These Trans Drag Performers Continue to Do What They Love — Despite the Risks

Courtesy of Alexander the Great and Maxine LaQueene
Photo Illustration by Ava Cruz
Courtesy of Alexander the Great and Maxine LaQueene
Photo Illustration by Ava Cruz

Brigitte Bandit and her fellow Austin, TX, drag performers have taken extra precautions when heading to shows in recent months.

She and others in the drag community have been the target of false claims and anti-trans legislation lobbed by conservative activists and politicians in the state. That has emboldened hate groups, according to Bandit: since last year, multiple drag shows in the area have been canceled due to threats against the venue hosting them, and neo-Nazis have shown up to all-age drag events waving swastika flags, she told POPSUGAR.

Even walking to gigs has been scary. Bandit, who is nonbinary and uses she/them pronouns, is now nervous about the way people look or react to her. Most kings and queens who need to show up to gigs in full drag walk with each other or with a friend. When she has access to a dressing room at the show, Bandit will put on her makeup at home but cover her body in a T-shirt and shorts and change at the venue.

Bandit described her shows as "pretty campy and fun." She often performs Dolly Parton tributes, in which she dresses as the famed country music star — iconic blond hair and tight dresses and all — lip-syncing her speeches and songs. And sometimes her numbers are "more thoughtful and political," she said — she'll integrate protests against issues like Texas's underfunded schools, poverty rate, gun laws, anti-abortion laws, policing, and anti-drag bills.

Bandit started drag performing about four and a half years ago, when she learned people assigned female at birth could still perform as a queen. She had only ever seen cis male drag queens perform, but realized that drag could be for everyone. She loved it from the start, and drag and the community has allowed her to know herself in ways she never imagined, she said.

But for drag performers who are trans or gender nonbinary, like Bandit, seeing neighbors and others from their hometown echo the hateful and inaccurate rhetoric against their community has been "wild," she said. And all the more heartbreaking because, Bandit said, her best friends deserve so much better.

"It honestly makes me wonder how people get to the point where they have so much hate in their heart," Bandit said. "They are stripping us of our humanity with the way that they call us groomers or pedophiles or whatever kinds of names that they want to call us."

What Bandit and fellow Austin drag performers are experiencing is a microcosm of what's happening in many parts of the country. Trans drag performers in many conservative states have seen more and more of their rights slowly being taken from them, with no end in sight. But despite being on the receiving end of deeply personal and threatening protests, insults, and rhetoric from conservative lawmakers and pundits, this community continues to support each other. They continue to stand up for themselves and perform — even if there are costs.

"It's been an extremely targeted attack."

Like many of his fellow queer Austinites, Alexander the Great, a trans man and drag king, is used to fighting back against attacks on the trans community. Alexander traveled to the state capitol as much as he could back in 2017, when Texas lawmakers pushed for the failed so-called "bathroom bill" that regulated what bathrooms transgender people could use.

"Fighting at the Texas legislature is nothing new to me. We do it every odd year that they're in session," Alexander said.

But this year has felt more personal, he said. The Texas legislature passed a bill in May aimed at criminalizing drag performers who perform in front of children. The measure was imposed as a means of banning Drag Story Hours, in which drag performers, dressed in lavish, nonrevealing dresses and outfits, read books to kids.

The bill widened the scope of performances that are considered illegal, and drag performers fear it could be used to bar their shows. This year, the Texas legislature has also passed bills banning gender-affirming care for trans youths and restricting the ability for trans athletes to participate in college sports. Those bills are among the more than 500 bills aimed at restricting the rights of transgender people that have been introduced so far this year across the country. More than 70 of those bills have passed, and specific anti-drag measures this year have also passed in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Florida.

"It's been an extremely targeted attack. I've never felt more personally victimized by the Texas legislature," Alexander said.

During the day, Alexander works as an HIV prevention specialist at a local healthcare clinic. By night, he's a drag performer, which he's been doing for about eight years. About a decade ago, before coming out as trans, he worked as an adult entertainment and burlesque dancer but was not feeling connected to or cohesive with his body. However, burlesque connected him to the drag community, which helped him discover his gender identity.

The first time he saw himself dressed as a drag king, he said to himself, "'Whoa, holy crap, this might be the thing that's missing,'" he remembered. The second time, people used his correct male pronouns, eventually allowing him to figure out that he was a trans man, and sparking the start of his transition. Being a drag king allows him to express his gender and show a different side of masculinity — a detoxification of masculinity that expresses that it can be "glittery and fun and loving and lighthearted and healing and just all the things that we really need it to be," he said.

