Jump two years forward and a straight male friend of mine, who is your typical scruffy but laddish indieboy, bemoans the fact that he doesn't know any drag queens to me. "I've started watching Drag Race," he tells me "And I can't cope with how there are people as fabulous as this living amongst us and I don't know any of them!" I smugly then informed him of all the drag queens I've befriended in the last few years. Because suddenly, there are drag queens to befriend! Scores of them; whole schools of them, with their own Scene, cliques and politics, emerging as their own fabulous minority group from the tepid blandness of what is the current Gay Scene.
While Manchester's drag renaissance has a lot to do with the endeavours of some of its most active queens, a lot of the credit can be aimed elsewhere however. For the attitude toward drag to change, for more people to want to participate and for people to be receptive towards them, it takes the bold steps of a trend-setter to break the ice before them. In a recent article in the Guardian, writer Katie Rogers claimed that the now iconic cult sensation RuPaul's Drag Race has been that trend-setter, saying that the niche reality programme "is the type of show that influences, not follows, pop culture trends". Nowhere is that more evident than in Manchester, where queens' creativity has become competitive and where the Art of Drag has found itself a strong foothole.
Who's to say whether this current boom in popularity will last, but Drag Race blows its peers out of the water on TV. I watched America's Next Top Model for the first time in years the other day and the whole concept seemed so flat in comparison - the vibrancy of Drag Race's characters, clothes and its drama is so exaggerated, so entertaining and so colourful that it may well be the absolute pinnacle of its genre. And on the Gay Scene, where conformity really isn't that "cool", the bigger, the more colourful, the more creative and the bolder the better. I want to be dwarfed by giants in heels, I want exaggerated glamour, I want people to realise their alteregos and I want people to express their creativity and not repress it behind fashion and convention. Drag has exploded and I hope it's here to stay.
The judging on Drag Race is based on the (albeit loose) criteria of "charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent" - if you think about it, those are the criteria for anyone to succeed at anything. It seems quite logical that drag has exploded now, after years of grey austerity that have followed the recession. The financial crisis hit Manchester's Gay Village hard, but as most great artistic movements emerge like a phoenix from the ashes of dark times, so too has this. While the government is cutting its funding toward the arts left, right and centre, it's through mediums like the Drag Scene that the arts are continuing. Yes it's amateur, no there's not that much money in it, but what price can you put on giving a creative outlet for all these talented people?
This Friday night, Manchester's best (and only drag) night out Cha Cha Boudoir is hosting its twelfth party. The 12 Steps To Recovery sees Cha Cha turning to its edgier side: "DRUGS, ALCOHOL, SEX, MAKE-UP!" they say "We've all been there, and no subject will be taboo in our confidential circle of DRAG love."
If you haven't had the chance to experience the night yet, get yourself to the party! And I will see you there!
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