Using Art to Change Minds: “I Realized How Much Power a Drag Queen Can Have.”

by Christopher Barbosa

Hello. My name is Christopher Barbosa. I am Mission, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley.

I was about four or five years old. I was in daycare. My mom was a business woman at the time. My dad was a cop. And he picked me up after… after daycare every so often. So he comes in one day. I’m just looking around, grabbing things that I’m interested in playing with and one of them happens to be a purse, one of them happens to be like a shiny sparkly toy. And he looks at me and I don’t know why, but as soon as he looked at me, I just felt an immense amount of shame.

I remember the first time seeing a man in makeup was I was sitting next to my mom and she was watching this movie about these three drag Queens. Well, this one drag queen was all dressed up, I guess for herself because there was no one there, but she is, like, swinging her arms out, has letting the wind flow and her costume is just flying behind her. And it’s just this huge dramatic scene. Those were the two experiences that really have the biggest impact on me.

Growing up, I came out in sixth grade. Very much knew who I was. I told my friends, but I always kept it hidden from my parents because I just knew that they. It would just be a big ordeal.

In high school was when I fully came out as gay. My mom comes in one day, I’m texting this boy that I had a big crush on. He was, like, this cute Latin boy. And he sent me a text late at night and my mom sees that I get a text. She hears the phone ring. So she grabs my phone, reads the messages that he sent me, and she just kind of, like, looks like she’s in shock.

And so I remember she calls my dad over and we have this big ordeal where we’re talking about, you know, how… how this is wrong. At that age, obviously, I wasn’t ready to tell them that I was gay, but I remember right after that instance, I missed the bus to school. My dad decided that he’s going to take me in his truck instead of taking me right to school. He parks in the parking lot of Walmart and he turns to me and he’s like, “Who’s this faggot that you’re talking to?” And it was in that moment that I just felt so ashamed of my own sexual identity.

You know, in high school, I was pretty popular. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but, you know, I was pretty active, best swimmer on the team. By sophomore year, later on became student council president, became DECA president, was in theater, was in choir. I felt like my… my success in high school made up for the fact that I was gay.

So fast forward, I decided that I’m going to move to Austin. I wanted a culture that vibed with me. Enrolled in UT. I’m a journalism major. And I remember I had a friend who was gay and I really connected with him. He took me out to this show called the Sunday Diva Show, hosted by Kelly Kline. Now, it was supposed to be a drag show. I was really apprehensive about the whole thing, did not know if I would like a drag show.

We show up, we see different entertainers, and by the end of the night, I’ve just fallen in love with all of them. To be quite honest, too, like. I just kind of felt like I could probably do that and I could do it better. Just give me time.

So I call my mom right after the first time I saw that… that drag show and I tell her how my experience was, and I don’t know how it came up, but she… she wanted me to promise her that I wouldn’t become a drag queen. Fast a couple months, I’m buying makeup from Walmart with my friend, asking her for advice. I’m looking for mascara, looking for all of these things just to start playing with makeup. I go back to my dorm room. I started putting, applying, putting this makeup on, putting a bunch of powder. I’ve seen some videos already about how to do some drag makeup.

You know, I just kept applying myself until I finally felt like, okay, I’m comfortable with my makeup. Eventually I went out to buy a wig. Felt a little kind of uncomfortable buying women’s clothes at, like, Ross or… or at Walmart. I felt very uncomfortable. I could definitely – could not go alone.

When you’re in drag, no one’s going to tell you how bad you look, especially if it’s your first time. So I remember my first experience going out and performing as a drag queen, I was so confident. So I go out to this club, I’m like, I’m going to do this disco number. I love disco. I sign up as Disco Diana. I do a song called, “I Will Survive” – everybody knows. A gay anthem. And it just kinda felt, like, in my own, I just, I felt really confident. I knew obviously I had a lot of work to do, but I was just comfortable in my own skin. I felt like I could express my femininity in a way that I felt like I was suppressing for so long.

And one day I go to this show called Drag Survivor. Now Drag Survivor is hosted by Kelly Kline, the first person who I saw perform. I wanted to compete. I wanted to throw my hat in the ring. And I was ready to just have anything thrown at me. So I was like, okay, if I make this decision, I’d probably have to tell my parents.

I call my mom one day. I’m like, “Mom, I’m going to tell you something. And I don’t want you to get mad. I’m a drag queen.”

And she’s like, “Are you serious?” And she’s just kind of shell-shocked.

And then she… the next question she asks right after, she’s like, “Are you at least pretty?” So it was like, she was kind of cool about the whole thing. Surprisingly cool about the whole thing. Never really talked about with my dad. He knew I was doing drag, but didn’t really come up that much.

I learned so much in terms of the art of drag. It – you not only have to be your own content creator, right, you have to come up with your ideas, but you also have to either know how to accessorize it or sew. You have to know how to do hair, to style hair. You need to know how to… to do makeup. And if you do any of these things wrong, you might not meet your expectation of how you want to present yourself as a drag queen.

I do this competition and I end up winning. It was a really fun experience. And I…and I’m sharing all of this with my parents and they’re expressing how they’re proud of me.

So that competition was about two years ago. And at that point, my parents hadn’t come to any of my drag shows. They still lived in the Rio Grande Valley. Most recently, during this pandemic, they came to visit after my mom got coronavirus. She was like, “Okay. You know, I should be fine for like three months. I’m taking it… I’m playing it safe.”

And one of the things I say I want to do is I, “Hey, I want to introduce you to a drag show.” So I invited them to a drag show. And my dad he’s fully here at this show, uncomfortable though, but despite him being uncomfortable, he’s tipping, he’s having a good time. He even saying that some of these drag queens are… are pretty to look at.

I got to share just that memory with them and see that, you know, my parents have this big change. You know, me as an entertainer and as their son, I realized how much power a drag queen can have in terms of changing people’s mindsets or exposing people to new expressions or new ideas. And I get it – I got to share that moment. I got to be that drag queen for my parents. Not only did it allow my parents to accept my sexual orientation when I moved to Austin, but it also allowed them to accept the way that I choose to express myself as a… as a queer male.

The thing that people don’t change isn’t true. Whenever we start setting expectations about people and trying to assert that they can’t change is the moment when they won’t.

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