What Nayda Montana misses the most about queer bars and venues is the familiar chaos: loud music, mixed drinks and, most of all, the ability to perform for adoring crowds looking to be entertained.
Since the COVID-related closing of restaurants, bars and other major entertainment venues began in Dallas back in March, drag performers like Montana have found new ways to obtain the same unique energy that local queer spaces like JR’s, Sue Ellen’s and The Rose Room have offered in the past. Gone are the countless dollar bills flying toward performers and drunk bridal parties paying generous amounts of money just to get a shout out.
That lively scene may be a thing of the past — for now — but drag queens continue their reign in a virtual realm. The digital transition has allowed local performers to think creatively and challenge not just their dance skills, but their expertise of technology. Queens have taken to Twitch, Facebook Live and other online venues and are now able to profit while spreading their activism for LGBTQ causes.
Montana found a silver lining after initially being saddened by the closing of bars and being furloughed from her day job. Instead of shutting down, Montana, 27, decided to spring to action and finally begin working on her video production skills, including audio and camera editing.
“I had a little experience with editing video and photos,” Montana says. “But this just honestly gave me more time and a reason to focus on that.”
Montana had planned to increase her digital presence with music videos and online performances even before the pandemic began, but since much of her time was dedicated to performing at bars and venues, those plans sat on the back burner until she had more free time on her hands.
“Whenever you do drag, by the time you get home after being at the bar all night, the last thing you wanna do is keep it all on and film something,” Montana says of the stage makeup and costumes. “I would always find excuses to not do it. Now I have no choice.”
Since then, Montana has produced and starred in music video lip syncs to artists like Kim Petras and Lady Gaga.
Drag performer Bleach has committed to performing, entertaining and hosting in drag as her full-time job. The day before the mandatory shutdown in Dallas, Bleach had performed 13 shows in nine days. That commitment — which included weekly shows at Beauty Bar in Deep Ellum — came to a screeching halt. The performer, however, channeled her worry into an opportunity to team up with queer videographers and photographers to make her own online content.
Though Bleach isn’t necessarily a fan of social media, she utilizes Instagram and Facebook to her advantage, especially now. The platform, Bleach says, has inspired new ideas to showcase her art and style. Now, she encourages other drag artists to invest in their digital presence — whether that means buying a ring light or upgrading their cameras. She also hopes online audiences are patient as many performers transition into what may be a new venture for them.
Since the beginning of the modern-day queer rights movement, drag queens have been at the forefront in the fight for LGBTQ equality. That advocacy did not stop once the pandemic hit; it forced performers to also evaluate how they would continue stepping up that part of their brand.
For Kylee O’Hara Fatale, that advocacy included a three-part livestream fundraiser that allocated over $10,000 for local Black, trans and queer organizations. The series included auctions and online performances where viewers could donate via Venmo or CashApp.
The final installment of the series included a live feed of Fatale, 27, and two other drag performers receiving tattoos while they were blindfolded. Fatale, whom many of her friends call a workaholic, says she appreciates that the public responds enthusiastically to her creativity, no matter the platform.
“It was really heartwarming to see the community come together to support my project,” Fatale says.
It’s important for drag performers to continue to use their platform for good, Montana says, adding that advocacy is just as important as performing. Performers are using innovative ways to keep soldiering on during these uncertain times.
“You have a responsibility as a queen because you have a platform,” Montana says. “People tend to listen to you.”
To believe otherwise is to erase a drag performer’s status and identity, Montana says.
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“You are a political movement,” she says. “Being a queen and not being an activist is not acceptable.”
Bleach, Fatale and Montana all plan to continue to use their platform in a variety of ways for the foreseeable future. Bleach is hosting a Lady Gaga-themed showcase on Twitch on July 21, which will feature Fatale. The queens are also weekly performers on Cassie Nova’s Freak Show, which streams on Facebook Live.
For Montana, this way of performing is not temporary. She plans to continue innovating and stepping up her online content once venues begin to open back up.
“This is just another challenge of drag, which is what drag is all about,” Montana says. “This is just another challenge we’re gonna overcome.”