What’s Under the Wig? Drag Queens Share Intimate Stories of Starting Out
By Allie Waxman
A quartet of iconic drag queens went “under the wig,” opening up about their personal experiences with drag and the community they’ve found within the artform.
Hosted by drag superstar Tina Burner, Under the Wig was an event celebrating the history of drag and the queens who paved the way. Featuring intimate stories from Linda Simpson, Kevin Aviance, Flotilla DeBarge and Charlene Incarnate, the presentation at Lips delighted audiences with heartfelt stories about coming up in the drag community and finding a voice.
Linda Simpson schooled the audience on the history of drag, noting that the scene she came up in during the ‘80s and ‘90s no longer exists. “There was a general misunderstanding by the public of drag back then,” she recalled. “The attitude back then was ‘Let’s just put on a show.’ Drag is much more careerist now because you can make a living out of it.” Another distinction she called out was that “drag queens used to want to look like girls. Now drag queens want to look like drag queens.” This distinction speaks to the commercialization of the artform and its — now recognized — endless entertainment possibilities.
Also sharing a story about his first experience with drag was Kevin Aviance. “All I ever wanted to be was a black queen,” Aviance declared to cheers. He shared a story of winning the third grade talent show in his sister’s dress. “When you’re born a black child in America the odds are against you. The world wants to knock you down. Not once in my childhood did I feel like someone would knock me down, I was going to knock them out, girl.”
“My first drag show was at the pyramid club 1991 when Linda Simpson was hosting a show called ‘New Queens on the Block,’” began Flotilla DeBarge. “Back then, a lot of people wanted to know, ‘What are you — are you a man or a woman?’ We kept saying, well we’re just performers.” She then seamlessly launched into a performance of “Long John Blues” that brought audiences to their feet.
Charlene Incarnate began her story by declaring it both “a eulogy and also the story of the first time I put makeup on.” Incarnate’s story honored a drag queen named Sweetie who helped launch her onto the drag scene via a makeup consultation at the MAC store on 5th Avenue. “Makeup to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing is very intimidating. She painted on me a face that is one I still wear today. Sweetie was a f**king goddess and a f**king legend.”