For years, fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race floated theories about potential hookups, hoping to see a queen-on-queen coupling. This season delivered with an on-camera “showmance” between contestants Vanessa Vanjie Mateo and Brooke Lynn Hytes that peaked with a heartbreaking lip sync face-off that eliminated Mateo from the competition. Though a romantic subplot featuring flirtatious glances and Werk Room canoodling makes for great reality TV, sex and dating in drag can be complicated.
“When drag queens date, it can be very difficult,” said Los Angeles–based drag performer Marrie Aquanett. “There's so much that goes into it.” Her work doesn’t end when she leaves the stage: Building a dynamic one-person performance that includes elaborate makeup and costumes takes an incredible amount of planning and effort, and the physical, emotional, and logistical demands of working late nights can make it harder to maintain a consistent daytime schedule —or a partner. “I think, sometimes, other queens don't want that kind of drama in their life,” she said.
Jinkx Monsoon, winner of Drag Race season five, said frequent travel for work is also a struggle when it comes to dating. “It’s hard to have a fruitful romantic life when I’m never in one place for long,” they said.
That’s not to say drag queens don’t attract thirsty fans and “drag chasers,” as Aquannet calls them. Meatball, a Los Angeles–based drag performer and former Dragula season one contestant, said she gets plenty of sexual attention online and on the job. “I have hooked up in full drag before, but I was also dressed up like a baby with a poopy diaper—I don't know what that guy's deal was,” Meatball said. “People message me on Instagram saying that they're sexually attracted to me, but it's always about Meatball and not about me, which is odd, because it's like, that means you just want to fuck a clown.”
“It's confusing to figure out if they want to date you, or if they want to date a drag queen, or if they don't know,” Meatball said. There’s also a chance they might just be looking to hook up with someone famous. “I'm not the most happy to be sexually exploited or used in any way like that.”
It can sometimes be tough to meet someone who’s interested at all. “A lot of gay men don't want to date drag queens because they think they're too feminine,” said Meatball. Before she met her current partner, Meatball remembers hiding her social media accounts from potential dates because she was worried that her drag career might be a turnoff.
Femme-presenting queer people and drag performers often experience stigma, intolerance, and exclusion from queer nightlife communities and dating scenes that uphold "no fats, no femmes" policies. This stigma once kept Monsoon from exploring their non-binary gender identity. “I was told, ‘I didn’t come out of the closet to date a boy who dresses like a girl,’” she said. “I tried my best to ‘look like a boy’ when I was out of drag because I thought that’s the only way anyone would ever want to date me.”
According to Aquanett, even other drag queens can perpetuate this same femmephobia. She remembered a night when she was hanging out at a bar in her street clothes and struck up a flirty conversation with another queen. “She was coming on to me, but when she found out I was a drag queen, she straight-up told me, ‘I was so into you, I thought you were so hot, until I found out you did drag,’” Aquanett said. “So this is one drag queen to another.”
Working around full makeup, wigs, and heavy silicone padding as you try to hook up can not only kill the mood, but ruin a carefully crafted look. “I tried to give a blowjob at the club once, and my lips got messed up. I was just mad for the rest of the night,” Meatball said.
Tammie Brown, who appeared on Drag Race season one and Drag Race All Stars, prefers not to have sex in her work clothes, but she doesn’t mind going on a date in drag. “It’s not a problem for me. My drag has always been fluid,” she said. “But I couldn’t live my life in drag.”
With her current partner of three years, who is also a drag performer, Aquanett believes their shared love for performance strengthens their relationship as they support each other through late nights at the club and early mornings getting to their day jobs. “There's a kind of solidarity in dating a fellow queen,” she said. “Plus, you can share makeup and brushes and all that stuff.”
Jinkx Monsoon believes the misconceptions and stereotypes about drag queens are beginning to fade. Since coming out as non-binary, they find that their love life is much more fulfilling. “I am only really attracted to people who are very open-minded and embrace and celebrate people who live outside the gender norm. It’s kinda like, ‘You must be this queer to ride this ride,’” they said. “When you are living your truth, you will meet people who love you for that truth. Now, I meet people who like me as I truly am, and the sex is so much better when you’re yourself during it.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Sofia Barrett-Ibarria on Twitter.