RuPaul’s Drag Race has transformed drag culture from niche gay-bar entertainment to popular mainstream commodity since first airing on LogoTV in 2009. As a result, many of the queens who sashay down Ru’s runway find international fame and enjoy the kind of monetary stability their industry predecessors never dreamed of 10 years ago.
But when it comes to noteworthy drag, these queens aren’t always the be all end all; Ru’s army of reality-tv mother-tuckers is only a fraction of the fabulously diverse drag ecosystem found around the world. Missing from this legacy of ladies in lace-fronts are drag kings, queens living outside the United States, and well-respected artists who were hustling in heels long before many of Mama Ru’s drag babies were a twinkle in her eye.
So instead of gagging over yet another conglomerate of creatives competing to become America’s next drag superstar, we’re celebrating a crew of crown-worthy gender-benders you won’t find lip-syncing on VH1.
Here’s a list of drag queens worth knowing and where to watch them perform.
1. Hungry — Berlin, Germany
Hungry, a Berlin-based performer, designer, and makeup artist exploded on the drag scene after painting Icelandic singer Bjork’s mug for her 2017 music album Utopia. The artist’s self-named “distorted drag” brings to mind an Alexander McQueen runway look that was abducted by aliens and sent back down to Earth just in time for Paris Fashion Week.
Although Berlin’s drag scene might not support as robust of a community as cities like New York or London, Hungry is part of a subculture characterized by avant-garde artists who think outside the box and reach far past gay bars for their fan base. Hungry has performed at Berlin’s Traumabar und Kino, an art space with live performances, and alongside Sasha Velour, a Drag Race winner known for her experimental performance style.
2. Peaches Christ — San Francisco, California
This silver-screen scream queen was American drag royalty long before RuPaul started handing out crowns on LogoTV. After beelining to San Francisco in the 1990s, Peaches Christ (the alter ego of Joshua Grannell) made a name for herself as a drag performer and emcee. In 2010, Grannell directed the farcical D-list cult film All About Evil, starring Natasha Lyonne. Today, you can find Peaches performing alongside the likes of BenDeLaCreme, Jinx Monsoon, and SF legend Heklina in Drag Becomes Her, a send-up of the Meryl Streep/Goldie Hawn film Death Becomes Her.
Parodies are indeed this queen’s bread and butter. From Legally Black and Mean Gays to Steel Dragnolias and First Wives Fight Club, Peaches Christ is an expert at injecting queer movie classics with an extra-large helping of camp. Catch the queen in action at the iconic Castro Theater in San Francisco.
3. Queef Latina — Miami, Florida
Queef Latina serves up Florida femininity with a masculine twist: She’s a South Beach Stepford wife from the back, but with a beard that won’t quit and enough chest hair to knit a baby blanket, she’s continually giving gender norms the proverbial middle finger.
Looks aside, Queef Latina is more of a warm hug than a middle finger. In 2017, this Miami native founded Wigwood — an all-inclusive queer arts festival in February that has put Miami’s blossoming drag scene on the map. She also hosts sewing classes at the Hotel Gaythering where homos (and those who love them) can hone their skills while making fanny packs, jockstraps, tote bags, and harnesses. It’s clear why she was named Miami New Times’ Best Drag Performer of the Year in 2019 — she’s a badass lady boss bringing modern sensibilities to old artforms.
4. Landon Cider — Los Angeles, California
In 2019, Landon Cider rose to the top of his field when he became the first drag king in history to win Dragula, a horror-drag reality tv competition hosted by The Boulet Brothers. Unlike RuPaul’s Drag Race, which excludes drag kings from participating, Dragula‘s platform gave Cider the chance to show his skill at manipulating makeup and costumes to create mind-boggling physical transformations.
Cider’s name recognition among drag aficionados is helping create awareness for women working in an otherwise male-dominated field. In addition to performing in Los Angeles, his hometown, Cider has recently played international cities like Berlin, Manchester, Amsterdam, Paris, and Miami.
5. Shequida Hall — New York, New York
In a profession where most performers live and die by lip-syncing, Shequida Hall is a breath of fresh air. On top of being an accomplished film and stage actress, Hall is a classically trained opera singer with a soaring soprano capable of cutting through even the noisiest New York City bar. It isn’t only a might tuck that’s helping her hit those high notes, either. Shequida has got the training to back it up and a degree from Juilliard to prove it.
Singing aside, this Jamaica-born drag queen is a star of the drag scene because of her witty banter as a cabaret host. She emcees Bartschland Follies, a Friday night variety show at Manhattan’s McKittrick Hotel, and also makes appearances at Pieces in the West Village and Hardware Bar in Hell’s Kitchen.
6. Cheddar Gorgeous — Manchester, United Kingdom
Cheddar Gorgeous, the bald beauty of Manchester’s queer nightlife scene, is a sci-fi shapeshifter with a range spanning from Elizabethan burlesque to club-kid unicorn. One look at her Instagram account proves her array of genderqueer drag looks are as versatile as David Bowie’s career and more polished than the queen’s royal jewels. She’s also one of the hosts of Drag SOS, a UK-based show that follows the Family Gorgeous as they traipse around England and turn unlikely candidates into full-fledged drag divas.
With a Ph.D. in social anthropology, Cheddar recognizes her drag persona has power outside the entertainment world, too. In 2018, she organized a Trump protest in London, garnering tons of media attention. Her use of drag as a political platform brings to mind the great queens who went to battle for gay rights at Stonewall over 50 years ago, and her creativity eclipses many of the folks working in the industry today.
7. Jackie Beat — Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles may be home to more Drag Race contestants than you can count on all your acrylic nails, but most play second fiddle to Jackie Beat, a West Coast comedy queen whose sharp tongue and silver voice have endeared her to queer audiences for a quarter-century. Like a Weird Al Yankovic with hair that’s bigger than Texas, Jackie is best known for her quirky parodies of pop hits by gay icons like Cher, Madonna, and Lady Gaga. On top of performing, she’s been a writer for personalities like Joan Rivers, Ross Matthews, and Roseanne Barr.
Jackie Beat is an old-school queen. Much like Coco Peru, Sherry Vine, and Lady Bunny, she came of age long before RuPaul inspired an entire generation of performers, and she’s still hustling harder than most. Although LA is Jackie’s home base (you can often find her at Hamburger Mary’s), she’s an international icon who treads the biggest drag boards around North America and Europe.
8. Dina Martina — Provincetown, Massachusetts & Seattle, Washington
Dina Martina looks like Roseanne Barr got into a fistfight with a Mary Kay salesman at the Salvation Army. It ain’t pretty. Her singing voice quavers like Mrs. Miller stumbling through “These Boots are Made for Walking.” Almost every other utterance includes a mispronounced word or malapropism. Objectively speaking, she’s a horrific performer, and yet, this drag artist happens to be one of the most beloved ladies on this list.
In 1989, writer and performer Grady West gave birth to America’s best-worst cabaret chanteuse in Seattle, Washington — a city known for its cooky coven of drag queens. For the past 30 years, he’s gained a cult following of devotees obsessed with his Catherine O’Hara-meets-John Waters shtick, and it’s easy to see why. A far cry from the plastic queens that come straight off the Drag Race rack, Dina Martina isn’t tailor-made for the mainstream. Still, from the first moment she plotzes on stage, Martina is so endearingly trashy she should be considered a national treasure.
The best place to catch her performing live is at the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she warbles her way through a one-woman show from May to September. Her annual Christmas show, a divinely demented assault on all that’s holy, stops in major LGBTQ hubs like New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle.