Being a drag queen is not an easy job. You’re contending with huge expenditures on outfits, make-up, wigs and shoes, and in return, unless you’re relatively famous (at least queer famous), you’re making mere dollar bills in tips from your several shows. Especially if you’re in New York, where you’re also battling sky-high rents. But there’s a certain joy that comes with performing for scores of hollering crowds and seeing the money rain on you.
Well, add a pandemic to the mix, and lo and behold, you’ve got a whole new ball game.
Three New York City queens, Pixie Aventura, Lagoona Bloo, and Jasmine Rice, navigate the COVID crisis and try to keep calm and carry on amid personal struggles, cancelled shows, and tantalizing streaming options. And the journey so far has been one more of adaptation rather than resignation.
A Drag Lockdown
The main way the pandemic hit drag performers was by taking away their “work spaces”: the bars and clubs where they performed and earned their tips. Aventura, Rice, and Bloo all have been working long enough in the New York scene to build substantial followings, each having over about 15,000 followers on Instagram. So for them, the quarantine doesn’t hit the coffers as hard. “I probably would have been in a different position had this happened when I first started doing drag, though,” says Aventura.
Many newer performers rely on day jobs and other sources of income to supplement their lifestyle. “When I first moved to New York City,” says Bloo, “before I started doing drag, I was a nanny, and I served at a restaurant, and I was also acting here and there. But I mainly was able to supplement my income doing watercolor painting.” Bloo picked up her paintbrush again during the quarantine to earn some extra money.
But the impact has gone beyond just the financial. “For me, it is more psychological,” says Rice. “I have become so used to giving out emotion and feelings on stage, so it is very strange for me to keep those “artistic/performance juices” to myself.”
Virtual Drag and Virtual Pride
Most drag performers have switched it up by taking their performances to the interwebs. “I started doing a few live shows a week,” says Aventura, “which then led me to getting contacted by Logo TV. And then they wanted me to do a live show through their Instagram.” While “being live” possessed the ability to interact with the audience, “going live” has allowed for performers to reach out to people that wouldn’t have access to drag shows otherwise.
Social media drag took on a whole new meaning, however, once the Black Lives Matter movement took off again in the beginning of June, better known as Pride Month. “Something that has been important to me since the movement has happened is to utilize my live shows for it,” says Bloo. “I was donating half of my tip to the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition and the Black Lives Matter campaign.” And according to Rice, “I think it was important for people to wake up and face the reality of things. Because if we weren’t in lockdown, I’m sure I would have just done a bunch of Pride gigs and called it a day.”
The Trials of Quarantine
Of course, it’s a lot more of what happens in the downtime when they’re not performing that can get to a queen. “I was actually sick at the beginning of quarantine,” says Aventura. “So, for about three weeks, it was mostly just me trying to get better and not even think about drag.” Bloo went through a similar situation, but of a more intense degree. “I was very sick and I had COVID. I started showing symptoms on March 12. And then on March 18, they shut down the city.” Both have recovered and eased their way back into drag by April.
But another thing that knocks on the psyche of an average queen during quarantine is the lack of social interaction. “Drag queens, especially in NYC,” explains Rice, “are so accustomed to being surrounded by people and an atmosphere of some sort of energy that it suddenly being cut off is making some of them go through withdrawal.”
While the uninvited social cleanse was not necessarily a welcome present for these queens, they were able to take advantage of some time at home to themselves just like us mere mortals. “I got on Disney Plus right before the pandemic started,” says Aventura. “And I watched an animated series called ‘Kipo,’ ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ ‘Shera,’ and ‘Somebody Feed Phil,’ which has become a guilty pleasure of mine.” Bloo, a singer and part of the trio Stephanie’s Child, used this time to record some of her own music while listening to new albums by “Chloe x Halle, Jessie Ware, Kim Petras, Dua Lipa, and Lady Gaga.”
Of course, the increased lethargy can lead to weight gain, which can be quite detrimental to drag performers, many of whom have been plagued with body dysmorphia. “I have gained so much weight from just lounging, eating, and watching Netflix at home,” mentions Rice. “So now I’m on a diet and thinking about exercising. Haven’t decided if I’m going to exercise or not, hence the emphasis on thinking.”
But the world doesn’t stop, and neither will their drag. “I feel very grateful that even in these hard times, I have been able to use my art to support myself,” says Bloo. Drag performers are nothing if not resilient, in the face of social pressure, financial constraints, and, now, a viral disease. “This is an art form and my creative outlet. I would be doing it whether I could maintain a certain lifestyle or not. Whether in quarantine or not,” affirms Rice.
Rest assured, these queens will make sure that as long as you’ve got an internet connection, you’ve got a drag performance ready to brighten up your day.
You can find these performers on social media as @lagoonabloonyc, @pixieaventura, and @jasminericenyc. And you can find their cash apps on there as well, so you can support your local queens!