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Queer City Spotlight: Judith Iscariot on Cincinnati's Drag Scene

Local LGBTQ news and views

After almost seven successful seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag has been infused into mainstream popular culture more than ever before. Drag, once thought taboo by many, is now becoming widely accepted as an art form. The show produces an ensemble of drag queens, each with their own fan base, that go out and tour all over the world post-show. The RuPaul’s Drag Race queens, unofficially coined “Ru Girls” by season five runner-up Alaska 5000, fill up queer night clubs and bars with fans of all ages dying for a picture or even just acknowledgement from their favorite star. It has even been suggested that Drag Race and Ru Girls have saved or rejuvenated the queer club scene after a stagnant period of time. The show has given a group of historically unappreciated performers a platform to make music, act, promote philanthropic issues, make a living and share their art with the world. But, of course, not everyone is cast in the 14-member ensemble — and some do not want to be. Some queens cite Drag Race as a misrepresentation of drag and reject even a conversation about the show. Others, mostly younger queens known as the “Drag Race Generation,” swear by it so religiously that their concept of drag is considered unrealistic or naïve. Whether performing on TV or in local clubs, drag queens have become queer Rock stars. Being a hardcore Drag Race fan and drag culture enthusiast, I am left wondering why I have to travel to Louisville, Ky., or Columbus, Ohio to see my favorite Ru Girl and experience the best venues. What needs to happen to make the scene more engaging? Was Cincinnati ever a destination for queer nightlife? Will more big-name Ru Girls come to the local clubs or bars in the future? I asked Cincinnati alternative-camp queen Judith Iscariot to weigh in on the current state of the queer nightlife scene, the queer movement and drag culture in Cincinnati.   CityBeat: How did you create the name Judith Iscariot? Judith Iscariot: Judas [from the Bible] is considered the number one traitor — the worst person in history. But if you delve into other stuff like in the gospel of Judas — which a lot of Christians ignore but a lot of scholars say there is just as much merit as in the other books of the Bible — Judas actually volunteered to be the betrayer. Jesus approached the apostles and said, “I am going to be betrayed by one of you,” and Judas was like, “I’ll do it,” knowing full well that he would take the blame and he would be scorned and possibly go to hell. I think he gets a bad rep because everyone sees him as this villain when in reality he’s kind of this tragic hero, and I think he is ostracized, villainized for all the wrong things. He’s misunderstood, and — not to sound like some grand character — that’s how I felt at the time in my relationship. That my ex-boyfriend and his friends and stuff made me out to be the bad guy but, in reality, I was just trying to do the best I could. I felt completely betrayed in the way I feel Judas was betrayed by his own God, rather than the way Jesus was betrayed by Judas. You have to get both sides of the story to see who the real monster is. I then came up with the character of Judith Iscariot, and I was like, “That’s genius.” Judith Iscariot performing at The Cabaret CB: Could you survey Cincinnati’s drag scene? JI: The drag is very Midwestern. They all want to do the big hair, big padding, the outfits made by fellow queens of stretch fabric and spandex materials. Most people glue down their brows and draw them on and do really hardcore shading. It’s of course very different in the big cities like New York. New York definitely celebrates the club kid scene [NYC club personalities who wore elaborate and outrageous costumes in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s] where things are just really wild — bearded drag and all that stuff. L.A. is about glamour and — I hate the term — “fishy” queens [a widely used but recently controversial term describing a drag queen that looks extremely feminine or could pass as a cisgender woman]. In Cincinnati, it’s just kind of stagnant here, and the scene itself is very separated. It’s ruled by two different entities — The Cabaret [in Below Zero Lounge on Walnut Street] and The Dock [a dance club downtown]. The Dock is more of a young, hip scene and The Cabaret is more older clientele. I love The Cabaret because the demographic is more open to appreciate camp [an over-the-top, exaggerated style usually meant to be comedic] and not just glamour. CB: It seems like the drag scenes in Louisville and Columbus have better opportunities for queens and clubgoers. Why do I have to travel to another city — that isn’t much different from Cincy — to see a Ru Girl, for example? What kind of club or change would you like to see in Cincinnati? JI: We used to have Adonis the Nightclub, which was like our Play or Axis [popular dance clubs in Louisville and Columbus] — huge front video bar, huge dance floor, separate room with a big stage. The only reason it didn’t dominate the scene is because it was kind of a far drive away. It was a 15-minute drive east [from downtown], which isn’t bad, but a lot of people want to stay right in the city. I would love to see something like Adonis transplanted right into the city. We still don’t really have that in Cincinnati, but it would really thrive from a large, accessible dance club that features drag. That would be amazing. CB: These days you cannot talk about drag culture without talking about RuPaul’s Drag Race. What are your thoughts about the show and how it translates from television to everyday drag scenes on a local level? JI: I think it’s been both good and bad because the queens that really look up to Drag Race really kind of have to check themselves and realize that it’s just a television show. It’s meant to be entertaining. It’s not the 13 best drag queens in the country; it’s 13 different characters that they think would make an interesting cast. A lot of the older queens complain about Drag Race because they say it makes, you know, drag look awful, and it’s not what drag is really like. I would argue that because it kind of is [what drag is like] because it’s this fake, campy, larger-than-life mockery of, you know, womankind and reality television. A lot of bitterness just comes from queens who know they could never get on Drag Race. That doesn’t mean that they are any less talented than [the queens on the show] are. It just depends on what [RuPaul is] looking for in terms of creating a cast. I think everyone is just trying to jump on board right now when it’s really popular, but they don’t realize that the fact that Drag Race is on television — that’s revolutionizing drag, and drag will only continue to get more recognized. CB: Do you think the success of Drag Race and Ru Girls touring has saved or improved the queer club scene? If so, what can be done or is being done to get more Drag Race girls to make a stop in Cincinnati? JI: When I saw Raven [a fan favorite Ru Girl] at The Cabaret, I saw people there that I have never seen out before. It’s all these people that pay their $15+ to see Raven — I was just like, “Oh, cool!” It’s definitely filling up the clubs because when these Ru Girls come to clubs like during their season and right after, people go crazy for them. And they will pay whatever it takes to get in there and it’s just madness. Every time [a Ru Girl] comes to a club, that club is guaranteed to do well. Cincinnati isn’t a major destination for them. It’s Penny [Traition, a Ru Girl from Cincinnati who was a contestant on Season Five] at The Cabaret and, obviously, she knows a lot of the queens. She’s kind of the one who will bring them in most times … Cincinnati is not really on the radar or on the map. It’s Penny who [will use her connections] since they are already in Louisville or Columbus. Cincinnati is like a side project right now. Until Cincinnati goes from side project to recognized city with a strong drag presence and scene, go see a show. Being on RuPaul’s Drag Race does not make you the best queen. Cincinnati has numerous talented queens at The Cabaret, (Ru Girl Detox performs June 24 during Cincinnati Pride), The Dock Complex and Club Glitter. Check them out and support your local queens! Bring dollar bills! Rupaul’s Drag Race crowns the winner of Season Seven Monday night at 9 p.m. on Logo.
 
 

A Drag Dream Team

The Cabaret brings focus and innovation to Cincinnati’s drag scene

0 Comments · Wednesday, August 3, 2011
As early as 1880, drag queens performing in Over-the-Rhine dance halls are mentioned in The Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s auspicious, then, that The Cabaret, a drag performance venue opened earlier this year, revives that OTR history by setting up shop in the same building as Below Zero Lounge on Walnut Street.  

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