Viewport width =
April 29, 2019 | by  | in Features | [ssba]



You know the iconic Little Mermaid power pose? Effortlessly perched atop a boulder, a luscious mane of red hair whipping around in the wind but somehow never whipping her in the face, classic Disney features—plump lips, eyelashes reaching for the gods, complexion fit for a Fenty commercial—sea spray framing her like a halo, a revering throng of sea critters milling at her fins.

Ivy on a Saturday night will ferry you into the same suspension of disbelief.

Substitute sea spray for a cloud of smoke and sea critters for pigeons, and you have Wellington drag queen Scarlett Adams perched atop a city council rubbish bin, dragging on a cigarette.

The only substantive difference, so far as I can tell, is that Scarlett looks just as likely to cut you as she is to burst into song. Well that, and she’s got a dick duct-taped between her cheeks.


Taboo, by definition, is that which is “prohibited or restricted by social custom”. Drag inhabits the realm of the taboo. Or, as Frank Lewis writes in his Creative Exposition for Massey University titled (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man: “Drag inhabits the realm of the grotesque”.


Drag at its best subverts societal norms; it “compromises the acceptable”; it challenges hegemonic ideas of ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. Drag at its best defies expectations of beauty and gender by exaggerating and parodying them. It is glamorous, grotesque, ostentatious, evocative. Drag at its best makes you feel something; be it in your heart, mind, or pussy. (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man is drag at its best.


Frank (a.k.a. Hariel) is a prominent Wellington drag queen, and holds a Bachelor of Design (Fashion) with First Class Honours to boot. (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man—the crown jewel in Frank’s Honours programme—centres a four-piece drag-inspired fashion collection, and it is visceral.


I’m not going to labour under the pretense that I know dick about design. The ingenuity of Frank’s line is that you don’t need to be a fashion aficionado to be affected by it. (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man is a masterpiece in social commentary, exploring and exposing the supposed ‘naturalness’ of gender. It glorifies what society has told us to be ashamed of, and it will make you feel some type of ways regardless of whether your personal tendencies lean toward high fashion or slob goth.


Taste Me features a mouth exploding from the bust; a tongue unzipping as if being split; a cascade of saliva dripping toward the floor. With Watching You, Watching Me, the viewer becomes the viewed: lenticular eyes follow you as the garment moves, creating a perverted sense of intimacy between onlooker and performer, akin to that between a Peeping Tom and victim, who—aware of being watched—puts on a show. Eyes Up Here is a tacky, campy take on the previous piece, parodying the nuance of Watching You, Watching Me with a bodice carpeted in googly eyes. Big Gays Don’t Cry is “unabashedly emotional” in contrast to Taste Me’s explicitly sexual overtones; a train of tears that weep from two dewy eyes on the bust.


Immodesty, arrogant emotionality, allusions to bodily fluids; traditionally ‘masculine’ traits of chest and facial hair paired with traditionally ‘feminine’ markers of makeup and bodices; (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man inhabits the realm of the taboo. It transgresses societal standards of acceptability, and is certain to elicit unease and/or arousal in those who behold it. (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man is glamorous, grotesque, ostentatious, evocative. (S)he’s a (Fe)male (Wo)man is everything good drag should be.




If Frank’s design work gets your juices flowing, his performance will send you into full-blown ecstasy. I’ve never been hornier in my life as when I first saw Frank hit the stage as Hariel. Wearing a bejewelled leotard, fishnets, and heels bigger than my ex’s dick, Wellington’s favourite bearded Disney princess flawlessly lip-synched Lady Gaga’s “talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing” monologue—complete with moves to which Beyoncé herself would give snaps—and I was moist. Hariel and I sat down over a beer (or three) and a durry (or seven) to spill the tea on all things drag.


What interested you in drag?

I started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in my last year of high school—it’s a pretty typical introduction to drag I think. It was the fantasy of drag that was alluring: the costuming, the glamour, the extravagance. Definitely the attention. It’s a known fact that drag queens are attention whores.


How did you get into drag?

I first painted Hariel in 2014 when my boyfriend had a Disney-themed birthday party. Halloween and dress-up parties are a more risk-free way to get in drag—everyone is dressed up, so there’s more opportunity to blend in. I wanted to go as Ariel, but I didn’t want to shave because I’d look like I was 12, and that’s not cute. I looked busted as fuck. Looking busted the first time you paint is pretty typical, too—no one looks good the first time they try anything.


The best thing about doing drag?

The applause.


The worst thing about doing drag?

The heels.


Who’s your favourite local queen?

Can I say myself? [laughter] Well, a group of us: The Good Judy’s, because we’re Wellington’s elite. It’s me, Harlie Lux, Kelly Fornia, Yonic Kunt, and LUNA. Also Lucy Forrestal. We’re very polished, very committed, very supportive of each other.


Who’s your favourite queen globally?

Miz Cracker. Definitely Miz Cracker. Drag at its best is great performance, and her fucking performances. are. everything. She tells a story with every performance. Looking great is one thing, but turning out a stage, that’s the fucking best. Also her mixes are, like, fire emoji.


