“Every gay guy should dress up in drag at least once,” a friend – a seasoned drag performer – told me this past summer. Although I listened, the idea of walking around in public or performing while wearing makeup, women’s clothing, and heels, was daunting. I didn’t think drag was for me.
Nevertheless, having seen a few drag shows I understood what it does for people and knew how liberating it could be. I saw how drag let someone be who they were never otherwise allowed to be. In drag queens, I’ve seen men who weren’t men, and never wanted to be men. I’ve seen beautiful, graceful divas, strutting their stuff and not letting anyone see or think of them as being anything but beautiful.
In September, a friend of mine performed in drag for the first time. I was honoured and delighted to be a part of the process, as they chose to get ready at my apartment and we attended the event together. I know it was an emotional process for them, but I think an overall positive one. As I watched them transform from an average gay guy into a symbol of feminine beauty, I felt empowered. I was inspired by witnessing her beauty and angelic presence, and I started wondering when my turn would be.
I couldn’t really see myself performing on stage, and couldn’t see myself dressing up just for a dance party, even if it was in the Village or mostly attended by queer people. I decided Halloween, a night when anyone can be someone else, would be the perfect night to experiment with drag.
I had no idea who – or what – to be. After a few weak ideas, my costume threw itself together at the last minute. At a thrift store I bought a little black dress with a deep, gold-sequined neckline. I borrowed my roommate’s wig, a black bob that she had worn the previous Halloween as Mia Wallace, Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction. With no other ideas, I decided that I too would be the iconic, swing dancing, cocaine-snorting mob boss’s wife. I bought some bright red lipstick and borrowed a black choker. My friend Amy, who did the rest of my makeup for me, was able to find some painfully perfect black suede flats at a thrift store that day. A women’s size 11.5, the shoes were a tight fit and would later bloody my heels and toenails, but nothing else would’ve complemented my outfit so perfectly.
Once fully dragged out, I looked hot. I felt unstoppable. I went with Amy and a few other queer friends to a costume party with mostly queer people. Although it was Halloween, which made me less nervous about being seen in public, it was definitely good to start my night off around people who I knew would better understand my costume choice.
Except, for me, it wasn’t just a costume. Even though it’s a night when everyone has the chance to be someone else, for me it was so much more. I took drag seriously. I wasn’t the same boy that had been raised to be a man. All of those expectations for me to be masculine, to act a certain way and to live up to an ideal, were thrown out the window. I was Mia Wallace. With my gait, my posture, and my mannerisms, I was more fabulous a woman than I could ever have dreamed of.
After the party, we went to one of the Plateau’s great dive-y dance bars. We danced our asses off to everything but top 40 hits and had a great time. Multiple guys told me I was “très sexy,” and even though at one point I got my ass slapped, I just rolled with it.
Overall, my first experience in drag was a great one. The next day, I chose not to shower before going to class. Even though my feet were bloody and hurt like hell, I strutted to campus in a proud walk of shame, wearing the heavy eyeliner and mascara from the night before. I relished the last hours of my divine feminine beauty, and the way that the darkness brought out my eyes. For a few more hours, I could be fabulous.
I can definitely see myself dressing up in drag again, although I’m not exactly sure when or how. Although the idea daunts me, maybe I’ll give performance a shot someday. More intimidating than performance itself is the idea of being in drag in public. Outside of the context of Halloween, I know I’d be vulnerable to stares and potential abuse. The night I watched my friend perform in their first drag show, they were verbally harassed and followed on their way home. That kind of discrimination scares the shit out of me. As much as I tell myself I don’t care what other people think, and although I’ve gotten immense support when sharing my drag experience with friends, I know that there are people and places where I wouldn’t receive the same support. After my one night of fabulousness, I’ve returned to my conformist, boring, average aesthetic.
I can’t help but think about the next time I’ll dress in drag. I feel it might be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I can try to care less about what people think of me on a day-to-day basis. Although at this point I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing makeup to class on a regular day, maybe I’ll get there.
Nevertheless, I still have this Halloween to look back on as the night when I reached a potential for beauty that I never knew I had. I was beautiful. I rocked it. Sooner or later, I’m going to rock it again.
White Noise is a column exploring what it means to identify as gay or queer in McGill and Montreal communities. Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.