Breaking The Stigma: Queens of Entertainment, Part Two
47 ABC – As society moves forward, the drag scene is becoming more mainstream. And that includes here on Delmarva.
“Now you can turn on the tv and see it there. I mean RuPaul was on an Old Navy commercial, so I mean it’s pretty much everywhere,” said Jeremy Bernstein, who performs as Magnolia Applebottom.
With the help of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race, by seeing it more society is, in turn, accepting it more.
“It’s become normalized which is what you need to make people more comfortable with things,” said Charles Bounds, who performs as Roxy Overbrooke.
But despite how normalized it may be, that doesn’t mean that stereotypes developed years ago don’t still exist.
“I think the stigma is that we’re weird or that we’re dirty or creepy or we’re the weird person in the corner that cross-dresses in the room,” said Dakota Whitlock, who performs as Miss. Mann.
One stereotype is that drag is always sexual.
“Some assumptions are that it’s some kind of fetish or sexualized situation, which it could be, but for most, it’s not,” Bounds said.
Or that all men who dress in drag want to be women.
“Just because I do drag does not mean I’m transgender, it does not mean that I want to be a woman. It does not mean that I’m transitioning to be a woman, drag is an art form,” Whitlock said.
For Bernstein, who grew up in Hebron, Md., it’s those misunderstandings that keep him from sharing his career with his extended family. As he says, it’s just not something they talk about.
“Maybe they just don’t understand drag and they don’t understand the art behind and I think it might be just a little confusing for them or a little off-putting for them,” Bernstein said. “I love my family and I just want to be able to talk about it.”
The reality is a lot of the confusion comes from simply not knowing. And as the performers say, a lot could be cleared up if people just started asking questions and started conversations.
“You’re not getting to know the person you’re just seeing this thing that you don’t understand and so therefore you’ve turned it into everything bad,” Bounds said. “Hate is fear and fear comes from not having knowledge.”
That hate was evident in December of 2020. After Magnolia was the subject of a homophobic slur on social media after someone attended one of her shows. But the way the community responded showed, in part, just how far society has come. Many embracing Bernstein and supporting him.
“I still get emotional talking about it today because the amount of support that I have in this community means everything. And I didn’t have it in high school or in middle school and the fact that I have it here 10, 12 years later it’s everything to me,” Bernstein said.
And it’s instances like that and seeing society continue to grow in acceptance of drag, that leaves those who do it optimistic about the future.
“It has come so far that it just makes me so excited thinking where drag can go,” Whitlock said.
Already the scene has grown exponentially in Rehoboth, even over the last 20 years.
“The way that people have started to flock to these shows. I mean we’re selling out two and three and four nights a week, every week, even in the winter,” Bounds said.
And while it’s still not something common outside of parts of Sussex County, others are trying to grow the scene in places like Salisbury.
Those like Whitlock say they’ll bring a show to whoever wants to host them.
“I just need some venues to call me and say we’re ready. Now we’re ready to come to do a show. I’ve got a whole team of people ready and willing to go.” Whitlock said, “We just got to have the place to do it.”
Because more shows mean more opportunities for people of all ages to truly understand it.
“I have kids that want to do drag and I was like absolutely, you should try to do it. There’s no age limit for doing it,” Bernstein said.
And they say that will help them continue to break the stigma.
“If you really get to know people. You have a hard time hating them. That’s just true,” Bounds said.