Article by Marty McSorely
I can convince almost anyone to come see almost any shitty band, but in years of attending drag events I have only ever been able to convince one straight male to attend with me—and I think it was the free vodka that convinced him. I catch some flack for being a straight dude that is a fan of drag culture, reluctantly and loosely identifying as a post-hetero-retro-sexual (if you need a label).
But it’s easy to explain my enthusiasm for the performance stylings of men in dresses. These artists are not just manipulating paints and brushes. They are manipulating their bodies to create illusions and performances that will stay with their audiences long after they wash off their make-up and take off their heels. More than that, drag is one form of performance art that still has the ability to freak out the most conservative of squares, but also make many members of supposedly “progressive” art communities think twice before attending. And for those that question drag as an artform: they give Oscars for make-up and costume design, and as a whole these queens have a much quicker wit than any of the masses in improv classes. Plus, these gals put it all together and then dance in heels with their dicks tucked up between their legs. Now that shit, I’m guessing, takes some practice.
Taking it a step further is Sharon Needles of Pittsburgh’s Haus of Haunt, who lives by the mantra “when in doubt, freak ‘em out.” Sharon is challenging long-held standards of beauty not only in the drag community but in the world at large. I got to sit down with Ms. Needles at Barefoot’s Pride Week launch party last week, where she affirmed her role as America’s Next Drag Superstar. This night, while other queens imitated Aretha and Cher, Ms. Needles gave us a Peggy Bundy that channeled the Cramps’ Poison Ivy. This isn’t just a lip-sync or a dance performance; this is commentary.
We could talk at length about Needles choosing to impersonate the lazy, channel-surfing, bonbon-stuffing icon, but it’s the little things that make me love Sharon. Instead of flipping though a TV Guide on stage, she is flipping though the latest issue of Time Out New York as she clicks the remote at the audience. Sharon isn’t bored with what is on TV. She is bored with pop culture as a whole and is looking for something more. “There is no reason not to know what is going on in the underground. You don’t have to listen to fucking Madonna or Lady Gaga… I grew up in my record store. I grew up in my video store. Today, with the Internet, people have no excuse not to be informed of other options.”