Alexander's community means everything to him. That's why, this legislative term, Alexander, Bandit, and many others within the LGBTQ community have spent hours upon hours waiting to speak against the anti-trans and drag bills.

For some, speaking out against those bills has come at a price. Beyond neo-Nazis showing up to their events, multiple performers who have spoken out against the bill have been doxxed, sent death threats, and attacked on Twitter, Alexander said.

Alexander now tries to park as close as possible to his destinations to avoid walking around the city. When he does need to, he walks with a buddy and carries around a taser and mace for protection, he said. To cope with the stress and to preserve his sanity, he sees a therapist weekly, vents to friends, and carves out intentional rest time for himself, which requires occasionally turning down gigs, he added.

Maxine LaQueene, an Austin-based trans woman, drag queen, and sex worker, has been at the center of the anti-drag attacks since she tried to speak up against legislation banning gender-affirming care for trans youths during a hearing at the capitol on May 2.

"I am not afraid to speak up."

LaQueene became the target of a harassment campaign after a photo of her underskirt was blasted online by conservative activists following the hearing. The photo was taken as she bent over in the chamber gallery to help a friend of hers who was suffering a panic attack, she said, while Texas Department of Public Safety troopers physically removed people from the room, as the Texas Tribune reported.

The photos have been used to argue that she committed an act of indecent exposure and is a threat to children, despite the fact that when she reads to children during a Drag Story Hour or at Pride events, she's fully clothed, dressed as a princess and a queen, and not acting sexual, she said.

Since then, conservative activists have posted everything they could find about LaQueene over social media, including screenshots from her OnlyFans page, and she's gotten daily death threats and hateful emails, she said. She's been working with lawyers and people that have helped scrub her personal information from the internet, so people can't target her at her home or car.

"There's been so much negativity from people who don't even know who I am. They've just seen my face," LaQueene said, adding that she thinks they hate her because of "four pillars" of her identity: she's a woman, she's trans, she's a drag queen, and she's a sex worker.

LaQueene learned about drag performers after watching an episode of "RuPaul's Drag Race" and gave it a try during her senior year of high school a decade ago. She was instantly hooked. She continued to play around with her aesthetic in her parents' basement, before moving out when her parents found out and were, at the time, not OK with it, she said.

"I don't want to strip anyone of their humanity the way that they are doing it to us."

Drag, to LaQueene, is an art form that, over the past decade, has become an extension of who she is and has helped her understand her identity as a beautiful feminine being. She experiences an inexplicable feeling of peace when she walks around or performs and channels "some divide Goddess energy," she said. As long as she continues to experience that energy, feel inspired, and is able to pay the bills, she said she will continue to perform.

She's still processing the trauma of daily death threats — and has taken time to disconnect from social media. But at the same time, she has also received love, support, and positive attention, and the experience has allowed her to be a voice for those who can't speak up for themselves, she said.

"I would like to think I see myself as a pillar for the community now because I am not afraid to speak up, I'm not afraid to call out negativity or I'm not afraid to call out injustice," LaQueene said. "It's a dance of the bad and the negative and the positive of what's been happening."

Despite the onslaught, Alexander reminds himself that he is not alone in this fight and that the majority of Americans do not agree with what's happening. "Sometimes you need to zoom out and remember, this is a minority extremist group that is targeting us. This is not how the general population feels," he said.

Bandit waited over 13 hours at the Texas capitol on May 11 to give testimony during a committee hearing on the drag ban bill. She wore a long white dress, decorated with the Texas flag and the names of the victims who were killed in Texas's Uvalde and Allen shootings. At the capitol, Bandit noticed teenagers were among the mostly older and white groups that spoke out against trans people and drag performers — and she realized those kids were the ones being indoctrinated by those hateful ideas.

"Y'all don't even understand you probably have more in common with me than any of these other people you're sitting with," she said. "It's hard to take it, but I still feel this weird level of empathy for them. I don't want to strip anyone of their humanity the way that they are doing it to us."

For now, that's the power that Bandit, Alexander, LaQueene, and other trans drag performers hold in Austin and beyond: empathy, humanity, and an enduring sense that love will conquer all.