Fun

Queen for a Night

My drag makeover.

It’s hard to overstate the power, political and personal, inherent in drag, which is the act of transforming how you look in a way that blurs or plays with the presentation of gender. What’s even harder to convey is how much FUN it is, but it is, as I recently found out myself while being transformed into a glammed-out drag dilettante by my friend Colin Self, a Brooklyn choreographer/composer/drag queen. Some of you may have seen (and freaked out over) the ’80s documentary Paris Is Burning or the reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, so you know that drag allows you to pick a persona and embrace it completely, like playing an awesome role in a movie that you’ve directed yourself.

Most drag artists are into the idea of gender-play as entertainment. The person dressing up usually identifies as being one gender in their day-to-day life, but performs as another, and although drag is considered a part of gay culture, a person can be straight and still do drag. Many queens look and behave very differently when they’re not performing. During the day, Colin works as a barista at a New York City cafe. He sometimes incorporates feminized pieces into his wardrobe, but for the most part, he just looks like a fashion-forward blond guy with cute glasses and great sneakers.

Drag, on the whole, is an exaggerated celebration of difference, and I was really curious to find out what it felt like to harness its awesome powers. During my time with Colin, he made me over as a faux queen, which is the term for a biologically female person who appropriates the look of a drag queen. We decided to go this route instead of making me into a drag king because I wanted him to take me through his step-by-step process—and also because I wanted to wear an obscene amount of lipstick.

I met Colin at his apartment in Williamsburg. We settled onto his living room floor, and as we started figuring out our looks for the evening, he told me what led him to start doing this: “As a kid, I worshipped Celine Dion and Shania Twain—they were making their own worlds. So I moved from Oregon, where I grew up, to Olympia, Washington, where I went to college. I wanted to be a lesbian at that time. I was very effeminate, and the men I was attracted to were butch. I liked this possibility of being in a male-male relationship, but as women.”

Colin Self

Shortly after he moved from Olympia to Chicago in 2009, Colin manifested his desire to be both a man and woman by creating a drag persona. “Olympia musicians like Khaela Maricich and Anna Huff were really drawing these exciting artistic connections between performance and music, and they introduced me to the idea that I could just sing a song in a backyard with a wig and a drum machine and convey something powerful,” he says. “In late 2010, I started going out to clubs and bars in drag.” According to Colin, many queens work within a genre called “realness,” which means successfully passing as a woman, but for the most part, he wasn’t interested in portraying someone hyper-feminine. Colin, who refers to himself as a riot grrrl, was also turned off by the way he felt traditional drag clashed with his feminist ideals: “When I first started wearing wigs, I never wore makeup. I didn’t like drag. I didn’t like what it said about women—women shouldn’t have to have all this makeup and hair. But as I got older, I came to realize that drag is all about celebrating female beauty, and I could represent a sexual, feminine woman in mainstream culture and still be a feminist.” Yet despite how cosmeticized Colin looks while performing in drag, he still uses his own name and is proud of the bits of maleness that he allows to show through, like his Adam’s apple.

Colin in drag. (Photo via Samantha West.)

Colin is a multifaceted performer: depending on the night, he could be dancing, lip-syncing, or showcasing his own music. Along the way, he learned all kinds of fun makeup tricks that he shared with me in our makeover. Although I’m one of the most femme individuals you will ever meet—I wear fake eyelashes every day and dress more or less like Betty Boop—Colin was still able to teach me some amazing secrets. Here’s Colin and me serving ’90s-era, best-girlfriend realness right after we were done:

I think we can all agree that the real winner here is his “bitch” dress, which he scored in a thrift store in the Pacific Northwest, aka prime real estate for the castoffs of grown-up Riot Grrrls. As Colin says, “You either put on an outfit, or a doubtfit.” This is definitely the former.

Colin shaved his face as closely as he could, which he hates. “If you ask any drag queen, they’ll say shaving is one of the more horrible parts of doing drag,” he says. “A lot of people get laser surgery.” Then we set out to queenify ourselves. The first step in achieving the look we’re showing here involves a base of white pancake makeup, which should be applied all over your face. (Colin recommends Ben Nye.) This blanked out our features so that we could build our own contours, like cheekbones and jawlines. After applying liquid foundation, we sucked in our cheeks, packed a big, fluffy brush with dark bronzer, and blotted it into the hollows of our fish-faces.

