It's the Dewey Decimal System of sexuality: GLBTAQ. Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Ally or Queer. Maybe you can identify with a letter or three, or none at all, but for most of us, it probably depends on the day, the relationship, or who's asking. But rest easy and sleep little, for the gayest time of year is here. This weekend is Pride, and no matter whom you love, you can be proud.
The theme of this year's Twin Cities Pride Celebration is "Free Your Mind," which is not only the 1992 hit song by headlining R&B girl group En Vogue, but an instruction for all of us in a society fixated on branding our preferences, in the sack and out. More than a few revelers will sport temporary rainbow tattoos, but Pride is also a time to refresh our respect for those who wear pride on their sleeve year round.
Performing in swanky bars and on sparkling stages, drag queens, drag kings and gender benders of all types are dressing to impress somewhere in the Twin Cities almost every night of the year. Flamboyant, fabulous, beautiful and strong, drag performers dazzle the eyes and spark questions of why, who and how they pull it off. They push and pull at ideas of how bodies are meant to act and dress. They're proud to fight the mainstream and are an inspiration for others to do the same. Meet three very different drag performers in the Twin Cities.
Cee Cee RussellThe full-timer
- Age: 42.
- Occupation: Permanent cast member at the Gay 90s.
- Home stage: The 90s, as a member of La Femme.
- Her view on drag: "I'm a female impersonator."
- Why she performs: Cee Cee got tired of suits and ties and found relief in the variation of color and fabrics in women's clothing. "And of course, I also like having my moment in the sun -- being pretty, shiny and artistic."
- First time: Performing at a club in Denver, her mile-high pumps made it impossible to walk, her hair kept getting in her lipstick and she was having a nervous eye spasm. "I was so worried people could see those big glittery eyelashes twitching onstage."
- Idols: She lives for the divas: Whitney, Tina and Dionne Warwick.
- What she owns the most of: Shoes, which she's been collecting "even before I knew I was fabulous."
- Trick to keeping dinner hot during the hourlong primping process: Put the breadsticks on top of the hot rollers.
- Her story: A former corporate businessman, Cee Cee was more than happy to trade in her briefcase for wigs, rhinestones and makeup. Each night she takes 45 minutes to an hour to prep, humming along to Rhianna, Beyoncé and old-school divas. "I'm like a Top Chef," she says. "I get to create something out of nothing by painting and sculpting my own face." A few years ago, Cee Cee left her gig at the 90s, performing on stages away from home for nearly four years. Now back in Minneapolis as a full-time drag queen, Cee Cee performs five nights a week. Fans often ask why she returned to the Twin Cities. "Minneapolis fans are the most loyal," she answers. "They remember the days they walked in feeling diminished and you filled them up. And then I remember when they did the same for me." Cee Cee says a good performance is a result of communication between her and the audience. "It's like great sex -- except for the bright lights."
Esme RodriguezThe intellectual
- Age: 31.
- Occupation: Professor of Hispanic literature and gender studies; student.
- Home stage: The Townhouse, as part of Pumps & Pearls Drag Revue and Dragged Out.
- View on drag: "Being a drag queen is often misinterpreted as being a gay boy in a dress, but I believe a drag queen is a performer/body who attempts to incarnate, interpret and reconfigure gender and the idea of femininity."
- Why she performs: Esme uses drag as an opportunity to bridge the academy and the community.
- First time: Performing as Gloria Estefan, Esme wanted to see the visual reactions she could conjure. When a friend found the wig stashed in a box months later, Esme was encouraged to give it another shot.
- Her style: Over-the-top Vegas blended with glittery glamour, performed to everything from loungy Latin songs to hard-edged '80s classics.
- Idols: Mae West and Leigh Bowery.
- Her favorite accessory: Eyelashes. She has more than 65 pairs in every color, shape and size.
- Wardrobe: All handmade by Esme herself, for a pretty penny. "Drag is a really expensive sport. I could be a golfer or skier and save money."
- Her act: Esme loves challenging expectations. Performing in high-femme ruffled gowns, or with an androgynous boy-body look and full female face, she's all about making people question social norms. Since drag queens are traditionally biological men, Esme receives a lot of questions about her own sex. "I thought about going trans[gender], but I'm not trapped by gender or fashion," she says. "Therefore I prefer the term 'gender variant' or 'gender queer.'" Esme likes being able to pick the aspects of gender she wants to represent and develop her character from those points, navigating different genders at the same time. "I started doing academic research on gender theory, trying to decide if drag was more of an art or an identity," she says. "Now I think it's both."
The Diamond GawdThe drag king
- Age: 37.
- Occupation: Manager of a group home; student.
- Home stage: Bryant-Lake Bowl, performing in Dykes Do Drag since 1999.
- Her view on drag: "It's all about impersonating-- from Michael Jackson to Tina Turner. I impersonate my idols."
- Why she performs: A natural-born performer, Diamond saw drag as another way to be on the stage. She loves to entertain.
- Her first time: Performed "Fever" as Chuck the Firefighter. Not so original, she says, "but the ladies seemed to like it."
- A favorite number: "Edge of Seventeen" by Stevie Nicks, complete with faux sheep and some baaaad vibrato. She calls it her "Sheepie Nicks" act.
- Owns an abundance of: ties.
- Some dirt: Diamond, aka Audra Tracy, "always wanted to be a star" and released a solo album, "The Diary of My Heart," in 1991.
- Her story: In the '80s, young Audra sat anxiously in front of MTV, soaking in the moves to "Thriller" and Debbie Harry's way with the mic. Years later, with a background in theater and music, Diamond was introduced to Dykes Do Drag and fell in love with its cabaret-style production. Diamond does both female and male impersonation with live vocals. Whether she's rapping Vanilla Ice in parachute pants or singing Billy Idol's tough yet femme repertoire, she loves perfecting the celebrity personality onstage. "I just feel certain people and sometimes it really freaks me out," she says. "I'll do a move and be like, wow, where'd that come from?" Diamond blends her character's personality with her own, never forgetting the importance of sex appeal. To her, that means no taping down, even when imitating a man. "I do what I think would be sexy, and to me personally, I'd rather be able to see a woman than Ace bandage." With new songs every month, Diamond says she couldn't live without drag. "I'll be doing the show till I'm 60, because even then I can still do Tina."