We hear a lot about how gays are judged by society, and indeed they are. However, we hear very little about how the gay community treats its own. I kept wondering what it means to be a drag queen. I am just a gay boy, a writer, and an academic. I am not a performer. It is interesting what an hour and a tape recorder will teach someone about the unknown.
Paisley Parque, a drag queen who performs all over the country but calls North Carolina home, sat down with me for an interview in the lobby of a downtown hotel in the sleepy college city of Greensboro, N.C. I was interested in knowing what reflections a performer who is approaching a major milestone in her career might have to offer.
"Heterosexuals used to think [drag queens] were odd; now we have to contend with other gays who think we give them a bad name," said Paisley, whose boy name is Chad Taylor.
After visiting a bar with a friend around the time that he graduated from high school, Chad saw a drag performance. Always wanting to be some type of performer, he felt that the stars had aligned for him.
For almost a quarter of a century, Chad has been two people: the large, vivacious Paisley Parque, and a man who works at a Fortune 500 company. Paisley is a cross between Miss Piggy and Mae West. She is a plus-sized vixen with big, blonde hair and big lips.
When Chad puts on his makeup and transforms into Paisley, it is like his armor.
"I turn into another person," Taylor says. "Where Chad has low self-esteem and is shy and reserved, Paisley is more confident."
Becoming a prize-winning entertainer was not without its troubles. Before he could ever share his successes in the world of drag, his parents passed away. Chad remains close with the living members of his family, but there are still some parts of his life that he keeps to himself.
"They are aware that I am gay, but they don't officially know about Paisley," says Chad.
When Chad first started doing drag, he lived with his parents. He was just out of high school.
"My mother had found pieces of drag clothing under my bed one day and confronted me about it," says Chad. "She told me that if I were going to cross dress, I would need to move out of the house."
Chad agreed to stop, but he did not. Instead, he kept any evidence of Paisley under wraps.
"I kept costumes and clothing in the trunk of my car, then a storage of building. Eventually I moved out."
At this point, Chad is confident that if his mother were still alive, he could share Paisley's success with her.
How does one qualify as being successful in the drag world? By winning titles and the hearts of fans. Drag pageants are competitive and stressful, as most who are involved would agree. Chad says that it can get a bit heated during pageants, which are on par with "real girl" contests.
"Contestants can be catty and aggressive," Chad says. Though he does not see as much of it these days, he has experienced the horrors of other contestants trying to bring down the competition.
"When I first started, the girls were ruthless," he said. Twenty years ago there were fewer titles, and contestants did whatever they had to do to win, including throwing superglue on gowns of other contestants and putting glass shards in their face powder.
According to Chad, to be a successful drag queen, one must have her own outfits, her own makeup, the skill to transform from a man into a woman, and the ability to make her own musical mixes and costumes.
"It isn't cheap," says Chad. "There are a lot of entertainers that have others do their hair and makeup. You need to be able to do it yourself."
Being a drag queen is not always comfortable either. Taylor underwent cosmetic procedures to feminize his face. He also talked about the fascinating use of a common household item, explaining that drag queens use duct tape to achieve many things, including cleavage.
"We actually duct-tape our man chest to achieve cleavage. We contour it with makeup to make it look like a chest line," he said.
Some queens even duct-tape their waist and genitals to achieve a more feminine body. There are also tools such as foam rubber, corsets and girdles to give an hourglass figure to an otherwise male body.
"I wear three girdles, three tights, foam hip inserts and foam breast inserts to create my shape. It takes about two hours to get ready, including makeup, hair and putting on the body," says Chad.
Though Chad stays positive about the ways that drag performers have advanced through the years and says that being a drag queen is more accepted by society now, there is still tension within the gay community.
"If it wasn't for the drag queens at Stonewall, we might not have some of the rights we have now. There are a lot of famous drags out there who have shaped and modeled society," Chad says. "I have felt prejudice within the community. Some gay people want to sweep you into the closet. They think it gives the community a bad name. "
Chad says that some within the LGBT community need more open minds, especially concerning drag queens.
"The gay community needs to embrace diversity itself. We need to get it together," Chad says. "If we want the heterosexual community to stop judging us, we need to work over not judging within our own community."