By Nick BeJeaux
Joshua J. Richardson has lived in the vibrant, boisterous and irreverent world of drag for years, though followers of the drag scene in Baton Rouge know him as the Josalyn Royale’.
A registered nurse at Our Lady Of The Lake on Essen, Richardson got his start on stage in Monroe at a bar called The Corner Bar.
“When I was 19; it started as a dare from my friends,” he said. “I was nervous at first—I didn’t know what they hell I was doing. I had a girl paint me, and I looked like a boy in a dress. But 10 years later, I actually look like a drag queen; I’ve come a long way over the last few years.”
Richardson summed up those early days in one word.
“Booga,” he said. “Ugly! I love seeing the Throwback Thursday pictures. When I do makeup now, I highlight and contour with natural colors—browns, pinks, yellows. I’ll never forget when I first started I would highlight with purple, so my cheeks were purple. Me and my friends always joke about how we looked back then. Our hair looked horrible; it was just bad. But we thought we were the shit up in North Louisiana [laughs].”
Richardson first appeared on a Baton Rouge stage four years ago and quickly became a local favorite alongside other performers like Chica LaRouge and Amanda Rose Andrews. It wasn’t easy, but Richardson says he regrets nothing.
“There are times when I whish I never would have started. It takes a lot of time, a lot of money,” he said. “But in the end, I don’t regret anything. I wouldn’t be sitting here talking with you. I wouldn’t be Queen Apollo Baton Rouge, I wouldn’t have all the titles I have, and most importantly I wouldn’t have met the people I have over the years.
“It’s just like with any job; you have your ups and you have your downs,” said Richardson. “Some shows I’ve made $7, others I’ve made $200 in tips. We do get paid a decent amount of money to do what we do, but you pay a price to be in this. You can’t let those $7-nights weigh you down; you gotta move on to the next one.”
The character of Josalyn Royale’ is well known for her outrageous outfits and equally outrageous personality, and Richardson says she came about pretty much on her own after he let the walls fall down.
“I really haven’t pulled from anyone,” he said. “I’ve picked up makeup techniques here and there, but Josalyn Royale’ is 100 percent me—nobody else. I host shows, I talk like Bianca Del Rio, I’ll call people out in the crowd—but being Josalyn is an escape for Josh.”
“Josh can’t walk up to someone and say ‘Girl, what the hell are you wearing? You look like a two-bit ho!’ I can’t talk about Mexicans, Japanese, and the occasional African-American joke as Josh, because then people think it’s serious. As Josalyn, she can say whatever she wants to say, nobody cares. Josalyn is the more relaxed version of Josh.”
Richardson says he thinks many people get into drag for an escape, a chance to be someone they don’t get to be every day—a person without a filter or obligations to be “normal.”
“The reason we do it is because it’s fun,” he said. “Like I said, it’s an escape; it allows us to be someone we’re not all the time. We can’t get up in drag and walk around on the street—sometimes we do—but typically we’re in a bar where everyone thinks it’s cool to tuck your stuff and get on stage and perform for an hour.”
But there are other reasons.
“My favorite part is when I see the straight guys at drag shows,” said Richardson. “They’re timid, they stay back away from the stage, and their girlfriends are always pushing them closer to tip the queen or whatever. You can tell who’s never seen a show before because they act like that too—they’re nervous. Hell, we’re almost seven feet tall with our shoes and our hair, I guess we can be intimidating.”
After 10 years of doing Drag, Richardson says that the key to a good drag show is keeping the energy up—no slow songs and ballads. But it wasn’t always that way.
“When I first started we would do ballads all the time so we could show off our evening gowns,” he said. “But today it’s different. The clientele in the bars today get bored easily with slow numbers. If you go out there singing Beyonce or Jessie J, the crowd is going to dance with you and enjoy it more.”
But being a Drag Queen is not all sequins, makeup, and stage antics. Sometimes reality can be ugly, especially when you’re a man dressed as a woman being confronted by anti-LGBT protesters.
“It’s harder for us,” said Richardson. “When we march around with protesters, the people on the other side often target us; they say we’re things of Satan and going to hell because they think we want look and dress look like a woman. But that’s not it, this is for entertainment.”
But the one thing that really get under his skin is the junkie drag queen stereotype.
“I don’t do drugs,” he said. “It’s just a stereotype that has evolved over the years; it’s just something that some people think we do as a matter of course. I’ll tell you now that we don’t do that—some people do, I’m sure—but the people I know do not. People come up to me a shows and ask where they can find drugs, and I look at them like ‘I know where the alcohol is.’”
Another stereotype this that Drag Queens are only in it for the money but, from time to time, every cent they make goes to charity.
“Charity is a completely different reason some people get into drag,” said Richardson. “I’ve performed at Pridefest, numerous charity events—while I didn’t see any of that money, it’s for a good cause. We’re not in it for the money—everybody thinks we are, but we’re happy to be free of charge.”
Drag Queens—and Kings—are powerful personalities, and as a result are often center stage in rallying support for LGBT rights and other causes. Richardson looked back before the June 26 SCOTUS decision that cleared the way for marriage equality, remembering what it felt like before the ruling.
“Whenever we first started fighting for marriage rights, it got drowned in a man being able to marry a man and a woman being able to marry a woman; that’s not what we were fighting for,” he said. “People forgot that we were second class citizens—even being single, you felt like a second class citizen.”
When Equality happened, Richardson said everything changed.
“My whole attitude has changed. I don’t think about holding hands with the guy I’m dating when I we go to a restaurant, or worried about sitting beside him because I feel free now,” he said. “When we were fighting for equal marriage we were fighting for more than the right to get married, but for the right to share our lives with somebody.”