This weekend is Bikes, Blues and BBQ here in NorthWest Arkansas. This is a huge event for this area and bikers in the tens of thousands flock here. This event is the second largest massive motorcycle rally in the USA with Sturgis, SD being the largest.
As a local, here in Eureka Springs, I tend to dress myself fairly conservatively. If you knew me, this would probably come as no surprise. Eureka Springs welcomes over 800,000 visitors per year.
Tourism is important to Eureka Springs, and we certainly want our visitors to have fun, and behave like adults.
I'm local. I live here. I pay taxes. I volunteer. I participate. I'm a good person.
I reside here year-round.
One biker, observing me and my life partner Jeff sitting the bar at our favorite local watering hole - The Rowdy Beaver Den - looks me up and down, head to toe and says to his buddy, "get a load of this dude's drag." Note: I'm in shorts, a muscle-tank top, and my blue New Balance sneakers.
Seriously? I thought to myself as I smiled right at both of them from ear to ear.
But this interaction subsided quickly as they laughed it off and moved on.
But, this got me thinking . . .
It's all drag.
OK, yea, yea. If you look up drag on Wikipedia, it talks about drag as specifically dressing in clothes of the opposite sex. But I challenge this. We have cross-dressers, female impersonators, male impersonators, etc. and well, drag did essentially evolve from Shakespearean times, when it was referred to as, "costuming oneself as the opposite sex."
I think drag has evolved much more into "what does one look like on the outside at that moment in time as a human being."
Take the Former Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner. Here he is in his Governor drag and in his biker drag.
It's all drag.
Aside from the annual Halloween events that we all participate in, human beings have lots and lots of drag examples if we view it through this wider lens.
Everything that presents our "look" is drag in a sense. The leather chaps, vests, headbands, gloves, etc. was the drag that these two bikers were wearing as they judged me solely on my drag in that moment. It wasn't at all like their drag and for a moment this brief interaction made me think that because it wasn't like theirs, they take that as - it doesn't belong here. I don't belong here.
If this was that they were thinking when they were commenting about us, this is absolutely not Eureka. Eureka is radically inclusive and everyone belongs here.
For bikers, renaissance fair goers, hunters, RuPaul: The Drag Queen, sports fans with painted faces in the stadiums all across America - it's all drag.
Bikers have donned their drag for their weekend here with the thousands of similarly dragged out bikers all over NorthWest Arkansas as they play around with their friends before they head back to their law offices in, say, Santa Fe to put on their office drag and get back to work.
What I love most about Eurekans is that we battle things that are unfavorable to us with love. It's about a person's behavior, demeanor, constitution, disposition, and love - not their drag.
Trust-building behaviors are an essential part of human interaction and living here and interacting with Eurekans, a person will quickly learn about our town and our culture. How we treat you, is how we expect to be treated. Eureka is synonymous with love.
In this case, my disarming smile was only armor necessary to move them along.
The Real Dilemma
In actuality, what we have are beliefs, traditions and group-think all at a crossroads with one another. This is what causes conflict and discourse because it's often difficult for human beings to change their beliefs and to stop with old traditions (ways of doing things or thinking things) and making new ones.
A belief is just a thought that you continue to think.
Group-think in American society is rampant. If you do not look similar to me (i.e. in my group, in my drag) then I judge you because you are different. That is the real dilemma in our society and it often starts with drag (how the person looks) and it goes from there.
Group think gets even worse when it moves into "all Goth people are bad, "all soldiers are upstanding," "all Patriots fans are jerks," "all priests have integrity," "all bikers are . . . and so on.
Because of beliefs, traditions and group-think, people are quick to first judge the book by the cover rather than the content. Our challenge as our society continues to evolve is to flip this around and simply take time to get to know another fellow human being first, regardless of their drag, and make your assessment by the trust-building behaviors that develop, or don't develop, as you get to know more about one another.
Cody Barlow, a US Navy Veteran from Oklahoma, is a true example of a person that interacts with other people in this manner.
With its mainstream success, some may be surprised to learn that the history of drag as a form of entertainment dates back to Shakespearean times and for more utilitarian purposes.
In the 17th century when Shakespeare's plays were first performed at the Globe Theatre in London, only men were allowed to take part in the productions, as they were in religious rites. So when plays included female roles, the male actors would dress as women to fill the void.
It's in the theatre that the slang term "drag" is believed to have originated. When men played female roles, they would supposedly discuss how their costume dresses would "drag" across the floor.
Drag began to take on more of an individual form of entertainment (as opposed to being utilized as a part of an ensemble performance) when female impersonation was introduced into American culture via the genre known as "vaudeville."
Vaudeville performance gained traction in the early 20th century in the United States, and it combines comedy, music, dance, and burlesque to create an offbeat type of live entertainment. Vaudeville and burlesque were quite popular back in the day here in Eureka Springs as well.
Female impersonation quickly became a facet of the vaudevillian entertainment experience. It was through vaudeville that the first official well-known drag queen came to exist, named Julian Eltinge.
His popularity moved beyond vaudeville and his success earned him the title of being the highest paid actor in the world — surpassing even Charlie Chaplain at the time.
In the 1930s, female impersonation and the history of drag is said to have entwined with gay culture which also coincided with the Prohibition era, which abolished alcohol production and consumption from 1920 until 1933. Gay men and women used underground clubs and speakeasies as an opportunity to express and enjoy themselves.
Out of the sight of the law, gay men and women, communed with each other and felt free to be themselves in these clubs and speakeasies.
So how is this different really? Are we THAT different?
Bikers, wear their drag, crowd into the Rowdy Beaver Den, and other pubs, restaurants and clubs around town, commune with each other and feel free to be themselves as well, right?
It's all drag. We're all human.
We all just want to be ourselves.
Be yourself and be human in your drag.
Your drag is your cover, but what is your book all about?