Bitten By the Competitive Drag Bug

The boys and I were exuberant after our first couple of Open Drag nights. It felt good to have an audience, even if at times it was only us. The bar is really not our scene. We don’t really drink. Also, we had been socially isolating ourselves for so long that we didn’t know how we would handle our anxiety of meeting and mixing with new people. Max might have had the easiest time. Several people either remembered him or his dad, and people automatically loved him. Alex, with the mask of LyKra, coaxed out his inner life coach and was able to make authentic connections. Often, Alex and Max got to stay together before and during the show. Max became the dutiful drag husband and helped LyKra switch into different outfits between numbers.

I often had to wait out in the bar alone, with occasional visits from Max. I didn’t know who to talk to and hid behind my phone waiting for the show to start. Once it did, I hid behind the phone’s camera. I felt like I had an important job to do. Still, it was often lonely. After the show, we would pack up and vacate like a well-oiled machine and go back to the boys’ house to watch the video.

Shortly after we started going out to do drag, Alex told me that he did something. A local drag queen told him about a drag competition in a neighboring town. It would run only four weeks and require one modeling look and one performance number. There was also a possibility of doing a lip sync battle, but that would be determined by the luck of the draw. The cost was $15. The bar would also have a $3 cover for non-performers to get in. It started a week from next Tuesday, and he said yes.

The next hurdle was finding costumes, coming up with routines, and getting supplies on a very limited budget. The boys and I went out to a local swimming hole and floated while we went through ideas. Alex’s mind was constantly racing while Max and I added thoughts when we had them. The boys were going to visit Alex’s family in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan that weekend. It was possible that his mother might help purchase some supplies, maybe even teach him to sew.

For three days, we looked through concepts for each themed night. We needed three looks for each night: a modeling/presentation look, a performance look, and a battle look. We looked up songs, researched fashion and makeup. By the time the boys were packed for their trip, Alex had a complete game plan written on his phone with reference images.

When the boys returned, it was time to clean out the drag room, and go to town building costumes with the new fabric Alex’s mom bought him. Sometimes an issue would come up like Alex’s power cord to his laptop went dead, and I gave him mine. Then his computer touch pad died, and I was able to lend him a Bluetooth mouse. I got into the doctor and was prescribed anxiety medication which helped tremendously. As I got to know my co-workers, I began to relax and find my pace at work. We were making it work.

The first Tuesday of competition, I was super excited. I went to bed early the night before in anticipation of a long night of drag. When I got to the boy’s house, I was floored by the costumes and preparation. Alex and Max had been working tons of hours piecing everything together. I tried to lay down for a nap while Alex put on his face, and we all shared a bite to eat before we took off for the new bar. None of us had ever been there, but it was located only a couple of miles away from where I worked. We got there super early and tried to drive around to kill some time. I showed the boys where I worked, and we became a little more familiar with the area.

Eventually, we got to the bar and set up shop. (I go into detail about the first night of competition in my Orlando post.) My head swirled in all the great drag that night. There were performances from four seasoned queens and one seasoned drag king, plus six contestants. At the end of the night, LyKra came in second place for the night. We were thrilled and had a great time.

As soon as we got home, I hopped into my car and drove to my house. By the time my head hit the pillow and the alarm went off, I only got two hours of sleep. The next morning, I made sure to have a good breakfast, packed a decent lunch, and slammed a 5 Hour Energy. I was worried that my ass would drag at work, but I felt pumped and energetic. Being a part of that drag night, hanging out with my best friends doing what we love, just fed my fire. When I got home, my sister had made dinner. I ate with my family, took a shower, and went to bed early. When Thursday rolled around, I was ready to do another drag night with the boys.

As our world was expanding, our relationships began to grow. Sometimes that can lead to experiencing conflict. Our first host of Open Drag night lasted about 3 or four weeks before some drama occurred that pushed her out. We would hear bits and pieces of it, but Alex, Max, and I wanted to stay as far away from it as possible. The drag pageant at Pride kicked up hurt feelings and rumors of bullying, and you would hear different sides and never really know where the truth lay. In the transition, I felt a lot of anxiety. You don’t want to offend anyone; you just wanted to put on good drag.

At the second night of the drag battle in the neighboring town, the boys had gone to extra lengths to make everything perfect. It was RuPaul night. Alex owns a RuPaul doll that was given to him in my backyard one year at a little drag princess birthday party we had for him. He duplicated RuPaul’s doll dress for the modeling portion of the night. The music chosen was RuPaul’s “Supermodel” interspersed with catch phrases and interaction between RuPaul and Trixie Mattel because his makeup was a take on RuPaul in Trixie’s makeup. This correlated with the second look which would be LyKra as Trixie Mattel lip syncing to “I’m a Barbie Girl” with Pineal (a purple puppet Max constructed) doing the male voice. It was perfect!

