5 Things You Need to Know About the SF Campaign for Drag Equity
JULY 9, 2019 | COWORKER.ORG
Drag has always been there for our community, and we are the best version of ourselves when the community is there for us, too.
(This piece contains instead the ideas, opinions, and personal judgements of a Coworker.org petition leader, and are not representative of Coworker.org as an organization.)
My name is Alexis Atauri and I am a Drag Queen in San Francisco. I recently launched a petition on Coworker.org calling for a minimum booking fee for Drag workers. Because this is a complicated issue, I wanted to share my thought process and background behind this initiative. How did we get here? We wanted to provide resources to make our community stronger.
Here are five things I think you should know about my stance on drag compensation in the San Francisco Bay Area, and what I plan to do next.
1. I’m not trying to form a union.
You try to get the SF Drag community — or any artist here — to follow rules. This is not a task I want. Our initial intention is to recognize good behaviors that are already happening in Bay Area Drag business culture. We have truly amazing and plentiful opportunities here! The more we can come together and say, “Yes! This is good for our community,” the more other venues (and cities) can follow suit. I’m also not trying to create a new standard for the Bay; I’m trying to recognize all that has been fought for up until this point by creating something current and future Drag artists can count on. Let’s continue to thrive together while working toward a better tomorrow where we can feel empowered by our community to set appropriate pay rates.
I would love to explore forming an organization that serves the community (see #5) by hiring local artists and providing free services, but I don’t think a traditional union makes sense for SF Drag right now. It could be a topic to revisit in the future. We are all individual artists with huge egos, and I think that’s part of what makes us great. This petition is not designed to constrict, dictate, or limit what Drag can be…
2. Booking fees are not a black-and-white issue.
…and maybe some Drag is free! We do Drag for charity. We do Drag to be queer and feel seen. We do Drag because it’s cheaper than therapy. We do Drag for the hell of it. However, we also do drag to get paid. Since the beginning of queer time, everyone has a different story and a different reason for doing drag, but that does not mean all of our work doesn’t deserve to be dignified with proper pay. Don’t want the money? Tip new queens! Tip your friends! Buy someone a drink! Buy your friend that wig they’ve been dreaming of! Donate it to charity! Even if it is not going directly into your pocket, the more money we can keep queer, the better.
Negotiation is also a delicate dance in the art of Drag. Do I take gigs that are less than $40? Sometimes! Do I get paid more than that? On a good day. Do I refuse gigs because I don’t think $40 is enough? Absolutely. Do I take gigs for charity or tips only? You betcha! Every situation and every performer is different. I want to encourage and enable everyone to make these critical decisions for themselves. Anyone who signs this petition in support is not banned from or shamed for taking less than $40 per show, but hopefully this standard can give you a reference point when a venue has no experience paying a drag performer and their staff. This isn’t about bringing people down, it’s about lifting them up. Equity in our community does not mean less pie for you. What’s most promising to me is providing a starting point for those who are just starting out in drag, and uplifting those already in the game who are struggling to get fair bookings.
3. This petition isn’t directed at other artists.
I cannot stress this enough. This is calling out the bars, clubs, and other venues that employ us directly for their own entertainment or to make money off of our shows. Fighting amongst each other is counterproductive to the end goal of establishing a $40/person booking fee standard. This is probably the most confusing and difficult angle of this petition because sometimes in the Bay bars don’t provide any budget at all; producers are left to make money from sponsors, at the door via cover, or — perhaps the worst scenario I’ve heard — pay out of their own pocket when the bar doesn’t meet a minimum. This is something I want to change, but is a complex issue that can’t be solved with a simple petition. I hope that creating a standard will help future negotiations with employers to secure some sort of guaranteed pay.
So you’re a producer and you don’t have the budget to pay every performer $40. OK. Are you the bar owner? Are you the liquor sponsor? Are you the paying audience? No? Why should you feel bad about your individual ability to pay each performer out of pocket, or by begging for it at the door of a venue that is usually free entry? Without you, the producer, there would be no paid opportunity in the first place. I understand the struggle it is to produce a show in the Bay, and would be brokenhearted to see shows disappear only because they can’t pay more than $40, but I really believe most venues can meet this minimum.
I don’t want this petition to reduce the amount of performance opportunities. I do want to work with your show and employer(s) to find a mutually beneficial solution that aligns with the values of this petition. I do want to stop seeing us take advantage of each other just because the bar isn’t providing you a proper budget.
4. $40 isn’t even close to enough.
“That’s it?!” is the most common reaction I receive when talking to people about this petition, especially performers. This is not a median wage; this is a minimum wage.
THIS IS NOT A MEDIAN WAGE. This is a minimum wage.
Let’s break down the cost of making a basic Drag (queen) look; my estimates are conservative.
Foundation, highlight, contour, primer, etc… — $100
Eyeshadow Palette — $20
Makeup brushes & applicators — $50
Lip Liner — $10
Lipstick — $15
Eyelashes (3 pairs) — $15
Lace Front wig or facial hair — $60
Nails (2 sets) — $20
Outfit (thrift store finds) — $50
Heels (size 13+ women) or shoes — $60
Pantyhose (5 pairs) — $40
Jewelry/sparkles/other accessories — $40
This amount of material may last you, at best, 20 performances. By this model you’re spending about $24 out of pocket for each performance, and unless you put in a little elbow grease and facetune, it’s not the high-fashion-runway or pageant drag RuPaul fans may be used to seeing.
These calculations don’t consider the hours of labor involved in painting, sewing, and/or wig styling. This breakdown doesn’t include commuting fees or the cost of body shapers like bras, pads, binders, or corsets. It assumes that you didn’t pay someone to style your wig or outfit. I’m sure you don’t wanna see the same queen or king in the same outfit for 20 performances, so bottom line: support your drag community! Open your wallets before you open your mouth to judge. Value the experience we provide you. We work hard for it.
5. The end goal is to serve the community.
In 2018 Prop E passed with overwhelming support from San Francisco residents, reforging a long-standing connection between tourism (hotel taxes) and the arts (grants and $$$). My hope is that this petition will foster conversations around this topic, recognize existing pay standards, and garner national attention around the need to organize and serve this amazing artform. With the attention and support of a nation-wide drag community, my plan is to approach the city government for funds to establish a Non-profit Organization. This organization would use the funding to employ various talents in our community. This NPO will then use these talents to provide free resources to drag workers such as workshops, counseling, and management.
Perhaps in the future the NPO can form other types of resources like booking agencies, venue management, and event production, and these efforts should maintain the mission to serve the Drag community and keep San Francisco weird. This is exactly why, at this time, I don’t think a union would serve us well. I also don’t want to lose focus on the mission we currently have in front of us: establish a minimum booking fee for drag performers and staff.
I hope you now have new eyes on this issue, or at least that you can feel my overwhelming joy and passion in reaching out to everyone in our community, whether you agree with me or not. I understand change can be unnerving, but know that my goal is always to support and uplift, not to bring down, everyone in my community.
Still confused? Have more questions? Want to share or learn more? Want to get involved?! Slide into my DMs and follow me on Instagram. @alexisatauri
We’re already working with other drag communities in cities across the country; If you think your community would want to start a similar petition, we want to hear from you!
I’ll be waiting.
LABOR WORKERS RIGHTS STRIKE