive Group of Drag Queens is Taking the City by Storm
“When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.”–RuPaul Charles
The words of widely celebrated drag queen ring true to anyone in the LGBTQ community. As a group of people who often have to conceal who they are, transforming into the people they desire to be is of the utmost importance. That desire is the reason a new group of drag queens are garnering the attention of the queer community throughout the nation, including Denver.
With the relatively recent mainstream popularity of drag, more performers that fall outside of the typical ‘man in a dress’ are taking advantage of that platform. Hyperqueens—queer performers who don’t identify as cisgender gay men—are sashaying their way into the spotlight of queer culture, but they just prefer the label “drag queen.”
“A lot of people have told me, ‘You’re not even doing drag.’ This old man who used to live around here said, ‘There’s no illusion; I’m not going to pay to see that.'” – Her?
“The drag community in Denver is really accepting,” Bambi Ballgag, a nonbinary drag queen, said. “People would usually question my drag with my gender identity, but I’ve had extremely positive reactions. People have loved my drag.”
In that sense, drag culture is achieving its original purpose. Drag was created during the “Pansy Craze” in the early 1930s, when the first gay bars started emerging. Crossdressing has been a fad many times throughout history, especially in Shakespearean theatre, where women were prohibited from performing and men performed in female roles. These fads transformed into an expression of gender and sexuality, started by gay men.
Drag performances paved the way for early queer culture by offering a safe space for gay people to express themselves. As queer culture has evolved, drag has as well. RuPaul’s Drag Race catapulted drag back into pop culture, this time with a bang.
“My desire to perform started with Drag Race,” Her?, a drag queen who got her start in Denver nearly two years ago, said. “I’d love to be the first AFAB (assigned female at birth) queen on Drag Race.”
However, every mountain of representation climbed has a downside.
Though RuPaul has shined a lot of positive light on gay culture, he has presented negatively when asked about non-male queens on the show. RuPaul stated that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it.”
The show has had multiple transgender women perform, including Monica Beverly Hillz from season five and Peppermint from season nine, but RuPaul has shoved his foot in his mouth on more than one occasion with regard to transgender queens. The sentiment is common in traditional people throughout the queer community.
“A lot of people have told me ‘you’re not even doing drag,’” said Her?. “This old man who used to live around here said ‘there’s no illusion; I’m not going to pay to see that.’ I was in Ultimate Queen and had to fight really hard for it at first, but in the first week I won and it was really reassuring.”
Another local queen, Heavenly Powers, has had similar experiences.
“It’s been mostly positive, but there’s the occasional confusion and the straight-up ‘you’re not a drag queen, but you look sickening,’” she said.
Part of the problem with exclusionary behavior in drag is that it takes away from what drag was created for, which was a safe space for queer people to perform. By labeling non-male queens as hyperqueens, bioqueens, and even faux-queens, the experience becomes discriminatory.
Expression of femininity does not belong to cisgender gay men, and neither does drag. It is a safe space for the LGBTQ community to perform.
“No other medium allows you to design a look and pull off a full concept like drag does,” Bambi Ballgag said. “I think that’s why the art form is so special.”
Nowadays, drag is practically a staple at any queer gathering. It serves as a way to bring LGBTQ+ people together, and to entertain while expressing sexuality and gender in a safe space. Events like Denver PrideFest feature many local queens, which inspire other baby queens to make their mark on the art form.
“I love the community here,” Heavenly Powers said. “There are so many great artists that I look up to, and I feel like we all feed off of each other. So many of them are my closest friends.”
For many of the queens in Denver, drag is just another way to have fun with friends who understand you.
“It’s so fun to get into full drag with your friends and just mess around,” Bambi Ballgag said. “You look stunning and beautiful, but you’re just having a good time. It’s great to be active in the queer community and be around people who have experienced some of the same struggles as you as a gay person.”
For a long time, drag has been something done only by cisgender, gay men, but non-traditional queens are rising up and showing the queer community that there’s no wrong way to express yourself.