Getting Down With Drag: Undressing Art in Seattle

Once upon a time, they might have been called “freaks.” Because, once upon a time, people might have been afraid or intimidated by a male in a glamorous dress with over-the-top hair and dramatic make up.

These “freaks” are drag queens. And drag queens are now celebrated artists.

As people become more and more accepting of the gay community, the term “freak” is finally fading into the past, and drag has become a recognized and respected artform.

People are coming to see drag queens as performers, entertainers and artists who just happen to express themselves with more glitter and sass than anyone else, all while rocking impressive seven inch heels.

Drag is now finding a place amongst the younger generations, including the Seattle University community.

Seattle U’s Triangle Club, a community for the queer and their allies, is once again hosting the university’s annual Drag Show, which will be held on Friday, April 19 in Campion Ballroom with performances by both professional drag queens and students.

“This is just a night where you come and you’re just entertained,” said Triangle Club Events Coordinator Akaila Ballard. “You have a good time and it’s just something that doesn’t normally entertain you. It’s not a television screen, it’s not a website, it’s these people just being themselves in such a way that just captivates you and makes you feel so happy and so entertained.”

Included in the line up is sophomore Michael Notestine, who made his drag debut earlier this year at the quarterly student showcase Scratch.

Ever since he was little, Notestine loved putting on heels and remembers loving one pair his aunt’s exchange student had in particular. It wasn’t until coming to Seattle U and being involved in the community that he realized he wanted to pursue drag.

“Drag, to me, is an opportunity to perform in a way that makes me happy,” Notestine said.

Notestine started as an actor in theatre and although he has moved away from that in a formal setting, he still very much loves to perform.

“I’m always making some kind of cracked-out joke about something that usually nobody finds funny, but when I have a face people think it’s hilarious. So it’s an opportunity to perform, but I think drag is also an opportunity to say things that your everyday person really isn’t allowed to say in some ways,” Notestine said.

Notestine comments on gender, something he has been fascinated with for a long time.

“In our culture, in the Western culture, there’s a huge gender binary that we feel so attached to…issues of masculinity and femininity…and drag is an opportunity for me to express that and comment on it in a way that’s comedic so people can laugh at it, but also perhaps see their own prejudice and understand that,” Notestine said.

For this year’s drag show, many students have shown interest in performing and those organizing the drag show are working hard to create a space for the queens to perform their art.

“We really just want to give the queens this year a space to really artistically express themselves and so we’re focusing a lot less on butcher paper for decorations. We’re focusing more on fabric and things like that that are going to make more of a conducive space for artistic expression on stage,” Ballard said.

This isn’t just an event for queers and their allies, but for anyone who wants good and fun entertainment or anyone interested in getting a taste of drag culture.

Drag Queen Mama Tits thinks that having younger people perform drag within their school community is fabulous.

“Growing up, we didn’t have people actually accepting drag queens. The idea of a drag queen coming to a university…When I was growing up that was unheard of,” Mama Tits said.

Mama Tits continued saying, “It’s just a wonderful thing because…drag isn’t specifically a gay thing, it’s for everybody. It’s fun for everyone. It’s great entertainment and it’s a great way to just let loose and have a good time.”

These drag shows are a space for everyone to be accepted, which can be empowering.

“It’s awesome because then you don’t have a lot of students who are maybe struggling with their sexual identity…This can be empowering to see the support around such an event with the faculty, with the students and with the community around,” Mama Tits said.

Mama Tits started out 17 years ago when she first discovered what drag was and was amazed by it. She knew wanted to pursue it.

Drag is dated back to William Shakespeare—it was not uncommon for males to play female roles, as women were not involved in theatre at the time. Drag became a short term for “dressed as a girl.”

“Drag culture is just a fun, playful world of self expression, of gender expression. It may not be how you exactly sexually identify but it’s a fun way to express a powerful, female-oriented gender character. You can be fun, you can do education with it. The culture of drag is one of arts and entertainment and education, fundamentally. The drag culture is also a gesture to the gay community. We bring the fun and the light to everything so we remember to not take ourselves too seriously,” Mama Tits said.

During her time in the world of drag, Mama Tits has seen how drag has developed and evolved over time.

“The Seattle drag culture in my time has gone from being non-existent to whispers of the past…to now everywhere has drag queens. It’s not uncommon to walk down Broadway and see multiple queens wandering around … There are multiple drag events going on around the city now,” Mama Tits said.

Mama Tits has the longest running drag brunch in Seattle, “Mimosas with Mama” every Sunday at The Grill on Broadway. There are also many other talent shows hosted by drag queens and celebrity impersonation shows.

Drag is popping up, not only in Washington, but everywhere around the country. Seattle’s own drag queen Jinkx Monsoon is a figure in the national scene.

“It’s such a great experience to watch it explode right now. We are in such a great time of creativity and artistic expression and it’s wonderful to watch,” Mama Tits said.

A lot of people, including Mama Tits, can owe this to RuPaul Charles. She was also the first drag queen to make it into mainstream entertainment. She was the first drag queen to make it into television.

She is known widely for her television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” where she searches for the next drag superstar.

“She paved the way for drag culture today…and is kind of like a pioneer in our community,” Mama Tits said. “Personally, I adore her and am very impressed with the work she has done.”

Through RuPaul’s push of capitalizing on her character and using that and gaining mainstream success, it has made more people accepting of drag queens and she stands as a leader in the community.

But the growing acceptance of drag can mostly be attributed to the bravery of the gay community and the artists perseverance—they held strong to what they believed in and made a stand for themselves in the public eye.

“I think people are tired of having someone’s beliefs in one way or another shoved down their throats … Times are changing. The masses don’t just follow suit. People question things more now and make their own decisions. I’m not talking religions. I’m talking about mass mentality of homophobia and racism. And people are thinking the old antiquities of ‘Oh, they’re going to hurt you’ or ‘Oh, they’re going to take your children’ are not true and that we’re just like everyone else,” Mama Tits said.

Mama Tits also mentioned that she sees more people being accepting because more people are seeing that hatred is not a solution. For people to be cohesive and move on, they must learn to accept each other.

“When we do that, we find that there’s a lot of wonderful things to share among different people. And it’s great to finally not be viewed as a freak, which I don’t mind being a freak. I’m very proud of being a freak. It’s quite fun. It’s kind of like an out of body experience when people … call me to find out what I think about this, and who I am, and the fact that my opinion means something to more than just me,” Mama Tits said.

Though drag is great for entertainment, many people take the performance seriously, investing many hours and putting a lot of thought into preparation, much like Mama Titsand others.

This art, which is being embraced by a growing number of people, is fulfilling for the queens, their fans and the gay community.

Where drag will be in the upcoming years is unclear, but people can expect the queens to continue livening up a stage with their performances. And their heels.

Bianca may be reached at bsewake@su-spectator.com

Bianca Sewake

This is Bianca Sewake's fourth and final year at The Spectator, where she is the Online Content Editor and Managing Editor. She is equal parts excited and terrified that she is graduating with a BA in Journalism this spring. Unlike her hair color, Bianca's love for ice cream will never change.


↑ Back to top