The mayor, you gotta hand it to her. This week in her newsletter, Mayor Muriel Bowser encouraged all Washingtonians to join her for one of the city’s “most unique and popular events,” D.C.’s own High Heel Race.
In case you’re new to D.C. or have been living under some rock in Arlington, let me briefly lay it out it for you. Way back in 1986, a plucky Madonna warned us of the perils of teen pregnancy with “Papa Don’t Preach,” Oprah Winfrey first came on the scene, and 25 drag queens raced from JR.’s Bar and Grill to Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse on 17th Street, running upstairs to take a shot, and back to JR.’s. And that’s played out more or less every year since to larger and larger crowds of spectators all eager to snap pictures of the best in drag.
From what I’m hearing, some gays have started to pooh-pooh the High Heel Race, giving the all-too-familiar line of no one goes to that anymore, it’s too crowded. Has the event become more and more straight? Has it lost its queer edge? This column has touched on all this before. As gay culture becomes more and more mainstream, as we start to appear in mayoral newsletters, do we lose that edginess?
Well, maybe. But there are still a lot of politics wrapped up in drag. And here are a few reasons why you should both go to the High Heel Race and take everyone you know.
First, it helps 17th Street maintain its gayness. Many in the queer community have written the obituary of the traditional gayborhood. Are they even really necessary anymore? Can we sustain them if so? London has lost almost half its gay venues in the last decade. Other cities have reported similar trends. With the recent addition of rainbow banners and other public displays, D.C. it seems has been trying to preserve its stretch of queer pavement. The High Heel Race brings focus and crowds back to our old gayborhood.
Second, in the age of Trump, it’s still important. Last week it came to light that President Trump joked that Vice President Mike Pence “wants to hang” all gay people. So terribly funny, right? Maybe we had it too good under Obama, but Trump’s aside reminds us that there are still plenty of people out there that would rather not have us around. Public displays of queerness — in the streets, on the news, in the papers — serves a real purpose. They’re still simple acts of defiance and important showcases of queer visibility.
Third, it’s a citywide, city-sanctioned queer display. The mayor encourages people to attend. There’s no mistaking that two of the city’s largest, most-vibrant celebrations, Pride and the High Heel Race are also the best parties in town.
Finally, it’s so D.C. You’d be hard pressed to find anything else like it. The whole display is so very Washington.
And that in itself should be celebrated. Year after year.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer who contributes regularly to the Blade.