After months of saying I was going to, I’m finally writing a primer for drag show virgins.
Don’t be scared. The point is to have fun. The point is to have an epic fuck ton of fun, if possible.
No one is out to get you. But if you don’t keep a few things in mind, a drag queen might hunt you down and give you a tongue-lashing you won’t soon forget (and I don’t mean the good kind.)
I’ll be focusing on drag queen shows. I hope maybe someone else will write a primer for drag king shows, but many of these rules will apply to both (as well as a lot of other types of performance).
I. Performance space:
Rule Number One: Don’t fucking walk where someone is performing.
The performance space (stage) is generally well defined and will become incredibly well defined when someone breaks Rule Number One.
Yes, that is code for the emcee will fucking rip you a new one.
You are not the exception to the rule. Is your chair straddling the line? Move it back. Yes, I promise there is another way to get to the bar or bathroom.
Stay sober enough to remember this:
Don’t fucking walk where someone is performing.
II. Being a good audience member
Rule Number Two: Clap. Scream. Stomp. Go “wooo!”
Play along. You paid a cover (we’ll get to that) to see a damn good show, but it counts on the spirit of everyone there.
Be enthusiastic. And be enthusiastic-er when the emcee says so.
ii. Don’t fucking boo. Ever.
Unless the person with the microphone obviously wants you to.
iii. What not to scream
Okay, I know I told you to scream, and I meant it, but for the love of MAC Cosmetics do not be the person who screams “You betta werk!”
You will come off sounding like you are quoting the only thing you can remember a drag queen ever saying.
Acceptable alternatives include “WERK!”, “WERK IT (GRRL)!” and “GET IT, (GRRL)!”
If you cannot comfortably use these expressions un-self-counsciously, you should probably just stick to woo’ing.
i. Sometimes there will be down time and the emcee might wander out into the crowd for a little audience participation.
Rule Number Three: Don’t try to be funnier than her.
If the person with the microphone has to say, “I work alone,” you prolly cocked up.
You might get read. Reading is drag jargon for insulting someone in a kind-hearted fashion for comedic purposes.
If you are not prepare to be read, sit far the fuck away, or just don’t go.
ii. Don’t make a spectacle of yourself. Everyone there is already paying to see a spectacle, and that spectacle has dangerously high heels.
Look, it might be your birthday/anniversary/bachelor/ette party. That’s great. The emcee might congratulate you. Hell, she might lead the bar in a chorus of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” But then you sit your ass down and enjoy the show just like everyone else.
Here’s a little agreement you can make with yourself and the people running the show:
I, (your name), promise and agree not to dance, flash anyone, or in any other way ham it up in such a way that makes the emcee break her stiletto off in my carotid.
Frequently, the person with the microphone will ask if this is anyone’s first time or if there are any straight people in the audience.
Do not raise your hand unless you are ready for a good ribbing.
This ribbing might include calling you to the stage. If you are nice, the person with the microphone will be nice. Well, drag-queen nice, which is nice coated in funny-mean. (See reading above.)
Answer the nice lady’s questions and then sit your ass down. Now, wasn’t that fun?
Note: In this post-Drag Race world of ours. drag jargon is leaking out into general culture. If this is the first time you’ve ever said reading, beat (an adjective for very well done makeup), fishy (an adjective for a drag queen who looks exceptionally womanly) or any other word you’ve only heard on TV, don’t try it here.
V. Dollaz, Dollaz, Dollaz: Tipping and the Art of Drag Mood Maintenance
Tipping is the sine qua non of the drag show experience because it is the closest audience members get to the stage and the performers.
Yes, you should remember all of this shit. Make flashcards if you have to. Yes, I am doing this just for your benefit so that the emcee doesn’t have to break a nail off in yo face.
*Let’s go over form. Later, we’ll go over function.*
I have made a handy visual aid for this part. Study this picture, illustrating the proper tip stance:
I am standing with my arm fully extended holding one American dollar bill such that a performer can take it from me without ever having to touch me. This stance puts the performer in control.
This is the “I have money for you” stance. Drag queens are aware of this stance, and believe you me, anyone in this stance will not be ignored. So don’t wave your money around like a fool. Yo, the lady’s got a performance to do and other people to take money from. She will get to you.
It is your first time at a drag show, so you should not do any of the following: put the money in your teeth. put the money in your own cleavage. put your money in the drag queen’s cleavage, unless that is obviously what the performer wants you to do (drag queens aren’t subtle, you’ll know whether or not she wants that).
Rule Number Four: Do not initiate physical contact with a performer. Don’t initiate non-consensual physical contact with anyone ever, for that matter.
Some performers might lean in for a cheek kiss. This kiss can and most likely should happen in the air around the face. K?
You might see a performer being friendlier with some members of the audience. She’s probably friends with them. Don’t assume you get to be a drag queen’s bestie in a three-second tip interaction.
A drag queen approaching you for a tip is not your opportunity to join the performance. It’s okay to have fun, but never ever ever for the love of duct tape step into the performance area in order to tip. She might dance with you for a second. Let it happen and let it end. Lady’s got shit to do.
Don’t clutch your money and make her “work for it.” She’s already working for it. There is no excuse to make the money hard to get out of your hand.
Why do we tip?
Yo, no one can make you tip. But if you’re not going to tip, don’t sit at the tables or in the seats closest to the performance area. Don’t take a table that could fit more people than are in your party. Don’t be a deckbag.
You probably paid a cover. Now, I’ve never negotiated a drag show contract, but do you know how many people who aren’t the performers have their hands in that pot?
The bar/space is taking some large percentage of the door. It’s their space after all. And if the show is organized by a production company, they’re probably taking the rest. The bar, the production company or some combination of the two may or may not be paying the emcee.
Which leaves bupkis and fumes for most of the performers, at least in terms of that cover you just paid.
Drag queens work mothertrucking hard. They do aerobic feats in staggering shoes that most people wouldn’t try in sensible flats, all while hiding their candy with duct tape, hose, and a prayer.
I hope this doesn’t come as a surprise, but size 14 thigh-high red leather boots, shiny dresses, makeup, wigs, padding, breast plates, and a lifetime supply of duct tape don’t fall out of the magical gay sky. Neither does the gas money many queens spend driving around their state and region so they can work.
Some queens aren’t very good yet. Okay, I said it. You know what? Why not tip them a little extra to buy better drag? It’s good for everyone. I have seen with my own eyes the power tips can have in a queen’s life. Is her drag busted? (Don’t call her drag busted, especially in earshot, I don’t care how clever you think that shit is.) She can buy better drag if you acknowledge the effort she’s already made.
Rule Number Five: tip to the best of your ability and do it like a civilized goddam human being.
VI. Identi-T Politix
Are most drag queens gay men? Yes.
Are all drag queens gay men? Not by a long shot.
Some large percentage of drag queens are trans women. Some cisgender women are also getting into the act.
And heck, there’s a handful of straight male drag queens out there.
What drag queens have in common is that they are people performing a super-heightened version of femininity.
Don’t assume you know anything about a drag queen. Ever.
VII. The best, simplest rule to follow is: do what the people who aren’t getting yelled at are doing.
VIII. Have fun. Okay, that was covered in step two, but it bears repeating.
IX. Rinse, repeat. Go to more drag shows! It’s edifying. That’s a fancy word for good for the soul.
Big Mama Schlomo