Drag Dictionary Volume I: The Basics


Have you ever been gelatinizing on your couch, flipping through channels on a Monday, and come across Ru Paul’s Drag Race? Have you ever become so enthralled in all of the glitter and the sequins and the “The time has come for you to lip sync for you life’s” that a whole season has passed by before you know it? Have you ever wondered what those glamour queens are even saying?


Crystal Harding brings Queen of Hearts realness to the Detroit scene.

Here in Detroit there’s a huge drag scene, full of the most amazing Kings and Queens you have ever seen. They are believable and will titillate you with their come hither stares. They will make you feel confused in all the right ways. They could blow most of the contestants out of the water on Drag Race, but sometimes they, too, say some shit I don’t understand. Sometimes I even do the smile and nod because I can’t keep up with the conversation, but don’t want to look stupid.

This is dedicated to all of the drag queen lovin, people like me. All of those people who become drunk on the whole shebang. The feathers, the heavy make-up, the mile-high wigs.

Read on, my friends, to decode what the hell these people are talking about. That way maybe next time you’re watching an episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, or you’re at some hidden gem drag bar, you’ll know a little better what the eff is happening, like a boss.

1. If you ever hear anyone say the word fish, be certain they ain’t talking about sea bass. In an LGBT setting, fish, or fishy, is used by gay men to describe or compliment a drag queen who looks so convincing that she becomes passable as a biological woman. So now, if you ever hear a drag queen sneer, “fiiiiiish,” you know it’s a good thing.


If a drag queen is fishy, what’s a drag king? King Teddy preps for a show in Detroit.

2. Another term you might hear floating around the gay scene is sickening. This one is a free square, because it’s pretty easy. Much like it meant in the 80’s when wannabe valley girls said it, sickening means the total opposite. Sickening means really good. For example, “Dang girl, that dress you just sewed with dental floss and rice bags in the bathroom is sickening.”

3. Next let’s examine the word work. This one is rife in Ru Paul’s Drag Race and gay bars alike. It’s usually a term you hear as a queen is performing on stage. It simply means to do your best performance for your audience, or for tip money, as in, “Work, Bitch!” I know that one rings bells with even the most conservative reader.

4. To throw shade. This means to be rude to, or act disrespectful toward a fellow performer. “That bitch is throwing shade, girl!”


Alotta McGriddles works the Brooklyn drag scene.

5. Lastly, let’s define the T. If you ever hear this term, know queens and gays alike are asking, in a super gay and fancy way, what happened in a certain situation. T stands for truth. As one super famous Detroit queen I know likes to put it, “Hey girl, what’s the T?”

So now that you know some new drag lingo, put it to good use. I recommend using your new education to watch an episode of Drag Race with a new set of ears. I also recommend using your new found enlightenment to listen in on the conversation of performers at the bar.

What I do not recommend is that you try to string them together, or to use them in your own sentences.

“Fiiiiish, those Ulta eyelashes are sickening! How many pairs you got on? C’mon, you can tell me, don’t be shady, what’s the T? You better use those eyelashes to work, bitch, before they come off.”

See what I mean? Just leave it to the professionals.

Kate White is a queer writer and blogger who lives just outside of the Detroit area. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ink Sweat & Tears and The Linor Project. She and her partner Amanda are raising their first child together, who was born August 2013.


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