The Orlando Drag Scene: Shining a “New Light”

Photo of drag queen Emerald.

While hosting karaoke this past Easter, Emerald said she noticed a mother sitting with her arms crossed and looking displeased at her while the drag queen performed on stage. Wanting to be welcoming, she said she invited the mother and her daughter to come up and sing with her. Afterward, the mother and her children stayed the remainder of the night and walked up to Emerald before leaving to let her know she was doing a great job and that she helped her view drag queens in a “new light.”

“Even though I felt like I was just there doing a regular karaoke gig, just the fact that someone was able to change their viewpoint on drag queens and like the scene and stuff like that made me feel really good about what I was doing,” Emerald said. “I feel like entertaining, and the art alone keeps me going, but I feel like changing people’s viewpoints and bringing a sense of community is even more important to me. So I just hope to keep doing that moving forward.”

Emerald said she grew up watching Ru Paul’s Drag Race, she never saw herself pursuing drag seriously. It was not until her fellow drag friends dressed her up for the first time that she fell in love with it.

In March, Emerald entered Orlando Drag Race Live, a take on Ru Paul’s Drag Race for those local to Orlando. She said there were challenges like creating a performance based on an animal and designing an outfit from IKEA bags, which allowed her to push the envelope on her skills and gain a passion for performing in drag.

While interacting with others at various venues is something she enjoys, Emerald said she views drag as another medium of art, which she has been interested in since an early age.

“I feel like a lot of people associate Drag Race with performing and splits and tricks, and I feel like a lot of people forget that it really boils down to an art at the end of the day. Aside from makeup and costumes, performing alone is a theatrical element,” Emerald said. “I mean, drag itself is kind of like a fun art, but makeup is more interesting to me.”

Her love for drag has inspired an interest in makeup. She said she views her face as a canvas where she continues experimenting with new looks, never repeating the same look twice.

Leading up to different gigs, she said she tries to start off the day mellow with a cup of coffee and some time to relax. Depending on the theme of the gig, she said there are different outfits, makeup looks, and music mixes she has to prepare beforehand. 

She said a common misconception is that the drag queens are just “plopped” at the venue with no preparation on their part. Meanwhile, she said there have been times she and her friends have stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. stoning and sewing outfits or spent time scrolling through YouTube tutorials on how to edit music together. 

With being a part of the drag scene for just over a year, she said she is a bit on the fence about if she would like to continue. She feels her safety may be at risk as the art has become more controversial and politicized. She also said she feels like sometimes all the work she puts into it may not be worth it if audiences are not receptive. 

“I think that’s what blows my mind is like amid everything that’s going on in Florida, like with how taboo drag is, at the end of the day, it is an art, and it is something that with any sort of entertainment takes your mind off of things and, kind of makes you forget about like, how [bad] your day is or like, you go to the club, or you go out or whatever to escape, and do something that makes you happy,” Emerald said.

If she were to continue in drag in the future, she said she would like to be someone the community felt they could go to as a friend or a mentor to younger people entering the scene. 

“I think that was another reason I wanted to continue with drag, as I feel like I haven’t had the opportunity to build a community. I feel like while it’s an art, it’s also a really political statement, and I feel like it’d be a great way not just to mend with other drag queens but the whole gay and queer LGBTQ community together. Just like in one central place,” Emerald said. 


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Written by Melissa Donovan