By Jessica Holman
For anyone born before the ‘90s, they might recognize the name Jerrica Benton as the main character from the ‘80s animated TV series, “Jem and the Holograms.” For film director and Denver resident Keith Garcia, this was the name he used when he took to the stage for the first time as a drag queen.
As a gay man, Garcia was always familiar with the concept of drag, but it never fit in his life in any kind of way. This changed when he stumbled upon his first drag show in 2008 at the popular gay club, Charlie’s. It was 10 p.m. on a Sunday and he couldn’t figure out why the club was so packed.
“I suddenly realized there was a show going on and the announcer announced this performer to the stage and I was just – my mouth dropped,” Garcia said.
That night he witnessed a performance by Nina Flowers, a popular Denver drag queen best known for being a runner-up on the first season of the reality TV series “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Garcia remembered watching Flowers and asking himself, “Who is this creature?” Flowers’ performance was completely different from Garcia’s idea of drag.
That night, an idea sparked within the filmmaker. He would create a film that would document drag shows around Denver including interviews of popular performers.
Almost a decade later, Garcia has done just that. Using footage from drag shows and interviews with drag queens, Garcia created his “dragumentary,” called, “The Heels Have Eyes.” Garcia’s goal is to showcase Denver’s past, present, and future in drag.
“The Heels Have Eyes” is a reflection on Denver’s rich drag history. One of the queens featured is 67-year-old Nina Montaldo. She has been a veteran of the Denver drag scene since the ‘60s, a time when dressing in drag was illegal.
Across the country, dating back to the 1880s, there were laws against cross dressing. Garcia remembered Montaldo mentioning one in particular that stated if anyone wanted to perform drag, they had to wear at least three articles of male clothing under their outfit to avoid being arrested. It wasn’t until the ‘70s, after the New York Stonewall riots occurred in 1969, that the LGBT community started to see some changes in laws and policies, granting them the rights they had worked so hard to obtain.
Many outside of the drag community have a misconception about what the drag scene is. Being a drag queen is more than just the performance and many queens act as spokespersons for the LGBTQ community and are heavily involved in it.
Scott Allison, 47, began performing drag almost nine years ago under the stage name Vivian La Cher. “It wasn’t about the money,” he said about becoming a drag queen. “It was about performing and being a part of the community.”
His nonprofit organization, La Cher Productions, hosts pageants in Denver, Seattle and Pittsburgh to raise funds to offer free mammograms for women under the age of 40. Under the Affordable Care Act, mammograms are only free for women over the age of 40, leaving younger women to pay $80 to $100 out of pocket. All performers in Allison’s pageants are either women going through cancer treatment, or survivors, also called warriors in the pageant.
In the past eight years, technology and social media have changed the way people are introduced into the drag scene. The show “RuPaul’s Drag Race” aired their first season in 2009 and marked the beginning of a new era for the drag scene. Suddenly, performing drag became less exclusive and more acceptable and attainable for many.
“This expansion of drag in the public consciousness has created more avenues, be it on Youtube, for people to learn how to do drag,” Garcia said.
Ben Schweitzer, a former drag queen and advocate for the LGBTQ community was first inspired to perform after watching the show. At the age of 15 he adopted the name Peaches and performed at Rainbow Alley, a safe space for LGBTQ youth. Through Youtube, he learned how to do drag makeup. Schweitzer also shared that he had met Garcia during one of his nights of working on the film. “I think it’s incredible,” he said about Garcia’s film. “Keith is just a badass.”
The film touches on many misconceptions about the drag scene and how the community fits in the 21st century. Drag is more than one night of upbeat music and striking lights.
For more by Intersection