December 29, 2015 at 10:02 am EST | by Laura Rutgers McBride
A straight girl in a drag world
Ba’Naka Deveroux, gay news, Washington Blade

Dustin Michael Schaad also known as Ba’Naka Deveroux (Photo Courtesy of Laura Rutgers McBride)

Growing up in a conservative religious background, it was often encouraged to stay away from people and ideas that didn’t fit the desired mold. Rather than learning about and embracing differences, I would steer clear of anything and anyone I didn’t understand. I recently began a graduate course in documentary photography at Johns Hopkins University and was tasked with a semester-long project. I decided to tackle one of these topics I had long avoided: drag queens.

I have heard a variety of descriptive words used for drag queens over the years. As with many sub-cultures in society, the descriptive terminology often includes an abundance of negativity and misrepresentation. Since documentary photography provides an opportunity to inform and educate others about individual aspects of our society, culture and sub-cultures, the opportunity was a great fit.

Since I had no experience with the drag performing world, I wanted to learn about an individual behind the make-up and sassy attitude. I didn’t want the television reality show or Hollywood production. I also did not want to limit getting to know an individual in their life as a drag queen, but also wanted to learn who they are behind it all. I had the opportunity to photograph and interview Dustin, better known as Ba’Naka Deveroux.

Ba’Naka Deveroux

The drag closet for Ba’Naka Deveroux at Town Danceboutique (Photo Courtesy of Laura Rutgers McBride)

The series of photographs begins with Dustin in his daily life and continues through his evening into full drag to perform. I entered the nightclub backstage dressing room, with shelves of colorful wigs and dresses hanging on racks and from the ceiling. Dustin’s vanity is messy and adorned with various jewelry pieces and photos taped to the wall. Dustin shaves and then begins the process of make-up. After Ba’Naka has most of her make-up applied, her next step is duct tape and panty-house to hide male genitalia. She dons a black padded bra with padded inserts and uses contouring make-up to give the appearance of breasts. There are important details that cannot be missed, such as fake nails and the correct pair of heels.

Ba’Naka Deveroux putting on the finishing touches (Photo Courtesy of Laura Rutgers McBride)

Ba’Naka Deveroux putting on the finishing touches (Photo Courtesy of Laura Rutgers McBride)

The portrait images of Ba’Naka express her vibrant personality getting ready and throughout her performance. She is serious and hardworking, but also silly and abundantly sassy. There are moments of contemplation sharing personal stories and life experiences, as well as joking and having fun. The greatest generosity was Ba’Naka permitting photographing during personal situations. The vulnerability of being photographed in underwear and without a wig offered true authenticity into the life of a drag queen.

BaNaka_Performance_Laura_Rutgers_McBride

Ba’Naka Deveroux performance at Town Danceboutique (Photo Courtesy of Laura Rutgers McBride)

Photographing Ba’Naka throughout the process of getting ready offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse into a world many are unfamiliar with. It was a world that I thought would be less than welcoming as an outsider to be received in such circumstances. Working individually with Dustin allowed us to form a new connection of friendship and mutual understanding. My previous misconceptions were not only limiting, but greatly devalued authentic talent. The greatest thing I learned and hope to share from the documentary photography project is the empathy derived from embracing rather than shunning what we don’t understand. Drag performers are a unique part of our culture and just as the rest of us, they each have a valuable story to share.

BaNaka_By_Laura_Rutgers_McBride

Halloween performance Ba’Naka Deveroux at Town Danceboutique (Photo Courtesy of Laura Rutgers McBride)

3 Comments
  • Great read. There is more behind the sass and entertainment than one knows. There’s heartache from stereotyping, to loneliness in some cases based on perceptions of the art-form with these entertainers. Thanks Banaka for sharing behind the scenes confidence of your before and after. I’d love to see a part two of the life of Banaka and how Dustin found the drive to step in to the spotlight. Laura Rutgers McBride – thanks!

  • I can clearly remember when I first met Dustin 10 years ago (2005) as a sales associate at Universal Gear (a.k.a. Universal Queer) when it occupied a space on 17th street. This was way before he became the entertainer he has become today, but the qualities of the person he is was clear and apparent even back then. Since that time he has developed into the entertainer, Ba’Naka, and it has been a pleasure to watch and follow the progress of his career. Always wishing you the best my friend.

  • I worked with Ba’Naka at Town for about a year as my role on the security team. Each week I’d watch these shows from stage left. Never really meeting Dustin I’ve only gotten to know Ba’Naka. She knows how to work the crowd, she knows how to be fun, and let me tell you her and the others work their ass off. They are entertainers that is their sole purpose of coming to Town really – they entertain – with that said who comes to a show of any kind and not expect to pay to be entertained? It was frustrating at times to see the performers work their ass off and not get tipped. Damn people if you’re in the audience whether in the front row or back in the middle where its dark come with your pocket full of bills, 1’s are typical however those 5’s, 10’s, 20’s and hell yeah even those Franklin’s if your drunk enough – (they might just get you a little something extra lol – anyway), comeon people – they work hard, their costumes add up and frankly you came to be entertained and when the lights go dark and the downstairs opens up to dance you know you’re walking away with what you came for – to have a good time and to see the best damn drag show in DC! So get your money out and be a good gay – or *rolls eyes* if your part of a bachelorette party at Town bitches know what you’re getting into ahead of time and bring cash don’t sit there and expect to be served by hot server boys and not tip the performers – you just may not make it out the same way you came in.

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2020. All rights reserved.