Can I Safely be a Drag Queen in a Red State?

Dear Other Dad — 

Where is it a good idea to go drag queening? I live in a red state.

 — Tobi12

When I first read your question, I wasn’t sure if you were serious. “Drag queening” (which makes it sound like a sparkly cousin to dry cleaning) isn’t really the common term for what you’re talking about — doing drag — and I wondered if it might be a joke question, of which I get a fair number. But the second half of your question about living in a red state makes me think that the language choice reflects that this subject may be new for you and that you don’t know many people who do drag.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s great that you are interested in trying this new experience. If you’re living somewhere conservative, this may not be a pursuit that is very popular and even accepted. (Or it may be seen as something people do on TV or elsewhere — but less welcome in person in your own community.) So your desire to try on a new persona shows a strength of personality. It’s not always easy to explore your own interests or needs outside the norms of your community.

The first thing I would ask is whether you already know any places where drag is safely performed in your state. If you can attend some events there, simply for the exposure to the scene and to see how others approach things, that’s a great start. If not, do a google search for your state name and “drag queen” and you might be surprised where you find that drag is welcome — there are drag queen brunches in North Dakota and drag story hours in Missouri libraries, for instance. (You will also find, unsurprisingly, some prejudice too, like the lawmaker in Missouri who spent months, unsuccessfully, trying to ban the story hours.)

Even in red states, pockets can lean more blue, sometimes in the cities or college towns. Look at North Carolina, which went red in 9 of the last 10 elections and gained notoriety with its transgender public accommodations ban, but is also home to an active drag scene. If your state has its own equivalents, look there for inspiration and opportunity.

Wherever you look, keep in mind that your age may be a factor. For the most part, drag is going to have a home at clubs that are 21+ or at least 18+, and though you can change your look, you can’t actually change your age. With that in mind, you might want to invest time in the virtual drag world to help get started. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube — all three are full of talent, tutorials, and first-person accounts. Follow performers you admire, especially those who are your peers in age, and lift them up with comments and likes. Start making a network of support which can run both ways.

When I asked for advice for your question, Chicago performer Scylla Kone wrote, “You can really find a community…using hashtags like #dragqueen or #teendragqueen.” (That a drag artist who has never met you or me was happy to offer insight should encourage you about the possibility of building community online.)

Scylla Kone added, “Before turning 21, I started doing drag in my bedroom and would practice and post makeup looks on Instagram under the name of my drag persona. ” Whether you’ve already come up with a drag persona or are just beginning to create one, whichever social media platform you use can be a place to try out your look; start in a private channel if you are concerned about how it would be received.

When it comes to actually venturing offline and into the real world, strongly consider bringing a friend. That could mean meeting up with other drag queens you’ve gotten to know online or people you trust who aren’t into drag but are supportive of you. Both because it is a new experience for you and because you live in a conservative area, having backup might make the entire adventure feel better and safer.

Don’t put a huge amount of weight on your first time out; celebrate that you’re going for it and be open to what you can learn from the process. And don’t worry about getting it “right” — let drag be an expression of yourself, not something to perfect right out of the gate. The more exposure you have and more time in drag communities, you’ll start to better understand your place in all of it. And remember: drag lends itself to endless reinvention. It’s an exciting prospect, so enjoy it!

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