Where I'm pointing is where the bronzer goes.

We then arranged our faces into HUGE, deranged grins and applied blush to the chubbiest part of our cheeks. Finally, we applied a liquid highlighter to our cheekbones, following right above the line of bronzer and into our hairline. Many queens also use contouring to shape and slim their noses, which you can achieve by applying highlighter down the thinnest part of your nose, stopping before you get to the tip.

Next, in keeping with the drag mantra of “MORE IS MORE,” we put on some wild eye shadow. I learned that a good way to do dark eye shadow without getting it all over your face is to use an index card and line up an edge of the card with your bottom lash line. I pressed it against my face while applying my eye makeup and it caught extra shadow that would otherwise have flown onto my impeccably sculpted cheekbones. It also gives the impression of enormous, almost owlish eyes (but, like, a sexy owl). Applying either individual lashes or a strip to the upper lash line balances out all the makeup and gives it more dimension. Finally, we filled in and extended our brows past the point of reason, taking our cues from Groucho Marx (if he was a hot babe). In case you didn’t already hear me: ANGLES ARE EVERYTHING. But it was also liberating to realize that the results don’t have to be perfect. “God knows that there are a lot of drag queens that don’t look good, but that’s OK!,” Colin says. “No shade. Drag is about diversity.”

We finished off our looks with our respective wigs. “It’s not about good or bad taste,” he adds. “If you know yourself and trust yourself, people will believe it, too. When I put on a wig, it transforms me spiritually, mentally, and physically.” I ended up loving my wigged-out appearance so much that I bleached and cut my real hair in a style that imitated this one shortly after our makeover. Drag actually helped me to see something new about myself that I liked a lot.

Colin had the idea for me to top off the experience with a public performance, which we did a couple of weeks later. Although some queens dress in drag just to go out to clubs or parties, many others choose to showcase the primped and painted versions of themselves through public performance. We decided that I would do a routine to one of Mariah Carey’s classic singles, “Heartbreaker,” at Colin’s insane monthly drag party called CLUMP. CLUMP takes place at a bar in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I wanted to throw a party that’s weird and funny and doesn’t take itself seriously,” explains Colin. “It’s named after a clump of poop, or mascara, or people, like a community of artists and musicians.” It gets super, super packed, so I was really nervous. I hadn’t performed publicly since my legendary lip-sync-and-dance routine to Smash Mouth’s “All Star” in my fourth grade talent show. (At least I had some experience.) Unlike that afternoon, though, I was wearing towering high-heeled boots, an enormous blonde wig, and what might best be described as Richard Simmons’s dream bathing suit. Mine was the last performance of the night, and the party was in full swing by the time I took the stage.

It was definitely intimidating, but there wasn’t much room for nervousness as I stepped up to lip-sync for my life. I felt like I was wearing a suit of outré armor. Between the screaming crowd, the extra inches from my heels, and my general glamouflage, I felt gorgeous and untouchable. I’m pretty confident generally, but performing that night gave me a special kind of power. I imagine it’s only a fraction of how beautiful and confident a genuine drag queen might feel, based on what Colin tells me about his experience performing. “I really feel as though I was put on this planet to spread light and beauty, and when I am onstage, I feel like I am channeling some higher feminine force and projecting that energy out into the world,” he says. “I feel indestructible.” And I did feel inspired in an entirely new way. An audience of at least 50 people watched me, singing along and cheering enthusiastically. The drag parties I’ve attended over the years have hosted some of the most welcoming, fun audiences that I’ve come across in New York City nightlife, and this night was no exception. I guess I got a little too into it, because about halfway through the song, I felt my wig slipping off due to excessive gyrations and dramatic finger-pointing. It seemed better to just go with it, so I ended up head-banging the wig off, then whipping it into the audience, which made everyone freak out in the best possible way.

