Such errant perception overlooks the preciousness of the few who provide masterful entertainment by juggling constructs and chromosomes. They are the muses and the warriors of their community, the artistic entrepreneurs and the easy sacrifice.
They provoke awe, fear, desire and resentment among their audiences (with everyone being their audience), and they receive gratitude in tips of currency more often than appreciation for their contributions to the kingdom.
As fate deemed, I was recently crossing through an LGBT community during the most festive season of its existence. The kingdom had been granted a sliver of dignity from the highest court of its domain just as it was preparing to honor its origins, to wit: the Stonewall Riots.
Among the leaders of this uprising that is celebrated during the first moons of the summer solstice was a drag species known as Flame Queens. Radically effeminate and cosmetic (but adherent to the criminal dress code of the era), Flame Queens became extinct shortly after the revolution they helped ignite.
They are a part of a legacy, however, that continues as the heartbeat of a thriving, rising kingdom.
Field Notes: Queen of the queens. A mesmerizing beauty that amplifies the finest traits of femininity. More convincing than a chameleon in the transition from male to female, from outcast to diva. A seductive aura, usually accompanied by a slicing wit. Pioneer of language, i.e. hunty, werk, fierce, etc. etc. The most populous species in the genus, Glam Queens approach a generic definition of drag. No shade.
Habitat: The spotlight. The Glam Queen species shines when it is on a stage, in front of a camera or otherwise commanding the attention of admirers and the envious. Known sightings include pageants, balls, reality television “races” and the preponderance of drag shows at revelry hubs such as Blake’s, Burkhart’s, LeBuzz and Jungle.
(Phoenix, one of many Glam Girls thriving in Atlanta)
Atlanta Specimens: The natives warn me that my life is in peril should I omit any names in this species. Alas, those I jotted in my journal include: Angelica D’Paige, Nicole Paige Brooks, Phoenix, Shawnna Brooks, Bianca Nicole, Raquel Lord and Mariah.
Field Notes: Direct descendents of Flame Queens. Ambiguous in desired gender: flamboyant in expression while retaining the undeniable form of man. Tends to identify as entertainer or personality instead of drag queen. Glitter and close-to-the-scalp hair are part of the popular uniform, as is flat chests.
“We don’t have to have titties, or have our nails done,” said Brent Star, whose enigmatic characters range from Little Richard to a naughty nun. “We have that freedom, that unlimited self-expression where we can present ourselves in any kind of way that we want to. It keeps the whole being-original and being-yourself energy going.”
(Brent Star of the Androgynous Eye-Puzzles species)
Habitat: Sprinkled along the outskirts of mainstream drag. Some are welcomed in the larger drag clan, but this species is used to treading its own course. Lots of restaurant gigs, less big stage.
Atlanta Specimens: Brent Star, Princess Charles
Field Notes: Matriarch of the genus. Legendary queens have clawed at societal rules about gender and sexuality until they created a hole large enough for the rest of the LGBT community to escape such confines. They threw their heels at Stonewall, raised the earliest dollars to fight AIDS, survived oppression and plague to ensure passage of queer and drag wisdom, mentorship and opportunity.
(Seasoned Swan Bubba D. Licious, one of the matriarchs of the genus )
Habitat: Regions with a high concentration of Botox and heavy-duty duct tape. Backstreet Reunion parties. As seen on HBO. Prowling the Jungle, Clermont Lounge and Blake’s on the Park.
Atlanta Specimens: Niesha Dupree, Lily White, Bubba D. Licious, Diamond Lil and some bitch named Charlie Brown.
Field Notes: The kingdom’s royal jester. Unwilling to give a damn about gender restraints except for how they can be used to maximize laughter. Beautiful brutes, the feminine hirsute – able to harmonize mustache and lipstick.
(Wild Cherry Sucret, one of Atlanta’s Camp Scamps)
“The key is not taking yourself too seriously,” said Wild Cherry Sucret. “We’re here to provide a fun, humorous take on being a woman.”
Habitat: Frequently nests at the host’s stand for Bingo, Trivia and Duck-Duck-Goose nights at bars and restaurants. Also intimately cross-stitched in the larger drag fabric as part of shows at Burkhart’s, Jungle and LeBuzz.
