Drag performers have been an integral part of queer culture as far back as anyone can remember.
Drag queens and kings have also been one of the most prominent forms of breaking down gender and the performance of gender as a social construct.
Drag queens have also gone from being relegated to gay clubs across the globe to being some of the biggest stars in pop culture.
Trixie Mattel, Bob The Drag Queen and Alaska 5000 have become household names as “RuPaul’s Drag Race” has taken over the world. Now, sporting several international spin-offs including the UK, Thailand, Canada and Holland which is airing currently.
This newfound global popularity for drag performers has also led to drag queens from the African continent finding prominence.
One of the biggest being the first winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, BeBe Zahara Benet.
Born and raised in Cameroon, Bebe has been purposeful in making her African heritage a centre point of her drag persona.
Speaking about the impact of her being the first winner of the multi-Emmy award-winning reality competition show for queer people on the African continent she said: “I do believe that me winning or having this incredible platform has given people encouragement and an opportunity for people to come forward and celebrate themselves — this is who I am.
“Drag is a form of entertainment, it’s my work and craft.
“I feel that by me winning ’RuPaul’s Drag Race’, it brought a lot of awareness about Africa and the beauty from where we come from.
Hopefully, it put Cameroon people on the map. “The younger generation is willing to take risks, live out loud.
“They want to be able to express themselves in whatever way they want to express themselves.
“I remember growing up and seeing someone doing drag, we always thought they’re gay.
“But I realised that we are just artists. Doing drag doesn’t define my orientation. “I feel that my winning ’RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and also being all the way from Africa gave people the audacity to just be themselves, all while encouraging and inspiring many people back home.
“I would love to have an African drag race, but I feel that it’s important that we even just do shows in Africa.
“We have to go back home to create visibility and opportunity back home.”
In Mzansi, drag superstar Manila Von Teez has been a pointer for the South African drag scene since she appeared on “SA’s Got Talent”.
Talking about why the South African queer community has such a deep connection with drag, she said: “Drag has for many years been an art form that allows the individual to be unashamedly the persona they take on.
“Possibly, as the queer community often seeks acceptance and validation from the public, the fact that drag demands that acceptance and validation, it strengthens the connection.”
And with drag being on an international stage it has also seen the birth of more drag performers.
Speaking about the importance of African drag performers Manila said: “We all know that drag has for many years been the loud hailer of the LGBTQIA+, with drag also starting to be accepted across all performing platforms as an art form.
“As most drag performers are from the LGBTQIA+ community, it is extremely important that when these opportunities arise, that the representation is flawless and contributes positively to the acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community.
When it comes to coming up with a drag persona it can be a daunting task for any queen.
“When I started it was the likes of Angel Lalamore and Logan McGregor, and at the time, RuPaul’s Drag Race started, so there was a lot of inspiration and personas available to take guidance from. I’m a huge Dita von Teese fan as well!”
While drag has become a viable career for queens in the US, in other countries it has not gained any mainstream appeal, especially in Africa.
“Hunger to succeed and be accepted into the mainstream more. The US’s drag culture has been much more active and more accepted for many more years than ours,” said Manila.
Commenting on her hope for the future of African drag performers Manila said:
“More acceptance and opportunities. The understanding that if one of us succeeds, we all succeed.
“More and more gigs for everyone as broader South Africa embraces the art form more and more, and that the following and acceptance of all of us multiplies hugely.”
Article by: By Jamal Grootboom, Chad Williams