I have to say, I now have a deep respect for XY-chromosomed people who put so much effort into feminizing themselves. It’s an art, and it’s not easy. For Colin, it’s worth the work. He says being a queen wasn’t so much a choice as an epiphany. “I’d been performing in drag for about a year before I thought of myself as a drag queen,” he recalls. “Then, in 2010, I was performing in San Francisco, and I left thinking, ‘I am a loud, gorgeous, freak woman and I love it.’ I guess you could say I was becoming more aware of who I already was as a person. It was a funny realization. It just kind of occurred to me: why wouldn’t I want to be a drag queen?” ♦

46 Comments

  • Flower April 24th, 2012 3:07 PM

    i think i’ll try this the night after my exams finish because then it will be acceptable to be derranged and lock myself in my room. OMG PLAN.
    Flower xxx
    http://www.bobblyrainbowsocks.blogspot.com

  • ravenflamingo April 24th, 2012 3:44 PM

    I really want to put on a bunch of ridiculous makeup now.
    http://ravenflamingo.tumblr.com

  • Juniper April 24th, 2012 4:06 PM

    This is so interesting! This is a group of people I’ve never known anything about — until now!

  • tellyawhat April 24th, 2012 4:25 PM

    OMG. REVELATION. Amy Rose. YOU. ARE. Rose McGowan.

    • marypee22 April 24th, 2012 11:32 PM

      that’s what i thought!! okay im not crazy

  • maddzwx April 24th, 2012 4:30 PM

    haha this is awesome! I can only dream to one day have a friend as cool as Colin. also, on an unrelated note, I love the UD vegan palette!

  • fizzingwhizbees April 24th, 2012 4:31 PM

    Oh goodness I am OBSESSED with drag!!! Yay for this article!

  • teenager April 24th, 2012 4:41 PM

    This story was the coolest! When I visited New Orleans recently, I stayed down the street from a drag bar and saw several drag queens walking by, it was wonderful.

    I’ve also always wanted to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race… think I might get into that this weekend!

    http://interstellarsuburbia.wordpress.com/

    • Amy Rose April 24th, 2012 5:14 PM

      It’s SO worth your time.

  • Hayley G. April 24th, 2012 4:56 PM

    Fantastic! I’ve always wanted to be a faux queen.

  • mayaautumn April 24th, 2012 5:24 PM

    this makes me want to dress up and put on loads of crazy makeup…fun times;D

    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.co.uk

  • giov April 24th, 2012 5:31 PM

    do yourself a favor and watch priscilla queen of the desert. I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen on sunday night (c/o of the queer film club of my town) and it’s LITERALLY THE BEST DRAG THING EVER.

    • lorobird April 26th, 2012 12:37 PM

      YESSSSSSS I LOVE THAT FILM

  • KinuKinu April 24th, 2012 5:49 PM

    Amazing.I know my sister is a little weirded out by drag…she’s never really seen it before and she tends to get kinda discriminant.She’s not used to it.So whenever she runs across RuPaul’s Drag Race gifs on the internet and starts being mean,I tell her what my dad tells me: If they are happy doing what they want,and if they’re not hurting you,leave them alone.They are happy and that’s all that matters.
    And then she gets it and goes on.This was very interesting and I reallllllly liked it.♥
    Sorry if I sound stupid but I don’t know what ‘butch’ means.Thanks……♥♥

    • Amy Rose April 24th, 2012 6:01 PM

      Hi babe! You and your dad sound awesome. “Butch” means dressing or acting in a traditionally masculine way, like wearing clothes made specifically for men, for example. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butch_and_femme

      • KinuKinu April 24th, 2012 6:18 PM

        Thanks :D I appreciate it.I’m still learning all the terms and everything.
        My dad is pretty awesome.I can call myself awesome,too,because I am a carbon copy of my father.YAY and thanks again!!

  • Tracy April 24th, 2012 6:48 PM

    I was just thinking the other day that it would be awesome if Rookie posted something drag-related…

    I am completely fascinated with drag culture. It all started with RuPaul’s Drag Race and escalated into a greater obsession.

