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Get ready, honey! You’re a contestant on Drag Star!, the reality TV drag competition. You better throw shade, serve looks, and slay each episode to become the next drag icon! You’ll prove your skills on the S.H.A.D.E. scale: Smarts, Humor, Artistry, Daring, and Enchantment. Through celebrity impersonation, singing, dancing, costuming, and comedy, you’ll need to be sickening in every stunt to win it all. But how will you steal the show? I sat down with Evan Peterson, the author, for a chat about drag. Drag Star! releases next Thursday, March 14th.
Tell me about what has drawn you to the world of drag.
I’ve loved drag since I found out about it as a child. I was obsessed with the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a teen, and I was in the live cast off and on for about seven years. I’m gender fluid myself, and I love the way that drag explodes what gender can be. Drag can be butch, femme, or off that spectrum entirely. It’s subversive yet full of love, naughty yet courageous, and it’s as imaginative as a performer wants to make it.
What’s your favorite element of drag performance?
I love the creative looks (or lewks) and the elements of surprise. Anyone can do a tear-away or throw confetti, but I love when the performers make my jaw drop and show me something I’ve never seen before. Go see some live drag—support your local drag!
Drag Star! is your first time in the interactive fiction rodeo–what was most challenging for you in writing this?
Nice Mommy Dearest reference! I had a lot of frustration learning how to code in Choice Script. Once I got the hang of it, it was totally worth it. When I’m writing straightforward prose, I can crank out 1000 words an hour if I’m not stopping to fact check or edit. With this game, I had to set my goal at 1000 words a day. Sometimes I wrote a lot more. Sometimes a lot fewer.
It was also a fun challenge to expand this drag competition to pit drag kings against drag queens, with gender fluid and non-binary performers in the mix. I’m glad I created a little world in which all drag is given the same opportunity.
Did you have a favorite NPC to write?
I fell in love with Trigga Warning by episode two or three. They were originally intended to be a filler contestant and a one-note cosplayer, but they grew into so much more. I realized that I wanted the player to be able to mentor them if they choose to. Trigga is everything I love about Janelle Monae and Sasha Velour with a splash of Phi Phi O’Hara. All of these people are brilliant genderqueer artists. I wish Trigga was real and was my buddy.
You’re a pretty prolific writer outside of Drag Star. Tell me about your other projects.
I’d love to. My website, http://www.evanjpeterson.com, has links to most of my work that’s available online and in print. My last book was The PrEP Diaries: A Safe(r) Sex Memoir from Lethe Press. It’s nonfiction mixed with personal essay, all about Truvada and the quiet sexual revolution it has created.
I have some science fiction and horror stories out in a few anthologies and magazines with more on the way; check out Unspeakable Horror 2 and The Myriad Carnival. You can find my nonfiction essays online at Boing Boing and The Stranger, and in print in The Queer South and Best Gay Stories 2015.
I spent a decade publishing mainly poetry, especially sci fi and horror poetry, which you can find in my chapbooks: Skin Job and The Midnight Channel.
What are some terms folks should be familiar with in the drag world?
Oh boy. There’s so much drag slang, and it’s constantly changing. Queer slang is as mutable as queer identity itself. Who knew that we’d all be saying “Miss Vanjie!” for six months? That girl is a branding genius.
I’ve provided a little glossary at the bottom of the stats screen in the game, but I think it’s especially important for people to understand the nuances that differentiate “tea,” “shade,” and “reading.”
“Tea” (or just “T”) means the truth. It’s not usually subject to opinion. The tea is the facts. I use “tea” rather than “T” in the game, because “T” is one of those super specific terms that can mean anything from truth to testosterone injections to party drugs. Gotta be careful with that one.
To “read” someone is to criticize or insult them based on something obvious. You can read someone’s skill, talent, or taste pretty easily. “Shade,” which is often phrased as “throwing shade,” is a form of reading that is very subtle. It can even be nonverbal; side-eye is shade. Clearing one’s throat loudly can be shade.
I like to explain it this way: The “tea” is that someone is a bad dancer. The “read” would be that they dance like a dog on ice skates. The “shade” would be something like, “You’re so inspiring. I’d be too embarrassed to dance in public like that.”