Identity

Beautiful Photos of One Man’s First Night in Drag

Sometimes the joy of living in your own skin is only a pair of heels and a night out away.

by Adan Michel; photos by Paulina Munive; translated by Julie Schwietert Collazo
Jul 20 2018, 5:23pm

A version of this article originally appeared on VICE en Español.

“Are you ready for your transformation?” asked drag queen María Magdalena, before taking me to her apartment to start my first night in drag.

I’ve always marveled at the mastery with which some drag queens embody their characters, both technically and artistically. I think the attitude they possess as they glide through the city streets is admirable: the way they captivate onlookers as they take confident steps in towering heels, their hair swaying back and forth. I had always wondered how long it took them to put themselves together, where they found such fabulous costumes, and how they faced questions around their safety and potential discrimination they might experience. "How would I be in drag?" I'd asked myself for months on end.

A photo of the author moments before the first meeting with María and Skanda.

María Magdalena and Skanda López are two drag queens who, through social media, offer the opportunity to experience a glamorous night in drag for those who've been dying to try it. Excited and eager to explore an unknown side of my personality, I decided to take them up on it.

My appointment was on a Thursday night outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Mexico City. What should I wear? What name should I choose? What if I can't deal with the high heels? These questions raced through my mind as I awaited their arrival. But any anxiety had evaporated when I saw a pair of Carmelite nuns, both nearly 6'5" tall, heading in my direction. I knew I was in the right hands.

We went to their apartment, where they offered me a cold beer and a tequila. Right away I was presented with wigs, dresses, jewelry, and religious trinkets. "Cheers!" I said, downing my first shot of tequila.

Skanda López and María Magdalena in Carmelite nun habits.

Once we were settled, they told me the steps we were going to take. First, we'd start with the makeup. Then, there would be an important decision: whether to make me blonde, a red head, or a brunette. Lastly, we'd choose my dress and my accessories.

To begin, they asked me to wash my face. Then they put adhesive on my eyebrows. I quickly lost count of how many layers they put on; it felt cold, heavy, and a little uncomfortable. After they covered my eyebrows, it was time to mask my other facial features. They applied a base of makeup to my face, which felt like a cold cream when it finally dried. Nearly an hour later, they brought me a mirror in which I could see my face, white and without eyebrows or major features. When they say you only need to lose your eyebrows and don a hairnet to see how unattractive you are—or, on the other hand, how much potential your face holds—they're not wrong.

"Now we're going to draw your new face!" they said, preparing a new set of brushes and makeup. They drew on eyebrows, which they said would define my new face and personality. By now, everything was flowing smoothly. I don't know if it was easier for them to work with me or if I'd already become accustomed to sitting perfectly still. Or if it was the tequila I had.

We were getting close. "Ready!" María finally said, indicating that it was time for me to chose the clothes I'd wear and the wig that would define my new identity. Before we continued, she asked if I had thought about my new name. In truth, I'd forgotten about this important part. But I remembered a novel I'd recently read and decided to steal the name of the protagonist.

"Virginia," I answered calmly.

I started to sift through their large collection of wigs. It didn't take long. "I want to try this one," I said, picking out a long, blonde wig with loose waves. As soon as it was on my head, I knew it was exactly what I wanted.

Next it was time to choose the costume I'd wear to run around the streets of Mexico City's Historic Center. Skanda and María presented me with a dress that seemed destined to fit me. I asked if they had corsets or undergarments for me to try on, but they said these were difficult to wear. "The experience can be really tiring the first time, which is why we prefer not to overdress you," Skanda explained.

María Magdalena adds the finishing touches for Virginia Vergara.

An hour later, I finally saw myself in the mirror for the first time. A huge smile spread across my face as I looked at the work both had done: From the brows to the eyelashes and lips and the dress to the accessories, I felt like Cinderella with two fairy godmothers.

"You look like Sofía Vergara," one of them joked from behind me.

"Of course! My name is Virginia Vergara," I replied, sure of myself.

Once the three of us were ready, we left the apartment and headed to our new destination: the LGBTQ+ bars on Republica de Cuba Street. I followed my hosts, trying to walk confidently in my high heels even as my nerves and uncertainty were growing.

We arrived at our first stop of the night: the Marrakech, a famous gay bar known for its revues and playlists. It was barely 11 PM and the spot hadn't reached peak capacity yet—I could still walk through the crowd—but I felt like a celebrity right away. People didn't hesitate to approach us and ask to take photos. Whenever someone complimented me and told me how beautiful I looked, I was filled with joy. I think that emotion is something that all of us should have a right to feel and experience at some point in our lives.

The heat of summer in Mexico City didn't take long to overpower me, especially given how much makeup I was wearing, and I'd only been in the role of Virginia Vergara for a few hours at that point. We decided to leave shortly thereafter but more people approached us to ask for photos and dote on us with compliments. As more time went by, the more I was convinced I was a total star—at least for the night.

We crossed the street and entered La Puri, a bar whose interior was conceptualized and decorated by renowned Mexican artist Fabián Chairéz. Again, once our trio of drag queens stepped into the glow of mirrors and neon lights, people eagerly asked to take photos or dance with us.

Skanda López in a Carmelite habit.

Between the pleasant company, the music, the photos, and the excellent décor, the vibe in La Puri is incredible. It seemed like nothing could go wrong. Despite being on one of the more dangerous streets in the center of Mexico City, there's a feeling of constant security there. You know you're with people who won't judge you and who are out for the same reason as you: to have fun and feel like oneself in a space that's 100 percent free of homophobia, prejudices, and bad attitudes.

Inside La Puri.

I believe that drag is a way to explore yourself, to create your own fiction, and try on a new skin in which you feel completely at home with yourself. Above all, I think that everyone deserves to feel that sense of satisfaction. I'm grateful that people like María Magdalena and Skanda López exist, and that they're willing and available to help anyone through a process that might otherwise be daunting.

Having confronted my own prejudices and had the opportunity to explore another side of myself, I can attest that this has been an incredible adventure full of confidence and self-love. We decided to stay at La Puri a bit longer, drinking mezcal, dancing, and even giving a toast at one point. The stereo was loud, and as I moved between the lights and the music I was struck by how happy I felt. Sometimes the joy of being in your own skin is only a pair of high heels away.

To learn more about María Magdalena and Skanda López, follow them on Instagram.

Follow Adan on Instagram.