A look back at the drag scene, through the eyelashes of Buckwheat.
here is no one defining term for Drag queen. Drag queens come in all shapes and sizes. Drag is fluid and is always evolving. Drag is uncomfortable – not only for the wearer, but at times the audience. Drag can be fun, drag queens can be funny, scary, vicious, friendly, sad, bad and mad. Whatever your experience of drag and drag queens have been to date, you will never truly know what drag is until you’ve walked a mile in her high heels.
In order to increase your chances of longevity as a drag artiste you need to have stamina, perseverance, tolerance, broad shoulders and a dog-with-a-bone like mentality that will give you the strength to keep donning a wig, applying truckloads of make up and squeezing into that two-sizes-too-small costume. It’s not for the faint-hearted and many a budding drag queen has fallen by the wayside, with her broken heel of dreams lying beside her in that glitter gutter of life.
Drag queens are not everybody’s cup of tea; I get that. But if your broad shoulders can take the snide remarks, you will have the beginnings of becoming a drag queen with staying power. I have become just that – a power drag persona that has been alive and kicking for the last couple of decades. I have seen them come, entertain and depart; some more graciously than others, some unceremoniously dumped! And no matter what the drag landscape has been in Auckland in the last 20 years, it has most certainly has had an effect on greater New Zealand.
Drag highlights of the early ’90s were the Hero parades, first down Queen Street then along Ponsonby Road. The Hero parties gave way to the most elaborate drag shows one could ever possibly wish to see. Drag was part of the huge dance party machine – at Hero parties, people were being lowered in from the ceiling, in the middle of an opening flower and being pushed through the parting crowd on a movable plinth. We were all part of a big spectacle that only the big dance parties gave us license to explore.
Once you have been performing for a while, you learn the elements that make a good drag show – good sound, lighting and performance space. I’ve had to change in doorways, cupboards, stairwells and even toilets – sometimes while people are coming in to use them! So much for the glamorous world of drag! I’ve turned up and been assured there would be good sound, only to find something no bigger than the old transistor radio which couldn’t drown the sound of my heels clicking across the floor.
After Priscilla in 1994, drag went mainstream. Bookings for parties came thick and fast at the likes of SPQR, Legends, The Staircase, The Box / Cause Celebre and Squid (cheap sex parties), Surrender Dorothy then Dot’s were all places where drag queens could be seen at any time of the night or day. Caluzzi Cabaret and Finale all played host to a wider market who came for dinner and a show. Everyone came to be entertained by drag queens made punters feel welcomed while helping them celebrate. We flew high in the skies with the Pink Flight, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
These days, you can always see Miss Ribena and the girls at the Family Bar on K’Road, and you should also look out for a new refurbished Kamo coming your way soon with a new show format. More, more and more drag please! I’ve worked all over the country and all over the world, but it still never surprises me when an international visitor says to me, “We don’t have drag queens like you where we’re from”. For me, I will always appreciate someone who has taken the time to get in drag, regardless of who they are. You need to start from somewhere and with time comes the tricks that you learn to make you a stronger drag artiste.
I’ve seen drag scene in New Zealand change over the last 20 years in a positive way. We are everywhere, and yes, we have professions outside of drag. Drag does not define us – it is but a mere part of who we are.
I would like to pay homage to all my drag sisters near and far who make the world we live in a more sparkly place. To the girls who spread joy and enhance the mood of the room. The girls who give us that moment of escapism we all crave. The sisters who made it easier for me to work are (in no particular order) – Carmen Rupe, Nicole Duval, Georgina Beyer, Lisa, Bianca, Melissa, Amber, Dominque, Tula. My darling sisters who over the last 20 years have given something to the Auckland scene – Bertha, Bust Op, Tess Tickle, Miss Ribena, Shanene, Bambi Slut, Shanice Van Dyke, Pussy Galore, Shavaughn, Jerry Hall-way, Ima Starr, Bebe Gazpatcho, Fonda Boyz, Coco Kayne, Davina Douche, Cortina Brown, Brandy Schnapps, Wanda La Mour, Felicia Pourgette, Ginger, Cilla Cone, Courtney Cartier, Misty, Heidi, Lace, Venus Mantrapp, Cindy Of Samoa, Berserka, Gelding, Sashay and the rest of you! You know who you are, but for now your name escapes me… big drag kisses and I look forward to doing this again in another 20 years!
All my love,