Working hard for the money, El Paso drag queens enjoy creative outlet

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Putting layers of Elmer’s glue on his eyebrows is the first step in creating a perfect look.

Alexander Wright, who goes by the stage name Rumor, will spend most of his Saturday planning the perfect drag performance. Five hours of the day will be dedicated to applying make-up, and the rest will go toward selecting a variety of dresses and songs for the night’s performance.

Alexander Wright tries on a wig while preparing for his show later that evening in Las Cruces. Photo by Matthew Euzarraga, Borderzine.com

Alexander Wright tries on a wig while preparing for his show later that evening in Las Cruces. Photo by Matthew Euzarraga, Borderzine.com

“Drag is an artistry, you get to create different concepts and test your creativity,” said Wright, who has been doing drag for a year and is currently the reigning Sun City Miss Pride. “Applying makeup is like an oil painting from afar it looks great and cute, but when you get close, you can see all the railroad tracks.”

His first performance was at a local benefit show at Touch Bar and Nightclub in East El Paso. Since then his life has been flooded with sequins, makeup, dresses and dance routines. What started off as a hobby quickly became a second job and a way to make extra money on top of his already steady career as an account coordinator and acting coach. Wright can make up to $300 a night plus tips, but the economic success of a drag career depends on a queen and her following.

Wright’s drag mother and mentor, Edward Gutierrez (stage name Ivonna Bump), has been doing drag for over 20 years. Gutierrez said that a certain professionalism must come with this job and he is not one to talk about money.

“Going rates is tax stuff, Honey, I don’t want to say,” Gutierrez said as he combed his black shaggy wig for his opening number. Gutierrez is a professional drag queen and has 1,500 followers on his Facebook page alone.

“I will say I make a good living, I have two of my own drag shows in Las Cruces and I get booked out, so when I am dressed in drag I’m working,” he said.

Although Gutierrez does not talk money, Wright said some of his favorite drag performers like Eva Destruction, a queen from Atlanta, has a booking fee of $1,500. Another favorite Miss Fame, who was a contestant on Rupual’s Drag race, has a booking fee of $6,000 and RuPaul has a booking fee of $25,000 per performance.

A drag queen family, from left, Rumor (Alexander Wright ), Ivonna Bump (Edward Gutierrez), and Barbie (Michael Reyes). Photo by Matthew Euzarraga, Borderzine.com

A drag queen family, from left, Rumor (Alexander Wright ), Ivonna Bump (Edward Gutierrez), and Barbie (Michael Reyes). Photo by Matthew Euzarraga, Borderzine.com

Drag may give the illusion that it’s filled with easy money, make up and glitter, but in reality drag queens are showgirls that must work hard at what they do. A drag queen must always remain innovative and on top of her game.

“There is always someone behind you ready to replace you, Honey. I might be an old broom but I can still sweep,” Gutierrez said.

By being a drag mother Gutierrez takes the responsibility of running the show, mentoring drag performers, and showing them the way of the business. As a drag mother Gutierrez can be innovative and is able to take performances and businesses to the next level. Sometimes that entails showing girls how to do their make-up or finding the perfect fake-breast composition – which for her are balloons mixed with helium and water.

Performers finish getting their outfits on before going on stage for the opening dance number of the drag show.

Performers finish getting their outfits on before going on stage for the opening dance number of the drag show.

Gutierrez refers to the drag queens he mentors as daughters and those performers may then branch out on their own when they’re trained and ready.

He has been recognized in the San Francisco drag queen scene and has even had New York queens meet him in and out of drag. Although a little unusual to be recognized while not in drag, Gutierrez said he loves when people come up after the show.

“There are many people that have come to my performances and thanked me,” Gutierrez said.

“We live in such a huge Latin community, so drag is still somewhat taboo. If I can be the elephant in the room so a gay couple can hold hands, I’ll do it because then that means everyone is looking at me.”

Michael Reyes, who goes by the stage name Barbie, has been doing drag for 14 years and is Gutierrez’s drag sister. When Barbie was just starting off Gutierrez gave a her stage to perform on and is now her second family. As the years progressed Reyes said the world drag performers live in has changed.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race took away the stigma of doing drag, but they have made the girls to be real catty and always show them fighting each other, which is rubbing off on the younger queens,” Reyes said.

Reyes says it is bad enough dealing with the negative connotations society can put on drag culture such as: people calling them transgender, telling them that they’re out to steal straight men from straight women, being called a liar or thief that loves to stir up drama, and trying to make people feel uncomfortable – which she doesn’t like to do.

“As drag queens and drag sisters we should be helping each other because there are not too many of us,” Reyes said “There will always be a few bad seeds that mess it up for other queens, but one of us is not the rest of us.”

After spending hours putting on makeup and choosing costumes, Alexander Wright packs up everything he needs for the night's performance.

After spending hours putting on makeup and choosing costumes, Alexander Wright packs up everything he needs for the night’s performance.

Performing as a drag queen can be expensive to start. But performers like Wright say they not only made their initial investment back, but found fulfillment in challenging themselves, remaining innovative, creating an illusion and performing for crowds.

“At the end of the night after a performance you feel accomplished and good,” Wright said as he took off his wig, nails, costumes and removed some of the makeup that took hours to apply. “People enjoy the show for what it is, and we’re able to entertain and that’s the best part because they came for a show.”

Drag-queen-Fans

Fans in Las Cruces get their picture taken with the stars of the drag show after the performance. Photo by Matthew Euzarraga, Borderzine.com

Wright and other performers can be seen the last Saturday of the month at Salud De Mesilla in Las Cruces.

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