Role Models

Role Models: Darienne Lake

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I’ll never forget the first time I saw Darienne Lake: she stomped and bounced from behind the curtain to the the Club 69 take on Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” Up to that point, I had only seen a few drag shows so I came to expect a certain look and style with the queens–i.e., slender, pretty, and elegant. Not anymore. I had to sit down to catch my breath. What I witnessed wasn’t what I had come to expect with drag queens: it was a full-scale assault. I was simultaneously intimidated by and attracted to her.

One of my favorite Darienne Lake standards is her (in)famous performance of The Buggles‘ “Video Killed The Radio Star.” In this performance, Darienne drives her audience wild with her outfit: a flowing glittery black dress adorned with CDs and a bra composed of cupboard touch lights which pleasure her with every touch. She glides and spins with such grace and blows kisses to the audience before sitting on a tipping patron’s face.

Divine has been described as a “drag terrorist,” a term which seems to be a benchmark for many queens to reach. Certainly, Ms. Darienne Lake evokes Divine through her presence alone as “two tons of fun.” That said, I wouldn’t go so far as to describe her as a drag terrorist: that term has developed along postmodern and queer strands to a point where such targets include not only conservative (white) gay males in the community but also drag itself. Examples of this sort include Vaginal Davis, Leigh Bowery, and more recently, Christeene Vale. Darienne Lake went in another direction by embracing drag as it was and having fun with it, with a heavy investment in Camp. But don’t get me wrong, she can be just as terrifying! As a character, Darienne Lake combines a sweet feminine appearance that bursts through the seams to reveal a deliciously self-depreciating and filthy mind whenever she speaks.  What makes her special is her use of wit, presence, and biting humor. I like to think of Ms. Darienne Lake as seeking to enchant her audience before devouring them whole. Her tweets suggest as much:

She also makes YouTube videos where she expands on the joke and storytelling format. Fasten your seat belts:

Darienne Lake reached notoriety in Rochester as part of a drag queen troupe from Club Marcella’s in the ’90s. These queens include Darienne, Ambrosia Salad, Heather Skye, Aggy Dune, Lady Jane Fairchild, and Pandora Boxx, who went on to become a drag queen superstar thanks to her involvement in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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I was lucky to come of age at the tail end of the Marcella’s days which was not unlike the Club Kid experiences that seemed to be everywhere in the ’90s. At any given night, there was a haze of cigarette smoke to reel you in (back before smoking in bars became banned) and thumping techno music that precluded any potential conversation from taking off; and patrons were usually high on E or whatever and either dancing or making out in the back rooms. It was bliss. What made the place stand out, though, was its drag shows. There grew a core group of us who came every week, or night, for the queens. Maybe for the drugs too. We formed our own sub-culture of misfits, outlaws, and drag enthusiasts. Of course, like all good things, Marcella’s was doomed to burn out and, at its end, it got to a point where police raids became commonplace. I sat by a speaker on its last night in a stupor while watching the police running by on a search for drugs. I could have coughed and provided enough evidence to shut the place down. But the word going around was that it was none other than Ms. Darienne Lake who held the evidence in her bra. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter: it added to her glamour. We imagined her being handcuffed and dragged out in…well, drag. Isn’t that the perfect way to make an exit? Instant role model.

Of course, those were the Club Kids days of the ’90s. Everyone’s either cleaned up their act or they’re getting better at keeping it private. As for Darienne, these days, while she is not performing at shows or on cruises, she is hoping to make it as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Why she hasn’t been voted in during her efforts thus far is a crime. Shame on all of you. This is your fault.

I’d like to close this with a performance of a scene from Mommie Dearest starring Aggy Dune and Darienne Lake as the mommy/daughter comedy team of Joan and Christina Crawford. It is in line with my belief that drag should not only be subversive but incredibly funny too–and to me, Ms. Darienne Lake proves that drag can be the most fun you will ever have.

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