Written by Abbey Fernandez and Mary Armintrout
When you think of a typical Nashville brunch experience, a never-ending Pancake Pantry line may come to mind, or perhaps the lead designs of a warm Fido latte. Not so much at Suzy Wong’s House of Yum on Church Street. There you will be serenaded by drag queens lip-syncing to classics while noshing on Asian-fusion brunch delicacies. The ambiance of Drag’N’ Brunch is lively, eccentric, and delicious, but most importantly this weekly event (every Sunday from 11-3) serves as a fun and accepting environment for people of all identities who just want to eat good food and be merry.
We weren’t sure what to expect on Sunday morning when we were seated at our table for two. But one thing was sure– judging by the music volume, we were in for a show. Diners were served while the featured drag queen for the day (or in our case, two: The Princess and Tracey Ottomey) would perform a couple of songs every half hour or so. The restaurant-goers were encouraged to interact during the performances. Clapping, singing along, and pictures were all welcome. As the drag queen performing would strut and dance throughout the venue while singing, tips were thrown their way from all the thoroughly entertained tables. From our observations, most of the crowd was composed of people who are extremely comfortable around drag queens. They would laugh together, take pictures with them, and relish in the pure entertainment. It reminded us of a grown up version of the character brunch at Walt Disney World because the drag queens were viewed as celebrities as they waltzed through the restaurant. Brunch at Suzy Wong’s House of Yum comes highly recommended by us for not only a delicious meal but a highly entertaining musical sing-song as well. Who doesn’t want to spend their Sunday morning chowing down on French Toast while watching The Princess passionately belt Idina Menzel’s “Let it Go”?
The term drag references “dressing as girls,” a mode of performance that started in the Globe Theater during performances of Shakespeare’s plays. The queen became apparent when we watched them perform. Their presence is strong and commanding, and they are quite stunning with their long wigs and contoured faces. Drag queens aren’t limited to men dressing up as hyper-feminized women. There are drag kings (dressing up as a very masculine man), and both women and men have the ability to be drag queens and kings. The distinction between drag royalty and a cross-dresser (or transvestite) is that people in drag, more often than not, are embracing an alter-ego for the sake of performance. Their costumes tend to be extremely elaborate and the queens personify a caricature of women. Cross-dressers, on the other hand, typically use dressing in clothes indicative of the opposite gender for more sexual and intimate purposes. What these groups share in common is that the person without the costume most likely identifies with their assigned sex. The drag queen phenomena is way for people to express themselves as an alter-ego, and whether they maintain their alter-ego at all times or only once in their life, the intent of drag queens is “to destabilize gender and sexual categories and undermine stereotypical attitudes about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people” (Taylor). Unfortunately, people more often see drag queens as “freaks,” or contagious, in a similar way to “The Myth of the Predatory Fag.” At Madame Wong’s Drag’N’ Brunch, people arrived to enjoy the presence and performance of The Princess and Tracey Ottomey. I believe that if people are able to approach the generally marginalized drag queen culture with an open mind, then we could learn more about acceptance of all identities.
Because Nashville is a fairly up and coming city, we have discovered that there is definitely an established drag culture presence. Aside from brunch, our research has found that there is Tuesday night Drag Bingo at Mad Donna’s in East Nashville, various themed drag events at Play Dance bar (see the full schedule here), or similar drag shows at Tribe. Even though Nashville, and the south in general, may not always be the most LGBTQIA friendly, the city is large enough to allow certain marginalized communities to form. On a broader scale, drag culture seems to have become more accepted as tolerance of diverse sexual/self-expression continues to grow. In 2009, Adam Stewart decided to devote a day in July every year to celebrate drag artists, worldwide, also known as International Drag Day. Additionally, reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race, which premiered in 2009, serves as another example of shedding light on drag culture. And while there are many drag shows across the nation, some of the most popular include Lips, located in NYC, and Trannyshack in San Francisco (two extremely diverse cities), we’d imagine that drag culture has been a rising occurrence since the late 19th century, which would be pretty consistent with the public recognition of LGBTQIA life. PS: Don’t miss out on Vanderbilt’s very own drag show, hosted by Lamdba, on Tuesday October 7th in the SLC ballrooms.
What is slightly confusing about drag culture is that the majority of the queens dress and act hyper-feminized (i.e. pounds of makeup, fake eyelashes, big hair, dresses or skirts, astronomically high heels, etc). They are a caricature of femininity: reinforcing Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity and idealized womanhood. We grappled with this– we thought drag queens were rebelling against societal standards and what’s considered normal by cross-dressing. But do their alter-egos as these hyper-feminized queens just further perpetuate gender performativity and stereotypes? Jessica Strubel-Scheiner tackled this in an article for the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. She writes that, “Drag queens vehemently deny the misogynistic implications, claiming it is actually a satire of prescribed gender roles created by heterosexual men. They love to draw attention to, and challenge, the sometimes ridiculous, gender roles and gender boundaries we have accepted as normal for years. They hope the scathing caricatures will especially enlighten women on the absurdness of the stereotypes and gender roles they’ve been subjected to by a dominant male society.” Do these queens serve more of a social commentary or satirical purpose? This reminds us of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert, which serve as news satire programs to disguise political commentary. Hyperbolization and dramatization often work as strategies to point out absurdity to audiences. Perhaps this is the motive behind drag queens’ ultra-feminine appearance.
What is intriguing about the drag community is that they don’t fit into our assumptions about sexuality or gender, and for the most part we (as observers) separate their drag selves from their day-to-day selves. Do you think that this is because we have a hard time understanding that the same person can sit on two different parts of the gender spectrum? Do you believe that the hyper-feminized drag queens are helping to take away the binary or contributing to it?
China, a drag queen in Miami says: “’we are drag queens, and we are proud of what we do. Whether you are gay or straight, lesbian, bisexual, trisexual, transgender, asexual, or whatever in between, be proud of who you are!’” (Taylor). If you wish to observe this and have an awesome time, we highly recommend Sunday brunch at Suzy Wong’s House of Yum.
Taylor, Verta, and Leila J. Rupp. “When the Girls Are Men: Negotiating Gender and Sexual Dynamics in a Study of Drag Queens.” Signs 30.4 (2005): 2115-139. JSTOR. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.