Atlanta Specimens: Wild Cherry Sucret, Mary Edith Pitts, Camilla Tucker-Balls, Ruby Redd and Knomie Moore.
Showum de Scrotum
Field Notes: Origins unclear, though I suspect they can be traced to the drama clubs and softball teams at all-girls Catholic schools, which have been known to produce the best elements of Sapphic expression.
(Bearded Kingaling Owen McCord in action)
This rare and relatively young species is flourishing at a quicker rate than any other part of drag, with an unprecedented boom in population and popularity during the last half decade. The female-to-male counterpart to the Glam Queen, most Drag Kings strive for their illusion to be undetectable.
Habitat: My Sisters’ Room, LeBuzz, Indie LGBT documentaries, domestic partnership and LGBT adoption registries.
Atlanta Specimens: Shaun Daniels, Justin Atlanta, Devin Liquor, Owen McCord, as well rising stars Hayden Van Pelt Fury and Azn Vynsuazion, the recent finalists in LeBuzz’s Project Drag King.
Field Notes: There are some specimens of drag queens who defy categorization. Whether punk rock or hood rat, dumpster drag or retro burlesque, their creative flow is impossible to capture under a single heading.
“For me, I want all of them,” says Ellisorous Rex (aka Corian Ellisor, who leads the offbeat drag show Gurlfrandz). “I try to swim and be in all categories, so sometimes I’m doing super campy numbers, I love doing numbers that are just monologues, I like doing high-energy dance numbers, but I also like giving a little ‘fish.’”
Regarding the bi-monthly show that she leads at Mary’s, Ellisorous Rex says, “I feel like we’re filling a bit of a void in the community. We’re a little bit off the beaten path but we’re really fun, and people always have a good time when they come.”
(Ellisorous Rex seen in her natual habitat of Mary’s in East Atlanta)
Habitat: Gurlfrandz at Mary’s, The Other Show at the Jungle, beating bitches with bottles at Blake’s.
Atlanta Specimens: Latesha Shante Shuntel, Edie Cheezburger, Ellisorous Rex and Gurlfrandz, Evah Destruction, Violet Chachki and Koochie Koochie Ku.
Field Notes: One of the original forms of female impersonation, this species of drag is threatened with the same fate as Flame Queens. Instead of aspiring to be a look-a-like for Hollywood divas, today’s drag queens favor creating their own brand and persona.
There are many drag queens who can pull off a celeb impersonation for a number or two, but fewer and fewer entertainers are completely committed to Hollywood realness.
Habitat: Atlantic City, Las Vegas and other kitschy cities that still enjoy the vintage glitz of Judy Garland, Cher, Marilyn Monroe and the rest of the bygone drag icons.
(Lady Shabazz is one of the few local queens who belong to the Celeb Debs species)
Atlanta Specimens: Lady Shabazz is one of the few local queens that devotes most of her art to impersonating a famous character, as the progressive female “drag” queen is a ringer for Janet Jackson. Another feather in Atlanta’s cap is being the launching ground for renowned celeb impersonator GiGi Monroe, whose Reba McIntyre and Liza Minnelli have earned her national acclaim.
Field Notes: While the Drag Genus is known for originality and individuality, there is a species of entertainers who are committed to cohesion. Some call their drag cliques family, some call it a sisterhood or troupe – whatever the name, these queens recognize their power in numbers.
(Atlanta’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgenge are a newer addition to the city’s Make-Up Mob species)
“We tend to mimic each other, while working towards a common goal,” says Rapture Divine Cox of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. “I just think it’s a win-win when you’ve got more people working towards a common goal. With the Sisters, we’re really a sisterhood. You can’t just walk up to us and say, ‘I wanna be a Sister,’ and we slap you in whiteface. There’s a process, and it usually takes at least a year.”
(The Armorettes, one of the city’s first recognized Make-Up Mob species)
Habitat: Usually found raising money for various causes, from HIV/AIDS to homeless gay youth. Also seen at drag balls and seasonal extravaganzas.
Atlanta Specimens: The Armorettes, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, House of Brooks, East Point Possums and House of Lord.
(Top photo: Violet Chachki, our cover girl and member of the Avante Garde species)
(All photos are file photos)