I’ve always admired the art of drag, but it wasn’t until this past year that I’ve really gotten immersed in its culture. Obviously, a big part of that was through RuPaul’s Drag Race. I unapologetically love that show; I think it’s truly special and I will defend it against anyone who says otherwise. But my love of drag extends far beyond the queens I watch on TV.
As someone who surrounds herself with as much queer culture as possible, the more I learn about drag, the more I appreciate how its history has shaped so much the queer world we know and love today. From the first time I watched Paris is Burning, to the books I read in undergrad, and the various queer spaces I’ve been introduced to during my time in New York City, I’ve had the pleasure of learning about the trailblazing LGBTQ+ heroes that have paved the way for us in so many ways. Honoring and celebrating these people is more important than ever, which is why I’m still reeling from my experience at Nightgowns.
I have to admit I was far from prepared for the magic I had the pleasure of witnessing at the show Sasha Velour hosts at National Sawdust in Brooklyn. I could go into all of the details of how the show was structured and all of the queens I was excited to see perform, but to be honest, that isn’t the essence of Nightgowns that I’ve been holding on to. Of course the queens were incredible – New York is overflowing with amazing drag queens who know how to entertain. But this show was a completely new level.
It was a celebration of queer spaces, voices, and experiences. It was a place where anyone could be a drag queen – or king, or whatever monarch you felt in your heart. The queens paid tribute to women, performers, and artists of color, they made statements about voices that are silenced and identities that aren’t discussed, they were weird and extravagant and bold and unique, and absolutely everything that drag celebrates.
Truthfully, it’s easy to forget about the history when you’re watching your favorite queen lip sync to the latest Ariana Grande single. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – far from it, I would argue. The very essence of drag is to have fun and be entertained in a space that makes you feel welcomed, safe, and carefree. For me, this was just a piece of what Nightgowns delivered.
All of the performances left me speechless. My jaw fell open in awe too many times to count, and not only because of the talent I saw displayed on stage. What moved me most was the emotion, the artistry, and the bravery to do the complete opposite of what the audience expected. There were moments when I didn’t completely understand what was going on, and I was quick to realize that I didn’t need to. While there are definitely messages to be shared and feelings to convey through drag performances, there’s also the freedom to not necessarily need those things. It’s enough as a drag performer to go on stage, show your art, and simply – or maybe not so simply – subvert the ideas of what is normal. The very fact that I was fully captivated watching these artists perform is enough to prove that authentically existing in these queer spaces is enough, and worth being celebrated.
Something Sasha shared that I can’t seem to get out of my head is the idea of screaming when we need to be heard, and when we don’t, sitting down and listening with our full attention. As a drag fan, this hits extremely close to home. I’ve had a lot of privileges in my life that have afforded me the luxury of needing to seek out books, movies, and other media to truly learn about the history of drag and why it’s such an important part of queer culture, rather than living through it myself. These spaces encourage us to learn and think openly no matter our own personal histories, but I realize that I have been granted the opportunity to do for this for the majority of my life. So I feel it’s my responsibility to highlight the voices of those who haven’t been allotted these opportunities, supporting their art and their personal journeys, and remembering to sit down and listen with my full attention when these amazing people have something to say.
As a member of the queer community, I am so grateful to be surrounded by folks who want to celebrate the history and beauty of our community. It’s one thing to read about queer culture, or to watch a movie about it, but to experience such moving expressions of pride in person was transcendent in ways I never thought possible. Nightgowns gives me so much hope as a writer, an activist, and an advocate for using queer history to lead us further in the revolution.