Prepared, we arrived to the bar in great anticipation of the night’s competition. According to the rules, the previous winner got to choose the order that the contestants came out in. Listening to the comments from the previous week, and having come in second place, LyKra was chosen to go last. At first, I thought no problem. The grading system worked with each judge being given a number from 1-6 for each portion of the competition. The judges could only give each number out once, and they had to make that selection without seeing the performances that would come next. Hence, being last in the lineup could be a huge hindrance. I stayed positive, thinking that the judges would rely on the results from last week to leave something left for LyKra.

The competition got started and the 5 queens and 1 king went through their paces. Some contestants did great with the theme. One did a fantastic recreation of a classic Sharon Needles’ look from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her long crooked nails, which were actually octopus tentacles, ice blue eyes, and wig were dead on. The competition was fierce! LyKra was a vision when she came out. She matched the orange leotard and red and orange ruffled skit on the doll perfectly. She was the only one to attempt actually looking like the queen herself. The audience roared with appreciation as she perfectly modeled the outfit she made from scratch with her own hands. I thought for sure that if she lost any points for being last, the judges would save her some for the second half. I was optimistic.

During the second half, some of the contestants lost their way with the theme. When asked why one queen thought performing to Lady Gaga’s “Applause” tied into the RuPaul theme, the only thing she could offer was that drag queens like applause. The drag king who danced like a gogo boy in the first half, turned into a bioqueen (a biological girl who does drag as a girl – now I know what I am called). She came out to “Dude Looks Like a Lady” which was entertaining. Two judges told her that they gave her 6’s, and I began to sweat bullets. At about this time, one of the other drag queen’s husbands told me that they had a puppet number for their performance. My heart sank. As the other contestants performed, all I could think about was the upcoming battle of the puppets.

Of course, that queen was directly before LyKra in the lineup. She came out with a puppet that mocked the drag queen host and threw down fantastic shade at all the judges, just like the puppet challenges featured in every season of Drag Race. She did a great job, which made me feel even sicker.

When LyKra came out, the puppet had instantly lost its charm. LyKra embodied Trixie perfectly in a sparkly pick dress, big pink hair with a bow, and the unmistakable Trixie makeup. As good and as funny as the number was, the judges all said that they had given all their numbers to the other queens. One judge commented, “it is clear that you deserve all 5’s and 6’s, but all I have to give you are 1’s and 2’s.”

My heart broke. I instantly busted outside while the judges took to the stage to give the contestants time to change for the lip sync battle. I knew how much Alex and Max had put into this. It made me sick to think that LyKra got last place only because she was put last in the lineup. The points had nothing to do with the contestant’s effort, costumes, modeling, or performance. Inside, the boys equally felt beaten down. By the announcement of the night’s points totals, LyKra came in next to last for the night and next to last overall. In one night, she had gone from second place to nearly last.

The ride home was difficult. I cried. The boys crunched the numbers and there was no way LyKra would be able to win. Alex tried to put a bright spin to it. At least it motivated him to make the costumes and gain some experience. There was no motivation left to put as much effort in to the coming weeks. I just couldn’t see how any of it was fair. I didn’t sleep and went to work trying all day to keep myself from crying. The boys stayed up all night trying to decompress and reassess the situation.

We really didn’t have much time to sulk. Besides doing another open drag night on Thursday, LyKra had been asked to an Orlando benefit show at each bar that weekend. I offered to give a piece of art to the silent auction at our home bar. It felt good to do it, but I didn’t realize how short I would be on time.

On Thursday, we dragged. On Friday, I made one painting and threw it out of the house and down the backyard. I made two little paintings and hemmed and hawed about whether they were worthy enough before taking them down to the bar where they were received with open arms. I got my hair done and went to WalMart to look at makeup and clothes and slipped in a pile of fish water.

I limped over to the boys’ house where Alex set me up with some medicine and an ice pack, while he finished getting ready. I went to LyKra’s first outing less than a week after my hysterectomy, I would be damned if I was going to miss her first real show. We were tired, but we endured. The fundraiser on Friday raised over $2800 for the Pulse Victims GoFundMe account. Both of my paintings sold. I was had a few new buddies to hang out with and watch the show, and LyKra gave one of the best live performances ever. (Trust me, when I can I will share a link.) She was dressed in a blue sparkly dress that resembled Britany Spears’ flight attendant uniform for the music video “Toxic.” The performance was a mash up of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Britany’s “Toxic.” The audience LOVED it!

