Beyond Drag Race: Miami's Drag Queen Culture Runs Deeper Than RuPaul
All photographs by Carolina del Busto Lola St. Lords
The round bulbs illuminate the large mirror as Luis Alvarez-Schacht stares at his reflection for inspiration. He cocks one eyebrow up, moves his head from right to left checking his angles, and takes a deep breath.
Looking down at the organized mess of make up overflowing from Ziploc baggies and an even larger canvas makeup bag, Alvarez-Schacht picks out the right tools for his craft, and then gets to work. He spreads latex glue on his eyebrows to keep them from moving. It's all about the eyes, so as the glue dries, he plays around with eye shadow palettes and chooses the right brushes. As he paints his eyes and adds color to his face, his body movements become more fluid, and his transformation from Luis to Lola is in full effect.
Two and a half hours later, Lola St. Lords emerges, and she is beautiful.
Alvarez-Schacht is a drag queen, loud and proud. But this queen is unique, because she belongs to the House of Lords here in Miami.
If you're a fan of RuPaul's Drag Race, the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, or have friends within the drag communities, you probably know a little bit about drag culture. But there are plenty of misconceptions out there: that drag queens are just men who want to be women, or that everyone who is a member of a drag house is a drag queen. Not true. Not all men who do drag want to be a woman (some do, yes, but the majority don't), and one doesn't necessarily need to be a drag queen to be a part of a house.
So what is a drag house? Sometimes, it's literally a house where drag queens live together, but more often it's more of a group support system. "They're called 'houses,' but they're seen as families," Alvarez-Schacht says. "It's support. The foundation is pure support."
Drag houses tend to keep to themselves, and fame earned in the drag community can sometimes stay very much within the group. Alvarez-Schacht explains how houses can breed local celebrities. TP Lords, House Mother for the House of Lords, is well known and respected among the drag queens here in Miami, and out of state, too. If you were to name-drop the House of Lords in New York City, they would ask if you know TP Lords.
Before he met his drag mother, Estephania St. Lords (one of TP's "daughters"), Alvarez-Schacht attended Florida State University, and used the drag queen alter-ego Lola Lautrec. At the time, her mentor was Serena Chacha (Myron Morgan). Yes, that Serena Chacha, from Drag Race season five.
Alvarez-Schacht recalls the first time Serena helped him create Lola. It was his first time ever doing a drag performance, and he needed help. He was 18 years young, studying away from home. "I have always been interested in drag and the idea of gender illusion," he says, "so when I went to college, there was this one FSU drag queen that everyone knew, and it was Serena Chacha."
Alvarez-Schacht ran into Myron one day on campus, expressed his interest in joining the alluring world of drag, and told him about his upcoming show. Myron asked for a day, time, and dorm room number, and showed up that night and did all of Luis' makeup. "It's because you're pretty," he told him.
"It's so much easier when you're a pretty boy," says Alvarez-Schacht with a laugh.
When Alvarez-Schacht moved back to Miami after college, he met Estephania St. Lords. Estephania took Lola under her wing, and one day said she could take on her last name. Not every member uses the house name as part of his stage name. However, having that connection means something -- "It shows that you're experienced, you're experienced enough to have a big name," says Alvarez-Schacht. Along with the name come certain expectations and associations; if you know of TP Lords or Estephania St. Lords, you're going to know that Lola St. Lords will be just as fierce and fabulous.