‘Drag’ is the heightened portrayal of gender and has a rich and diverse history. For me, drag means queer joy and performance art. It helped me discover my own identity. As such, drag has become one of my most favorite forms of entertainment, and it has been for many years. Somehow, it was not until this September that I attended my first in-person drag show. I am lucky that the school I just transferred to, Central Washington University, hosts a drag show twice a year: one during Welcome Week, and another during Pride month before the summer quarter begins. And so, I went to my first show, ecstatic to see bold, queer expression live. I was blown away by the beauty and energy the drag kings and queens radiated. However, there were some things I did not know or was not prepared for when I went this time that I will be sure to do for the drag show I go to. As drag performances are popping up again for Halloween, now is a good time to refresh or to learn about drag show etiquette. Being a good audience member is common sense for any performance, but for drag performances, there are some notable tips that are important to be aware of.
Tip the dolls! Bring dollar bills with the intent to throw them on stage or hand them to the performer. Larger bills are more likely to draw the performer’s attention, but once you have it, do NOT make it difficult for the performer to grab it! That means no cash between teeth or cleavage, and try to sit where the entertainer will not have to climb over anyone to reach you.
Why is it important to tip? In the wise words of Dolly Parton: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.” Drag is expensive, from makeup, to costumes, to wigs, to jewelry, to shoes, every bit requires some coin. Putting on a show is expensive, too, as the venue, organizers, emcees, and DJs will be paid first and the performer last. When drag artists start out, they rarely break even with gigs. You, the audience member, can alleviate monetary stress and encourage the artists to continue in their work by handing over some bills.
Being in the moment
A great performance is made by a good audience. Entertainers feed off their audience’s energy and vice versa, so make some noise! Laugh, cheer, and applaud when appropriate. Make sure that energy is spread across all the performers, as it takes some nerve to put oneself out there. Give all your attention to the show. That means putting away your phone. Photos and videos may be allowed in certain venues, but it is my opinion that it is best to live the experience without worrying about if your camera is capturing it too. Picture taking is best suited for meet and greets or photo ops after the show.
Like art in a museum, you can look but you cannot touch. Due to intoxicants and the party atmosphere, some may believe that it is okay to get physical with a drag entertainer. It’s like a costume character at a theme park, right? Wrong! Drag is fragile and time consuming; unwanted contact can ruin delicate fashion, intricate makeup, exquisite hair, etc. When a drag artist wants physical interaction from the audience, they will invite it from the audience. For example, it might seem cheeky or sexy to shove money in the performers’ garments, but this should only be done if the performer is specifically asking for it. Consent is important.
What to do if you’re uncomfortable
Because consent is important, the performer must respect your boundaries too. At my first drag show, the hosts explained that drag entertainers can tell who wants attention. But should they be wrong and you want them to back off, there is a universal sign to deescalate the situation. You simply cross your arms over your chest, forming an X. While drag is irreverent and rowdy, it is still a safe space. You should be able to enjoy drag without putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation. However, if queer expression makes you uncomfortable, you’re in the wrong place.
If you are not pleased with the performance, keeps those thoughts to yourself. It has never been okay to disturb live performers, and the audience will turn on you if you’re alone in your opinions. Do not boo unless you are asked to. Do not deliberately misgender someone. Do not obstruct the performance space. Do not make a mess in the venue. Do not go on stage unless invited. Even if it is not malicious, you’re not funnier than the entertainers, and the show is about them, not you.
If you are unable to catch a drag show this Halloween season, drag can be enjoyed form the comfort of your own home. For example, the film Rocky Horror Picture Show is a queer Halloween classic with genderbending, flamboyant characters. Additionally, Hulu recently released a special called Huluween Dragstravaganza featuring queens from popular reality competition shows RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula, the latter showcasing horror elements that also make it a great watch for this time of year.