The Queer Utopia of Bushwig

The Queer Utopia of Bushwig

Step backstage at the weirdest, queerest, and most inclusive place in New York nightlife.

Step backstage at the weirdest, queerest, and most inclusive place in New York nightlife.

Photography: Patrick Donovan

Text: Ryan Killian Krause

No one could argue that in the past few years drag has gone mainstream. Drag queens are modeling in high-end fashion campaigns, walking the pink carpet at the Met Gala, and starring in their own Netflix TV shows. This move to mainstream is thanks to in large part the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has now seen more than 100 queens enter its workroom. This past weekend, somewhere in Manhattan, RuPaul hosted a weekend-long convention for fans of Drag Race called Drag Con. Over the same days and across the East River, however, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, another drag event was being held. One that revels in its lack of mainstream status and embraces those most on the fringe of society. This past weekend, the Brooklyn queer community once again celebrated Bushwig.

Started in 2012, Bushwig is a drag festival that was formed to showcase the best drag queens that Brooklyn had to offer. The first Bushwig happened in a cat shit-filled gravely lot, according to one of the founders Babes Trust. Since then, the event has grown exponentially, now spanning two days and boasting over 300 performers including drag queens, drag kings, burlesque performers, singers, DJs, and more. It’s been called the Lollapalooza or Coachella of drag. No offense to Coachella, but I’ve been to both and Bushwig is better.

Bushwig is likely unlike anything else you’ve experienced before.  All weekend long, the Knockdown Center was bursting at the seams with energy. People show up in a real way for the event -  The looks are unrivaled and the performances are jaw-dropping. “Bushwig represents the highest level of art in terms of gender and queer expression and just overall badassery,” said performer Dionne Slay, who some may know as Basit from MTV’s Are You The One?

Dionne's not lying. It's truly a sight to behold.

Bushwig was borne out the need within the Brooklyn drag community to have their own space. “When I moved to New York, I was performing in raw spaces, like a bike shop or warehouses. I wasn’t performing at bars,” says Horrorchata, a Brooklyn-based drag queen and one of the founders of Bushwig. “The bars [in Brooklyn] weren’t having a lot of the girls perform then, so I wanted to make a space for people to perform.” So, she did, along with the other Bushwig founders and organizers Babes Trust and Merrie Cherry.

The beauty of Bushwig lies in its authenticity - raw, unfiltered, and unadulterated. The performers this past weekend were no exception, whether it was Miss Bushwig 2017 Charlene, who also starred in HBO’s recent documentary Wig, performing “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in nothing more than a pair of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat or Sherry Poppins giving birth and eating her fake baby to the tune of “Papa Don’t Preach.”

“A lot of gay people have this sense of constant anxiety,” said Babes Trust, “so we want to make this a space where you can fucking be yourself, and just for a minute release that anxiety.”

“We’re all here to express ourselves. We’re all here to tell our truths on stage without any pretense or existential thoughts on stage. What you do is just what you do,” said Magda, a singer and producer who has attended every Bushwig since its inception and performed on stage for the first time this past weekend. “This is where people leave their guts – literally sometimes their spaghetti guts – on the floor. This is a place where you tell your absolute truth. It’s very authentic. It’s very organic and allows us to be us… for once.”

Many see this gritty authenticity as the original root of drag as an art, especially New York City drag. “Here at Bushwig, this is really what drag was originally about,” said Sasha Colby, a performer based out of Los Angeles who also performed on the Bushwig stage for the first time this past weekend. “It’s about fringe artists, queer artists just being themselves. There’s a safe zone for them to live and breathe and mingle and just be.”

Another reason that Bushwig is so important to so many in the queer community is that it remains a very diverse and inclusive space, something which they say many queer spaces unfortunately lack. “Society tends to center white spaces,” said Dionne Slay. “So often we’re told that white is the norm or that heteronormativity is the norm. Bushwig forces you to accept things outside of the norm.” The organizers of Bushwig make it a point to purposefully elevate those performers who haven't been elevated historically in white and cisgender dominated spaces, like people of color and trans folks.

This inclusivity, paired with Bushwig’s deep roots as a community organized event, breeds a strong familial sense of unity among those who all Bushwig and Brooklyn home. “The spirit of Bushwig is so strong because we really started as this grassroots event in Brooklyn. It was friends of friends of friends,” said Babes. “I think we’ve kept it really real over the years. Everyone congregates here for this temporary moment. Everyone is family.”

“What I love about Bushwig is that it’s inclusive of all queer art not just drag, but also queer-inclusive art across the spectrum,” said Aja, a hip-hop artist who started as a local queen in Brooklyn before being catapulted to national fame on Drag Race. “If you appreciate [the art], you’re invited. Just come… or come twice!”

“I want Bushwig to feel like Pride, Christmas, church, Thanksgiving, a family gathering all in one," said Horrorchata. "That’s what Bushwig is all about—coming together and having a queer space where you can have the time of your life.”

That feeling stretches beyond the performers on stage and out to the audience as well. “The audience also becomes this performative aspect,” said Babes. “Everyone comes and throws a wig on, paints a lip and wears something outrageous for the day. Next thing you know everyone is performing and you’re walking through and there’s just so much color and cool shit to see. It really feeds into this amazing, beautiful energy. It’s like this weird, queer utopia.”

And the queer utopia is growing. This past year, Bushwig expanded to Los Angeles and Berlin. According to Babes and Horrorchata, that’s just the beginning. Though nothing is set in stone, plans are in motion to take Bushwig to more countries and continents. Horrorchata promised 2020 will be a big year for Bushwig worldwide and Babes insists the organizers are committed to maintaining the core spirit of authenticity, inclusivity, and diversity while highlighting local talent as Bushwig grows to new locations.

The same spirit that, late Sunday night, Scarlet Envy, another Brooklyn girl who was recently featured of season 11 of Drag Race, brought to the Bushwig stage. “Welcome to Bushwig, motherfuckers!" she crooned into the microphone. "It’s a fabulous place to be and all are welcome!”

Indeed, it is and indeed they are.

V was backstage and front row all weekend long to get you the best shots of the best looks. Check out the photography from Patrick Donovan Studios below.

Horrorchata

Aja

Serena Tea - Miss Bushwig 2019

Dahlia Sin

Black Lae D

Sasha Colby

Crystal

Miss Toto

Rify Royalty

Dionne Slay

Gia Gunn

Astrud Aurelia

Scarlet Envy

West Dakota

Tyler Ashley

Kandy Muse

Untitled Queen

Neon Calypso

Merrie Cherry

Freida Slaves

Devo Monique

Magda

Lady Quesa'Dilla

Miss Bushwig 2018 Harajuku & Miss Bushwig 2017 Charlene

Bimini

Slayyyter

Lady Bunny

Nina West

Soju

Dream Boi

Giselle Dela Goodhead

Seedie Edie

Grace Shush

Sweet Tea

Detox

Florida Man

Olympia Bukkakis

Cheryl

Jette Grey

Lemon Chiffon

Persephone Von Lips

Gregory Dillon

Pinwheel Pinwheel

Ms. Ter

Victoria Precise

Luka Ghost

Mikey Dallas

Bea Belize

Queen Robert

Mahal Kita

Junior Mint

Veronica James Lewis

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