  • DANNI April 24th, 2012 7:22 PM

    So, a lot of my friends have been going on and on about the rupaul’s drag race finale last night and this stoopid macho jock idiot kid (YAY LABELS THAT MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND!) was like “DA FUQ IS A DRAG QUEEN” so i explained it to him, and he was like super disturbed by it. he was going on about “DA FUQ IS WRONG WIT DEM? SRSLY? WHY CAN’T THEY JUST BE NORMAL??? THAT’S SO GAYYYYY”

    It’s depressing. and then he wouldn’t shut up about drag queens, so during french he was just like screaming-”whispering” about those weird phycobitch drag queens and my french teacher got all pissed like “THAT’S SO INAPROPRIATE!!!!” when it’s fine when people call each other pussies. so when i explained that it’s their identity and they can be whoever they want he was all “EW THAT’S JUST DISGUSTING AND THEY’RE ON TTTVVV? THAT’S GROSS, MAN”
    so i asked him why they didn’t have the right to be represented in popular media as who they really are and he went “YEAH, BUT AS GUYS. NORMAL GUYS WHO PLAY SPORTS AND LIKE GIRLS”

    sigh

  • MissKnowItAll April 24th, 2012 7:33 PM

    Awww. Too cool. My school had a gender bender day and I did my friends makeup all drag queen esque. It was so much fun and I’ve never seen so many guys wearing skirts and heels.

    • Toria Crux April 24th, 2012 11:21 PM

      I WANT TO GO TO YOU’RE SCHOOL!!!!!!

      • MissKnowItAll April 25th, 2012 6:38 AM

        My school is really accepting of these things. We only have about 400 people and it’s a very close knit family. Granted we live in New York where things are more out in the open, but we try to make everyone feel welcome.

  • lidyaa April 24th, 2012 7:43 PM

    I am so happy to see an article like this on rookie. I am a professional faux drag queen based in the UK. It has been very had for me to get recognition, regular work or for many people to understand what I do. I feel that gender is completely fluid and everyone should be able to express themselves in whatever way they want. I love it when people fight against what is seen as the binary norm. Drag is my passion and I am obsessed (I also wrote my dissertation on it) and love the fact that you are addressing it to your readers.

    http://about.me/lydiacottrell

  • AnguaMarten April 24th, 2012 8:52 PM

    i love this. i love this so much. my personal aesthetic is both total drag queen and androgynous grunge at the same time, and this is fantastic. also! cissexism is a big issue in feminism so i’m glad to see rookie is like, “fuck that shit!” false eyelashes are for everyone.

    • garconniere April 28th, 2012 8:25 PM

      THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS. so fucking important.

  • I.ila April 24th, 2012 8:54 PM

    Okay, This was a really really wonderful post. However, my comment is sadly unrelated. I have had this idea, but I don’t think it’s worth a whole email to rookie-ites (i made up a word). So I’m relatively new to tumblr, and really interested in finding blogs that share my interests. They are sort of hard to find though. Do you think we can have a tumblr sharing day, where people write their tumblrs and what sort of things they have on them? I was just thinking it might be an interesting idea.

  • poppunkgurrrlx April 24th, 2012 9:19 PM

    such a fun/interesting article! I learned a lot :)

  • rrruthie April 24th, 2012 9:49 PM

    ‘I am a loud, gorgeous, freak woman and I love it.’

    This might definitely be my new mantra.

  • fanny April 24th, 2012 11:25 PM

    wow, thanks for such an amazing article! i have a friend who is very dear to me who enjoys dressing in drag and i find myself constantly trying to explain that NO, that does not make him gay! i will definitely be passing this article along :)

    • lorobird April 26th, 2012 12:41 PM

      Not that there would be anything wrong with him being gay, or bisexual or pansexual.

  • kirsten April 24th, 2012 11:46 PM

    out of curiosity, did colin attend evergreen state college?

    this was a fantastic article.

    • Amy Rose April 25th, 2012 3:20 AM

      He did! I am so jealous.

