Queens of culture

I don’t belong in downtown St. Louis. I am a young woman of 18 who nearly pees her pants at unexplained bumps in the night. Crime and murder are unfathomable to my naive mind. I can still make myself cry if I think about “Boyz N the Hood” or “Hardball” enough.

When my friend proposed to me that we venture into the unknown world that is downtown St. Louis, my pulse climbed, my palms sweat, and I would imagine that my face grew quite pale. We would be driving my entirely theft-and-assassination-vulnerable convertible all around the back streets and through the neighborhoods that even Google Maps won’t take you through, even if it means tacking four additional minutes onto your journey. My parents gave me one piece of advice after granting me permission to go: “Just be careful walking to and from your car.”

Regardless, I decided that the rewards of the excursion outweighed the risks. Not really though, because the risk was dying and that’s generally a winner in any mental debate. I just really wanted coffee.

After getting lost and turning around two separate times in abandoned gas stations (probably the final resting places of corpses), we made our way to a brick building with essentially zero decor on the exterior, save for a sign over the door that read “Shameless Grounds.”

A dark, seven-foot-tall Slender Man-esque figure passed me on the way in. Gypsy Havoc, as I would come to learn was her name, was taking a smoke break from getting ready for the night.

Delighted that fall flavors were making their debut, I ordered a Pumpkin S’Creamer — a delicious smoothie with espresso, topped with loads of whipped cream. Sipping on my smoothie, I started taking in my surroundings.

I have never seen more appearance conscious men in one contained space in my entire life. The air smelled of coffee and cologne, a surprisingly yummy combination.

Taken from their website: “That “box” we fall outside of is tiny. It’s cramped and confined, and when you think about it, it’s always been a myth. The desires of most people fall outside of that box in one way or another. Almost everybody likes at least a few sprinkles with their vanilla. People like us, we make up the vast sexual majority. And we think it’s about time somebody created a warm, open, public place that calls shenanigans on the entire ‘box’ paradigm.”

Shameless Grounds challenges the status quo in a big way. They have a ‘human sexuality lending library,’ containing titles “ranging from biology to history, and from classical literature to raunchy pulp fiction.” The menu is full of vegetarian and vegan options.

The boldest stride they have taken to share their shamelessness, however, is the fact that on the second Saturday of every month, they are home to “Off the GRID,” a self-described “Retro-Alternative Indie Drag Show.”

There is nothing more fantastic than giving a dollar bill to a drag queen who is lip syncing and dancing her heart out on stage for your entertainment.

Your entertainment, however, is not the primary goal of these talented performers. There is more to drag than earning tips and receiving applause.

Drag is an exploration of femininity. It is a promotion of the relationship between people, not man and woman. It obscures gender and robs it of its value. It is the very definition of performance art.

Some people, including myself before this adventure, are under the impression that there is something sexual, something invasive and taboo about drag. This, however, is not the case. Off the GRID is an all ages show, and I was not uncomfortable for a single second watching the show.

One of my favorite aspects of drag is when speaking to those who haven’t previously been exposed to it, they tend to make the typical “he.. er, she..” fumble that comes with such an ambivalent trait as gender. We find comfort in labeling things because we know that they are unshakable facts.

But the truth is, gender is ambiguous. Gender is fluid. Some men would prefer to be women, while some women feel they would be better suited as men. Some men don’t want to make the physical switch, but find an escape in donning six-inch platforms and a hot pink wig for a night and lip syncing to a Lana Del Rey song.

Drag is one of the most honest art forms, and while it may not get the respect it deserves, it certainly left a lasting impact on me. Drag has its fans, the men and women that come to every show, pockets full of one dollar bills, just waiting to reward the queen that steals their heart with her passionate and convincing performance.

Next time, I’ll bring more singles.