How to Navigate a Drag Show When It’s Your First Time

The rules are simple: don't be a weirdo.
April 9, 2019
6 mins read

It is no surprise that drag shows are booming in success and popularity amongst younger generations. With exposure such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” DragCon and famous drag queens breaking out into beauty industries, it’s hard to not be enticed by all of the glitz and glam.

So why not attend a drag show to see the queens strut their stuff up close and personal? It’s a guaranteed great time; however, there are a few things to keep in mind when attending your first drag show that will keep you (and the queens) coming back for more.

Come with an Open Mind

If this is your first drag show, chances are you don’t know what exactly to expect, or you have some pre-conceived notions going around in your head. Let’s have a breakdown of what exactly goes on in a drag show.

Usually, various queens will come out and perform a lip sync or a dance number (hopefully both at the same time). Throughout the performances, a gracious host will be announcing the entertainers by name, as well as keeping the audience engaged with playful banter and shady comments.

If you’re in a club setting, there will hopefully be a bar nearby to get your fill of drinks in between sets to loosen up and enjoy the magic. Pretty simple, huh? Here’s what to remember though: not all drag queens are the same. Not all drag queens are exclusively queer men (surprise!). Yes, straight men can also be drag queens. So can trans women, non-binary and genderqueer folx. Drag kings also exist, catering to cis women and trans men in their audience.

These individuals are breaking social constructs of gender in their own way, and it is really not your place to ask or assume right off the bat. Drag shows are open to everyone: those who are loving and accepting and those who are not sure but are willing to give it a shot. Leave any prejudice and judgement at home.

Don’t Interfere

This is a big one. When you are at a drag show, you are witnessing a performance. Despite the theatrics of the role, it is still a job for some individuals in the business, a means to make a living. When someone in the audience gets a little too inebriated or are swayed by the confidence that the queens on stage are exuding, they feel as though it is their moment to shine instead. This can lead to an audience member trying to out-do the performer, dancing on stage, dancing on the queen — in general, creating a mess.

The main reason this is a big no-no is actually quite simple: it’s rude and disrespectful. This is not a backyard barbecue, nor is it a chance for you to dance the night away with no regard for the others around you; instead, this is someone’s job.

Many times the queens get visibly annoyed and upset; how would you feel if someone ruined your spotlight like that? Remember to be mindful of the queens and their performance times, pay attention to your alcohol tolerance and keep friends in line. Chances are the thing you think is going to be super funny to do to the drag queen at the time really isn’t that funny at all.

Tip the Queens

As a general rule, you should remember to tip your queens. It may seem like overkill (really, having to tip all those performers?), but honestly, it’s not just the performance. Many drag show venues come out to be pretty pricey all things included. This means making sure the emcee, the organizers, as well as the DJs are paid, as well as the space for the time allotted.

Many performers are left with not much to be paid with, and in fact, some performers only rely on the tips they receive as their form of payment for the night. On top of that, drag attire and makeup can be extremely costly, as performers will go through multiple outfit changes throughout the night.

It’s hard work being so fabulous, which is why it’s encouraged to pay them a little something for all their efforts. This is a way of showing support, and also getting a little chance to have a fun interaction with the queens up close. Of course, no one is going to force you to tip, and you can still have a great time sans the dollar bills, but if you choose to do so, try aiming for the tables further from the stage as those up close are generally aiming to tip their hearts out.

Don’t Be Creepy

Drag queens are not there to be some kind of fetish for you on stage. This is not an opportunity to go and get a feel of a drag queen for your own purposes. Curiosity is completely fine and encouraged; queens know they can be slightly unconventional and welcome the puzzled gazes and questions. However, what will absolutely not be tolerated is if you try and make a move on a queen on stage, or through using your tipping methods to get a queen closer to you to then make a move.

Some audience members try to get their feel in by placing the tip in their mouth, or in their cleavage in an attempt to get the performer to “work for it.” It’s not cute, and you’re wasting their time and everybody else’s. If the queen so generously decides to play along, keep it short and simple. Don’t try to reel her in for more.

In general, don’t initiate any physical contact with a performer unless the interaction is purely playful and light. This goes for not only the queens, but for other audience members as well. Non-consenual contact is absolutely not tolerated in any space, and you could risk getting kicked out by security for any disorderly conduct.

Enjoy Yourself

Have a grand old time! Drag shows are meant to be fun and wildly entertaining. Everybody will have something they’ll enjoy from a show, given the variety of queens and personalities that grace the stage.

Grace John, Rutgers University

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Grace John

Rutgers University

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