There are a lot of things about New Orleans that make it feel mystical like the mysterious tarot card readers around every corner and the excitement that seems to swell from the city’s haunted streets. But perhaps one of the most magical elements of the city can be found at the end of New Orleans’ very own yellow brick road: Bourbon Street. If you make it past the jazz clubs, BDSM bars, Spanish bars, and even the country bars, and still have your ruby slippers on, you may just find yourself in the land of Oz. Okay, so it won’t be the real land of Oz but it’s probably the next best thing. On google Oz New Orleans is described as a ‘Cool, late-night gay dance club’, but I’m not sure that description quite captures the beautiful chaos that exudes from Oz. Instead of a tinman and a cowardly lion you’ll find beautiful, bitchy, and eccentric drag queens.
The ladies of Oz let me catch a glimpse of their world one Sunday night, and I learned that the excitement and adrenaline of the drag world are unparalleled. The makeshift dressing room was filled with drag queens carrying suitcases one might use on a long vacation, filled to the brim with makeup, wigs, shoes, and anything else needed for truly reaching peak glam. The environment was exactly what I imagine 1980s Wall street to be like, people yelling at each other from across the room, throwing eyelash glue around, and of course, everyone hurling loving insults at each other. All preparing to step out on stage in fifteen minutes, or maybe a little later as drag queen time is a very real thing, looking fabulous and ready to perform.
During this frenzy, I was able to speak to some of the drag queens about how drag sculpted them into the queens they are today.
The art of drag
Drag on the surface may just seem like pretty dresses and fake boobs, but that doesn’t even begin to capture the innate artistic nature of drag. Countless hours of preparation have to go into every dress, makeup look, and hairstyle used in a drag show. Mylasya Black who is one of the drag queens
“A lot of people can put on Makeup and a lot of people can step on stage, but it takes an eye for drag’
Like an artist bringing their brushes to a studio, the drag queens buy top-of-the-line makeup ‘suitcases’ to ensure every possible issue they could run into could be solved. Additionally, the rooms that the drag queens get ready in have to be at a certain temperature to ensure the makeup doesn’t apply differently and doesn’t melt before the show. The artistry goes beyond makeup too, creating a drag persona requires immense amounts of creativity. They have to manifest the energy of the person they want to be on stage.
This gives me an opportunity to do all the things and play the characters that I wanted to when I was in theater’
Says Ivy Dripp who was the drag show host, a job that is difficult entirely on its own. The host needs to essentially act as a stand-up comedian and keep the audience interested through humor and a few controversial statements thrown out every now and then too.
“People have told me that I should just do stand up because I already do it now, but just going out on a stage and doing stand up, like what no that isn’t me”
Ivy commented on all the different performing arts that can be expressed through drag. Essentially making drag the epitome of what art can be when it is twisted and changed to appeal to a variety of performers and audiences.
Like any art form drag can act as a form of self-expression, allowing drag queens to express parts of themselves they can’t in other ways.
Drag taught me how to be a woman, I’m a black trans woman so my beginning was drag
For some, like Mylasya Black, drag hasn’t just been a form of self-expression, but a form of self-understanding and identity. Mylasya isn’t alone, another drag queen I spoke to, Chi Chi Rodriguez, also commented on how drag has helped her grow into herself.
“When I was little I would dress up in my mom’s clothes, I always knew there was something inside of me [..] drag has helped me evolve into me”
Drag has been a tool for these people to become who they want to be, that is one of the things that makes Oz and drag as a whole so special. Unlike other forms of art, with drag, it’s impossible to separate the art from the artist because as Mylasya and Chi Chi have demonstrated, the art has built the artist and vice versa. For others, drag allows them to emphasize parts of themselves that tend to stay hidden in everyday life, Anastacia Davenport is one of those people.
“ I’m very quiet in my male persona my nickname is lamb, but when I’m performing I get to be Anastacia”
Drag has built them up and molded them into the people and drag queens they are today.
Despite the exciting and fun energy that has always surrounded drag, there are still people who see the art of drag and drag queens as intimidating or scary.
“They just don’t understand it, that’s it.”
Says Dominique DeLorean who is the first lady of Oz, meaning she has been in Oz for the longest and has been doing drag for 27 years. Dominique started drag when it was still a very niche market and quite unpopular
I sort of paved the way for the other girls, I wasn’t given anything
As a drag queen who has seen the industry change immensely, Dominique recognizes that the intimidation people feel is from a lack of understanding, and more so, an excess of judgment. However, Anastacia Davenport chalks it down to a much simpler explanation
We are men, most of us are six feet tall and with heels, we are towering over everybody
Perhaps it is a mix of physical intimidation and misunderstanding of drag that leads to this inexplicable fear of drag queens. Men in heels aren’t something to fear!
There’s no place like home
Art, self-expression, and big personalities have made the drag world and the Ladies of Oz who they are and made the New Orleans drag scene much more exciting. Take those ruby slippers down to oz and understand what no place like home feels like, with the most welcoming strangers you’ll ever find.
Oz New Orleans