With Drag and Justice for All
Bob the Drag Queen. Miz Cracker. Bianca Del Rio. Katya Zamolodchikova. If you recognize these names, you’re likely a fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race. If these names are extravagant gibberish to you, you’re in luck because this can be your first introduction into drag culture.
Drag queens have been around longer than you might have thought. The first recorded instance of drag is dated back to the mid 1800s to the early 1910s. Since then, drag has transformed and grown, from the legendary balls of Paris is Burning to the main stage of Rupaul’s Drag Race season 11, airing currently on VH1.
Drag is evolving under your very nose; Austin is home to hundreds of wonderfully talented drag queens. They stitch their own costumes, learn how to beat their own face and must do intricate choreography in heels, all the while remaining entertaining enough to earn some tips from the crowd. If you’re unfamiliar with the drag scene, this all might sound unreal for any one person to do by themselves. But, you might have actually sat next to a fierce queen in class and not even realized whose presence you were in.
For instance, you could’ve been sitting next to Chris Barboza, a third year Journalism major here at UT. Chris has been doing drag for about a year now and his drag persona is Justice. Justice made her debut appearance during the summer of 2018 and has been slaying the competition ever since. “Now I would say that I’m a full fledged performer,” Justice told me as we sat outside for an interview at Oilcan Harry’s on 4th Street right before she went onstage. “I’ve done my first gig and so I’ve definitely progressed in my first year.” Justice competes in the local drag competition, Drag Survivor, at Oilcan Harry’s. In this competition, she must choreograph and create her own audio mixes for a new challenge each week, which can be anything from a group dance number to a solo challenge like the “meme” challenge where they had to incorporate memes into their performance.
Justice is not only in charge of the logistics of her performance but also all the beautification that goes into being a drag queen. For every week of the competition thus far, she has stitched her own outfits from scratch for each challenge. Luckily, her expanding talent for stitching has helped her to go from spending nine hours on one outfit to cutting it down to three hours.
In addition to that, Justice has also taught herself how to do her own makeup, citing inspiration from beauty guru Jeffree Star and Rupaul’s Drag Race alum Naomi Smalls. She would watch makeup tutorials, take note of what she liked and then just played with it until she found something that worked for her own brand.
Paying for all of the materials needed for drag comes out of Chris’s own pocket.
“We have to do our makeup, we have to do our wigs, our dresses…everything. So the amount of money that we put into it, we rarely get that money in return.”Justice
As previously mentioned, most of the money earned from this competition comes from the audience’s tips, which is not exactly a steady source of income. Money is not the only thing that gets poured into doing drag. Time management has been something Justice has been struggling with as she strives to be a full time student and full time performer. “I would say…maybe like two days. Of not sleeping. A full 48 hours, I would say, goes into drag,” Justice said. After those long two days of being Justice, Chris also has to live the usual day-to-day life of a college student, which includes going to class, doing homework and having a job. In fact, after every late night Wednesday performance of Drag Survivor, Justice goes home and wakes up every Thursday morning for her eight a.m. class.
In spite of all the stress and painstaking work that goes into being a drag queen, Justice is determined to stay in this competition. “I don’t see myself quitting; I’d rather simplify my performance and do a simple look rather than quit,” Justice told me confidently.
She also shared with me that she’s working to take care of herself outside the competition, such as taking a break from work so that she’ll have more free time to spread out her responsibilities. I asked her if she thought professors should give her and other students who are constantly busy more leniency and she shared that everybody should be treated the same. She wants no special treatment but does hope that professors will lower their workload in general, as we all do.
Justice hopes that more people will come support local drag queens. “Not everybody has to like drag but there are certain things about drag I think everyone can be attracted to. There are things that drag queens do that can resonate with people.” Drag queens are wonderful and brave performers that pour their heart and soul into every performance. Queens like Justice spend hundreds of hours a year pouring their money, time and energy into doing something they love, even if it doesn’t pay as much as it should. Drag queens have also been some of the loudest voices for LGBTQ+ rights and issues, such as marriage equality and Drag Queen Story Hour for LGBTQ+ youth. Justice looks forward to the day when all drag queens will receive the recognition they deserve. She optimiscally shared, “Queens are more respected than they were ten years ago. Shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race humanize drag queens as not just weirdos or men in wigs but as performers; because that’s what we are.”
Go see a show. Go to a performance of Drag Survivor at Oilcan Harry’s at eleven p.m. on Wednesday nights. (But you’d better hurry; the finale will be coming up soon!) Support local drag, especially if you enjoy drag in general or if you are a fan of Rupaul’s Drag Race. Tip the girls and, in the words of one of the judges on Drag Survivor, “Clap, bitches!”
If you would like to stay up to date on Justice’s drag journey, follow her on social media!
UPDATE: Since the time this article was written, the Drag Survivor finale, featuring the three remaining queens of the competition, took place on March 27th. Justice was crowned the winner and is now the current reigning winner of season 12!
Featured Image Credit: Ashley Ephraim