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Drag families support new queens, but D.C. needs more space for young performers

With steep competition, young talent turns to social media for exposure



The closing of Town Danceboutique in 2018 created a void in the local drag scene. Since then, many new venues have played host to drag but younger queens still need more spaces to perform and break out. (Washington Blade file photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

In a sparkling gold dress with a high-cut bodysuit and fringe draped over her hipline, D.C. drag queen Anamosity rang in the new year with a high-energy performance that carried her off stage and closer to the audience.

Hollers and cheers from the crowd punctuated her fierce hair flips and striking hand gestures as the rookie queen aimed to impress venue hosts, audiences, and other queens to book more gigs in an increasingly competitive D.C. drag scene.

“One of my biggest challenges in drag is just definitely booking gigs,” Anamosity said. “[When I started,] it was difficult not knowing anyone [and] trying to make a name for yourself in the city.”

After a slew of anti-drag legislation was introduced in more than a dozen states, effectively banning performances in public spaces to prohibit minors from watching, anti-drag sentiment has scared some aspiring and veteran queens from participating in the art form. However, as the District experiences its “drag renaissance,” increased competition is challenging new queens trying to book shows.

Until 2018, the popular D.C. drag venue, Town Danceboutique, was the place to get booked for queens trying to make a name for themselves in downtown, LGBTQ nightlife, according to Venus Valhalla, a host at the gay bar Pitcher’s weekly drag show. But when the club closed, queens scrambled to any bar that would let them start new shows.

Venus Valhalla performs at Pitchers on Wednesday, March 29. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, entertainers held onto any shows they started and venues they secured. Then, as restaurants and bars reopened, the surge of opportunities led to heightened competition between veteran queens with networks ripe for booking and new queens vying for a chance to prove themselves, Anamosity added.

“The drag queens that want to do drag or are doing drag full time just end up getting more priority,” Animosity said. “It’s definitely a battle trying to get your name out there and develop connections in order to become part of the other [half of the entertainers] that can’t afford to do drag full time, but still want to be out and performing.” 

For some queens, having a drag family is the connection that gets them on stage, according to Hennessey, whose drag family consists of a drag mother, drag sisters – including Anamosity – and a drag grandmother. These connections with veteran queens help newer entertainers book shows at venues that require a certain level of professionalism and performance quality.

These beyond-blood family networks also provide emotional and financial support to queens outside of drag, Hennessey noted. Sometimes this comes in the form of housing, but oftentimes, it’s seen through sharing costumes, wigs, and heels.

But between Drag Queen Story Hours and 21-plus night shows, there’s a gap in opportunities for young adults wanting to start in drag. While some family or 18-plus drag brunches offer more chances for young aspiring queens to perform, the digital drag sphere is presenting new ways for youth to find their drag community.

“Bedroom queens” performing from home are building their brand, portfolio, and following on social media platforms like Instagram and Tik Tok. Since younger and newer queens aren’t usually booking multiple shows a week because of high competition, they’re spending time shooting and editing content that advertises their talent.

Social media also supports the exposure and representation of queens who either aren’t ready to perform in front of an audience yet or struggle to find shows. 

“There are a lot of Black drag queens in the city, I think that I don’t see them getting as many bookings as queens of other races,” Anamosity said. “I’m grateful for every booking that comes my way. But with the number of people of color in D.C., I just don’t think I see them much on flyers, so their online presence is great.”

These virtual networks also mean younger queens can build digital drag families from around the world, Hennessey added. However, there are still opportunities for D.C.’s drag scene to create spaces for young entertainers.

Last summer, the LGBTQ bar As You Are turned its venue into a cafe to host a day drag show open to all ages, specifically targeted to people under 24 years old. During the show, young folks filled the audience while others took the stage for the first time.

The drag house Casa Sin Miedo is also creating a safe space for young and emerging artists to grow their network. The house supports transgender and Latinx artists through mentorship that is vital to queer youth, who often don’t find similar role models at home, school, and even in the media. 

