Fight for Fantasy

Alexis Parra

2019 - Ongoing

The crisis has turned Caracas into a hostile, repressive city where daily tasks are nearly impossible. Yet, in the midst of this slow suffocation is a breath of relief: drag. While drag may seem like only a show, something fun but in the end a frivolous 1st world luxury, it is anything but – especially in today’s Caracas. This scene is growing out of an urgent need for escape, especially for LGBTQ citizens. Performers and the public can immerse themselves into the antithesis of what Venezuela has become: vivid, luxurious, free. This project, created over five months, sheds visibility on a community that is overlooked and provides a distinct look into the Venezuelan crisis as it relentlessly continues on.

The LGBTQ+ community in Venezuela have been generally kept out of the large sweeps of social protections promised by the government. Rights such as marriage or adoption have never made it past the discussion stage. And while the government has passed blanked anti-discrimination laws including sexual orientation, due to a worsening national infrastructure it is difficult to know how well this protection helps in practice. Similarly, in 2017, the Office of Identification (SAIME) announced that trans people could request a new identity card reflecting their preferred gender expression, rather than based on biological sex. While this policy change would help the trans community immensely, considering most everyday purchases require showing your national ID card, the wait times and corruption of the office make it painfully long to achieve getting a new ID. For that, it is impossible to see any concrete results since this policy announcement. With the extreme hyperinflation continuing in Venezuela, the government has tried various food programs such as rationing and – most recently – the CLAP boxes providing eight staple foods distributed monthly to families. Since same-sex couples are unrecognized by the state, they are often excluded from receiving this benefit. Additionally, any trans people without new ID’s also have difficulty accessing the regulated or subsidized products. On the flip side, while in the past opposition politicians have announced tangible legislation propositions for the LGBTQ community, with a worsening political polarization that agenda – in the eyes of the public – have been all but forgotten.

With the crisis continuing and this marginalized community feeling its effects more than most, any moment of escape, of joy, of forgetting the day-to-day struggle is welcome. That is what the drag shows in Caracas provide: for artists and audience alike. It is a chance to leave the house, have a drink, feel safe and comfortable, dress larger than life and savor the freedom to express yourself as you please – regardless of what your cedula says.

Creating this space of fantasy doesn’t come at a small cost. This photographic exploration, paired with sections from interviews, shows the glorious glamour, the everyday…all adding up to documentation of the sacrifice it takes to be a drag queen in Caracas. For this group of queens – young, old, gay, bi, trans – as much as they struggle, drag is their only way to deal with the harsh reality of Venezuela today and achieve those moments of blissful, fleeting fantasy.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • Arona Backer, widely known as “Venezuela’s #1 Drag Queen,” poses for a portrait during the Drag Gala 2019 held in Caracas this past May. Arona says that drag is the decision to live a fantasy, where queens and public alike can have fun and escape from the everyday. But there is also the part where the public praises you for how beautiful you are, but they don’t know you as a person. That is why many queens create family dynamics among themselves, where Arona considers herself a matriarch.

  • La Sasa on the phone backstage before the Drag Gala event. La Sasa was one of the MC’s for the night’s event and is a veteran at the local drag club in Altamira, which holds the reputation for being the most demanding and producing the best talent.

  • A drag performer stands in line for official headshots with a professional photographer at a local drag club before opening. The club is hidden within a larger office building in Altamira, an upper middle-class area of East Caracas. The only sign of the club is a bouncer stationed at the door, which always remains closed.

  • Andreina gets ready for the nightly show. She is a trans woman currently in transition and winner of Miss Globe Gay Venezuela, a play off of Miss Venezuela for the LGBTQ+ community.

  • Gold necklace found backstage.