At the benefit, there was a great blend of old and young drag queens. One hadn’t put on a dress in over ten years. It felt like a sisterhood that once you get in, you are a part of the tribe forever. In less than six weeks, LyKra had entered that tribe. More experienced queens embraced her into the fold, put the word out that they would protect her, and offered her several more opportunities to shine. The love felt real.

Drag has always had the ability to take over one’s life. As we went to another benefit on Saturday night, the boys and I were both dragging (pun intended). The bar where drag wars takes place had 17 queens in the lineup. It was nice to see completely new queens and kings and appreciate their artistry, but by the end of the night we were wiped out.

By the third week of the Drag Wars, the boys were over it. Why put in all that effort if it wouldn’t affect the scores? Alex’s brother and his friends had been planning on going to this show for a month, so we sucked it up. The theme was “Trap Queen.” Apparently, a ‘trap queen’ is a woman who attempts to trap a guy into a relationship with her, an extension of a gold digger that is maybe a little trashier.

Before we even got to the bar, three contestants decided not to perform. That left only three girls. The winner of the previous week got to set the order. LyKra was chosen to go last again. There were also some changes made to the scoring, the audience got to vote for the queen they liked when they entered the bar, and they had all three queens come out at the end of the modeling round so the judges could tweak their score if they wanted to.

For the modeling, two of the contestants had some creative takes. One was dressed as a Venus fly trap from Little Shop of Horrors, and the other was literally a mouse in a trap. LyKra came out dressed in a “Straight Up from the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan)” leotard, with a pink plaid bustle that tied around the front like a flannel shirt, a long pink braid with a blue bandana headband, gold painted beer can earrings, and a gold “Yooper” ring that stretched across her fingers. People lost it!

For the performance, LyKra performed Tinache’s “All Hands on Deck” in an outfit that incorporated a skirt made from a pleather type fabric on top of windshield reflectors from the dollar store. She was so good that several audience members came forward to offer her tips. The judges also loved it.

I felt good about her chances as the final scores were tallied. LyKra came in first, but was chosen to go in a lip sync battle of Iggy Azaela’s “Work” with the contestant that came in third place. If she lost, she would lose all of her points.

As the music began, LyKra became possessed. Her lips moved seamlessly with the lyrics as she radiated the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent that she needed to. At times, the other contestant would catch herself looking at LyKra just to see what she would do next. As the audience got to pick the winner, LyKra got the loudest ovation…cementing her win.

When the overall competition scores were tallied, LyKra came in second place overall and only two points away from the leader. She had the most audience members vote for her, and that had closed the gap. It was exciting. It felt validating. She could win this thing!

We were ready for the fourth and final night. The theme was “Africa.” As preparations were being made, there was a dialogue amongst the contest creator and the contestants about the points. She wanted to give the contestants who hadn’t shown up some points, which didn’t sit well with the girls who did participate. There was a feeling of not being heard, and an emphasis on “shade” and game play, that just didn’t sit well.

LyKra was in a position to win the whole contest no matter what was thrown at her, but this new wrinkle started to make Alex think. If LyKra did win, she would be obligated to judge other battles with the same rules, as well as participate in a final cycle of the competition for an overall title. Knowing the work, the heartbreak, the pressure that came up during these last three weeks, was it even worth it?

A lot of drag queens do pageants and contests just to get a place to perform, sometimes a chance to get paid. Can you be a great drag queen if you don’t hold a title? Is the only place you can be a drag queen or perform as one in a bar?

Drag for us had been a creative outlet at the boy’s house. It helped me heal after my cancer surgeries and through my chemo and radiation treatments. Our green screen could transport us anywhere. We didn’t have to subject ourselves to shade or pressure ourselves to fit in someone else’s box. The competition did motivate us to buy new supplies, create new routines, meet new people, get good feedback, and gave us an audience. It also made us overwhelmed, overworked, self-conscious, bitterly disappointed, and gut wrenchingly anxious.

Alex knew that this competitive environment was getting a little toxic. Even though he could win it, he decided that it wasn’t worth it. It was time to not continue to perpetuate this negativity. He spoke up about how the judging system and allocation of points was affecting him and his fellow competitors in hopes that doing so would make a difference. He decided to leave the competition which started a dialogue that looked like it might impact the system for future cycles. His fellow competitors expressed appreciation, and others weren’t as happy, but the relief from releasing the pressure and burden of the contest was glorious.

So finally, the itch to compete has worn off, and we have made a pact to forgo drag competitions for a while. We now have breathing room to do our living room drag again, and LyKra still hosts Open Drag night at a bar only minutes from the house. The hope is that we can make that space more welcoming and inviting to those trying to dabble in drag. It would be great to just make the whole experience a place that is safe and open to expression and creativity. That is the goal.

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