Imagine being able to be exactly who you wanted to be – to realize the alter ego inside, to succeed where you failed, to do exactly what you have always wanted.
Doesn’t that world sound perfect?
Such a reality seems purely fantasy – breaking the mold in the face of societal pressures to maintain face and “be cool” seems impossible. No one wants to rock the boat or break the status quo.
But what if I told you that there is a group of people who live this way every day? We may not notice them during the day, but by night it is a different story.
Styled in six inch heels with impossibly high hair, these ladies tower over us normal humans. Their vibrant makeup and unique fashion sense draw the eyes of all in their presence, making these Glamazons impossible to ignore.
In clubs, they bathe in the spotlight as they perform to the music of female pop icons, radiating strength and sex appeal to their audience who produce offerings in thanks to these queens of the night.
These women, who are not women, dare to give life to the feminine energy that lives inside of all of us – I am speaking, of course, of drag queens.
Reid Lawrence is more than just a College of Charleston student or a light designer: he is Ellie Dee, local drag queen and Glamazon.
Becoming a drag queen is no simple task – it takes the experience and knowledge to look inside oneself and realize what is missing from your life. For Reid, it was the compelling feeling to entertain, despite his introverted nature as a boy. “I’m not an actor, I do lighting design for a living as a boy. So, I live pretty much behind the scenes. I had stage fright…but I still had the urge to be noticed and perform for people and to entertain.”
As is the case with many drag queens, owning their inner desires and participating in the art of drag grants them the sole outlet to live out the parts of their persona that are missing – breathing life into a character that allows them to be exactly who they have always wanted to be.
“I can take facets from Reid and put it into Ellie as the character and a lot of the things from Reid can be seen in Ellie, but it’s also the fact that she’s a separate character as well. It’s a form of self-expression,” Reid elaborated.
However, one doesn’t just decide that something is missing from life, cake on makeup and throw on a wig, dress and heels and become a drag queen – it is a tradition handed down from mother to daughter, passing the torch of expression down to the next queen. Reid explained that “Drag culture is very family oriented, kind of like a real family is. Most of us will have a drag mother and we treat them as such. They’re the person who will put you in drag for the first time, they will usually be the one who will do your makeup for you, they’ll give you an outfit to wear. Usually, that’s the person who teaches you the do’s and don’ts of drag and sometimes even in general gay culture. My drag mother is Melody Lucas… and she is my inspiration.”
Who is Ellie Dee? According to Reid, central to her character is the mantra “a native Charleston hunty who will talk dirty to you.” She is flirty, loud and wants you to know when she walks into a room – she radiates light both with her personality and with her brilliant technicolor clothing. She brightens any room she walks into with the first step in the door.
Ellie Dee does not confine herself to the club or the bar – when she is out she roams the streets, on display for the world to see. “I will walk up and down public areas, where people are not expecting to see a man in a dress. I love to hear people’s reactions.”
“I want her to be someone people can recognize,” Reid concluded.
Cultivating a recognizable drag persona is no simple task – embodying one’s female alter-ego is an illusion that can take hours of work to perfect.
First, all hair is usually shaved from the body. Then comes moisturizing, followed by makeup and shaping the body with tape and foam pads, finalized by wigs, outfit and heels. The entire process can take up to four hours to complete from start to finish.
In addition, being in drag is uncomfortable – as anyone who has worn heels can relate, it takes commitment to stand around in six inch heels all night. What is harder still is maintaining such a vibrant persona while in such uncomfortable conditions.
“You are in physical pain and if your persona is a happy, cheery, bouncing-off-the-walls, snappy, hyper queen like Ellie Dee is, you have to put on another mask. You can’t show people that you are under physical stress,” Reid said.
The world of drag is commonly misunderstood – both the gay and straight communities possess prejudice against drag queens due to their unique style of self-expression.
However, Reid feels that he should not let the haters get to him. Instead, he lets it go just like Drag Race winner Jynxx Monsoon – like “water off a duck’s back.” Drag is creative expression. Reid feels that he is unbothered by the judgement of others because “this is my artistic expression – some people paint, some people sing, some people write music. I do drag.”
The most common misunderstandings are that drag queens are cross dressers in their everyday life or transgendered. While it is true that drag queens cross dress for performance and that some transgendered people are drag queens, this is not true in every case. According to Reid, drag queens are individuals who typically identify as male (when not in drag) and use makeup, padding and clothing to create a character as a form of creative expression.
“Me, for example, drag is a hobby. I live my life 100 percent as a boy, my gender is male,” Reid resolved.
The future of Ellie Dee is unclear – according to Reid, she has impulses when she comes and goes. Overall, he feels that Reid the person is too busy finishing his senior year at the College and expanding his business in light design. However, he assures that she has a physical and emotional space in his life.
“Ellie Dee is an entertainer. She may pop back up in another state, another city after I move – but she will keep trucking along until it’s time for her to come out of my closet again.”
*This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of The Yard.