  • Ben April 25th, 2012 1:15 AM

    Right after reading this I watched RuPaul’s Drag Race! :) Usually I don’t like the Drag queen look because It seems too over-the-top and dramatic but I am a HUGE supporter of cross dressing in general, like, three fourths of my closet are “girl clothes!”

    http://bensstylecorner.blogspot.com/

  • coolschmool April 25th, 2012 2:36 AM

    this is seriously so great. that bitch dress i can’t even

  • julalondon April 25th, 2012 2:54 AM

    Awww when i used to live in London i used to go to Drag Queen Shows A LOT (mostly with my gay male friends) AND I LOVED IT SOO MUCH. Thank you Amy Rose for that great article. I especially love that you pointed out that IT’S ACTUALLY ART because it really is. Love it & thanks again! xx

  • pocketmouse April 25th, 2012 3:29 PM

    auw, I grew up in Oregon (Portland) as well, and I too wanna get outta here (just for some travel, I do love Portland)! the thrifting is great though :)

  • WitchesRave April 25th, 2012 3:33 PM

    I dont know how i feel about the drag queen culture…

    In my opinion what makes a woman a woman is having a womb, not wearing makeup, high heels, and short dresses and putting on a high pitched tone of voice..I cant really explain it, but yea..

    • Ayla April 25th, 2012 8:02 PM

      I could understand why you’d feel that way, but “having a womb” is part of someones sex not their gender. Because gender identity is something that is not attached to sex, people such as transsexuals/transgendered people exist!

      Now, femininity is hard to define because there are now, more than ever no set rules to define what a woman is.

      I’m sure not all drag queens put on a high pitched voice or tons of make up, they just slip into whatever they feel is most appropriate for their personal expression of femininity and celebrate and honor that side of themselves that way.

      Please let me know if I am wrong in any way.
      I’m not a drag queen and this is what i gathered from what I’ve seen from their culture.

      Also, Amy Rose, you ARE Rose McGowan dressed up as Gwen Stefani in the second picture and it’s amazing.

    • lorobird April 26th, 2012 12:52 PM

      Sex is biology.

      Gender is constructed.

      So you are born with a womb, but you learn to apply make up and like the colour pink because it’s what your culture teaches you about being a woman. It’s just one way to be.

      People who conform to the gender that is culturally associated with their sex are called cis.

      So if you’re a girl in a body of the female sex, you are a cis woman. You can be cis and straight or cis and asexual, or cis and gay; sexuality is a separate thing from gender, and the combinations are endless.

      And being cis is totally cool!

      But some people don’t feel comfortable, or themselves, “performing” the gender that their culture ascribes them. Some people perform different genders occasionally, or some of the time, of most of the time, or all the time.

      I am cis, and I perform my woman-gender all the time because it’s what I’m comfortable with. But my situation and experience is not universal, and therefore is not “normal”. It’s simply one experience in a mosaic of billions.

      Transsexuals and gender-queer (this is a label people who don’t fit in the gender binary sometimes use) are amongst the most marginalized, abused and oppressed people in our society. But they are just expressing themselves! It’s their identity! Without performing our own identities, we can’t be happy or comfortable in our lives; this applies to all of us.

      As long as people aren’t hurting anyone, they aren’t doing anything wrong. Tolerance breeds variety, variety makes life and society interesting and happy! :)

      • KinuKinu April 26th, 2012 4:29 PM

        Thank you so much for this lorobird.This is a great way of explaining it. :D

  • Gretchyn April 27th, 2012 9:17 PM

    I really love this article. All the personal quotes from Collin sounded so sweet and like, spiritual in a very welcoming way.
    Basically I’m just enthralled by the (secret) (I’ve never been seriously exposed to drag) life of drag.
    Beautiful

  • garconniere April 28th, 2012 8:25 PM

    yes yes yes! i am so glad to see a sweet representation of drag culture to a young audience. too many people’s introduction and only vision of drag culture is one of RuPaul… which still has its merits but i much prefer the Paris is Burning version. great article. as a canadian too, i can’t help but gush with pride that colin admires two of our best canadian divas.

    only thing? i’d love to see something about drag kings! i think the vast majority of your audience is young women, and as interesting as drag queen/faux queen culture is, i feel like drag kings too often get the short end of the stick (no pun intended).