TEXARKANA, Ark. -- East Texas has four titled Drag Queens who are headed to the Miss Gay Texas State Pageant competition.
Perfume abounds in the dressing room at Village Station while the four press powder and cosmetics onto their skin. The ring light helps Shade Welch-Brooks with final touches to her eyes, as she talks with fellow performers Jessica St. James, Bebe Ray 2.0-Brooks and Saphiera Belleza.
Welsh-Brooks, Brooks and Belleza are titled as Miss Gay East Texas State 1st Alternate, Miss Gay East Texas State and Miss Gay East Texas State at Large 1st Alternate, respectively, and are heading to the pageant in Fort Worth to perform and be judged by their peers on September 2nd and 3rd. A fourth drag queen, Olivia Martini Brooks, who couldn't be present for the interview, is Miss Gay East Texas State at Large and will also be attending the pageant.
"I struggled with an addiction growing up and into the early years of my twenties, I found sobriety and I couldn't figure out who I was as myself," Welsh-Brooks said. "I found the platform in the art of drag as a way to not only create a person, who at the time, I felt like I wasn't but also I recreated a person who I really am outside of drag."
Welsh-Brooks said drag helped her confidence and gave her an energy boost that helped bring her out of the dark days she lived in for 10 years.
Belleza said drag is a theatrical performance for her.
"I grew up on stage and everything else, so to me drag is the art of bringing illusions to make someone laugh, someone excited or happy for a few minutes," Belleza said. "It's also an escape route a little bit. Drag is my comfort, my security blanket if I'm going through a tough time. It settles me, straightens me out, gives me a center point."
Welsh-Brooks said the pageants really push the performers to their limits.
"It starts with an interview, you go as yourself, out of drag and you let the judges know what brought you and your persona here to the pageant today and what you're showcasing," Welsh-Brooks said.
Welsh-Brooks also said the presentation side is usually themed, such as Judy Garland's Easter Parade, and the contestants are able to put their own spin or interpretation on it. The contestants also have to share how they've modified the gown and why they have selected what they did for the portion of the pageant.
"You have a description that shares what you're wearing from head to toe and who your dresser is, who your sponsors are, how you did your hair, and you have to showcase your best assets," Welsh-Brooks said.
Welsh-Brooks said the judges examine each participant with a fine toothed comb to see what can be improved upon for the next competition.
St. James, who has been performing in drag for 30 years on and off, said pageants help create a sisterhood.
"You come out stronger because you have a whole different viewpoint, you're not just there for yourself," St. James said.