Everyone is biting the style of drag queens. On Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show, A-list celebrities lip-sync for their lives. The Kardashians have prompted millions of copycats to contour their faces with makeup. Middle schoolers are all "throwing shade" at one another nowadays. See?
You might chalk it up to the cult success of the Logo TV show RuPaul's Drag Race, but long before the show debuted in 2009, fierce and fearless ladies of drag were a vibrant presence in South Florida. They have never sashayed away.
Drag history in South Florida dates back to at least the 1940s, when female impersonators tantalized tourists in shows at underground clubs. In the 1950s, Miami-Dade County passed an anti-cross-dressing law that led to one queen being thrown in jail for wearing a wig and some mascara outside of the house. The suppression, however, didn't last long. By the time South Beach went through a renaissance in the 1990s, queens were everywhere. Robin Williams' hit film about a drag queen, The Birdcage, was set here, and veteran drag entertainers all have stories about entertaining Madonna or partying with Gianni Versace.
Today's drag scene is as vibrant as ever: The Palace, the Ocean Drive drag club where performers literally pound the pavement, is going strong after 28 years. Queens dominate nightlife in Wilton Manors. Even straight clubs are now hosting drag nights.
"South Florida drag entertainment is so special because everyone has their own niche, look, and outlet," says queen Missy Meyakie LePaige.
Indeed, drag today is as varied as the men behind the wigs and false eyelashes. Some queens make their way up through "houses," large groups of young LGBT people who form makeshift families and share an adopted last name to compete in balls — underground competitions to pull off the "realest" looks in specific categories. Some compete in pageants. Others dress up just for fun.
For some, it's a viable career path. A queen's duties can include hosting, performing comedy, DJ'ing, lip-syncing (often with high-kicking choreography or heartfelt physical interpretations of the lyrics), or just adding ambiance to a party.
"A lot of the entertainers work really hard, and thankfully we have different venues where we can all perform, instead of fighting for the same spots," says TP Lords. "Even straight clubs and restaurants are looking to start a drag show because it's become more mainstream. We're accepted so much here."
To highlight this special scene, we surveyed performers from the local
Missy Meyakie LePaige
The reigning Miss National Showgirl used the power of drag to bounce back after a personal tragedy. Often performing right on the sidewalk of Ocean Drive (and sometimes on the road itself), LePaige's lip syncs will send chills down your spine — and often, her legs are spread out in a split on the concrete.
Go-to Aesthetic: "Very classy. Very rich. Any time I step onto the stage, I demand your attention. There's no talking into your phone, no looking down. You're going to see every piece of hair, makeup, and rhinestone I have on."
Favorite Lip-Sync Song: "'Don't Stop Believin''' by Journey."
Story Behind the Name: "'Missy' comes from Missy Elliott. 'Meyakie' comes from the Issey Miyake cologne perfume bottle. 'LePaige' came from my drag mother, Victoria Le Paige."
Iconic Influences: "Angela Bassett and Will Smith."
Least Favorite Part of Getting Ready: "Having to rush."
Craziest Onstage Moment: "A young lady had snatched my wig off. She was kind of drunk, and I guess she didn't know what she was doing."
What Drag Means to Her: "Drag means an escape from life. Period. No matter what I'm going through, I can always rely on drag to help me and build me up. Sometimes we go through so much. I lost my husband on November 14 to a tragic murder. I wanted to give up, but because of certain music and the life that I had built and the platform I achieved, I took every ounce of anger and frustration and put it into my show. It was my strength to keep me going."
Most Memorable Moment: "My special moment is always being able to grab hold and connect with the little babies that come to the Palace. I have lots of pictures of me with the kids. It's so precious to me, and I'm so excited we're at a time when parents are allowing their kids to come to a drag show and say, 'It's OK. We're still loving people.'"
Missy performs Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays at the Palace.
With seven regular gigs a week, this hardworking queen can pull off everything from pageant-glam to club-kid-inspired androgyny. Often spotted in sky-high platforms, eye-popping headpieces, and sometimes even a set of wings, this queen can take you to another planet with her high-energy performances.
Go-to Aesthetic: "Creative and music-driven."
Iconic Influences: "Anything from Leigh Bowery to David Bowie to even other drag queens, like Nina Flowers."
