The Drag Show Must Go On: Amid Pandemic, Virtual Shows Seek New Energy, Diversity
Jas LaFond was just 9 years old when they met their first drag queen. This was back in the 90s. They were at home in Hartford, Connecticut. The drag queen was Black. And she was wearing a dark, sheer dress with gold lamé and flowers.
“The makeup was on point and neat and just completely transformed from the person I had met earlier in the day,” LaFond said. “Down to the nails and the hair down up and the edges were right. Like almost this deity in our living room getting ready to go out with my mom.”
LaFond is a Black, nonbinary person. And they use they and them pronouns. They'd seen drag before, but that was only on TV.
“This was my first time I had seen someone in the flesh in drag,” LaFond said. “I was like wow, this is really a thing. This is something that people do. And that really sparked the realization that this was something I can potentially do.”
LaFond moved to New Hampshire a couple of years ago.
Now they live in Concord with their two children and partner. During the day they’re a social worker and blogger, but at night they’re a drag quing, a combination between a drag king and queen.
Before the pandemic, there were few places to perform. And when nationwide closures hit in March, many LGBTQ people lost spaces like clubs and bars. While LaFond was coping they got an idea which came to life in late August on the streaming platform Twitch. As a performer, LaFond is Onyx Reigns — and he’s hosting the first-ever Black Legends Revue.
Black Legends Revue celebrates iconic artists like Aretha Franklin and Prince. As the show begins a couple of squares pop up on the screen. Some drag performers are using their bedrooms as a backdrop. Others have a more elaborate setup. Like glittery fringe curtains.
Onyx has sculpted his face with a brown makeup stick, worn his dreads down, and put on a beach button-up shirt. He describes himself as the human version of Scar from the Lion King.
“He is a metrosexual guy who runs the gamut between voodoo man and a pirate,” they said.
As MC, one of the performers Onyx introduces is Androgynique Iman.
Iman is a nonbinary drag performer from Chicago. They did a tribute to Janet Jackson.
"He is a metrosexual guy who runs the gamut between voodoo man and a pirate."
After the show, they told me mainstream drag is typically white, cisgender, and male. And Iman says, back when performances did happen in-person, white performers tended to get first dibs.
“This pandemic...exposed a lot of people. I’m going, to be honest, it exposed a lot of people who was booking only their friends,” Iman said. “They were booking only majority white people, and every once and a while they would book a Black person or a drag king.”
They added, “Now the way things are going we have the power now to call the shots.”
Onyx Reigns or LaFond, the organizer, says it’s powerful, to craft a show for Black, trans, and nonbinary performers. And they say drag isn’t just about looks, it’s a political statement.
“By bringing to the forefront beautiful Black creators and artists, centering them and giving them this platform is a wonderful way to speak to our culture,” They said. “And to show that yea, we are not going nowhere. This joy is here to stay and that’s not going anywhere.”
After the success of Black Legends Revue last month they’re staging more virtual drag shows. They’re beginning to get out more in New Hampshire, too. Starting this month, LaFond is hosting a series of pop-up performances in Manchester.