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  • Gianni Mastrangioli Salazar

God Save the Queens: Is Drag Now Becoming a Career Option?

Photo by Gianni Mastrangioli

© Lee in his version of drag - Photograph by Gianni Mastrangioli

The show and its massive social media presence are helping one young person find a new, more confident self.

RuPaul’s Drag Race is making waves, particularly in Fife, Scotland. Sitting in a noisy cafe in Kirkcaldy, Lee confesses he has been studying each type of powder brush, wedge sponge, and cotton swab that Mama Ru’s stars use on the TV show. Every time the contestants on the global, reality programme RuPaul’s Drag Race keenly exfoliate their faces and colour their cheeks, Lee, who is only 18 years old, is amazed and keen to learn. Lee has never performed on a stage, nor has lip-synced for his life.

There's no question that Lee’s passion for makeup has been sparked by all this. In fact, he's his own man now. When being asked what drag style he tends to follow, he says:

'In 2016, my best pal told me there was this Drag Race thing and I just liked it. Then I bought myself a wig in secret and would put it on when my mum was not in the house.'

Despite this Lee is in two minds about becoming a drag queen. 'Probably, drag will be something I will do on the side. I want to do psychology, and then I am going to do one year of primary school teaching. Those are my options.' Like many other teenagers, he has been emotionally influenced by RuPaul Charles, one of the most famous drag queens of all times. It is that flair for facial transformation that Lee has discovered since watching the show.

Undoubtedly, RuPaul’s Drag Race is a project that has managed to highlight the art of makeup as a mask for anyone who might feel confused while coming out. Imagine lipstick as a tool for battling intolerance; a stage where out-of-the-box people have no boundaries to express who they truly are.

What is groundbreaking about the show is that most of its queens have gone into being worldwide superstars after their first debut in the Werk Room; they are actually warmly acclaimed as fashion icons even by those who don't strictly relate to gay culture. Drag has proved to be the way through which the audience is constantly invited to deconstruct its own sexual preconceptions and to discuss uncomfortable ideological questions - whether you're a straight, fatherlike person or just a 'kitty girl' guy, drag touches upon critical global issues that happen to be everyone's concern: racism, homophobia, poverty, social exclusion, policy uncertainty, among others.

It takes about three hours for Lee to fully get in drag - photo by Gianni Mastrangioli

© It takes about three hours for Lee to finish his makeup - Photograph by Gianni Mastrangioli

There's no question that Lee’s passion for makeup has been sparked by all this. In fact, he's his own man now. When being asked what drag style he tends to follow, he says:

'I think that everyone does their own thing. There are times where you have to figure it out yourself in some ways, otherwise you will always look the same.'

By wearing a bulky synthetic wig, a pair of plastic boobs, and magnificent clothes drag performers have succeeded in finding a spot for the LGBTQ+ community within the television industry, a territory that used to be entirely dominated by heterosexuals. Furthermore, the queens of 'Mama Ru' are ridiculously skilled at applying powerful message strategies on multiple social media platforms which combines both informative-entertainment appeals and personal branding.

And don't fool yourself into believing that drag queens are simply clowns that throw out silly jokes about being promiscuous and socially marginalized. Although some of them might look like so, there's a certain elegance in their appearance that elevates the delicate and upscale profession of femininity. Drag is often referred to as boys using women's accessories to further explore their motivations and aspirations in non-conventional environments such as theaters and night clubs.

However, the reality is that the art of drag doesn't quite fit into any existing category. Over the past few years, it has become an archetype that no longer correspond to menfolk exclusively, but also to people who aren't fond of gender labeling in general.

It's that blurred line across different sexual identities what defines the job of these artists; they are now expected to turn into a character that is, in essence, neither a man nor a woman, but rather someone who embodies all aspects of human nature.

Whether by instinct or design, female impersonators are known to be anything but confident. In spite of their weaknesses and vulnerable areas, there seems to be some sort of a 'cover-up', if you will, that makes them feel reasonably secure while performing on stage... or even in the comfort of their own bedroom.

© Lee's transformation - Photograph by Gianni Mastrangioli

Despite most of his family being unaware of his drag queen ambitions, Lee doesn’t let it bother him. He just shrugs his shoulders.

'I feel so confident when I am in drag. One day I thought, ‘I would walk outside right now, like around this small village, and I would not care at all’. I actually told friends at college what I do in my free time. I asked them if they wanted to see a picture of me. I’m not ashamed.'

Lee is also keen to pass on tips. “For this kind of makeup, you have to circulate the cheeks so as to feminise the face: it’s more about rounded cheeks, rounded shapes, especially for someone who has this face”, he says, pointing to his own face.

The noise in the cafe increases as Lee is asked about his mother’s reaction to his new passion.

'It is going to take her time', he answers.


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