Nothing beats the feeling you get when you walk into a nightclub dressed in drag. Hitting the door with your entourage in tow, all eyes immediately lock onto you. It is intoxicatingthe strangers stopping to say how amazing you are or to compliment the dress you spent hours making look effortless. For many of us, being a drag queen is like a small piece of celebrity, especially for the non-famous, local gals among us.
However, that rush quickly disappears when a pair of greedy hands find their way up your dress.
I was playing emcee at a popular gay night spot on Halloween, which is like Christmas for the Los Angeles gay community. The bar was packed with scantily-dressed zombies and vampires who had tuned in for the costume contest portion of our show. While serving my best Morticia Addams, I began to notice something cold and wet on my ankle as I called out the names of our contestants. I was startled at first, but when I looked down at my legs, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I went on with the show, thinking I had made it up.
I wasn’t imagining it, though. A sinking feeling pierced my stomach as a stranger’s arm again traveled up my leg, finding its way to my crotch. Staring up at me was a very drunk twink covered in glittera Cheshire grin plastered from ear to ear. I said into the mic for everyone to hear, “I am not into getting to know you biblically, so let’s stop with the foreplay.”
The laughter from the crowd only emboldened him. This time he grabbed my ankle, forcefully groped my leg, and patted my privates with his hand as I stood onstagein front of a sea of people who were there to have a good time.
Activist Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement in 2007 after speaking with a young woman at a youth camp and learning she was being abused by her mother’s boyfriend. A decade later, our culture has finally reached a tipping point in calling out harassment and sexual assault. At the time of writing, more than 40 womenincluding actresses Mira Sorvino, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Angelina Joliehave come forward to accuse Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of exploiting his power to coerce them into sex. Director and actress Asia Argento claimed Weinstein forced himself on her in a hotel room. The producer invited her to a party on the French Riviera, but they were the only two people invited. She was 22.
Weinstein is just one of a number of powerful men accused of rampant abuse in the past year, including Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, and our own Commander-in-Chief. By sharing their experiences with sexual assault on social media, survivors are standing up to say: “Enough is enough.” The conversation is long overdue.
As a cisgender man, the stories shared by female friends on social media weren’t my own. But as a drag performer, they hit home.
Drag queens are life-size dolls. We are sparkly and we wear pretty things. It’s our job to take you out of your reality, to make you laugh, and to make you feel special. Because we’re gift-wrapped for the audience’s enjoyment, people want to be able to take the doll out of the box. They want to be able to touch, but even more than that, they want to know you and to share your space. The lines often get blurry, and it can be hard to remember where the character ends and the person behind the shiny exterior begins.
It shouldn’t need to be said that choosing a career in drag does not end your personhood, but unfortunately, it does.
My drag aesthetic is Real Housewives: new money glamour, big hair, animal print, and flashy nail art. I like to be a happy mascot, but keeping up that cheery disposition can be just as much work as walking in heels when you’re nearly 7 feet tall. One year, while taking part in Chicago’s Pride parade, I remember getting my boobs fondled over 4o times in a one-block radius. Whenever I perform in public as my eponymous persona, men and women constantly come up behind me and simulate sex, finishing with a slap on the ass.
Once when a gentleman came up and pressed his crotch on my knee while I was sitting at a bar, I confronted him: He had no business going up anyone’s skirt, no matter who was wearing it. But because I’m not a “real woman,” the stranger laughed in my face. “You love it,” he said. The man responded by licking my face.
There are so many ways in which women, men, and people of all gender expressions experience sexual assault and coercion every single day. This cannot continue to be the norm.
One out of six women in America report that they have been victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. A sexual assault happens every 73 seconds in this country. Younger people face higher risk, and men are not immune to the growing epidemic. But what is equally disturbing is that just six out of 1000 predators will end up in prison. More than 59 percent of assaults go unreported.
Many of these victims don’t come forward about their assaults in fear they won’t be believed. Argento, the daughter of famed horror director Dario Argento, has been shamed in the Italian press, where critics claimed that what she experienced was “prostitution, not rape.” Others might believe that the crime wasn’t “serious enough” to report, and for some of us, it could take years before we recognize what happened to us for what it was. Just so all of us are clear: Sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent. That includes attempted rape, fondling, or forcing someone to perform oral sex.
Drag is not consent. If you want to avoid violating someone’s boundaries, ask them before you touch themeven if they’re lip-synching for their life in two layers of Spanx. Many of us do want to meet you and hug you, but anything more intimate than that needs our permission.
One night at a show I host in Los Angeles, I approached a group of people to thank them for attending. This group had been especially enthusiastic during the event, so I wanted to let them know that I appreciated their good cheer. As some of the ladies at the table reached out to shake my hand, a male attendee put his arm around my neck. He went directly for my boobs, a gesture I’ve become far too accustomed to over the years. I could feel my wig begin to slip as I was mauled by this man who saw me as a thing and not a person.
Without missing a beat, the girl next to himwho I would later learn was his sisterslapped him in the head and said, “Try minding your manners, asshole.” The man was noticeably embarrassed by her callout, and he apologized by saying he meant no disrespect.
We cannot be afraid to stand up for our own safety and the safety of others. We must work to create a world in which none of us have to speak out and say, “Me, too.”