Not content with limiting their art to nightlife crowds, a group of four drag queens started a series of outings called Dragas en la Calle (Drag Queens in the Street), promenades around Mexico City neighborhoods whose residents may have never seen a gender performer before. The News’ Caitlin Donohue joined them on their latest public appearance.
Kaleido, one of the founders of Dragas en la Calle, invited us to Dragas en la Calle’s fourth walk, which would be taking place in streets and plazas near her home in the tranquil southern neighborhood of Coyoacán.
It is an area better known for its superlative churros and charming historic homes of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky than ostentatious millennial genderqueers.
But first, makeup — a process that took about three hours. Mikonico would be recreating Van Gogh’s “The Scream” with her look. Blasphemia, a Tijuana queen on an extended stay in Mexico City, piled on layers of frilly red fabrics and departed from her standard fishy glamour with a half face of gore makeup. Tabris Berges, known as Tiresias to her fans, would be bringing blonde BDSM realness to the Coyoacán streets. For her part, Kaleido had a full face of glitter, a shimmering tank dress and combat boots.
I love watching drag queens get ready. The tables in Kaleido’s apartment were covered in tubes of cosmetics. Suitcases full of clothes spilled across the floor.
Before we left, Blasphemia explained how the four had come up with the concept of Dragas en la Calle.
After experimenting with wearing their looks on the subway, the four found themselves hungry one day after a video shoot in the Centro Histórico neighborhood.
“We were like, let’s go out and have a drink, get something to eat, something like that,” said Blasphemia. “So we started walking, and getting really great reactions from the people to the drag.”
Walking while fabulous is nothing new in Mexico City, which is one of the queer capitals of Latin America. Trans women are particularly visible in the capital, where gay marriage is legal and same-sex couples holding hands on the street are a common sight.
There is a long history of trans performers in Mexico City cabarets such as the classic La Perla, which opens for shows every Friday and Saturday night. Just a block away from La Perla lies the more modern stretch of queer clubs like Purísima and Marrakech, where the Dragas en la Calle are more likely to perform.
But drag is miles away from trans identity. It’s an art form, not a sexual orientation or gender. Drag mocks society by performing its most recognizable stereotypes.
The four queens realized that many more people beyond the ones who regularly attend their shows and nightclub appearances could benefit from drag’s lessons. So they started going out in full face during the daytime and interacting with the families, couples, seniors and kids who approached them.
“Drag makes you think about gender and stereotypes,” said Mikonica. “To come into contact with ‘normal’ society, we’re educating about gender, about respecting the other. I have a great time.”
When we finally made it out into the Coyoacán streets people whispered, stared and occasionally vocalized a casual slur or question.
The queens were royally unworried, more focused on staying dry in the drizzle and not falling on the cobblestone streets.
Once, as we passed a corner open-air restaurant, the crowd’s confusion reached a fever pitch. Suddenly, everyone was whistling at the queens in a way that didn’t seem to be completely supportive.
The Dragas seemed enthused by the attention. “Take a photo! Take a photo!” the four commanded of me. I aimed the camera, capturing a host of jeering faces in the margin of the shot.
After some snacks at the churro stand, we arrived at a mellow bar where Kaleido had worked for three years. Though she now hosts three nights a week at a club in the Centro Histórico, she had always worked at this job in boy clothes.
The bar’s staff seemed delighted that Kaleido and the queens had stopped by for a drink. The owner told me that it was the first time any drag queen had set foot in the bar.
Before we left, a man asked for individual photos with all four of the queens. During Kaleido’s turn, he pretended to kiss her, then made an “I’m going to vomit” face. Straight men are complicated.
But one little girl did not share the general enthusiasm as she sidestepped us on the way to the bathroom.
“Let me through, clowns!” she yelled. She couldn’t have been more than eight years old. The queens shrugged her off, but on her way back she screamed again. “You look ridiculous!” An older woman smacked her on the back of her head, and later one of her family members asked for the Dragas’ website while the girl looked on warily.
“I think the people who most transcends social norms is the children,” Mikonico had said back at the house. “All the time, they’re breaking those taboos that older people have. We say ‘No! Not that! That’s bad! Don’t dress like a girl! Don’t dress like a boy!’ Children aren’t thinking about what the other person is going to say, they don’t think about that, they just do it. They like it, it makes them feel good, they just do it.”
Kids had the most dramatic reactions, both positive and negative, to the queens.
“Excuse me, what are you doing?” said a little girl who ran up to the group, just as we were returning to Kaleido’s house.
Earlier, the Dragas had discussed what the appropriate response to children’s questions on these walks would be. This time, they opted to normalize their presence.
“We are taking a walk, what are you doing?” one responded. The girl’s family members, who turned out to be street vendors stationed nearby, walked quickly up behind her. “She asked us what you were doing and we told her to go ask you herself,” they explained cheerfully.
“We’re drag queens.”
“Oh!” the parents and daughter responded. We took a group photo. The promenade ended on a positive note.
Walking with the Dragas left me exhausted. I couldn’t stop myself from watching the crowd’s reactions, and after awhile, even the friendly curiosity felt draining.
I asked Mikonico if the queen shared my fatigue. “Oh yes,” she told me — but for reasons I hadn’t thought of. “Putting on the makeup is so tiring, I couldn’t do this every day.”