It was a mild October night in Austin, Texas, at the iconic queer bar Cheer Up Charlie’s. The limestone rock wall stage was empty, as a garden variety pop tune played over the loudspeakers of the outdoor bar. Suddenly, a garbled voice came over the speakers to announce “Hallowqueen 2014.” Not two seconds later, a host of drag queens stormed the stage, resembling nothing short of a hellish choir of demons, each performing their own absolutely hilarious bit, but when she assumed the stage, a hushed whisper fell over the crowd.
Donning a black kaftan, and a ghoulish version of Heddy Lamarr’s Ziegfield Girl costume, she stood center stage as white as a ghost, as mesmerizing as the sun — Louisianna Purchase. Flanked on either side by two women dressed in black, Louisianna cast spells, summoned spirits, and set fire to a cauldron within the few minutes she was on stage. Demanding attention and never allowing a single person to divert their gaze, she was spellbinding in the way that only natural born performers can ever hope to aspire to.
In all the years that drag has counted itself among the new wave of pop culture elite, the art of drag is still heavily centered around the idea of “passing.” A cis-normative (identifying wholly as one’s assigned gender at birth) trait that’s surprisingly carried through to an art that’s heavily rooted in the LGBTQ community, “passing” may be why we have yet to see a heavily tattooed drag queen. “Fuck ‘real’ and fuck ‘passing,’” says Louisianna, whose entire body is decorated with beautiful, illustrative tattoos. “I think that inhibits someone from using all the crayons in the box. If you're only interested in looking like a biological woman, then fine, that's your gig. What's a ‘real’ woman anyway? It's bullshit to put that cis-glorified version of ‘passing’ on anyone. Femme is an energy, not a face.”
Of course, mainstream society would beg to differ. While in recent years there’s been an influx of women within the tattoo community, there’s still an underlying ideology that tattoos are a predominantly “masculine” trait, and that being heavily tattooed “ruins” one’s body. Perhaps this is why projects like Women With Tattoos, a photo gallery that celebrates women with ink, are still necessary in helping lay claim to women’s femininity as their own. But in a hazy world of gender fluidity, does tattoo inclusivity or lack thereof extend to those on the non-binary spectrum, like people who identify as transgender or drag queens?
Louisianna Purchase is still relatively new to the drag community, but in that time she says she has yet to meet adversity when it comes to her tattoos and the idea of “passing” — although it still makes us wonder why there aren’t more heavily tattooed queens. Does the idea of “passing” in drag subscribe to the notion that tattoos equate to masculinity? “I don't think being heavily tattooed has hurt [my drag] in any way... I refuse to define anything in regards to gender when it comes to Louisianna Purchase. She's not a man and she's not a woman. I view her as an energy that I can dress up and take what ever form I want,” she explains. “She's a creature of the night! I use ‘she’ as her pronoun, and present her as very femme because that's how I want my creation presented at the moment.”
As drag begins to take center stage among pop culture and entertainment, we can only hope that the gaps between gender fluidity, tattoos, and asserting one’s authority over their body are bridged. When it comes to the art of drag, what’s most important is how much you werk. “A pretty face is only going to get you so far,” explains Louisianna. “Can you perform? Can you make me feel something or move me? Make me jealous because your performance was so damn sickening that I wish I thought of it. That's what matters to me.”