SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – In addition to having to fight misconceptions about their art, many drag and burlesque performers are experiencing heightened concerns over their safety in the Lowcountry and Coastal Empire.
Recent legislation in Tennessee has outright banned many drag and burlesque performances in public spaces. These bans do not specify the difference between a person in drag and a person who is transgender, nor do they clearly establish what is inappropriate for public performances versus acceptable.
WSAV NOW spoke with some drag and burlesque performers to talk about misconceptions the communities are fighting with as well as what the non-performing community can do to support local artists.
“There’s a lot of states trying to pass legislation to try to outlaw these kinds of performances, to outlaw drag and also burlesque performances,” Rita D’LaVane. “Even in adults-only public spaces.”
D’LaVane is the executive producer of The Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue.
They said that having these kinds of ideas in these kinds of movements pushes people to act in extreme ways – endangering performers. D’LaVane recalled the shooting in November that left over a dozen injured and five dead at a Colorado night club as well as the Pulse Night Club shooting.
D’LaVane wished that people would see how much joy and happiness comes with these performances, recharacterizing them from the stereotypes they are plagued with into a way for people to express themselves.
They also noted that people tend to lump drag and burlesque together.
While the show D’La’Vane worked on most recently called “Night of 1,000 Dollys” was both a drag and burlesque fundraiser, that does not mean that the two are the same.
Miss Yuviah Rose, a drag performer who performs in the Coastal Empire as well as the Lowcountry said that she wished people knew that drag is not an inherently sexual performance.
She also said that, in her experience, many drag artists avoid having children present at their shows regardless of the age-appropriateness of the performance
“Most drag entertainers recommend you keep the children home. They cannot tip and they most likely will not understand the art aspect of the show,” she explained.
Rose said that these misconceptions about drag being overly sexual take away from the art that the participants are creating.
“Drag is an art form. There is no specific way that drag is done,” she said. “There is no specific gender set on being a drag entertainer. Your drag is what makes you feel most confident and comfortable.”
Rose explained that she felt generally safe in the Savannah area, despite these misconceptions and the current political climate. Still, that didn’t mean things were perfect.
“It’s honestly a terrible feeling to get fully ready for work just to be discriminated against for trying to give people a good time,” Rose said.
Meanwhile, Red, a drag performer in the Savannah area, said she recognized a danger that came with being a drag artist. She, too, recalled the shooting in Colorado.
“It is dangerous, especially in the political climate that we’re in, to be doing what we’re doing,” Red said.
She explained that she has had her own run-ins with people who did not approve of her art. According to her, the only thing other artists can do is support one another and look out for one another.
What do they need from the local community?
Red said she thinks it all starts with microaggressions. She gave an example of hearing a friend who says something slightly homophobic and then escalating that homophobia until they are causing harm to others.
“If you see something, do something,” Red stated. “Don’t be complicit.”
Beyond that, she hoped that people would begin to practice what she called “extreme” ally-ship. She said that this goes beyond just sharing things on social media.
She wants people to actually get out and show their support for those in the drag community as well as the LGBT+ community.
“If you see a protest that’s about to happen – protest,” she said.
D’LaVane wished that people would come out and see the performances before they judge them.
“We just want to have fun with you, too,” she said.