I’m America’s first Drag Laureate. Let’s fight the hate - by being more fabulous

Performer D’Arcy Drollinger has been named Drag Laureate in San Francisco. Below is a piece adapted from a conversation she had with Lucy Anna Gray

D'Arcy Drollinger
Thursday 01 June 2023 17:59 BST
(Rachel Z Photography)

Since I first started doing drag in the early Nineties, the landscape has completely changed. Back then, there was no online shopping or searching, ultimately you had to figure everything out yourself. Other performers and I would drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles just to go to Fredericks of Hollywood to buy high heels. And even then, they only came up to a size 12, so there were plenty of us who had to opt for an open-toe heel and squeeze our feet in.

Today, drag culture has moved into the mainstream, that is, where it is accepted. As a multimillion-dollar industry, you can now get whatever makeup, wigs, bodyshapers, prosthetics, clothes and heels you want in whatever size you need. A far cry from squeezing my feet into tiny shoes.

While we have documentation of drag from over four hundred years ago, the San Francisco Drag Laureate is the first position of its kind, an exciting and daunting task. I’ll be the first in the world to walk in these shoes — these very high-heeled shoes.

It can so often feel like we have no power to change things in the world, but social change is very possible; we have that power every day. If we live a more authentic life, it’s essentially a more fabulous life.  And when we walk through the world a little more fabulously, we inspire everyone we come in contact with to live a more fabulous life — which is really what we all want. If everyone is just a little more fabulous, then there’s that much less room in their hearts and minds for prejudice, anger and hostility. So be more fabulous and that's how we change the world.

My club Oasis isn’t just a performance space, it’s ultimately a cultural center. Around 10 years ago, after moving to San Francisco, one of the venues where we did most of our shows closed. We were left with a choice: go find another venue or make our own. For us the choice was simple. After my business partners wanted to retire, I bought them out and became the sole owner — two weeks before the pandemic. At the time it certainly felt like the worst decision I’d ever made, but it would turn out to be one of the best. I created the Meals on Heels food delivery program where people could get food and a curbside lip sync during the pandemic, and struggling drag performers could get paid. We launched a streaming platform so people could share online content, the LGBT+ nonprofit called Oasis Arts started, and I’m now working with the San Francisco Film Commission to open a sound stage for community members.

Drag has never just been about drag. I look back at all of the landmark, historic moments here in San Francisco, from the Compton Campus cafeteria riots that happened before Stonewall, to the Imperial Court System to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

The drag community has always had a strong voice not just in entertainment but also in politics and fundraising because of its ability to build bridges. Often I look out in the crowd at the club, and it’s gay and straight, young and old, all sitting together, being part of this experience.

Sadly while San Francisco names me as Drag Laureate, performers are facing attacks across the US — attacks which are nothing more than a smoke screen. Banning drag shows for children is not, and never has been, about protecting children. Kids are not being killed by drag queens, they’re being killed by guns. They’re not being abused by drag performers, they’re being abused by authority figures. Put a red rubber nose on that drag queen and they pretty much look like a clown; since when have people had an issue with clowns entertaining children?

Performer D’Arcy Drollinger is America’s first Drag Laureate
Performer D’Arcy Drollinger is America’s first Drag Laureate (Rachel Z Photography)

Drag is a costume. Men in Shakespeare plays wore dresses and wigs for centuries. The idea that this is somehow wrong or perverse — or even that it is a debatable right — is completely manufactured. Just look at the history of San Francisco. In the sixties and seventies, there were drag shows all over the city. Couples from the Midwest would come and see a drag show, and it was absolutely fine. It’s been all over the television for years. Drag Race is a top-rated show, but for decades we’ve had celebrities in drag on TV in people’s living rooms.

Drag is not a scary thing. I wish these legislators so against drag would actually go see a couple of shows and realize just how deliciously benign it is. But it seems we’re in a time where our politicians are living in an alternate reality.

The relentless attacks are as baffling as they are depressing. We could put this energy into helping others, and instead people’s rights are being limited. And, hilariously, the people doing this, namely Republicans, are supposed to be for personal freedom and against big government. It is a sad state of affairs when performers making a meager income by entertaining others are under attack. So the message is let everyone do whatever they want to do…except for when they don’t want it to happen. It boils down to an overwhelming amount of anti-gay and anti-trans legislation, which creates an environment where people want to harm others, thereby making them targets.

Drollinger says: ‘If everyone is just a little more fabulous, then there’s that much less room in their hearts and minds for prejudice, anger and hostility’
Drollinger says: ‘If everyone is just a little more fabulous, then there’s that much less room in their hearts and minds for prejudice, anger and hostility’ (Rachel Z Photography)

Social change really is possible, little by little, on a daily basis. Living your best life is the best form of protest, and we should all start by living a little more fabulously, because ultimately isn’t that what we all want? So we should all walk through this world being a little more fabulous in everything we do, from phone calls to Zooms, from buying a coffee to walking down the street. When you walk down the block, don’t look like you’re going to Walgreens or the drugstore — look like you’re sauntering to Prada or Gucci. If we live a little more authentically, we can inspire everyone around us, even if it’s as simple as a subconscious message to live a little more fabulously. If we put more energy into making our day-to-day lives spectacular, then there’s less energy left for anger, prejudice and hostility. And by doing that, we change the world.

As much as you may want to fight, you have to keep doing what you’re fighting for in the first place. We must keep entertaining, keep reading to children, keep sparkling.

And to those trying to ban drag shows — get a hobby.

The Independent is a proud partner of Pride in London and supporter of Pride Month in the US. We are dedicated year-round to writing on issues facing LGBT+ communities across the globe. You can find our latest content here in the US and here in Europe.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in