The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday December 7th

Drag Queens Do More Than Dress the Part

A tall woman in a tube dress, a long leather trench coat and black leather boots sashays onto a stage, lip-syncing to the music.

People in the audience shout in approval and hold out dollar bills loosely in hopes of getting close to the performer.

The music fades, and she slips back behind the curtain with fistfuls of money in hand.

Brittany Shane enjoys her moment in the spotlight at Legends night club -- a moment when sex doesn't dictate gender, self-expression is key and drag queens dominate the stage.

But the life of a drag queen is more than flashy clothes, false eyelashes and hair that defies the law of gravity. And drag shows involve more than singing and dancing for a crowd.

It's a time commitment, a career and a way of life.

Kendoll Carson, 25, is an emcee at Legends and said the transformation from a man on the street to a diva in drag is an important part of being a drag queen.

"In order to do the full makeup with eyes and everything it takes at least an hour," he said.

Professionals perform up to four nights a week, said Valarie Rockwell, a regular drag queen at the Capitol Corral night club in Raleigh. "I will usually do a show at least once a week," he said.

But both drag queens agree the time invested in getting ready is worth the payoff they get from performing.

"Dressing in drag is a way for us to express our feminine side," Rockwell said.

In addition to the entertainment value, dressing in drag has its financial benefits as well.

"The pay is good enough for this to be my main job," Carson said.

Rockwell agrees. "Considering the time commitment, it's a good job to have," he said.

Drag queens often sign contracts with a particular club to become regular performers.

Richard Hull, a regular drag show attendee from Raleigh who has been a drag queen in the past, said he understands the business aspect and the hierarchy some drag queens follow.

"Queens start out as amateurs until they get a big enough following to where they can get to be part of the house cast at a bar," Hull said. From there, they have the opportunity to become emcees and to travel around performing in different clubs and bars.

The competition to obtain a contract occasionally leads to devious behavior. Things can get downright dirty. "Sometimes a queen will put chipped glass in another queen's blush so that she cuts her face when she tries to put her makeup on," Hull said.

But Rockwell said the majority of drag queens do not get violent. "Most of us get along really well. We usually try work things out between ourselves."

The desire to dress in women's clothing can be a form of sexual expression, said Dr. Robert Lawson, a UNC psychology professor and clinical psychologist.

Lawson said he believes some men dress as women as a form of sexual release. "The purpose of dressing in drag is for sexual excitement," he said.

Jesse Davidson, a junior and a member on the executive board for the UNC's Queer Network for Change, said he thinks the phenomenon behind dressing in drag is the pursuit of being different. "It's against the norm," he said. "It's fashion. It's glamorous.

"It's like a costume. When you put on a sheet to become a ghost, you're becoming someone else. It's the same thing when you dress in drag."

Because of the theatrics and excitement of drag shows, Rockwell and Carson said they have seen an increase in attendance in the last few years. "It seems like gay people are getting tired of it, but for straight people it is something new and exciting," Rockwell said.

Hull said it's a sign of changing times. "As drag shows are becoming more known, people are becoming less afraid of them and more interested in going."

The same is true on UNC's campus. Last year QNC's annual drag show drew more than 300 spectators. The show was composed of three professional queens and five amateur undergraduate queens as well as two drag kings, which are women dressed in men's clothing.

Christian Neely, a freshman from Charlotte, said she recognizes an increasing acceptance for drag queens. "It seems like it isn't as big of a shock anymore to say you're gay or to see someone dressed in the opposite sex's clothing."

But Hull said for the drag queens it all boils down to the performance. "It's all about getting up there and having fun."

The Features Editor can be reached at features@unc.edu.

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