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Drag Beyond the Binary

An illustration looking over the shoulder of two people looking at themselves in the mirror, putting on drag makeup. The person on the left has light skin, a larger body, short blond hair and is applying red lipstick. The person on the right is in a smaller body, brown skin, and purple lipstick and eyeshadow.
Charnel Hunter

Go to a drag show, and you’ll likely encounter big hair, incredible lip syncs and tons of glitter. But those who engage in this gender-bending art form know that it’s just as much about activism as it is about entertainment.

Host Anita Rao speaks with three drag artists about their distinct approaches to their craft, as well as their responses to the recent surge in anti-drag protests. Rose Butch, drag persona of Rae Takei, shares why they use the term Drag Thing instead of Queen or King to describe their performance style. Butch, who is based in Vancouver and a member of a multidisciplinary, nonbinary drag performance collective called The Darlings, also shares how their gender transition out of drag has informed — and been informed by — their drag persona.

Rao then speaks with scholar Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies the history and impact of Puerto Rican drag performance. Larry, who is the author of the books “Queer Ricans: Cultures and Sexualities in the Diaspora” and “Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance,” describes drag’s joys and risks — in addition to how his own drag persona, Lola von Miramar, has shaped his academic inquiry.

Finally, Rao brings the discussion of drag closer to home with Durham-based drag artist Naomi Dix, a member of a social justice-minded drag family called the House of Coxx. Known as the “Afro Latinx Barbie of North Carolina,” Naomi has used her platform as a performer to speak out against anti-queer and anti-drag violence — and to facilitate safe spaces for queer and trans people of color.

Special thanks to Star Sirius, Tito Bone and Virgie Tovar for contributing voice memos to this episode.

And The Rest Is Drag: Life Offstage for Drag Performers

A person wearing green pants, a white button-down shirt with dark stripes on it, a multi-colored scarf tied in a bow and a fuzzy lavender vest. They are in drag make-up with a painted white face, exaggerated lip and eye make-up and large lashes. They're also wearing short red wig and a teal hat.
RDM Photography

Rose Butch

“Being able to go all the way with my drag persona gives me a little bit more courage to do just a little bit and then a little bit more with my everyday.”

A person wearing a red shirt, a red and white necklace, a medium-length dirty blond wig and a straw hat. The person is wearing exaggerated drag make-up and looks surprised and delighted. In the background is a drag queen trying a tostone overlaid with pink.
Fausto Fernós, Feast of Fun

Lola von Miramar

“Sometimes I feel like I am two people. I am Larry and I am Lola. Clearly we are both the same. But we are very, very different. … [It’s finding] how to move back and forth between masculinity and femininity … in a society that really stigmatizes gender transgression.”

A person wearing a pink, formfitting dress that has one long sleeve and one arm without a sleeve. She has brown skin and light brown hair just below her shoulders. She is wearing a bold, dark pink lip color and large black eyelashes. She is looking up and off into the distance and the background is a brick room.

Naomi Dix

“[Drag artists] are able to express ourselves in a way that we may not be able to in our everyday life. Or, we are able to express ourselves in a way that we were not able to do when we were growing up, because society was telling us that we had a very specific way to act.”

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Audrey Smith is a writer, educator, and temporary producer of "Embodied" based in Greensboro, NC. She holds a Master's degree in Secondary English Language Arts Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (2018) and a Master of Fine Arts degree in Nonfiction Writing from Oregon State University (2021).
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.