Exploring the Vibrant World of the Montreal Drag Scene
Drag culture has gained a monumental rise in popularity within pop culture in recent years. While RuPaul is arguably the most famous drag queen in the world, other queens such as Lady Bunny and Conchita Wurst have founded their own personal fan bases around the globe. The origin of drag, however, goes back significantly further – it has been performed for centuries amongst underground homosexual culture, remaining unseen or unheard of for fear of persecution and hostility.
Through an exaggeration of makeup, voices, dances, and humour, drag is a performance – it’s over the top, dramatic, and complex. As Philadelphia queen Ann Artist explains, “I see drag as a big “Fuck You” to societal norms. I feel that it is one of the most punk rock things a man or woman can do. It is the art of screwing with people. For me my drag performances are somewhat like my diary entries or records of current events. I get excited to share my point of view on stage in a cathartic release of artistic expression. It’s as much of a job as any starving artist has. I take great pride in my performances. My style of drag is inspired by reality, art imitating life, and life imitating art. I try to be as raw and real as possible when I perform because those are the types of performances that inspire me.”
Gay men have historically been perceived as drag’s true audience. This idea is being confronted by a new wave of millennial women that are becoming an increasingly large population of drag consumers. While the connection may seem surprising for some, many of these young women are appreciating the themes that drag is based upon. Significantly more than makeup and costumes, drag implies rebellion. One of drag’s tenets is the refusal to abide by any societal standards or rules. The very core of drag is centered around nonconformity. It is the antithesis of mainstream or ordinariness, insisting on separating itself from the norm. These themes of defining one’s uniqueness bear significance to young girls struggling to accept themselves. In a world where feminism is such a tense topic, the exaggerated version of femininity can be freeing. Drag does not promote a narrow or restrictive understanding of beauty or femaleness.
Believing that drag is anti-women is completely missing the point of the performance.
Currently, drag is enjoying an unprecedented level of online success. Makeup techniques such as contouring and baking were developed by the drag community and then adopted in recent years by YouTubers and makeup artists. Viewers can stream the eighth season of cult reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” on Netflix, and find other seasons through various streaming websites online. But this popularity isn’t explicitly exhibited online. RuPaul’s Drag Con in Los Angeles attracted 40,000 people this past year, despite only being the third year of the event.
The importance of consuming this contemporary drag culture is giving credit where credit is due. Drag is responsible for a multitude of beauty techniques, performance practice, and phrases. Rather than pocketing these unique drag characteristics and running with them, fans must remember to validate the progress that drag is paving for queens as well as anyone else who has felt undermined or forgotten.
The appreciation of this culture shouldn’t be shallow. Instead of using drag purely as a form of entertainment, it is an opportunity to educate both ourselves and others about the critical issues being faced by the gay community within the McGill bubble, city of Montreal, and around the world. These queens are traversing gender boundaries and the world is finally starting to listen, become increasingly accepting of non-binary identities and refusing traditional gender norms.
Montreal, known for its gay village (the largest in North America) and thriving art scene, boasts a vibrant drag community. Rue Sainte-Catherine houses an array of drag bars and clubs, such as Thursday’s and Bar le Cocktail. Cabaret Mado attracts their young audience by offering a $7 admission with a valid student card on Fridays and Saturdays.
The self-exploration that drag allows, for both performers and consumers, is a provider of comfort, freedom, spirituality, and a voice for those who have felt silenced.
Many Facebook users may remember last year’s viral video of Montreal’s eight-year old drag queen, Lactatia, who preaches that “anyone can do what they want in life, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.” Lactatia (real name Nemis Quinn Mélançon Golden) represents a fusion of both the strong Montréal community of drag as well as the new generation of drag performers. The refreshing acceptance of Lactatia’s parents prove that change is happening for the drag community. Nemis and his parents have openly discussed that the young performer identifies as a boy in his daily life and a girl when in drag. At the age of three years old, Nemis admitted that he would want to grow up as a girl with a penis. Nemis’ expressions of gender and sexuality as well as his family’s overwhelming acceptance and knowledge is an inspiring glimpse of the society’s developing opinions. An unapologetic and natural-born performer, Lactatia is an exalting persona of drag’s future.
Drag is often challenged as offensive to women, but the performances allow queens to peel away the many layers of gender identity. Many critics argue that drag is a misogynistic mockery of women, rather than observing its fundamental celebration of femininity. A lot of the over-the-top, ridiculous campiness of drag is an unsubtle criticism of sexism. Rather than disrespecting women or feminism, drag is an appreciation of the idea of femininity, attempting to abolish the polarity of binary gender. When queens refer to themselves with female pronouns while in drag, they are embodying ideas of femininity rather than satirizing a performance of actual women. Believing that drag is anti-women is completely missing the point of the performance.
Despite being very much associated with and developed through gay culture, there are drag artists of all sexualities and gender identities. Drag is a creative outlet that challenges the gender restrictions we’ve confined ourselves to over past centuries, and instead forces audiences to question these fundamentally engrained beliefs while also providing entertainment. The self-exploration that drag allows, for both performers and consumers, is a provider of comfort, freedom, spirituality, and a voice for those who have felt silenced. The blending of a performance art and ability to exclaim cultural statements is not a concept unique to drag, but its ability to challenge such deep-rooted aspects of our society is truly matchless.