    Clothing and makeup for drag performers are harder and harder to come by. Some queens choose to invest in makeup and save on wardrobe costs by making their own clothes from recycled materials or borrowing from fellow queens. Those who are new to the drag world are the most likely to swap with other new queens. The public is another main way that queens can acquire these pieces. Patrons’ tips and donations or official sponsors are a way that more established drag queens get new outfits and wigs. Arona, who has been working as a drag queen for over 20 years says, “Sometimes you feel like a whore, having to say ‘Ay papi’ and sweet-talking the patrons so they tip well, buy you a drink or donate for a wig. It can be depressing, but that’s how it’s done.”

  • While some use fillers to create a curvy silhouette, many younger drag queens are choosing to go without: partly because of costs and also the current trend.

  • Eduard Correa, with the drag name Amala Copa, is a self-proclaimed Marxist, earth protector and feminist. Eduard created Amala specifically as a way to promote the peoples’ political rights and collective well-being, working to raise consciousness through his drag. Despite his leftist ideology, Eduard calls both himself and Amala “victims of Maduro.” While he is a proud Chavista, he says that Maduro has deceived him. The simple fact is that “my quality of life has gotten worse. When you have to live off of 100,000 BsS (the official minimum wage, equivalent to $25 that day, now worth only $5) and a box of 8 food products per month, when your official job in public administration isn’t enough to take care of your basic material needs, when your own city is a difficult place to survive…that is why I say we are victims of Maduro.”

  • Eduard changing into his new outfit, a handmade dress of ties. His aesthetic isn’t the traditional diva look. Instead, he uses recycled and everyday outfits to create a persona that he calls a “tribute to the everyday working woman.” He relies on donations from friends to create homemade looks.

  • Diverse Families, Same Rights.

    A small suitcase filled with a drag performer’s supplies including his two wigs and a collection of costume jewelry friends have gifted him over the years.

  • Walcott, a 20-year-old hip hop dancer turned drag queen, in his home in Propatria, a barrio in West Caracas. His mother and sister support his passion for drag, but they don’t speak about it around other neighbors. Walcott says he tries to spend more time at the club rehearsing because “there’s not much here for me, for what I want to do. They (his old friends) wouldn’t really understand.”

  • When talking about how Walcott started working in clubs, he says that people in Caracas still love to party. He mentioned it is even more important to people to escape when they can. So, to put on a good show – even if only for 10 minutes - is crucial, he says, so you and the audience get to escape life’s problems and feel free.

  • Eimy prepares for the professional headshot session held for all talent before the doors open at the Altamira club. These headshots are promotional materials for their upcoming series “Arona’s Drag Race,” a rip off of RuPaul’s reality TV competition.

  • A drag artist enters the club during a large awards event held for the LGBTQ community.

  • Arona chatting with fellow queens in the dressing room of the local club in Altamira. When asked why he has stayed in Caracas doing drag, he says that he wants to stay and support the drag community in Venezuela. He has seen many friends leave to try and make a career out of drag in other countries and have to start from zero. Arona sees himself as a mentor for the younger generation of drag queens entering the local club. As he says, “There is no Venezuelan Drag Institute that is going to teach you how to be a drag queen. The club owner isn’t going to teach you, the DJ isn’t going to teach you…it’s the “marica vieja” (old gay guy) who is going to show you the ropes.”

  • Neon colors and TVs illuminate the otherwise dark, small club.

  • Shayna de Lunar taking a selfie during the break between acts.

  • From the red carpet laid out during a special club event.

  • Miranda, in a cab on his way to the drag club in Altamira. He, like other drag queens, work nights. Often the daily routine is to sleep a few hours after getting home from the club, rehearse and get made up again for the show. In a country like Venezuela, where daily tasks like grocery shopping or other errands can be complicated, sometimes they sacrifice sleeping well in order to get such errands done. While there is a strong underground drag culture in Caracas, with a few surviving and successful clubs, veterans like Arona say that the drag world has been affected because general nightlife in Caracas is difficult. Due to a mix of street violence, lack of public transportation and hyperinflation fewer people are going out than Arona remembers when he was starting out.