Dos and Don’ts when it comes to going to a drag show or interacting with the performers?

Tell us how great we look, even if we look like trash. Buy a drag queen a drink—but don’t act entitled. Do ask a drag queen for a photo—definitely use flash—but if they say no, deal with it. Give up your seat for queens, we are uncomfortable—there’s tape, there’s glue, there’s shit stabbed into our scalps—and we are tired. This is the green zone on the bus. And if you’re at a show, fucking cheer! What the fuck is up with not cheering‽

Don’t touch a drag queen, anywhere, unless given consent. Most of the “don’ts” are about touching. People love to go “ooh look at this spectacle, let’s touch it”—bitch I spent hours on this shit, do you go to an art gallery and rub your hands on the paintings, you animal?? There’s probably a venn diagram somewhere of people who touch drag queens’ hair and people who touch the art in galleries that’s just a perfect circle.


What makes a good drag queen?

Learning your words, enunciating, being expressive, telling a story. A performance needs to be layered; every aspect of what the audience sees has to be considered. Being likeable. That doesn’t mean you have to be nice—you can be an asshole and still be likeable; it’s about reading a room and knowing the right time to be an asshole. Being likeable is about having a good sense of who you are, having a brand and a memorable persona. It’s about having a positive and lasting impact. Because if no one remembers you, who gives a fuck?


You’re not doing drag if you’re not…

…making people think; making people feel something. Drag needs to be evocative, and needs to make people think about the larger political climate. If it makes you feel apathetic, then it’s not good drag.




In keeping with a tradition of uninspired, corner-cutting, self-gratifying millennials, a few months ago I put a question to the people of Instagram: What should I write about for Salient this year? Frank, in keeping with a tradition of brazenly attention-hungry, cock-sure Drag Queens, came back to me with one word: “drag”.

And now, the moment you all knew was coming: Baselessly Authoritative And Unsolicited Hot Takes With Sash. Or should I say, with Madame Moisture, as I was christened when Frank showed up at my flat with what I can only assume was half of Wellington’s makeup supply in tow to put me in full drag.


I was reluctant to write on the subject, to say the least. Sure, I froth RuPaul’s Drag Race like a first-year Weir lad froths a six-pack of Diesels and a few laps around Kelburn Park—but I didn’t feel like I had any place handling the nuances of drag in a wider context. Sure, I answer the hypothetical “so what do you want to do when you grow up?” with “Alaska Thunderfuck”—but I’m not a drag queen, it’s not my lane, and I wouldn’t be swerving into it with the confidence of your local reply-guy on an Insta-hottie’s thirst trap. Frank agreeing to put me in drag in the name of journalism, however, was all the conferred authority I required to put pen to paper on the subject.


Looking at myself in the mirror after Frank transformed me into a carbon-copy of Hariel, I got straight up horny. I have never felt better about myself in my life as I did when I became Madame Moisture. I was infused with more confidence during the hour I spent parading around my backyard in a mermaid costume/beard combo wearing three pairs of eyelashes all but glued to my eyeballs and a wig, than I’ve ever been in my 25 years on this planet.


The mainstream narrative doesn’t allow confidence to those who don’t fit the “conventionally attractive” norm, so we inevitably attach these ideas of being confident and strong-willed to looking a certain way. It’s not that when Frank painted me in drag I suddenly acquired confidence—it’s that I felt like I was allowed to be confident, that I had permission to be so.


Drag is permissive by design. Society plagues us with images of thin/white/cis/straight/able bodies with the intent to make us want to become what we see, and tells us we don’t have value—that we have no right to be confident—if we don’t. Drag shows us images that diverge from the mainstream narrative; shows us that confidence isn’t reserved for those who fit certain narrow and unrealistic criteria. It accepts, affirms, and glorifies diversity. Society makes us want to fit its own narrow standards of excellence; drag makes us want to be the most excellent version of ourselves—whatever that may be.


Body hair; girls with sideburns and boys hairless as baby seals; girls with dicks and boys with tits; saliva; fat rolls; stretch marks; unabashed emotions. Drag makes these things visible, beautiful, normal. Because they are normal. We’ve just been taught that we have to look and act a certain way to be worthy and valid as human beings. Drag is the supreme, physical embodiment of Pride—it seeks to show that the unacceptable is acceptable, society has just told us it’s not.


Drag embodies beauty by parodying beauty. Drag embraces the parts of humanness society tells us are taboo. Drag allows us confidence to be our most authentic selves when societal norms do not.


Confidence is a fantasy, and Madame Moisture had me feeling it.


About the Author ()

Comments are closed.

Recent posts

  1. VUW Halls Hiking Fees By 50–80% Next Year
  2. The Stats on Gender Disparities at VUW
  3. Issue 25 – Legacy
  4. Canta Wins Bid for Editorial Independence
  5. RA Speaks Out About Victoria University Hall Death
  6. VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far
  8. New Normal
  9. Come In, The Door’s Open.
  10. Love in the Time of Face Tattoos

Editor's Pick

Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

Do you know how to read? Sign up to our Newsletter!

* indicates required