It’s Pride Month, which means gangs of drag queens are hitting the streets—in broad daylight! Yes, June is peak season for what we queens call (with a hint of fear in our baritone voices) “day drag.” So if you’ve never seen a drag performer outside the protective dimness of the club, or if you’ve never seen a queen at all, this is going to be a frightening time for us both. But luckily, I’m here to help with a handy guide. Here’s what and what not to expect from queens by day, and how to approach us with compassion—and caution.
The first thing you need to know about day drag: It’s hard on the eyes, and that’s OK. We queens are accustomed to late-night gay bars where the special lighting conceals our flaws and heavy war-paint. In the half-dark of a bar hall, our 5 o’clock shadow is all but invisible. Under the Klieglights on stage, our skin seems to glow, and our Adam’s apples are perfectly concealed by the shadow of our chins. In broad daylight, however, we have none of these advantages. So if you see us on the bus in the afternoon, we’ll likely be looking a mess, wearing crumbling cakes of grease paint and threadbare dresses. But don’t be vexed by our rough appearances. Remember that we’re simply out of our element.
Follow us to a club and you’ll see how glamorous we seem in that natural context, unfurling our splendor like sea anemones welcoming high tide. The eye-shadow that looked so heavy on the street will suddenly seem exotic in the dim light. Or follow us to the Pride parade, and you’ll see how magical we look when whisked by on a float, confetti swirling around us. Your critical eye will be distracted by the way our gowns glimmer—and you’ll overlook how the direct sunlight makes our manly skin look like an REI climbing wall.
In short, never dismiss a queen just because she seems rough by day. She may be a nightlife starlet, for all you know, someone who could offer you free drinks later on. But if you can’t get over your disgust, just keep it to yourself. It’s never a good idea to anger a gurl who’s hot as, well, balls under her pantyhose—and for whom insults are a way of life.
Which brings me to my next point: Day-drag queens are not to be messed with. Let’s say you’re a heterosexual male, eager to demonstrate your dim knowledge of popular culture by yelling “Wassup, Bruce Jenner!” as I pass in the parade. Bear in mind that I hear this type of nonsense all the time, so I have a collection of canned comebacks to any insults you might hurl. “Oh hay, baby,” I’ll say, sauntering right up to you. “How come you never called me back?” Now your friends will start laughing at you instead of me, because you’ve gotten yourself tangled up in gay stuff. And because this is all happening in the middle of a crowd, dozens of onlookers will be laughing, too.
Drag queens are accustomed to handling enemies, one way or another. Remember that though we all look petite in our corsets at a distance, many of us queens are actually massive men when you get up close. The Lane Bryant you mock from across the street may turn out to be the Kobe Bryant that kicks you to the curb.
And if you’re a drag ally—a gay man, female makeup artist, or even a former queen— the rule still stands: Be nice. I can’t tell you how many gay boys have called out sarcastic remarks as a way of showing off the vocab they’ve learned from their drag friends: “Yes, contour!” “Work that lace front, bitch!” Meanwhile, every woman who has ever been a bridesmaid considers herself a “makeup artist” and approaches with advice. “You look amazing, but you’d look even more natural if you …” Save it. Parading your minimal knowledge of hair and makeup before a queen is like using broken French with a Parisian. You will be disdained. And if you try to save yourself by saying “I used to do drag, too,” I’ll look upon you with total disappointment, the way a New Yorker looks at someone who used to live in New York.
So what’s the proper way to engage a day-time queen? Of course my favorite approach is a discreet compliment. When someone calls out to me on the street, “You look fabulous, darling,” I usually offer them my sweetest smile, a business card, and promises of free drinks. The second approach, for the bold, is to ask “Can I take a selfie with you?” I doll myself up in hopes of hearing this question, so of course the answer is going to be a resounding yes. But whatever approach you choose, let me ask—I’ve worked so hard just to bring a smile to the face of people everywhere—could I get a dollar, baby?