But there’s no formal process to starting or finding a drag family.

“That’s what is the most beautiful part about it,” Hennessey said. “If you want to start your own family, you can really just do it. You just need one other person, and then you suddenly have a drag family.”

Hennessey performs at JR.’s on March 11. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)


Tragedy and comedy intertwined in witty ‘Quietly Hostile’

Irby’s fourth essay collection addresses pandemic, TV writing career, more



(Book cover image courtesy of Vintage)

‘Quietly Hostile: Essays’
By Samantha Irby
c.2023, Vintage
$17/304 pages

You know from the get-go that “Quietly Hostile,” essayist, television writer and humorist Samantha Irby’s fourth essay collection, is filled to the brim with the author’s mordant wit, cynicism and empathy. Who else but Irby, 43, who has struggled with depression, would write: “This book is dedicated to Zoloft”?

There are zillions of essay collections. But few are as memorable, poignant, funny (sometimes grossly, in a good way) and heart-filled (a term Irby might hate) as “Quietly Hostile”

This long-awaited collection is filled with what Irby would call “good shit”: from hilarious descriptions of her bad dog in doggie day care to bits about, literally, shit, (that will gross you out, but reduce your shame about pooping).

Irby, who is Black and bisexual, grew up in poverty in Evanston, Ill. Her parents died when she was 18 (her mother from multiple sclerosis; her father, who gambled, likely, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder).

At the age of nine, Irby’s mother’s MS went out of remission. While still a child, she was called upon to care for her Mom.

“When I was an actual kid growing up on welfare with a sick mom and expired Tuna Helper from the dollar store, the future and its infinite possibilities stretched before me like a sumptuous buffet I couldn’t afford to go to,” Irby writes.

There is a backdrop of pain, sadness and, sometimes, anger to much of Irby’s humor. But  self-pity and rage don’t consume the book.

Irby, the author of “Meaty,” “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” and “Wow, No Thank You,” knows that the cliche is true: tragedy and comedy often are often intertwined. 

It’s fun to learn in “Quietly Hostile” that Irby, who was a writer for the popular TV shows “Shrill” and “Tuca & Bertie,” is as much a fan as the rest of us of the TV shows she loves.

In 1998, Irby couldn’t afford cable or HBO. She had to wait to watch the “City” until it came out on VHS. “The show reflected nothing of my life,” she writes, “but provided something of a road map for my future…” she writes.

In a future, she wouldn’t have dreamed of then, she grew up to become a writer on “And Just Like That,” the “Sex and the City” reboot. (She’s a writer on season two of “And Just Like That” which premieres on June 22 on Max.)

Irby was stunned when Michael Patrick King of “And Just Like That” asked her to write for the show. “I was like … Are you allowed to work on a show like this if you only wear nine-dollar T-shirts,” she writes, “and have no idea how many Brooklyns there are.”

 “During my interview,” Irby jokes, “I said, ‘Can I give Carrie diarrhea?’ and I was hired immediately.”

Even ardent “Sex and the City” aficionados may find too much of SATC in “Quietly Hostile.”

No worries: Irby who speaks of herself as being “fat” and “sick” (she has arthritis and Crohn’s disease), riffs on many things in “Quietly Hostile.” Irby turns her sharp wit on everything from what it’s like to run for a public toilet when you have diarrhea to why she’s a David Matthew’s fan girl to her love for (approaching addiction to) Diet Coke to the “last normal day” before the pandemic to the “food fights” that are a part of the most loving marriages.

Grab a Diet Coke (or libation of your choice), tell your bad dog to quit barking and enjoy “Quietly Hostile.”

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Arena’s ‘Exclusion’ is a piece of art about art

Majority Asian production features intelligent performance by Karoline



Karoline brings intelligence and energy to every role they tackle.

Through June 25 
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth St., S.W.

When Asian-American historian Katie’s best-selling book about the racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is optioned for a mini-series by a Hollywood mogul, she couldn’t happier. However, artistic and commercial visions clash and things go awry. This is the premise of Ken Lin’s new comedy “Exclusion” now at Arena Stage. 