Story Behind the Name: "I used to help all the other kids in the House of Lords with their choreography, their makeup, their hair, everything. So they'd call me 'Total Package.' We had a lot of kids named Alex, like 'Fat Alex,' 'Fierce Alex.' So I was [originally] 'Total Package Alex. TP Alex.'"
Favorite Lip-Sync Song: "My moneymaker is 'Crazy in Love' by Beyoncé. Never gets old."
First Time in Drag: "The first time I got into drag was to walk a ball back in the '90s. The category was 'Bus-stop bitches.' Dress like you're at the bus stop. Then after that, I started dressing up in the clubs. One day they played "Officer" — a song I liked — and I jumped
Least Favorite Part of Getting Ready: "Putting on my lashes. That is the worst part. Three pairs of eyelashes, but you got to do it to complete the look."
What Drag Means to Her: "It's the realization that you make people's days and nights brighter. People could be going through a hard time and we make them laugh and have a good time and forget their problems. For us, it's the same thing. We could be going through something, but you use it performing. We use that as an escape."
What Keeps Her Going: "Everything was put on me, and I didn't choose it. It just came to me. I just use what God gave me. I always tell my brothers, 'God gave you a talent — why don't you use it to better yourself and make a career out of it?'"
TP performs Wednesdays at Twist, Thursdays at Azucar, Fridays at the Palace in the early evening and at the Manor at night, Saturdays at LeBoy, and Sundays at Palace's Brunch: A Tea Dance and at Score's Electric Sheep.
A veteran of the drag scene for 24 years, this quirky queen always finds ways to keep things fresh. In demand for hosting duties thanks to her quick wit on the mic, Daisy can also pull off a convincing Madonna impression or a campy showcase of shenanigans.
Go-to Aesthetic: "I think because I've been doing it for so long, it changes often. I've done every look. I started out as a club kid back in the '90s. Now it's more of a modern old-Hollywood glamour with an avant-garde twist."
Iconic Influences: "Madonna, Carol Burnett, Divine, and John Waters' early movies."
Story Behind the Name: "It's actually a B-side of a Tori Amos song. She was one of my favorite artists. It's a nod to her."
Favorite Lip-Sync Song: "I like to keep it pretty current with medleys of pop songs and stick different lines in there from old movies to make it a sick, twisted new fairy tale."
Least Favorite Part of Getting Ready: "Just
First Time in Drag: "I went to New World School of the Arts and wanted to be a dancer. It was the first time I met gay people and went out. I saw that drag queens got to be not only dancers but makeup artists, actresses,
Craziest Performance: "For the Thanksgiving show every year, I find a new way to cook a turkey onstage. I don't want to say fuck a turkey, but that maybe happens. I'm just kidding."
Memorable Moment: "I made out with Dennis Rodman at Voodoo Lounge when he came to guest-host. Well, not really made out. He took a shot out of my mouth, and it lasted a little bit."
What Drag Means to Her: "It rolls everything I love into one job. Every creative outlet. Makeup artistry, dance, comedy. I've DJ'ed, done commercials, and been in a movie. It's got several different branches it reaches. You can truly be and do everything through drag, and I love it. Even after 24 years, there'll still be something new that comes up. I'm actually walking in a Marco Marco fashion show at Icon on April 10. That's always been a dream of mine. So new things are always around the corner."
Daisy performs Tuesdays at Palace, Wednesdays at Boardwalk, Fridays at Rumors, Saturdays at Lips Fort Lauderdale, and Sundays in the early evening at Camelot and later in the evening at Village Pub.
This youthful duo are relatively new to performing but have already built up an enviable online following. Rubber has more than 18,000 followers on Instagram, while Lisa isn't far behind with just under 10,000.
Lisa: "Big nasty hair, just teased all over the place. Usually with a lot of pink. Superexaggerated makeup. Big lips."
Rubber: "It's either supercolorful and fun or people are afraid of me."
Lisa: "Like a bratty little girl, and at the same time, the drunk mom smoking in the car with the windows up."
Rubber: "I love Gareth Pugh and Jeremy Scott. I love Amanda Lepore. It's also sort of Kurt Cobain and Sharon Tate."
Story Behind the Name:
Lisa: "I think it's funny when drag queens just have regular names. Lisa was my high school yearbook teacher, and I chose Limbaugh because my mom used to listen to Rush Limbaugh a lot in the car."
