The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

For many, the perception is that drag has to be done by cis gay men — a notion that continues to hold true in Calgary. But the drag community in this city is much more diverse. Its members are trying to prove that through their performances, hoping to change this common misperception.

The American reality TV series, RuPaul’s Drag Race, has unfortunately contributed to the perception that drag has to be done by cis gay men. Its host — the titular RuPaul — has asserted that “drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once it’s not men doing it because at its core it’s a social statement and a big f‐ you to male‐dominated culture.”

Speaking to the Guardian, he said, “for men to do it, it’s really punk rock, because it’s a real rejection of masculinity.”

Despite the growing roster of trans-women and non-binary performers competing on the show, RuPaul’s Drag Race continues to help enforce the idea that the only way to do drag is to be a ‘man’ performing as a ‘woman.’

“Everyone believes that RuPaul is the quintessential queer experience. Everyone watches drag race, even the straight people,” says Calgary drag monarch Tess La’Coil. “But Ru himself has proven to be transphobic on many occasions.”

In response to such criticisms, RuPaul tweeted, “I understand and regret the hurt I have caused. The trans community are heroes of our shared LGBTQ movement.”

Local drag artist Vanta Blaque notes the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race has been beneficial in bringing more attention to Calgary’s drag community. But Blaque says only offering one portrayal of the artform onscreen can also negatively affect an audience’s perception of what ‘real drag’ should look like.
“[The art form is] stereotypically seen as a gender swap. So most people think men are drag queens and women perform as drag kings, but drag is so much more diverse,” says Blaque.

La’Coil has seen a similar reaction in Calgary agreeing that “it’s terrible for people to see [RuPaul’s Drag Race] and internalize it as the norm.”

La’Coil says the main reason she wanted to begin performing was she was tired of only seeing one kind of performer represented on stage.

“I was continually watching the same people do drag. I’d go to Twisted and see a drag show and it was five cis, gay men, almost always white, prancing around looking like really hot women.”

She said seeing these performances “felt like a mockery” and she decided to become part of the resurgence of drag monarchs in Calgary, describing her drag as “a hyper-queen and a genderfuck; I call it a hyperfuck.”

Terms like hyper, faux, bio or diva queen have been used to dismiss performers that are not cisgender men. Blaque, La’Coil and other performers in the city are trying to reclaim the terms by using them as affirmations for the work they’re creating. And, in the process, they’re trying to change Calgarians perceptions of what drag is.

One new performer is Her-Mena. She describes her drag as “what you get when an exotic dancer and a demon make a baby.” When introducing her on stage Blaque says, “Her-Mena’s favourite thing is making you question one, if not all, of three things: your sexuality, your sanity, and your belief system.”

Her-Mena decided to start performing as a drag artist because she wanted to create a persona as different from herself as humanly possible.

“Her-Mena has become a vessel through which I express not only my femininity but those feelings I oftentimes can’t put into words. Her-Mena is a way of maintaining my sanity while still being closeted at home.”

Another performer, Hexen Sublime, describes drag as “theatrical and messy.”

“It’s the opportunity to explore gender performance in a space that already confuses the binary and to say a heavy thought under a sexy veneer,” Sublime says. “As a non-binary performer [drag] lets me pull from my whole box of tricks with the security that the audience knows that Hexen is the face, but not the whole.”

“Make room for them at Twisted where the straight, white people go for bachelorettes, push [the audience] to see subversive drag —the real thing — not RuPaul lite.”

Hoping to help change the idea of what drag can look like, Blaque recently hosted the first showcase for female and non-binary femme performers in Calgary called FEMME4FEMME. It’s a night that puts the focus on artists who both exist as well as perform as feminine characters or drag queens.

“FEMME4FEMME is a show where the cast consists entirely of hyper queens,” says Blaque who was also one of the performers. Hyper is “the official term for performers who are feminine on a daily basis and also perform their drag as a feminine character.”

“[Drag] is being creative with gender expression and there are no limits within that. Having a space where performers feel safe and welcome and encouraged to be as creative as they like was really important to me.”

La’Coil says the work the current drag community in Calgary is doing excites her. She thinks fellow artists should celebrate the truly subversive art coming out of the Calgary scene, and “stop prioritizing cis, gay men.”

She wants the community to continue to push monarchs and other gender-diverse performers into the spotlight.

“Make room for them at Twisted where the straight, white people go for bachelorettes, push [the audience] to see subversive drag —the real thing — not RuPaul lite.”