Katie is played by Karoline, the mononymously named New York-based actor who brings intelligence and energy to every role they tackle. 

“I’m similar to Katie — honest to a fault, optimistic, both strong and naïve,” says Karoline, 28. “For me, the challenge is watching Katie choose yes or no at every turn. Should she address what’s coming at her with truth or not? Or hide what she’s thinking? My struggle in life has been similar. How do I stay true and at the same time get what I want in a corrupt world.”

When asked to be part of “Exclusion’s” early development, Karoline was unsure: Doing a piece of art about art can be tricky. But they soon changed their mind. 

“The workshop changed my life. I got into the room and it was majority Asian. Seeing Ken [Lin] talk about coming back to theater and about being able to write about Asian people with a play that’s ostensibly a comedy and obviously super personal, drawing from his life and what he’s learned from colleagues.” 

Karoline describes their experience with anti-Asian racism as more microaggressions. “I don’t have people point at me saying ‘you’re a chink.’ It’s been subtler versions of that.”

As a stage actor, they’ve had an activist history, taking complaints of racism to a company’s board, a move that can be contentious. Typically, it’s preferred actors “be grateful, listen and interpret, and not speak up.” 

When a respected mentor later asked Karoline whether they wanted to be an actor or an activist, they didn’t understand why it had to be mutually exclusive. “I was too young to say it could be both. Now it depends on the situation. Maybe both in theater because I have more of a career there. But in TV, I don’t know.”

Karoline was born in Shanghai and grew up in South Texas where they had little exposure to the arts. After graduation from a pre-med magnet high school (with no intention of a career in medicine), they headed off to Harvard on full scholarship: “I showed my family that I can be smart, but I was going to do my own thing.” 

They took a gap year from Harvard to train at Atlantic Acting School, then went to apprentice at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Weeks after moving to New York they were cast as closeted lesbian Bo in Tom Stoppard’s “The Hard Problem” at Lincoln Center Theater.

“I’ve played more than one lesbian in my career,” says Karoline with a chuckle.  In the fall, they can be seen in the entire first season of “Death and Other Details” (Hulu) as a very rich lesbian heiress, a darkly funny role. 

“It seems when you’re Asian, you’re expected to talk about your parents’ accents or dumplings,” they add. “The narrative is vivid and bright. I wanted to do classical theater so my work could speak about everything else. From the start, I was ready to do the work, and hoped to have a long career that included many different things.”

Not long ago, Karoline shed their surname owing to a difficult childhood and a feeling of estrangement from their family. “It’s unusual, especially for Asian Americans, but after some self-healing and thinking, I decided I didn’t need it. Now I feel a lot freer.” 

And there have been other changes in addition to their last name including coming out as queer and sharing their gender identity. This is the first year they’ve only used “they” pronouns. 

“When you’re queer, I believe you’re always queer even if you’re not in a queer relationship. I think of my character like that. In this space and time, Katie’s with a man but that doesn’t mean that’s the whole conversation about this person. 

“For me, playing Katie in ‘Exclusion’ has been a huge vote of confidence. Sometimes it takes someone writing something wonderful and casting you for you to know where you need to be.”

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Out & About

Mayor’s office to host Pride tie-dye party

Guests to make colorful shirts for ‘PEACE. LOVE. REVOLUTION’ theme



(Photo by Prime Look/Bigstock)

The Mayor’s Office for LGBTQ Affairs will host “Love Out Loud: Tie Dye Party for Pride” on Wednesday, June 7 at 5 p.m. at the Frank D. Reeves Center of Municipal Affairs.

The event, hosted along with the DC Center for the LGBT Community and Capital Pride Alliance, will be an afternoon for community and artistry. Guests are encouraged to bring their creativity to make some colorful tie-dye shirts in line with this year’s Pride theme, “PEACE. LOVE. REVOLUTION.”

This event is free to attend and more details are available on Eventbrite

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