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On Saturday, December 8, Frankie Sharp, founder of WestGay, initiated a drag extravaganza, poolside party at The Shore Club. In attendance was your usual fabulousness from the GOGO Boys, Lauren Devine, Manicure Versace and boychild. We caught up with Sharp to discuss the purpose of WestGay, celebrity co-optation of drag culture, and the necessity of occasionally dressing in a clown suit.
WHITEWALL: According to the NYT‘s profile of you this past October, your goal with WestGay is to create a visceral environment for a “spectrum of boys” to enjoy, and to equalize the social hierarchy by creating a totalizing environment where anyone from a Chelsea queen to the celebrated fashion designer, Alexander Wang, can commune in an all-encompassing environment. How important is it that this social hierarchy be left at the door? Do you think this is the key element in creating the visceral experience you strive for?
FRANKIE SHARP: Yeah, of course. No one is more important than anyone else at WestGay. We’re all looking for the same thing. Frivolous fun. If an editor is being stuck-up or a celebrity is acting precious, really ANYONE for that matter, I’ll usually send some club kid working for me to shake their ass in their face or find someway to embarrass them and bring them back down to earth. But that rarely happens; everyone is really cool at WestGay. There’s just no room for attitude, which makes WestGay feel welcoming and keeps everyone coming back for more.
WW: The aforementioned NYT‘s article began with your back stage pep talk for your “GOGO boys.” Is this a typical pep talk you give to the GOGOs prior to each performance? And can you elaborate a bit on the purpose of the GOGOs, particularly in club environment? Are they there to amplify the rowdy behavior of the audience? And would you liken them to the coquettes of French Burlesques?
FS: The GOGO boys were just something that our downtown crowd didn’t have. GOGO boys are a thing that happens in Chelsea and Midtown but it was always seen as cheesy or tacky to a “fashion crowd.” I thought that my crowd would want GOGO boys as a guilty pleasure. In the beginning, my crowd wouldn’t even look at them, now the dancers are rolling in tips. Also, they add to the unapologetic sexiness of it all at WestGay. It’s important to not take yourself too seriously with me. Isn’t that the key to fun and life anyways?
The GOGO boys also serve as hosts and performers. They’re all so happy to be there… they are WestGay realized. And, yes, I tell them to be big whores in the beginning of the night and I certainly mean it, but I’m also protective of them too. They come first, they put themselves out there, which is not an easy job. My mother was a dancer, that’s how she met my father. Maybe that’s why I get so protective of them because they remind me of my mother? HAHA. I should examine that deeper perhaps.
WW: Considering yourself and your cohorts in terms of the lineage of drag, starting with the kitschy theatrical performances in Britain in the 1880s, the raunchy Burlesques of France in the early 20th century, and the international mainstream blow up of artists like RuPaul with her Supermodel of the World that aired on MTV in the early 1990s; where do you see your “mix and mingle” and “entertainment” nightlife approach fitting within your predecessors?
FS: These queens started in the NYC clubs… I’m just keeping on the tradition.
WW: What are your thoughts on biological woman embracing drag culture? Particularly mainstream artists like Cher and Lady Gaga who utilize drag techniques in their on-stage personas. This also leads to questions of a reverse gender association: they are females, but use the male drag approach of embracing socially acceptable female gender roles to enhance their caricature or sexual expression on stage.
FS: I’m a huge fan of artists like Bjork and Roisin Murphy, and Gaga seems to be from the same visual school in terms of theatrics. They’re so visually alarming. I think it’s more about being bigger than life. But I suppose that’s what drag queens are, but as little pop stars I think it makes sense to stand out, using hair, makeup, and wardrobe to do so. It just seems natural to me. Also most of these artists work with huge teams consisting of gay men who act as their stylists, art directors, consultants, etc. I should know as they’re mostly friends of mine (and WestGay regulars). These musicians create such wonderful art from a vulnerable place, so I see their wardrobe as a kind of armor. It’s hard to be scrutinized all the time for what you do naturally, so I understand. It’s why sometimes I dress like a clown when I’m out at night, too. Maybe I want to laugh at myself before anyone else can.