Rubber: "I'm afraid of rubber objects. It's kind of funny. It's a really irrational, legitimate fear — especially of things that have a rubber face. And I needed a last name, so I figured 'Child,' because I act like a child."
Origin of "Haus of Piss":
Lisa: "It's not like poking fun of the big
Rubber: "People think it literally means urine, but to me it's more like 'piss and vinegar.' Like being anxious and excited."
Lisa: "I performed 'Maneater' by Nelly Furtado. I had my friend in a little wrestler singlet with the ass cut out. I had little fake blood pockets hiding in my gloves. So I went down, and it looked like I was eating his ass. Then I came up and had blood dripping everywhere."
Rubber: "The first time we performed, we made this magician box. Lisa sawed me in half. Then I drop-kicked her."
Least Favorite Part of Getting Ready
Rubber: "Sitting next to Lisa. Just kidding. Shaving."
First Time in Drag:
Lisa: "My first time in drag was supermessy. I looked like a mess. I got too drunk. My wig was, like, floating back and you could see my boy hair."
Rubber: "Everyone told me I should do it, because I'd go out as a boy dressed up and painted in glitter. I never wanted to, because I never felt I fit in with the gay community. When I started going out more, I realized I do fit in. Everyone is colorful, just like me. So when I went to see [Drag Race season 4 winner] Sharon Needles, I finally decided to do drag."
What Drag Means to Them:
Lisa: "Drag is just a lot of fun. I do it because — this sounds really vain — but overall, I like attention. But it's just really a way to be really supercreative and poke fun of gender. I don't do drag to look like a girl; I do it to look like this crazy creation."
Rubber: "Drag is freedom of expression. I like to constantly change my look and new things. I want people to say, "What just happened? I didn't expect that!' I like shocking people, but not in a bad way. Just shocking them by killing what I do."
How They Assembled Their Legion of Young Online Fans:
Lisa: "It honestly just kind of happened. Posting a lot of pictures helps a lot. Slowly, a lot of kids started to draw fan art of us. We're always on Periscope. We're really interactive."
Rubber: "I think my favorite part is: There's usually a group of a few kids who are
Haus of Piss performs Sundays at Score and anywhere else that will have them.
This makeup maven used to hide in the corner. Now she's the star of the show and is noted for her hauntingly accurate interpretation of Rihanna at Lips.
Go-to Aesthetic: "It's polished, and I try to look as feminine as possible to give that illusion of, 'Oh, is she a girl?'"
Story Behind the Name: "It's the Greek goddess Calypso, but it also means to hide or conceal. I brought it all together because I conceal and form myself into a goddess."
Iconic Influences: "Madonna, Rihanna, Michael Jackson — but more in a feminine way — and '90s supermodels."
Favorite Lip-Sync Song: "Rihanna's 'Where Have You Been' or Whitney Houston's 'I Have Nothing.'"
Least Favorite Part of Getting Ready: "Padding. That's always annoying because of the heat of Florida."
First Time in Drag: "About five years ago, I went to a club. I didn't know what drag really was, and I saw TP. I came and dressed up a little and said hi to TP. She needed girls to enter her competition and told me to come back next week. She basically pushed me on the stage, and I won the first round."
Most Memorable Performance: "I came out to my mom when she came to my show. That was the first time she saw me. She really got to see what I do. Even now she goes to my shows and sees me grow. That means a lot."
Craziest Drag Story: "I went to a Rihanna show as Rihanna. I was saving the outfit I got made for 'Bitch Better Have My Money.' The people were like 'OMG, you did that!' Nonstop pictures. There was no bashing, just props. Even straight guys were impressed. During the concert, Rihanna winked at me and smiled. I just wanted her to see me in this outfit that I had done up to point."
What Drag Means to Her: "It's something that's fun and really empowering to me. I grew up a chunky kid. I was 320 pounds. Now, I'm like 170. It's something that helped me become more outgoing and explore my dreams."
What Keeps Her Going: "There are new people who are watching who are so in awe of you. I'm still not used to it. The fat kid is always going to be in me, but exploring my art and being able to express it keeps me going. I've always been in the corner, soft-spoken, but now I love being an inspiration."
Calypso performs at Lips Fort Lauderdale on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays and at Wolf on Sundays.