The question was asked of me following one of our church services.
I must admit, the query caught me a bit off guard. Not because of the topic, but because anyone who knows me, is most likely aware that I rarely go to anything. I’m a very boring person.
The answer was no. But my answer was followed by a question of my own.
What exactly is a drag show?
I really had no clear idea. I may have had some idea. I think I may have heard some things. Something about people dressing up in elaborate costumes and performing songs or dances. For some reason, as I scanned the cobwebs of my mind, I also found some rumors or comments about it being something seedy or dirty. Truth is, I had no factual information at all. That’s why I asked what it was.
From the answer I received, I discovered there was some truth to the things I had heard, but I found I was holding onto some disinformation as well. I was told that Drag shows do involve people dressing up in costumes and that performers often portray a gender differing from the one they usually identify as. Being a fan of classic comedy, I couldn’t help but think of the many comedians that have dressed up in a similar way. Famous historical performers like Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Laurel and Hardy, and even Bugs Bunny.
But why did I have ideas in my head that they were seedy or dirty?
I asked a bit more.
Apparently, like other performances, there is a bit of a variety. Some shows are family-friendly, and some are more “adults only.” As to whether any or either is viewed as seedy or dirty or good or bad, I suppose is up to the opinion of each individual seeing a show. As for the person I was talking with, the shows are very entertaining and not in any way, seedy or dirty. They are just very talented people, dancing, singing or lip-syncing to popular songs. There was nothing about the performances that, from their view, was not family-friendly.
As we talked, I was informed that many of these shows get a bad rap because of hearsay which is often untrue. Broad statements, blanketed over a style of performance that has numerous variations.
Again, I thought of comedy.
In the late eighties, I was a stand-up comic. I performed in different venues and in different towns. I also performed with different comics. At that time, comedy clubs were very popular and there were many performers. Most nights, I would find myself to be one of at least three comedians scheduled to perform. Each performance would vary in time, ranging from 10 to 30 minutes in length. And time would not be the only variant.
Each comedian had their own set of jokes and their own style and delivery. Each performance was unique and varied with each performer.
Many of the comedians I worked with were exceptionally talented. They were original, clever, and always very funny. Their performances were always clean too. But I also worked with people that I didn’t find funny at all. There were some that stole jokes from other comedians and some that spent all their time on stage swearing and telling such raunchy stories that left everyone feeling cringy and uneasy.
Stand-up comedy and drag shows are two very different types of performances, but in both, I guess one can find the family-friendly and the seedy and dirty.
I am grateful that, while I was doing comedy, no one said things like “All comedy is inappropriate,” or All comedians are dirty people.” I never felt typecast when it came to being a comedian. I wasn’t grouped into a category or judged without witness. I had plenty of people that thought I was funny and perhaps, even more, that felt I was not. But these opinions were made after people attended my performance. Not before.
In every type of artistic expression, be it movies, music, live performance, etc. we can find a wide variety under every category. Yet, for some reason, on the topic of drag shows, I had the overall label of seedy and dirty in my head. One encompassing description covering all variety of this type of performance. A view that somehow sat in my brain even as I had never once witnessed a show.
Now I may not be the most in the know person, but I would guess that many of the derogatory remarks regarding drag shows, may stem from hateful stereotypes regarding one or all of the identifiers in the LBGTQIA+ acronym.
I’m told that saying drag shows are only performed by people of the LGBTQIA+ community, is like saying stand-up comedy is only performed by men. Nevertheless, some have tagged a label, as well as prejudice against this art form.
Now, while I love and celebrate my friends in our Pride community, this is not the point I am making in this writing. In fact, neither is the focus on drag shows or stand-up comedy.
The real point I hope to pass forward is the danger of judging anything or anyone without knowing any facts about it or them. Far too often we find ourselves making a ruling without exploring the evidence.
Sometimes we judge a movie without seeing it. A song without hearing it. A show without seeing it. A book without reading it. And a person without meeting them.
I pray we all can continue to work toward seeing beyond our preconceived notions, judgments, or prejudicial fears. That we can open our hearts to learning more about the things or people we know little about. I pray that we do not criticize performances without seeing them or burn books without reading them. I pray that, before we judge our neighbor, we meet our neighbor.
As for a drag show, I have no idea whether I would enjoy one or not. I’ve never attended one.
Perhaps I should.