With the highest self-identified LGBTQ population in the U.S., Washington, D.C. is bound to have a bustling queer scene. Quintessential to every prominent gay city and its establishments are the drag queens. They are the main attraction at some of the district’s hottest LGBTQ spots and draw crowds mixed with locals and visitors.
As of February, the district had a population of almost 9 percent of people who identify under the spectrum of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. For comparison, the next state on the list is Vermont with only 5 percent of its population identifying as LGBTQ. With the highest ranking on this list, the culture of the LGBTQ community is vibrant and resonates in particular areas like Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and U Street Corridor in Northwest Washington. As the voice for many of the LGBTQ spaces in the metro area, understanding the culture of the city’s drag queens and their experiences is just a part of understanding the district.
Athena Ducockis is an amateur drag queen, who worked the scene of the district for 10 years before transitioning to New York to work for LOGO doing social media.
“Occasionally you’ll have drag brunches but that’s mainly straight people and bachelorette parties…It’s almost like Chuck E. Cheese but for straight bachelorette parties.”
When comparing the drag scene of the Washington D.C. to New York she said there are vast differences. She said that with only two to three bars in the district to see a show, and only on the weekends, the drag scene is overwhelmingly competitive and there are very few professional queens. For comparison, New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood alone has three gay bars.
“Occasionally you’ll have drag brunches but that’s mainly straight people and bachelorette parties…It’s almost like Chuck E. Cheese but for straight bachelorette parties,” Ducockis said.
We transitioned to discussing the perception of drag queens, especially by people outside of the LGBTQ community and understanding the sexualization of certain drag performers versus the fun, casual nature of most individuals that do amateur drag.
“It’s definitely fierce and it’s fun to play with gender and poke fun at gender,” Ducockis said. “Unless you’re a crossdresser, really sex has nothing to do with drag.”
The sexualization of drag queens is all too familiar for many performers and has been ongoing for several years. In 2009, the famous queen RuPaul, released a song about the often straight-identifying men who have specific sexual desires towards drag.
“Is some tranny chasers up in here / welcome to my stratosphere. Make a move / what you wanna do / I don’t got no time for a lookie-loo boo.”
For most performers like DuCockis, doing drag isn’t a promotion of sex to be objectified, it’s, as he says, a fun way to prove that the gender binary is stupid.
This year marked the 31st annual 17th Street High Heel Race. Thousands of spectators gather every year to watch 100 drag queens compete at one of the district’s biggest Halloween parties.
Mayor Muriel Bowser was a grand marshal at the race for the second year in a row and told the Washington Blade the race represents the values of the district.
DuCockis said the race is an opportunity for queens to come out and have an amazing time and just be fun, glamorous and fierce.
And with so few opportunities in the district for amateur queens, it’s definitely a night for everyone to feel special.
While the district drag scene is fun and exciting, with events like the drag race, some professional queens say they struggle in the city due to the lack of venues to perform.
Xavier Onassis Bloomingdale has been performing professional drag for 30 years.
“It’s really, really been difficult. It’s a bunch of manipulative, conniving, untalented bitches running around, she said. “There’s no loyalty in the community in D.C., none whatsoever.”
Bloomingdale has performed all over the country. She said the district has been the worst because there aren’t enough spaces to work.
She was recently diagnosed with colon cancer and was hosting a drag brunch every Sunday for 20 years but was removed from the show upon telling her boss she would be getting treatment.
“You don’t just wake up one day and stop doing it [drag], and you don’t just wake up one day and start doing it.”
When asked about why she’s performed for so long, Bloomingdale said:
“You don’t just wake up one day and stop doing it [drag], and you don’t just wake up one day and start doing it. It’s an evolution.”
The contrast in experiences are important to note in the drag community. The performance can be a form of expression that is limitless, but for individuals who commit their life to drag performers say it can often be tireless and misunderstood.
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