At the age of 21, I published my first book “Out on Fraternity Row.” It became a bestseller in the gay community. I recall the moment when I saw the book for the first time in a Barnes & Noble Booksellers and on all the queer bookracks. I was so proud.
I imagine that might be what it feels like to give birth, without the arduous pain of hours of labor, of course. All in all, the book took three years, lots of hard work and countless sleepless nights.
Fast forward 10 years, and that one book led to five more over the next 10 years. My most popular book was published in 2006 entitled “The Advocate College Guide for LGBTQ Students.” It was the first-ever college guidebook for youth on the “best of the best” LGBTQ-friendly colleges and universities. I credit the book and my development of the Campus Pride Index as a pivotal moment for LGBTQ youth within higher education. Finally, LGBTQ youth were not only vital to campus diversity efforts, but also as a new recruitment population for college campuses. This paradigm shift led to more colleges exercising their institutional responsibility for LGBTQ youth and implementing more LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs and practices.
During this time, I also took my first job at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) and co-founded CampusPride.Net, a clearinghouse for LGBTQ youth at colleges and universities. This led me to develop resources like the Stop the Hate Bias & Hate Crime Prevention Train the Trainer program, the first national LGBTQ-friendly College Fairs, and the Campus Pride Index, the only online national benchmarking tool for LGBTQ inclusion in higher education, among other resources and services. And ultimately I chose to leave my full-time job at UNCC to pursue moving CampusPride.Net into a fully fledged national nonprofit called Campus Pride. It was an exciting time, and yet a huge risk for me to leave a career with benefits to pursue my passion and do something that I felt could make a difference for others.
From television appearances on CNN to national news stories, Campus Pride has changed the way the public understands LGBTQ youth within higher education. I have no regrets about the past 20 years, and the path I have chosen. It has been a rewarding journey, full of amazing young people and many surprises.
One of the big surprises was doing drag. I never thought I would do drag — or write a monthly column called “Dishing with Buff Faye.” It all started as a way to raise money for charity — including the work I was doing with Campus Pride. But I guess I fell in love with it — the sense of comfort and freedom to explore yourself and gender expression. I especially enjoyed the connection it allowed with youth and audiences of all ages. Plus, I was able to talk about the work of Campus Pride and raise money for supporting LGBTQ youth in a different way.
Then I realized that something was being lost. Unexpectedly to me, I found many people suddenly began to forget about my life outside of drag, and the drag began to consume everything else. All the work I had done prior to doing drag was being dismissed, and I was becoming known as a drag queen. People started calling me by my drag name “Buff Faye” in public. Somewhere in this process “Shane Windmeyer” — the national best-selling author, the public speaker, the educator, the LGBTQ activist — was getting lost in my drag persona.
And sadly, somewhere along the line, people (mostly LGB) began to assume because I did drag that I did not have a full-time career or any type of job. Or worse yet, that doing drag somehow diminished who I was as a workplace professional, my past accomplishments or the value of my work that I did outside drag. Why was being a drag queen seen as less, not more?
This never really bothered me because I largely have never cared about what people think. F@CK THEM! Plus I loved doing drag and the money raised was going toward LGBTQ youth with Campus Pride or toward other national or local charities.
Still I find this troubling because I am not the only drag queen who has experienced this prejudice — or a type of queer erasure.
Today it is common to hear many judgmental comments about drag queens, as if we are all the same. Many assume that drag queens perform to find celebrity or garner attention, and while some may do that, there are many other reasons why people choose to be drag queens.
I specifically have found many within the LGB community discounting my work with Campus Pride or in the larger community because I do drag. I believe sometimes it was indeed intentional, but most of the time, I’m guessing it was a product of what they wanted to see or their own prejudice toward drag queens. And some of these comments come from other drag queens, so it is not about placing blame solely on others outside the drag community. Either way, it is petty, wrong and reinforces the harm and discrimination we all face as LGBTQ people.
I chose to share this now because we can do better as an LGB community. We must do better. I intentionally left out the T for transgender people because trans people live this truth daily. They encounter this discrimination and prejudice daily. It is all rooted in the idea that diverse gender expression outside the norm and/or binary, “cross dressing” or “gender variant expression” is bad. And that is what we must change within our own thinking and others’.
If we are truly to be free to “express ourselves” as Madonna would say, then we must break down these constructs of gender and labels. Drag queens perform a service for our community, helping all of us to reimagine gender and discover our “true” selves.
DRAG TIP: Looking for size 10, 11, 12 and 13 women’s shoes? Try Payless or Walmart — or better yet, shop online before that big night out.
SHOUT OUTS: Come out to Buff Faye’s Drag Brunch at our new location at Boulevard 1820 twice a month with two seating times at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Buy your tickets online at AllBuff.com.
info: Buff Faye calls the Queen City her home and performs to change the world (and to raise money for charities). Find her at your favorite bars and hotspots. Plus don’t forget her weekly Saturday night show with Patti O’Furniture, monthly Sunday drag brunch and regular Friday night party bus. Learn more at AllBuff.com. Follow on Twitter @BuffFaye