~ by Crystal Tassels, BSP Contributing Writer
Last Friday night, I lost my virginity. I sat at a VIP table at Oddfellow’s West Hall on Capitol Hill, drank two glasses of water, and let the glitter rain down. Curve-hugging sequined leotards, clever songwriting, and possibly the best contouring makeup I’ve seen all year made my head spin. BenDeLaCreme made eye contact with me from the stage and I think I might be smitten.
I don’t own a television or a Hulu account and have never watched a full episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (I know this is no excuse since they screen it regularly at Julia’s, but still.) DeLa’s reality TV stardom was not what got me in the door. Instead, her allure caught me the old-fashioned way, by word of mouth. As a member of the Atomic Bombshells, DeLa’s reputation precedes her. Sitting in the front row and watching her bubble and prance around in a glittering tear-away skirt, she was, as the show’s title suggested, terminally delightful.
For all of the show’s glitz and glamour, the most interesting aspect of the performance was DeLaCreme’s humorous, though probing exploration of identity, duality, and character. I learned at the show that DeLa had been criticized on Drag Race for her indelible cheerfulness and for not adequately expressing the person “behind the drag.” In response to this critique, which seems utterly ridiculous coming from a contest based on creating larger-than-life characters, DeLa staged video calls from her fans and detractors to address their commentaries. Impressively, each character was played onscreen by DeLaCreme herself, nearly unrecognizable in various riots of makeup and hair.
Some of this commentary was very specific to Drag Race, so lacking that background made some of these segments seem a bit tedious and even defensive. But one of the repeat “callers” was actually Ben himself, DeLa’s barefaced, male alter ego. After several instances of DeLa answering the phone to discover a silent video of Ben on the other end of the line, she spiraled into an identity crisis. Suddenly there were three DeLas on stage, each in identical pink sequined leotards (played by Kitten LaRue and Lou Henry Hoover). Things got wacky.
After DeLa regained her composure with a gracious, sighing, “Well, that was weird,” she rounded out the show with a goosebump-raising number about her early experiments with drag. The song, a reworking of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” describes a closeted teenage outcast creating her own identity while sitting at the mirror and perfecting her makeup. It painted a vivid picture of the star’s vulnerability and the strength she created by establishing her own sense of self.
This is serious business. Putting that face on was not an escape from reality, as her critics on Drag Race assumed. DeLa is the source of her own power, a concept that has real import for anyone that takes on a self-made persona. In a culture that obsesses over authenticity (like Facebook’s current war on stage names), whose right is it to decide whether someone’s chosen identity is more “real” or “natural” than their naked self? Our identities are only as “authentic” as our experience. Furthermore, whose right is it to separate those personalities into two mutually exclusive compartments, layering them one behind the other?
As performers that often keep our showgirl and showboy selves separate from the rest of our lives, we live out our identities in the form of many truths. To make assumptions about which one is “real” is to make light of our versatility and depth. I salute BenDeLaCreme for being brave enough to expose herself so candidly, and for taking her reveals much further than just exposing the body beneath her sequins.