Drag queens go live (from home)

As COVID-19 Closes Bars and Nightclubs, Drag is Finding a New Online Resilience

Updated on April 28, 2020

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” says drag queen Delighted Tobehere. Like many of us, she is waiting to see how the drag world continues to adapt to the challenges the community is facing with the coronavirus and shelter-in-place orders closing bars and nightclubs around the country. Tobehere, who originally hails from Greenville, S.C., is based in New York City and is best known from her 2015 debut on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

“So many entertainers are taking to Facebook and Instagram live to perform,” says Tobehere. She describes three reasons for these online performances: “an entertainer’s need to perform, the opportunity to raise funds through donations, and the desire to do our part to entertain during trying times, the Drag USO, if you will!” She’s been doing two shows a week, a Saturday solo drag show called “Veni COVIDi Vici,” or “I came, I coughed, I conquered,” and a second show (out of drag) featuring Broadway duets with fellow “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” costar, Miranda Barnett, called “GOING VIRAL!” “In Veni COVIDi Vici,” she performs in a simple sheet toga. “All of my costumes are in NYC, and I’m stranded in South Carolina,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed creating parodies that include not-so-subtle PSA’s (public service announcements) about hand washing and staying at home.”

Locally, Charlotte’s drag brunch hostess, Buff Faye has moved her popular show online as well with a “Buff Faye in Bed Brunch.” “People need to have a sense of connection to one another,” says Buff Faye. “The virtual events that drag queens are doing are providing a space to escape and think about something else — anything else, but the reality of COVID-19 for even a moment.”

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Brunch at Home

‘Buff Faye in Bed’ brings a new take on drag entertainment during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2009, Buff Faye has been doing a monthly Buff Faye’s Drag Brunch, an event that moved to twice a month, prior to COVID-19, at the Dilworth Neighborhood Grill. The event has been billed as “Charlotte’s #1 drag brunch since 2009” and gives back to the local LGBTQ community. “When COVID-19 shut down the restaurant to the public, I wanted to find a way to still build the community that we have at our drag brunch, entertain, and especially now — to give joy, hope and a way to relax,” says Buff Faye. “So why not invite people to experience and create connection virtually with me ‘in bed.’” (It should be noted that Dilworth Neighborhood Grille is still open for take-out and delivery during the local shelter-in-place ordinance.)

“Buff Faye in Bed” is set up as paid access viewing and tickets are $10. The show averages a couple dozen viewers in the “all access membership.” Once one has paid for one show they have access to all the weekly shows. Tickets are available at allbuff.com or buffinbed.com. After paying for the ticket online, ticketholders will receive an invitation into ALLBUFF: Studio B, a private group on Facebook. “I hope the viewership continues to increase, but more than that — I hope we get back to seeing each other in person,” she says.

In the interim she is providing an oasis on Sundays for many of the community. “It is a way to create an escape in a time that is unsettling and with tragic loss for so many,” she says. “And, it’s B.Y.O.B., bring your own brunch!”

Living on Tips

The coronavirus is also having a major financial impact on drag performers, bartenders and anyone working in the local entertainment and service industries. A recent virtual “sister talk” that Buff Faye hosted with other entertainers from the bi-monthly Drag Brunch made this evident.

“Many who have full time jobs have applied for unemployment and are surviving now, but everyone is worried about next month,” said Buff Faye. “Some who are less fortunate are already struggling and relying on friends and family for support for basic needs like food and rent.” She points out that it will likely get worse.

Buff Faye is currently the 2019-2020 titleholder for National Entertainer of the Year, F.I. and out of drag is better known as Shane Windmeyer, the founder and executive director of Campus Pride. Like many other non-profit organizations, Campus Pride is facing additional financial hardships brought on by COVID-19. Windmeyer has not been paid since mid-February and has been selling wigs and costumes online to create some extra income. “I will likely lose a lot of things I have worked hard for over the last 20 years professionally, but I’m focusing on my personal relationships to give me solace,” he says.

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The financial dangers could go on for months. “At this moment, all of my gigs (with the exception of Delighted’s Drag Brunch and Dinner that I’m in charge of — and holding on for dear life, but likely to be canceled) have been postponed or cancelled through June 27,” says Delighted Tobehere. “Imagine the impact a drag entertainer feels losing Pride month. It’s devastating. It’s scary.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recently published a report on the additional risks the LGBTQ community faces with COVID-19 and found that “more than 5 million LGBTQ people work in jobs that are more likely to be impacted by COVID-19,” not to mention the disproportionate amount of people that cannot afford healthcare. Like millions of others, Delighted Tobehere is now struggling through the process of filing for unemployment. “I’ve called 50 times a day for the past 10 days and can’t get through,” she says. Fans can be an important lifeline for drag queens, and most online performances include options to tip via Venmo, Cash App or PayPal. “My friends and fans have been incredibly supportive and I’m very grateful,” says Tobehere. “Everyone is struggling financially right now, so the thought of someone sharing their income with me is humbling.” Delighted Tobehere sees anywhere from 50-150 viewers at any given moment on her online shows, and they have up to 5,000 views in the days following.

For both Buff Faye and Delighted Tobehere, the joy of entertainment is paramount to survival and drag has a long history of bringing the LGBTQ community together, especially when times are tough. “The messages I’ve been receiving just keep the fire lit to keep me going,” says Tobehere. “This period can define us, or we can define it.” She reminds us that “we may be socially distancing, but we should not distance ourselves socially.” When asked if she had any additional thoughts, Delighted Tobehere said simply, “Wash your hands. Stay home. And remember, that you, too, can be Delighted Tobehere in this trying time. Look to the positive. Look for the helpers and applaud those essential workers on the front lines. Celebrate each other’s resolve to combat this virus. Tip the folks when you pick up your meal at a restaurant. Practice self care. Love yourself and each other. We will get through this.”

“Buff Faye in Bed” is every Sunday at 12 p.m. (EST). All access membership starts at $10 and can be purchased at allbuff.com or buffinbed.com.

Buff Faye will host “QUARAN-QWEENS” on April 19 at 6:30 p.m. EST. The online show will feature local drag queens and entertainers who perform regularly at Buff Faye’s Drag Brunch, including Valarie Rockwell, Kiana Layne, Malayia Chanel Iman, Talia, Lilli Frost, Amazing Grace, Kristin Collins, Charlton Alicea, Sierra Santana, Angela Lopez, Reann Ballsee and Devida. The event is free, but people can show their support by tipping online. To learn more and view live, visit Buff Faye Drag Brunch on Facebook at facebook.com/charlottedragbrunch.

Delighted Tobehere’s “Delighted Today with Delighted Tobehere” can be viewed on Wednesdays at 4 p.m. EST and “VENI COVIDI VICI” can be viewed on Saturdays at 8 p.m. EST at facebook.com/QueenDelighted, or by visiting imdelightedtobehere.com.

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