Photo by Just Toby.

The Life-Saving Power of Drag

Content warning: self-harm 

I have always talked about having a chosen and/or drag family, but little did I know the true meaning of this until very recently.

June 22 is the day I decided to actively take actions toward hurting myself and perhaps ending my life.  The moment it happened, I freaked out and reached out to my tribe.  If it weren’t for these people, I wouldn’t know if I were here to write about it. For that reason, I wanted to take my unsteady journey at the moment and provide some hope and insight about what happened.

When I think about it I, I think of how COVID-19 was a huge part of it, where everything started, not just for me but for my whole community.

Most of us our worlds were flipped upside down during the pandemic, and what I want to highlight about this is not about my story but our community’s story as a whole and how we came together in ways that are thicker than blood.  Many of us in the drag industry are entertainers and artists who feel need to express ourselves in a unique way. For me, it’s through photographs, but I also feel best when I’m expressing myself socially. Throughout the last two years, I saw most of my friends, my favorite entertainers, be challenged in so many ways that shook both me and them to the core.

When I entered the pandemic, I was working so much that I didn’t care about clicking on another photo. I had lost my faith in the art and the spark that would give me the chills every time I had a gig.  You might think that working with the most famous entertainers or the coolest gigs that have the best afterparties wouldn’t be something I would complain about, but at the end of the day, it’s a job. People get overworked or overwhelmed by it.

During the pandemic, I started seeing how much of my social media feed was dominated by my queer community asking for help: seeking a voice, seeking advice, seeking connection. Within months, I had seen many people shift into fight-to-live mode.

I started reaching out to individual people, just to check up on them just so they can tell me what they are going through. Many of them at the beginning were strong, driven and had a drive thirstier than glory hole. At the same time, I was struggling, and I couldn’t understand how in that climate how people managed to remain so happy and energetic.

As time went by, I started seeing some people were looking for other ways to find ends meet, finding new jobs, and doing live shows online only to be paid a fraction of what they used to make. COVID-19 was no joke, and it was hard for me to see in my LGBTQAI+ family going through a roller coaster of emotions. Drag was stagnant, people were at home alone, thinking about every thought possible and just trying to live a normal life. When a queer person is isolated from their tribe, it can have deeply harmful effects – especially if they spent their youth closeted or otherwise isolated from a sense of community and truth. For this same reason, I started taking care of my friends, and I started falling in love with drag again.

During the pandemic, I got to experience another side of drag: the palpable impact of chosen family on drag entertainers. During this time, many were being lifted up by their closest friends, For me, it felt like seeing “Paris is Burning” live in action, where drag families in New York City would take care of each other and protect one another. I got to see people connect in a different way. Close friends and chosen family would push one another to do better, they would exchange makeup tips and creative ideas. If someone struggled financially, their tribe would start a GoFundMe account and charity events and even worked extra jobs to support their friends.

Gratefully, this was no different for me. When I decided to hurt myself, I immediately called my closest friends. It was all a blur, but my tribe got together in a unit and took care of me in every way I could possibly imagine.  I am truly thankful they sacrificed so much to get me all the help and support I needed in a matter of hours. This was my first time I 1000 percent depended on the love, trust and support of my chosen drag family. I learned that my friends truly want the best for me and wanted me to give me the safe space and support, they wanted to take care of me like I had taken care of them.

These past few weeks have really made me think of the impact we have on each other, as humans and cheerleaders to one another. From this new COVID synergy, a new generation of drag has been born, and a new collective unity within our community has flourished. For that, I am truly thankful.