In Cleveland, our LGBTQA+ community is out and proud — and putting on some pretty incredible shows, too. Thanks to television shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” drag culture has become more mainstream, and shows are attended by people of all sexualities and genders. Drag has been a part of Cleveland for a long time — much longer than you would expect — and there is so more to it than just men performing as women.
Typically, Drag Queens are men who dress as women and perform in shows or pageants. The word "drag" or the phrase "putting on the drag" is rumored to have been popularized by Shakespearian actors, who were men dressing as women for the stage, with their long gowns "dragging" behind them as they walked. But, the first known, self-identified Drag Queen was an American former slave named William Dorsey Swann, hosting drag balls in the 1880s.
Drag Queens’ history may best be explained by Cleveland’s own Queen Dr. Lady J, AKA Jeremiah Davenport. She wrote her doctoral thesis on the development of drag, called "From the Love Ball to RuPaul: The Mainstreaming of Drag in the 1990s.'' Lady J also teaches classes on drag and has started a podcast on the history of drag called “Untucking the Past.” The thesis and podcast can be downloaded on her website.
Cleveland Kings Action Pack (CKAP) are Drag Kings who perform 5-6 times a year for charities. Drag Kings are typically women who dress as men, but CKAP’s main work is to promote and develop safe spaces for new kings and kings of all identities. Since their formation, they have performed to benefit Preterm, NARAL, the Tamir Rice Foundation, TransOhio, Esperanza, and Cleveland Kids in Need. They also developed a Community Closet for Kings and queer folks in need of clothing, shoes and makeup. There is an ever-growing population of new Kings in Cleveland.
Women can also be Drag Queens. Cis women are referred to by names like femme, hyperfemme, bio or cis queens, sometimes even faux queens. Some people have felt it is a form of cultural appropriation of gay male culture, while others say it is an underrepresented part of drag.
Cis and trans women have always been a part of drag, and yet have often been excluded from drag history and gay history as a whole. As gender breaks free from the binary, it becomes less important who is a man and who is a woman, but more about what kind of character the performer is portraying, and what story they are telling.
Thankfully, in Cleveland, the drag community has been described as one big family.
Cassandra Harner, a hyperfemme drag queen named Dusty Bucket, runs Drag News Ohio on Instagram. This resource is great for finding drag events in your area and the posts cover all types of drag throughout Northeast Ohio.
Ongoing Drag Events
Northeast Ohio hosts several regular drag events, mostly in the evening. Shows vary their lineups, and most are inclusive of Kings and Queens. You’ll never get the same thing at a show or event because each host painstakingly tailors acts to provide a mix of entertainment including music, lip-syncing, dancing, comedy and burlesque.
- Glam Gore, housed at the Grog Shop in Coventry, takes place every month and lasts nearly two hours. GlamGore features a variety of performance artists under one roof ranging from beauty queens to drag monsters, and is one of few all-inclusive and all ages productions that incorporates themed performances to elevate artists and audiences alike.
- Black Mass is a high-energy punk rock alternative performance art showcase that mixes in an outlaw burlesque style. The show takes place monthly at The Five O’ Clock Lounge in Lakewood.
- Twist Social Club hosts several weekly events including a community watch night of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and a drag show called “Malibu’s Dreamhouse,” hosted by Malibuu Peruu and guest hosts.
- Described as Cleveland’s tallest drag entertainer, Veranda L’ni hosts Drag Bingo monthly at Music Box Supper Club.
- Check out Interbelt Nite Club in Akron for special events and theme nights like Hip Hop Mondays.