Photo Credit: Matt Hardy and Marisa Castengera
Dismantling perception through performance, drag queens and kings openly challenge society’s traditionally polarized views of gender. While some performers may be negotiating or experimenting with their own identity, others may be motivated to share satirical critiques on stereotypes and prescribed gender roles.
It should come as no surprise that in an arena valuing self-exploration and bold expression, there are limitless styles and sub-groups within the world of drag. Whether a pageant queen, androgyny queen, camp queen, club queen, goth queen or someone else admirably undefinable, most performers dissolve gender boundaries through complex blends of masculine and feminine characteristics.
Inarguably one of the most extravagant drag shows in Georgia, the annual Boybutante Ball is a Broadway-style revue at which the most talented queens and kings from in and around Athens sashay down the runway in impressively designed ensembles while performing choreographed routines. Held every year at the fabulous 40 Watt Club, the divas will dive underwater for this year’s theme, “20,000 Legs Under the Sea: A Boybutante Ocean Adventure,” so expect to see everyone from pirates and sailors to beach bunnies and mermaids.
The Ball’s not all rhinestones and glitter, however—Boybutante’s bottom line is to “party for a good cause.” Since its inception in 1989, the Boybutante AIDS Foundation has raised over $700,000 for its beneficiary, AIDS Athens. Last year alone brought in over $32,500.
“Boybutante represents a fabulous community that cares not who you are, how you got here, why you’re there or whether or not you love us back,” says board treasurer Jake Grant. “We enjoy educating our constituents though fun platforms which, in turn, break down barriers between disease sigma and gender identity [and] norms.”
Boybutante’s board of directors is currently composed of a dozen members who work tirelessly behind the scenes year-round to raise funding and awareness. While a diverse group—four drag queens, one burlesque performer, a UGA student, a professor and a local business owner among them—all members share a vision of nurturing inclusivity through community events.
This season saw the resurrection of Divas on Wheels, a traveling drag show initially launched in ’99, in which leading ladies Lacie Bruce, Jacqueline Daniels, Ming Vase Dynasty, Yasmine Alexander and Sasha Nicole Stephens performed at seven bars between Normaltown and downtown within a single night. Another new event this year, RuPaul’s Best Friends Race with Ming Vase, is a weekly viewing party—complete with endearingly catty commentary—for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Monday nights at 9 p.m. at Hi-Lo Lounge.
“Boybutante really has the fun, easy job; we have been partying for a cause for [27 years]. Yes, of course, our annual financial contribution supports AIDS Athens, our benefactor; however, AIDS Athens deserves most of the credit in supporting and improving our community,” says Grant. “We help them do what they do so gracefully… in 10 counties, addressing the needs of individuals infected and affected by HIV/AIDS through supportive services and preventing the spread of the disease through education and outreach.”
Founded in 1987, AIDS Athens is a nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the friends and families who support them. Case managers assist clients in finding stable housing and medical care, while programs like a food pantry, clothing closet and an employment training program also increase self-sufficiency. Emotional support is offered through peer counseling, support groups and a buddy program.
Pageant queen Yasmine Alexander, the exquisitely bedazzled Sea Witch who graces the cover of this week’s Flagpole, is no stranger to the runway, having competed and won in numerous drag beauty pageants on local, state and national levels over the years. Influenced by powerful women such as Josephine Baker and Diana Ross, her unique style is equal parts glitzy glamor and statuesque class.
“Starting out in drag at first wasn't easy or even a choice of profession. With both parents in Christian ministry, it was very difficult to keep away from [them],” says Yasmine. “Not only that, but in the ’90s, entertainers did not have access to social media as we do today. What we were taught by other performers is what we knew.”
Nowadays, curious or aspiring queens can leisurely consult the internet for limitless beauty tips and trade secrets, and privately hone their own skills and routines until they feel brave enough to take the stage. Some, however, will still journey down the more traditional path of being adopted into a house or troupe, finding confident and experienced “mothers” or “fathers” who can help guide them in their pursuits. This longstanding tradition in mentorship is rooted in ’90s drag culture, when many artists who were socially outcast or ostracized by their biological families would find social support and literal shelter through living with other performers.
“My drag mother experience has been very rewarding, yet always challenging, when trying to balance my everyday life and mentor numerous people with advice and wisdom on the profession. It’s trying, but overall just to know my guidance is of worth is the best feeling ever,” says Yasmine. “I have 10 drag kids stretching from Massachusetts and New York City, to Louisiana and Georgia, to Las Vegas. I also help community performers as well, and other cities and states when asked for my assistance.”
Boyball Week kicked off this past Monday with its annual Drag Search at Hendershot’s Coffee Bar, during which rising stars competed in Beauty, Intelligence, Tenacity, Charm and Hautness for a coveted spot in Saturday’s revue lineup. Sophia Lo’Rent will host Drag Bingo—while Clementine May Jackson and Ming Vase-Dynasty “handle your balls”—on Wednesday, Apr. 13 at 6 p.m. at The Foundry. A morning-after Post-Ball Brunch catered by Mama’s Boy will keep the party going at the Cotton Press in the Chase Street Warehouses on Sunday, Apr. 17 at 11 a.m. A word of advice, advance tickets are strongly encouraged for Saturday’s Ball, which has sold out since 1992.