I am one of those girls who is physically incapable of walking gracefully in high heels. Just walking smoothly on uneven cobblestone streets is a feat within itself. Walking in high heels makes me believe that they were created with the sole purpose of causing intense and unbearable pain. Yet on Tuesday night, I watched about a hundred men running in stilettos show me up. I faced my humiliation at the 21st Annual High Heel Drag Queen Race.
Thousands lined 17th street waiting for the race to start. Maybe it was the dazzling amount of glitter, sequins and rhinestones in one place, or maybe it was a mixture of our amazement and envy, but the drag queens were statuesque and awe inspiring.
They tended to be at least six feet tall, brandishing the highest heels they could find, and they transformed mere gravel into red carpet. Those around me were constantly pushing to catch a glimpse of the next queen, or to take a picture with their favorite faux celebrity.
While their cup size varied from nonexistent to a proud DD, all the queens had an entourage. Some, like “Princess Di” and “Condoleezza Rice,” were surrounded by ominously black-suited security guards, while others simply had one companion leading them around—or in the case of at least two queens, they led companions around by chain and dog collar. A boisterous, glittering “Marilyn Monroe” accompanied “John F. Kennedy” while a bashfully veiled “Jacqueline Kennedy” trailed behind. Alas, I searched for a trio of Bill, Hillary and Monica to no avail, yet there was a “Senator Larry Craig,” who sported an extra wide stance on a toilet seat.
For many the transformation was not just from man to “damn smoking hot woman” (as one bystander described it), but completely into a character. Voices sprang up octaves to coo “Oh, honey” in luxurious tones, and personalities were as big as the synthetic wigs worn by the runners. “The Spice Girls” and “Fanta Girls” both had songs prepared, and the former even memorized the dance to “Spice Up Your Life.” “Miss South Carolina” continually recited her famous speech on “our education, like such as in South Africa and the Iraq” to adoring applause. While some expressed their dedication to the Drag Race in their commitment to character, others spent hundreds on elaborate costumes, including elaborate headdresses or wings that stretched ten feet into the night sky. I was unsure how they managed to get out of their door that evening, much less call a cab or take the Metro.
At one point in the night I noticed a man slyly sporting a bowler hat, and the squeals around me confirmed my suspicions—Mayor Fenty was there. He was one of the few wearing pants that were quickly welcomed into the fold. Charming, he made his way through the crowd, posing for pictures and blowing air kisses to the drag queens. However, his attire quickly solicited cheers for high heels, to which he responded “Next year, next year.” Remember, Fenty, drag queens never forget.
After about two hours of stylish parading, around a hundred drag queens lined up for the actual race. Fenty shouted “go” and the participants were off, the first wave sprinting like they were going to miss a connecting flight. The first ten runners were obviously hoping to snag the prize—a trophy with a silver high heel perched atop it, and a $100 tab at J.R.’s Bar, while the others went by at a brisk walk, knowing that if the trophy was not in their reach, but looking fabulous was.
The Drag Race was not about competition, but celebration: celebration of people, of personality, of Halloween and of legs that could make any supermodel envious. No matter how uncomfortable you may be, with heels, breasts and a head held high anyone can work it.