Historically, drag has always been political due to its gender-bending aspects and has consistently faced criticism and controversy. Drag performers across the world are continuously working to positively influence how others view drag as an artform.
With the inception of social media and RuPaul’s Drag Race becoming a cultural phenomenon, drag performers all over have adapted to match their more recent popularity. The growing demand for drag has encouraged performers to branch out and push the boundaries of what the artform has been traditionally considered. Memphis is no exception to that and Zoey Adams is one of the city’s trailblazers promoting the evolution of Memphis drag.
“I really want Memphis drag to be a place where people can grow and express themselves,” said 23-year-old Adams. “I believe that if you create a positive environment then creativity and expression will flow. That’s needed and I want to do my part.”
Adams, who is originally from Kentucky, moved to Memphis at the age of 11. She expressed how it was difficult growing up in the South due to her biracial background and coming out as a transgender woman at a young age. However, she found community in drag during her teenage years.
“My first ever drag show was for my friend’s sister who had cancer,” said Adams. “They had a benefit show for her and I had just turned 17. It turns out I was good so I just ran with it.”
After turning 18, Adams began to seriously focus on her drag career and found her niche in the pageant world. Drag pageantry is a unique form of competition modeled after traditional beauty pageants for drag queens and transgender women.
In October 2019, she won her first title as Miss Glamour Memphis, a platform she has used to advocate for causes she is passionate about. During her reign, Adams has focused on promoting the efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement. Her experience as a biracial transgender woman and the injustices Black people across America face are the most prominent influences on her activism and pageant career.
“I won my first title last October and have definitely used it to bring awareness,” said Adams. “I’ve tried to do all of my advocating from within myself and not because it’s expected of me. The acceptance and admittance of the mistreatment of Black people in society is important."
While the drag scene in Memphis has always been active, Adams notes how it was not until roughly three years ago that she began to notice how much change was occurring.
“When I first started, it was like, ‘You do drag in this way and if you don’t, you’re wrong,’” said Adams. “Over the years, it became completely different. People who wouldn’t have necessarily gotten a shot when I started were being given opportunities and I was blown away.”
One of the opportunities Adams mentioned is her nomination for this year’s People’s Choice Awards at the 2020 Focus Awards. This year, eight prominent figures within the LGBTQ+ community were nominated for this prestigious award.
“The amount of support, encouragement, and faith the LGBT community puts in me is overwhelming,” said Adams. “I never thought I would get here, especially at 23. These are things that people in our community have taken years to achieve.”
The Focus Awards incorporated donating to local nonprofits as part of their voting process; each dollar donated to the charity of the nominee’s choice counted as a single vote for them. For Adams’ organization, she chose The Corner.
“When I got the nomination and found out we needed a nonprofit organization, without hesitation, I said The Corner,” said Adams. “I believe the services and opportunities they provide are essential to our community. Those things would not necessarily be afforded to those individuals without The Corner and I believe that should be celebrated.”
Currently, The Corner is the only PrEP clinic in the Midsouth providing free PrEP, PEP and confidential STI/HIV testing—regardless of one’s health insurance, income, or immigration status. The Corner’s mission is to be a friendly, local resource for same-day access to PrEP and PEP while offering HIV prevention resources in a stigma free environment.
Furthermore, Adams hopes that with her nomination, more Memphians who identify as LGBTQ+ will recognize the validity of transgender people of color. While she acknowledges she has been accepted by many, she knows that there is still a long way to go—especially for those who do not do drag.
“To speak on it, there are a large number of people who think trans people are invalid,” said Adams. “That is mindboggling to me. I try to celebrate my community and [finding out that I was nominated] was very gratifying because my work has not gone unnoticed.”
In conclusion, Adams emphasized that she does not take her platform or the opportunities given to her for granted. One lesson she has learned from doing drag is that remaining true to oneself can be challenging but always rewarding.
“I want the world to be safer and more inviting and accepting for people like me,” said Adams. “People who look like me. People that are different. People that are black, brown, trans, nonbinary. That’s my goal.”
Find Zoey on her social media accounts: