'Don't be afraid to put makeup on'

An insider's guide to Atlanta drag

Drag queens have ruled a certain corner of Atlanta nightlife for decades.

But they've never been bigger than now, thanks to increasing LGBTQ acceptance and a TV mini-phenom called "RuPaul's Drag Race." New visitors to local clubs such as Lips on a Saturday night could find the audience includes multiple bachelorette parties and dozens of people of all possible sexual orientations celebrating birthdays.

Drag has gone mainstream. And this year, Atlanta's own Violet Chachki won "Drag Race," further cementing the city's status in the world of drag.

<i>Violent Chachki (née Jason Dardo), before and after. Contributed by Matthew Terrell.</i><br>

Violent Chachki (née Jason Dardo), before and after. Contributed by Matthew Terrell.

It used to be men dressed in glamorous gowns and full makeup lip-syncing to records by famous divas. The Chers, Madonnas and Britneys are still on full display. But they're sharing the spotlight with a newer generation of queens that go for more experimental, alternative takes on the centuries-old tradition.

Whatever your taste for men dressed as women, Atlanta (and, to a lesser extent, other towns in Georgia) can dish it up.

Drag in history

Men and boys played female roles in Shakespearean theater because females were not allowed onstage. In the 20th century, gay hideaways gave shelter to drag queens, transgender people and gay people in general.

<i>Left: Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love." Right: TV comic Flip Wilson as "Geraldine" on his '70s series.</i><br>

Left: Gwyneth Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love." Right: TV comic Flip Wilson as "Geraldine" on his '70s series.

In the early history of television, Milton Berle became the first of many straight TV comics to don a dress for laughs.
Drag queens and transgender people led the historic Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969.

Atlanta-based filmmaker Tyler Perry continues the drag tradition today with his "Madea" movies.

What drag is

Male performers in female clothing and makeup, performing for laughs or to make some kind of commentary and observation about gender roles.

Or just to, you know, have fun and look pretty and (mostly) lip sync.

What drag is not

Most drag queens are not transgender and generally live life off-stage in traditional male attire. Caitlyn Jenner is a transgender woman. RuPaul is not.

"RuPaul says she only dresses in drag when she's making money," said photographer and writer Matthew Terrell.

From the National Center for Transgender Equality:

Transgender: A term for people whose gender identity, expression or behavior is different from those typically associated with their assigned sex at birth. Transgender is a broad term and is good for non-transgender people to use. "Trans" is shorthand for "transgender." (Note: Transgender is correctly used as an adjective, not a noun, thus "transgender people" is appropriate but "transgenders" is often viewed as disrespectful.)

Drag queen: Used to refer to male performers who dress as women for the purpose of entertaining others at bars,clubs, or other events. It is also sometimes used in a derogatory manner to refer to transgender women.

Drag: a dictionary

Spend any time at a drag show and you learn that it practically has its own language — work this and beat that.

Confused? Don't be.

Here's what you need to know, with a hat tip to the good work done by Saeed Jones.

Beat (verb): To apply makeup to one's face

Eleganza (noun): A derivative of "elegance," but as a kind of excessive performance.

Gag (verb): An extreme, usually positive, response.

Gurl (noun): A term of affection.

Read (noun, verb): An insult, sometimes affectionate and sometimes not, often about another person's appearance.

Serve (verb): The art of presenting a certain kind of aesthetic — "I was serving Atlanta eleganza"

Shade (noun): A "more subtle way of reading someone," according to Jones.

Tea (noun): Gossip or information.

The queens

Charlie Brown: The ... A-hem ... of the South

<i>Contributed by Charlie Brown</i><br>

Contributed by Charlie Brown

• Born Charles Dillard
• 65
• Longtime host at Backstreet, a former 24-hour dance club on Peachtree Street
• Glamorous, showgirl-style makeup and dress
• Profanity-laced, crude humor mostly directed at straight fans, who seem to eat it up.

"If you can't laugh at a fat, 65-year-old bald-headed man in a dress, you don’t have no business on Buford Highway after dark to begin with."

• Lip-sync go-to: "It's Raining Men"
• Most spent on a dress: $2,000
• Women's shoe size: 10
• See her: Hosting a bevy of beauties every Friday and Saturday night at Lips.

Bubba D. Licious: The Comedy Queen

<i>Contributed by Bubba D. Licious</i><br>

Contributed by Bubba D. Licious

• Born Jim Marks
• 58
• Frequent fundraiser for AIDS causes, notably PALS Bingo for years
• Your country cousin drag queen drinking Bud Lite in her trailer park. ("This isn't my beer – it's empty.")

"I looked like an old lady when I started out 27 years ago, and I look like an old lady today."

• Favorite music: country and gospel
• Lip-sync go-to: "Thank God He Made Me a Drag Queen" segueing into "Man! I Feel Like a Woman"
• Women's shoe size: 10 or 11
• Typical outfit cost: "About 20 bucks"
• See her: As emcee of both bingo on Wednesday nights and Sunday gospel brunch at Lips.

Jaye Lish: A Different Kind of Queen

<i>Contributed by Jaye Lish</i><br>

Contributed by Jaye Lish

• Born Jason Livingston
• 39
• Former Armorette – got her start at defunct Armory's Easter drag races.
• Not your grandpa's drag: Lish is one of the newer generation that eschews female impersonation, although she does weave in some Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush touches.

"When you think of it as a moneymaking career in the early stages, you get too serious way too quick. A lot of the newer queens are way too serious about it and forget that you're a man in a dress and so to some degree interestingly humorous."

• Most spent on an outfit: "I have a $600 ball gown and very nice shoes I've worn a couple of times. But I tend to do things a little more creative, like making things out of paper, or found materials."
• See her: Friday nights at Jungle's "The Other Show."

Kryean Kally: New Kid on the Block

<i>Contributed by Kryean Kally</i><br>

Contributed by Kryean Kally

• Born Matthew Callaway
• 26
• Been performing in drag for three years
• Persona: "There's a little bit of spell-casting. A beautiful witch, is what you might call her."

"In 2015, anybody, as long as you're yourself and have a genuine delivery, you're able to become whoever you would like to be."

• Typical cost of an outfit: $100-$150
• Usually shops: at thrift stores and on eBay.
• Lip-sync go-to: "Runaway (U & I)" by Galantis
• Herstory lesson: "Drag is huge in Atlanta because we had amazing people before us ... who helped the gay culture get through some times, you know."
• See her: Friday nights at Jungle and every other Sunday at Burkhart's.

The Lady Chablis: The Doll

<i>William Berry/AJC 1997</i><br>

William Berry/AJC 1997

• Born Benjamin Edward Knox
• 58

"I'm the Lady Chablis. Hear me roar."

"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil"

• Longtime performer at Savannah's Club One
• Made famous by "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (the book and movie)

RuPaul: The Mogul

<i><span class="text">Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT</span></i>

Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times/MCT

• Born RuPaul Andre Charles
• 54
• Moved to Atlanta at 15 and got her start here. Featured in The B-52s "Love Shack" video.

"If you can't love yourself, then how the hell you gonna love somebody else?"

• Hit single in early '90s: "Supermodel (You Better Work)"
• M.A.C. Cosmetics model
• Host and executive producer of Logo TV's "RuPaul's Drag Race"

Other Atlanta drag queens

At Savannah's ClubOne

• Tiffany DuBois
• Kendall St. James
•Trixie Turner


Club Argos (venue with drag shows)

The kings

We might be familiar with drag queens and some of the places around Atlanta where they perform regularly.

But did you know there's an equivalent for female performers impersonating men?

Yep – and they're called drag kings, naturally enough.
Tiffany Phillips is one of them, the winner this year and last of the Georgia Voice's readers' choice for top drag king in town. She performs under the name Jordan Michaels McCord, often as Elton John or hip-hop artists T-Pain and Lil' Wayne.

Occupational hazards: "taping down" chests for a more masculine look, and applying makeup for facial hair.

