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“Gabby” Sherrington concludes her talent number

The director quickly diverts the spotlight back to the founder of Miss

Continental. “Jim really created something amazing and gave a platform for a lot of people who have never had that platform. And he was the first to allow transgender performers to compete in these pageants because there’s a lot of LGBTQ, well, I shouldn’t say T, there’s been a lot of gay pageants where they weren’t allowed to perform.” Saxenmeyer invokes the name of pop-culture’s grand diva. “RuPaul, on

Drag Race, for years did not allowed transgender performers to appear,” Saxenmeyer said. “His original thought was drag, by definition, is a man who identifies as a man who dresses up as a woman. Because that’s the illusion.” The Queens excavates the schisms within the drag world. Some performers eschew the term drag, preferring instead to be called female impersonators. Others argue that transgender performers have an easier time doing drag than those who identify as male. It is a confounding tapestry, but Saxenmeyer navigates it deftly. “Drag is just an art form,” he said. “Anybody can do drag. Women can do drag. The way women have transformed themselves for years with makeup

Tiffany T Hunter prepares to take the stage for the swimsuit competition

and hair is, in a sense, a version of drag. So if you just focus in on the art form itself and take all the politics out, it’s just a beautiful thing to wrap your arms around.”

But all that glitters isn’t GLAAD. Saxenmeyer tackles some tough subject

matters in The Queens, going beyond the velvet rope to investigate what binds us together as a community. “I don’t think you can celebrate the highs unless you appreciate the lows,”

Saxenmeyer said. “This has been a disposable culture for many people who consider not only gay people, but especially transgender people, to be on the margins of society.” Since the Miss Continental pageant spans 40 years of herstory, Saxenmeyer

was able to delve thoughtfully and thoroughly into the theme of alienation: “There is a legacy of sadness in this community because of being so disenfranchised and discriminated against. I mean, it really is horrifying. And then you add in the years of AIDS, when that decimated so much of the culture. You can’t tell this story without going to those darker sides. And each one of those could have been its own documentary.”

16 | September 2020

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