So you're going to your first drag show. Maybe you have a friend who wants to go for her birthday or you just want to do something new this weekend. Either way, you probably have some questions. For instance, do you know what to wear to a drag show or that drag shows have their own tipping culture? What about the very basics—what is a drag queen, exactly?
To help prepare you, we chatted with Willam Belli, an internet sensation, RuPaul's Drag Race alum, and former spokesperson for American Apparel. Channeling his inner Emily Post, he walked us through the finer points of drag show etiquette [Ed. Note: Willam prefers the masculine pronoun]
A drag queen is a female impersonator who portrays femininity in a campy, over-the-top way. Willam favors big blond hair, dramatic lashes, and overdrawn Cupid's-bow lips.
Yes, you will be watching a show full of glamorous women strut their stuff, but don't stress out about how you look. It's not necessary for you to spend hours getting ready. Just put on a nice dress and maybe some fun shoes, essentially, an outfit you wouldn't mind other people seeing you in on the off chance you get called on to interact with the performers.
Tipping queens is customary, but be sensible about it. "Keep your ones in one pocket and your big bills in another," Willam advises. "Asking a drag queen for change is super difficult, even if she's wearing one of those toll-belt things. I used to do that."
However, asking for change isn't the only faux pas when it comes to tipping. "Let the queen perform a little bit first," Willam says. "Don't try to tip her as soon as she comes out, unless there's a giant costume reveal, or she 'sha-blams.'" [Ed. Note: to "sha-blam" is to perform a death drop, a type of dance move where the performer falls backward dramatically.]
More importantly, "Don't put money in your mouth. There are millions of enjoyable ways to contract hepatitis, but money in the mouth is not one of them." Stuffing it in her dress is also off limits. It's usually best to just hand over the cash.
"Don't go anywhere near the face," Willam warns. "That will turn me into Kill Bill immediately. You will get ninja-chopped."
And while spectators are often encouraged to be tastefully affectionate, they should always get permission, even for a kiss on the cheek. "It's constantly cold season for me. If I get sick, I can't sing."
See how much work goes into the face with our drag makeover article, in which one "Drag Race" contestant makes over a very masculine-looking man.
Despite the raucous nature of her performance space, a queen still expects (and deserves) to be treated with respect. One way to make sure you're making politeness a priority is to watch the booze. "Don't get blackout drunk," Willam insists. "You want it hazy, but you want to remember where your ATM card is."
Even if you don't drink, drag shows are still rowdy, interactive affairs, so be prepared. "If you pay to get in, you can do what you want, but that does come with the risk of getting read to death by the queen." [Ed. Note: In drag-speak, to get "read to death" is to be insulted in a clever way by the drag queen.]
When taking pictures, always use a flash. "It's easier to filter down than filter up," Willam explains. "If a picture's bad, I literally take their camera and say, 'That's not going anywhere.' And then if they try to get it back from me, I run. [And] my legs are longer. I'm in 5-inch heels."
One more photo tip: "When you take a picture with a drag queen, do not put your arm around her shoulder. That makes her wig want to run away from her forehead."
Despite all of the above tips, Willam mostly wants everyone to just "have a good time, and be semi-respectful."In other words, "Treat each drag queen like a drunk aunt at a wedding. Know to have fun, but don't lift up Auntie's skirt. We're monsters, but we're like Monsters, Inc. We're the nice ones. There's a reason we're performing in public and not just hiding on YouTube doing makeup tutorials. We want to be your friend, you know?"