"We work just as hard as the drag queens do," McCord, 42, said. She got started in drag eight years ago and works as an animal control officer.

"You want to pick songs that the crowd will enjoy – everybody knows the lyrics," McCord said.

He is a regular at My Sister's Room. It's the city's oldest lesbian bar and has moved to Midtown, at 66 12th St. NE, after years in Decatur and East Atlanta.

It's the main spot to see drag kings perform. Shows are offered Thursday through Sunday nights, featuring drag kings, queens and "femmes," women in burlesque-style performances. The diverse cast of kings covers Elvis to Prince to hip-hop and more.

Owners hope the new location will bring more acceptance and business.

"It's still a man's world ... It's not as accepted or embraced as drag queens are," said Jen Maguire, the bar's co-owner, emcee and former drag performer. "We're going to make sure that the kings and the femmes do get some recognition."

Before you go ...

Where to watch drag in Atlanta

Blake's on the Park, 227 10th St. NE

Burkhart's, 1492 Piedmont Ave. NE

The Hideaway, 1544 Piedmont Ave. NE

Jungle, 2115 Faulkner Road NE

Lips, 3011 Buford Highway

Mary's, 1287 Glenwood Ave. SE

My Sister's Room, 1271 Glenwood Ave. SE

When to watch drag in Atlanta

On Mondays: The Stars of the Century take the stage at Jungle, as they have every Monday night for many, many years. (The show proudly advertises as "one of Atlanta’s longest running and most respected drag shows.") Doors open at 10:30 p.m.

On Tuesdays: Burkhart's hosts "Drageoke" with Angelica D'Paige, starting at 10:30 p.m.; while Dragnificent, an elimination-style competition, returns at Jungle.

On Wednesdays: Ruby Redd hosts Birdcage Bingo at The Hideaway, starting at 8:30 p.m., and all proceeds go to gay charities. Or, as the website puts it: "Campy, raunchy, brash, and a whole lot of fun!"

On Thursdays: It's "Dinner with the Divas" at Lips, a celebrity impersonator show (Adele! Madonna! Dolly!) hosted by Savannah Leigh; while Burkhart's brings out Phoenix for "Dancefloor Divas" — drag "with a dash of danger," starting at 11:30 p.m.

On Fridays: Edie Cheezburger hosts "The Other Show" at Jungle, starting at 9:30 p.m. This is important because: Cheezburger's cast is hand-picked, all in the spirit of the night's name. "It was really meant to be more of an avant garde kind of show," Edie said in 2013.

Meanwhile, Burkhart's hosts "Femme Fatale Fridays," starting at 11 p.m., with Destiny Brooks. And Charlie Brown leads "Glitz & Glam" at Lips.

On Saturdays: Jungle welcomes the Fantasy Girls at 9 p.m., including Phoenix, Celeste Holmes ("the mouth of the South"), Destiny Brooks, Dynisty St'james and more.

It's also another night of "Glitz & Glam" at Lips.

On Sundays: We brunch! Stop by Lips' gospel brunch (for $14.95) and then watch The Armorettes at The Hideaway starting at 8 p.m. (Lips also hosts "Dinner with the Divas" again.)

And if you really must keep going, Burkhart's hosts "Tossed Salad" with Brigitte Bidet starting at 10 p.m.

Don't forget about Blake's on the Park, Mary's and My Sister's Room, who supply regular updates about their schedules.

How to watch drag in Atlanta

It's not hard. Stay out of the way, be loud (but not stupid) but don't boo, and tip as often as you feel you should.

But remember: If you tip, tip correctly — dollar bill extended from the end of your extended arm, so you and the royalty never have to touch.

And yes, the show might include audience participation. So don't volunteer unless you are fully prepared to be part of the show (that includes the occasional read).

Presentation: Adam Carlson

Photos, from top where not credited: Chris Dunn/AJC 2010 (2); Jenni Girtman/AJC 2004; contributed by Robb D. Cohen; Elissa Benzie/AJC 2006; stock photo by Fotosearch; Chris Dunn/AJC 2010 (2); contributed by Robb D. Cohen.