Fantasyland is where suspension of reality is reality. Whether you engage it – pop its g-string and tip it, or you dream it – seeing Idris Elba’s face giving you the business, instead of that bamma, Clyde, that you married, Fantasyland is your mind’s playground. Where wonderment can freely roam.
I was at a drag show recently and there may be no greater suspension of reality anywhere than that which exists at drag shows. Make no mistake about it, drag queens are dudes in dresses and makeup. Wearing heels and purses and sequins and things. But drag is also art, creativity, courage, and skill. You have to respect the work that goes into beating one’s face the way these queens do.
I’ve seen linebacker-built queens move with remarkable poise and grace in absurdly high heels. I’ve even seen them drop into a split and pop it like a stripper with ease and precision. Drag queens are masterful at pushing the boundaries to create their perfect illusion. And the experience is especially dope if they have a personality dazzling enough to really pull it off.
I think what’s most fascinating to me about drag culture is folks’ reactions to drag performances – which sort of represents the success or failure of the queen’s illusion. My granny says the eyes never lie, and she’s right. What happens with fans at a drag show is the same thing that happens with fans at a concert – how, in
my their fantasy, I they pretend that Beyoncé’s really singing ‘Speechless‘ to me them and me them only. The shoulders sway from side to side and the eyes are locked, all hazy and shit. Before you know it, it’s happened. You’re under her spell.
To me, there’s something deliciously intriguing about drag because no one studies women (for non-sexual purposes) like gay men and drag queens. See the documentary film, Paris is Burning, if you don’t believe me. It tells the story of drag and ball culture in the New York City’s Black and Latino LGBT communities during the late 1980s. You can watch the entire film using the link above, and you really should. The culture and characters are so engrossing, you feel like you’ve gained insight into a whole other world. In one ball scene, the emcee advises emphatically, “It is a KNOWN FACT, that a woman do carry an evening bag at dinnertime.” How could you deny yourself this pleasure? Go on and watch. And the next time you see a professional queen lip syncing for her life to a Beyoncé tune, understand that only Beyoncé herself could do Bey better.
At drag shows, I also love watching folks stalk the stage, and stride up with their stack of ones in hand, ready to make it rain on a queen for being so fucking fierce. They think they got all the power, but soon find themselves up close and realize she’s this stunning projection of masculinity and femininity at the same time – stunning, maybe in the way women are. But stunning, definitely, in the way a work of art can be. In any case, the eyes are locked, and before they know it, they’re under her spell. The queen looks ’em in the eye, takes their li’l ones, strokes the hand a bit. And keeps it movin’. The power has been transferred. The illusion was successful.
I suppose this magic is what all great performers hope to achieve – the ability to suspend reality and forge some connection in Fantasyland. Or, perhaps, to be able to make the fantasy real and tangible for a moment.