Blending Boundaries, Opening Minds
Foundation: Second-year art major stands in his bathroom wearing a Mickey Mouse onesie, blasting pulsating pop music from his room across the hall and meticulously applying the perfect shade of foundation to best match his skin tone.
“From start to finish, it takes about five to six hours to put Victoria on,” Lopez says.
Victoria refers to Victoria Vice, Lopez’s drag queen persona. Tonight, May 15, he is making his ball performance debut at Delta Lambda Pi’s first Drag Ball. Up until now, Lopez has only showcased Victoria in pieces for his performance art classes.
For Lopez, the journey to embracing his inner drag queen took some time, not understanding why men would want to simply dress up as women, as opposed to actually wanting to be women. Once he moved to San Francisco and became more involved in the city’s drag and queer scene, he began to better understand drag’s social and cultural complexities. Queens find liberation in putting on the clothes and makeup, embracing how powerful femininity can be, describing drag as a “caricature of femininity, not of womanhood.”
With this understanding now, Lopez found the courage in October 2014 to make his first appearance as Victoria at a Halloween party — a “raunchy, kooky, unfiltered” version of Lopez.
“She is who I imagine myself to be when I’m at my strongest — she can say what I cannot.”
In a way, drag functions as a defense for Lopez to be able to openly express himself, which he compares to stand-up comedians using their stage persona to be unfiltered. More than anything, Lopez wants Victoria to serve a positive purpose and convey messages about the queer community.
“I wanted to create a character with a voice loud enough to make a change in the local gay community. Victoria literally is a voice for anyone who needs it.”
Eyes: With a now flawless complexion, Lopez moves on to his eyes, specifically his eyebrows, which he states are one of the most important features for any queen. He goes back and forth, filling in his sharply angled black brows, slowly transforming them into arrows directing people to his soon-to-be done up eyes.
However, while appearances are important, Lopez wants Victoria to have more substance than people may assume drag queens would have.
“She’s not just someone to look at, but someone to listen to.”
He uses drag as a form of art, incorporating Victoria in his performances this year. Lopez’s classmates and art student peers very much accept Victoria and welcome her into the world of fine art. Next, Lopez wants to extend these sentiments throughout the campus, which he has preliminarily mapped out with year-by-year goals.
“My overall mission at UCI is to gage the community and have people understand that I’m just a regular person — I just express my love and hobbies a bit differently. I want to be for the local queers what I didn’t have when I was coming out.”
Growing up in an extremely conservative small town in the Bay Area, Lopez has experience battling adversaries. One of the only “out” kids in his high school, Lopez was even asked to speak before the faculty to give input on how the school can help the campus’s gay community.
“I just told them we don’t need anything from them — we’re not a charity case. We just want your respect, not even your acceptance. Just respect who we are.”
Fortunately, Lopez has always had the support from his family, from coming out as queer to now more recently coming out as a drag queen. When he first told his mom he was a queen, her initial reaction was to ask what her name will be.
Now, on to the eyeliner. He extends the wings out into the heavens, a daringly garish look to say the least. At this stage, Lopez is becoming unrecognizable, in limbo between Xander Lopez and Victoria Vice. Where, or when, does Xander end and Victoria begin?
“Victoria is still me — there’s no mental switch.”
Drag queens do not psychologically think they are someone else once they are in their full costumes. Rather, Lopez transforms into a different side of himself. Victoria does not have a developed personality, idiosyncrasies or a background. Her likes are Lopez’s likes, her memories are Lopez’s memories and her desires are Lopez’s desires. The only difference is the voice expressing all of this.
Ultimately, what Lopez and other drag queens want to communicate through their performances is a satire of male expectations for women. By hyperbolizing feminine standards — hyper-sexuality, makeup, bodacious figures — queens develop irony because, in fact, these are men performing in roles that other men associate with women.
“We’re mocking misogyny and the male gaze towards femininity.”
Makeup now complete at last and silver wig securely placed on his head, Lopez looks like a work of art. His own body is a canvas ready to evolve into a platform for activism.
“I’m not important anymore. It’s not about me; it’s about everyone after me and before me.”
Drag Ball: Lopez’s own performance at the drag ball clearly distinguishes him from the other queens performing. Incorporating theatre with performance art and drag, Lopez does a classy strip tease while lip-syncing to Lady Gaga’s “Aura.” As he removes each piece of clothing, Lopez enhances this dichotomy of sensual feminine representation with blurring the lines of the traditional gender binary.
The hours of preparation, the pain and discomfort of performing, the stress and sleepless nights this week, all culminate into one rousing applause once Victoria strikes her final pose. Lopez says that the world makes dressing and looking like a man seem like the best thing in the world, but watching Victoria perform makes femininity seem pretty damn important.