Madalyn is a dear friend of mine and I am so glad to welcome her onto my blog as my first guest poster for the month to talk about drag and queer culture. When Madalyn isn’t at a drag show, you can find her on Twitter or on her blog, Novel Ink.
When I think about my first introduction to the drag world, it sticks out in my mind as one of those moments that, at the time, I had no idea would have such a positive impact on my life. My sophomore year of college, I was spending the weekend with my straightest straight friend, who has religiously watched RuPaul’s Drag Race since the very first season aired in 2009. She and her roommates had been watching old Drag Race seasons (back when all the seasons were on Hulu…a simpler time), and luckily I got to her apartment as they were starting a new season. For the next two days, we invited a bunch of friends over and did nothing except watch Drag Race (and make a couple late-night runs to Insomnia Cookie). I was instantly hooked. As someone who had come out less than a year prior, I still hadn’t quite found my online OR IRL queer communities, but I immediately felt a sense of kinship and comfort while watching the show. I loved the way that it had all of the typical, quotable reality show drama that keeps you watching, but it also incorporated conversations about issues affecting queer people and mini lessons on LGBTQIAP+ history. It was an art form created by queer people for queer audiences, and though it obviously also appealed to a straight audience, it was still unapologetic in its queerness.
Now, I’ll go ahead and say what we’re all thinking: after a while, the shine of RuPaul’s Drag Race starts to wear off. You start to see the racism of the fandom, the hurtful comments about trans people from RuPaul, the ways in which the show sanitizes some queer experiences that it deems less palatable for mainstream audiences. But I’ll always be grateful for Drag Race because it opened the door to an entire new world for me. Pretty soon, I was going to local gay bars to see my favorite queens from the show perform, and at those shows, I fell in love with the local drag scene here in Atlanta and all of the wonderful queer artists who call this city home. As author Samantha Allen remarks in her book Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States, “Atlanta is still the best place in the country to be gay or bi or trans, and I’d gladly split a Publix sub with anyone who wants to debate me.” Nowhere was this more evident than at these local events. I saw the diversity of queer experiences that shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race never fully captured. I met queer writers, politicians, and activists who were helping engineer the kind of world I wanted to see. I found local queer artists and organizations to support. It was a scene where trans performers weren’t alienated, but celebrated. Where white was not a default. Where queer people of all kinds were welcome, not just cis gay men. I came to realize that there are endless types of drag, just as there are endless ways to express your gender. Just as there are endless ways to be queer. As someone coming into my own queerness, this exposure to a vibrant queer community gave me a sense of belonging I had been missing since I came out. It gave me people with whom I could talk about past experiences as well as dream of a better future. It taught me so much about LGBTQIAP+ culture and history. I hope I can continue to bask in the particular magic of drag for years to come. Next time you find yourself feeling disconnected from other queer folks? Try going to a drag show. It might make you feel a little less alone.