CORK’S first-ever drag school celebrated a graduation with a difference on Thursday night as students took to the stage for a spectacle worthy of Las Vegas.
South Parish Community Centre was transformed into a riot of colour to accommodate 18 students marking their “draguation”.
Graduates performed showcases that incorporated everything from dance to lipsyncing. The acts were the culmination of a 10-week course at St John’s Central College overseen by Cork-based drag queen and Portuguese native Mia Gold.
Run by CorkETB and the Gay Project, the course gave students an insight into every aspect of drag, from dressmaking to make-up. The concept was initially developed by community development worker at the Gay Project, Konrad Im.
Guest tutors on the course included locally renowned drag performers Candy Warhol (who heads the haus of Mockie Ah) and fellow drag artist Liam Bee. Not content with taking notes, students benefitted from a lipsync hosting tutorial, drag-outfit styling, and character development, among other modules.
David O’Meara, who lives in Glanmire, was one of 18 students performing last night. The 26-year-old was excited to introduce his drag alter ego “Jean E. Mac” to his friends and partner Gavin at the event.
“It’s such a feat to be able to wear high heels,” he said. “I never imagined it would be this painful. For anyone out there who has been wearing high heels for years, I now feel your pain!”
David said he had always been curious about the world of drag.
“I had watched and loved Ru Paul’s Drag Race, but I never delved into that world,” he said. “When I came out at 17 it was only to my family. It wasn’t till the age of 18 that I finally came out to my friends. Up till then, it was like I had been wearing a mask.”
The so-called “draguation” was a far cry from David’s younger days when he felt forced to hide his sexuality.
“I was constantly watching what I was saying and doing in order to sound more masculine,” he said. “I would even go as far as lowering my voice a lot. If the other boys commented that a girl was good-looking, I would see the beautiful element but, of course, I was never attracted to her. I never wanted to let them know that though, so I would just let on that I felt the same way they did.”
He acknowledged the range of opportunities available for people interested in drag.
“Ten years ago, we didn’t have half the platforms that we have now,” he said.
“It hasn’t just become acceptable, it’s become mainstream. If I had known at the age of 15 that becoming a drag queen would be a possibility, it would have given me a lot of hope.”
David joked that when it comes to him and partner Gavin, there are now three in the relationship.
“If there are three of us in the relationship, then she would definitely be getting the spare room,” he laughed. “Jean E. Mac is a firecracker. The diva comes out the minute that wig is on. Gavin has been really supportive. If I’m doing a dance at home, he’ll make sure I do it in high heels so that I have as much practise as possible.”
David is extremely proud of the character he has created, saying: “She could be tap-dancing to silent night and still have the performance come off entertaining and glamorous.”
The 26-year-old emphasised that the art of drag is for everyone.
“There are cisgender women in their 40s who want to do drag too and they are as welcome as the others,” he said. “It’s fascinating to see what’s behind the curtain and know what it’s like to be the drag queen they admired so much. People who feel like they are outsiders can express themselves through drag in a way that’s really special.”
He had plenty of praise for the organisations making projects like this a reality.
“We have supports like the Gay Project for people who don’t see that light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
“Many people still feel like they are in a hopeless situation, so it’s great that we have these resources.”
The event comes just weeks before the Cork Pride festival, the largest national festival of its kind outside of Dublin, bringing approximately 30,000 visitors into the city each year. It will take place this year from July 23 to July 31 with the theme ‘Proud to be...’.
The Cork Pride Parade will take place on Sunday, July 31, assembling on Grand Parade from 1pm, before starting to move at 2pm.
It will finish at a new Cork Pride Afterparty venue at Kennedy Quay at 3pm.
For more see https://gayproject.ie/