It was a Saturday night – I was lying in my hammock, drinking a beer while relaxing after a long run and catching up on DragCast episodes (a podcast by Nina West and Patricia Taylor). Nina goes on to talk about how she was met with hateful, hurtful and dangerous remarks during a recent Story Time with Nina episode.
Instantly my blood was boiling with anger. This is not the first time that story time with a drag queen has been met with outrage. Events in Columbus, New York City, West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Texas have been cancelled in the past year due to the shouting of homophobic individuals.
Drag is an art form. Full stop. It became popular during Prohibition, when speakeasies welcomed drag and became known as the “Pansy Craze.”
Following the Stonewall riots in 1969, drag queen Flawless Sabrina organized pageants across the U.S., showcasing drag queens as part of the movement. RuPaul has changed drag in the modern age, with his show RuPaul’s Drag Race becoming a mainstream phenomenon.
Today, drag continues to be an art form, but the importance of drag is more than that. Being able to perform in drag has saved many lives of those in the LGBTQ community. Drag promotes authenticity, that different is ok (and should be celebrated), it’s a platform for political activism, it’s philanthropic, it’s entertainment, it breaks traditional beauty standards, it promotes self-love and more.
As Rupaul says, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else.”
I’ve been in story times with a drag queen where a little boy looked up admiringly at Nina West, saying how he liked to wear dresses too. Or in Delaware, where a little girl dressed as Ariel held hands with Selena West, dancing and having a great time during a Disney themed show.
It’s critical to teach our kids that diversity is wonderful, the importance of living your authentic life, and that drag is a beautiful art form. And for some kids – they are seeing a reflection of themselves that they desperately needed. Representation matters.
And then you have people like me. While I knew back in college that I was bisexual, I still wasn’t living my authentic life when I moved to Columbus. I knew I was meant for more, that something was missing.
It was watching Nina and Virginia be their authentic selves, stand up for what they believed in, use their platform for good and be some of the most wonderful, kind and genuine humans on this planet that I saw more clearly how I wanted to live as a bisexual woman.
I might be a minority, but I am also a white woman with a college degree and a voice – I recognize my privilege and the importance of standing up for what I believe in, for fighting for those with fewer rights than I have, for fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community and spreading kindness. I am forever grateful to have Nina and Virginia as role models. And I know that I’m not the only one who has had their life impacted by them.
In Columbus, we are blessed with the West Family. If you’ve been to a West Family show, you know how it feels for that Virginia West lightening to kick on and hear the first notes of a Celine Dion song. Or the anticipation of what Nina has come up with for Heels of Horror. How every time, Krystal Something Something picks the best songs for her character, mesmerizing the audience with her skill. Krystal and Emily Karn showcase their aptitude as choreographers show after show. The West Family dancers add flair, energy and greatness to the stage. Candi Panties is always and forever a fan favorite.
While sometimes overlooked, the drag kings are an important part of the West Family and are just as treasured. Shawty West does an incredible Missy Elliot impersonation (not to mention does a lot of the artwork for the shows). Jamz Dean, Chuck Sparrow and V Master Chad routinely bring down the house with their numbers.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of the members of the West Family – but you get the picture. They are an incredibly talented group of individuals, who are political activists, promote kindness and make this world a better place.
Collectively, they have raised over three million dollars for local charities. And it’s not just LGBTQ charities. I’ve been at shows where they raised money for a West Family member down on hard times, or an Axis employee that needed help with funeral costs for a loved one, or they adopt hundreds of senior citizens during the holidays through Besa’s Adopt a Senior program.
If you’ve been to a West Family drag show, you know it’s also political. They fight for women’s rights, transgender rights and the rights of their brown/black brothers and sisters. They encourage everyone to be informed voters and to vote. They shoot down hate, racism, bigotry and misogyny.
Not to mention, they are some of the most talented individuals this world has to offer. I leave every show with a hoarse voice from singing along, a sore face from smiling and laughing, and with a heart that is full of love, happiness and wonderful memories.
The West Family is a Columbus treasure. A treasure that we need to collectively protect. They have created an environment where individuals can forget about their problems, have fun, feel safe and loved. And it’s not just LGBTQ individuals that feel this – my straight friends feel the same way leaving a West Family show. They break down that gay-straight barrier. They have paved the way for other drag entertainers in Columbus to step into their own light and are supportive fans of them. Nightly, we have talented drag entertainers performing all over Columbus. It’s one of the reasons this city is so amazing.
So, how do you protect the West Family and all drag entertainers? Call out bigotry, racism, homophobia and misogyny when you see/hear it. Attend drag events and tip the entertainers. Buy their merchandise. Voice your support for drag queen story times. Take your kids to the drag events so that they can see that being different is ok. Stand up for the LGBTQ community at the voting booth. Reach out to your representatives and ask them to pass the Ohio Fairness Act.
The West Family mantra is ‘Go Big, Be Kind, Go West’. A mantra we could all benefit and learn from.