Posted by Jules V Moorhead | Posted in burlesque, Meet the Variety | Posted on 03-09-2015
Bambi Galore is a burlesque producer, performer and…drag queen? Bambi, a cisgender female, is a well-known performer in the DMV and New York burlesque scenes, but the Chameleon of Tease also describes herself as a drag queen. And it would seem the world — or at least Baltimore — agrees with her. She’s currently a finalist in the Baltimore City Paper‘s Best of Baltimore contest in the category of Best Drag Performer.
But how can a woman be a drag queen, an area of performance long claimed primarily by gay men? According to many, it’s a feminist statement. Drag, at its core, is all about exaggerated femininity, and a new wave of female performers are reclaiming that femininity as their own.
Said Bambi, “I consider it to be a form of feminist art. By taking what society tells women to be and turning it up to the highest voltage, we are taking back the gender stereotypes and making people reexamine what does it mean to be a woman. Drag to me is as much a thought process as it is an art form. It means to me, looking at the world from an outside perspective that is bigger and bolder than the everyday. It has more kitsch and glamour to it. It’s all about being the biggest and best version of yourself.”
For some, the difference between drag and burlesque might be hard to spot. There are a large number of drag burlesque performers, both queens and kings, who strip — for instance local favorite Betty O’Hellno or Seattle sensation Lou Henry Hoover — but on the whole, drag performers don’t strip. “There is some overlap between drag and burlesque,” Bambi admits. “I think the biggest difference is in drag, the story isn’t always about the reveal. Its more about the journey.”
Bambi recently participated in an all-female drag show in NYC that received a lot of press, but according to her, it’s not really a new phenomenon. “It’s funny because in a lot of ways it’s starting up now but has also been around for generations. Dixie Evans, best known as the founder of the Burlesque Hall of Fame, called herself a female impersonator of Marilyn Monroe. World Famous *Bob*, who is my drag big sister, has been performing as a drag queen since the ’90s, and there are many more.”
She credits the world of social media for bringing these like-minded lady queens (as they’re sometimes called) together. “We have started to create a community for ourselves and, with that, it’s getting noticed more by others.”
But while social media might be bringing them together, they’re finding an enthusiastic audience. Bambi credits the changing tide of cultural awareness. “Society as a whole is questioning gender more. We as a collective are open to more ideas and not having to keep everything in one tidy little box, and so with that we are able explore and express gender representations. Though I still get asked often, ‘How can you be a drag queen if you don’t have a penis?’ I don’t think people realize how ignorant that question sounds until it is said back to them.”
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that we are just women in makeup. When, in fact, we are gluing our eyebrows down, padding, pushing and wearing multiple pairs of pantyhose like our male sisters. We don’t take the fact that we use female pronouns all the time as an excuse not to put all the work into it.”
In addition to reclaiming femininity, female drag queens are also holding their male counterparts to a higher standard. Traditional drag has often struggled with accusations of misogyny and offensively sexist attitudes. Bambi reports, “With female to female drag queens, I have yet to see someone do a misogynistic act.”
Which leads to the question, what sort of reaction or reception do lady queens get from traditional male drag queens? “It varies. I have worked with many who have accepted us with open arms and consider us sisters. You do run into some though that are stuck in their misogyny. Overall though, I’d say, those that understand that drag can be used as a tool to educate as well as entertain welcome us. Many of my biggest supporters are drag queens, and I love them dearly.”
“In New York City,” Bambi continues, “most of the venues and producers have warmed up to the idea of lady queens and include us in their shows without blinking an eye. My own personal fears have been what has kept me for reaching out here in Baltimore. I reached out once to a fairly big name and didn’t even get the decency of a response back. That was hurtful. Change scares people, and what I think producers need to realize is we’re not here to take over the art form or appropriate it, but to add another voice to the chorus, to be able to express ourselves in a way that feels true to our own identities. I will say getting nominated for Best Drag Performer has given me more courage and I hope to reach out more.”