In August 1990, a Greensboro glamazon with lips that can be seen from outer space materialized, and 30 years later, she is still turning heads and snatching crowns. Chad Taylor AKA Paisley Parque started doing drag when it was still considered illegal in Greensboro to wear clothes in public that didn’t match the assigned sex on his birth certificate.
“There was a law that you had to have on at least two articles of male clothing if you are out in public in drag, or you could be arrested,” Taylor said. “In the early ‘90s, queens were very careful about being out in public or coming and going to the bar because you could be stopped and arrested if the police chose to search you, and you didn’t have two articles of male clothing on.”
Thanks to the many iterations of VH1’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, the drag art form has been embraced by mainstream pop culture. Drag queens are celebrated and beloved through their death drops and show-stopping performances at drag queen brunches, drag queen bingo, and drag queen storytime with children. To Taylor, drag is live theatre, and it has been his passion for the last three decades.
“When I first started, drag was more secretive,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t in the mainstream—there were no drag brunches, there weren’t events where you are out in public or out in the daytime. People would go to gay clubs to see drag shows. It was more of a taboo thing.”
Taylor described Paisley Parque’s persona and aesthetic as a cross between Mae West and Miss Piggy. Taylor said over the past 30 years, much has changed in the drag scene, and only a couple things have stayed the same.
“People are more able to be who they are or what they want to be than they were then,” Taylor said. “Then, you either did drag or didn’t do drag; there were very few out and about trans people. Now, there are so many different spectrums: you have drag performers, trans people who are maybe not performers, then this new generation of drag that is kind of a melting pot of all genders. They just kind of blur the gender line, and it is OK—whereas, if you came out looking like that in the ‘90s, you would be ridiculed. I think now, people are freer to be who they are and who they want to be. They don’t have to have a label, even when it comes to drag.”
The two things that Taylor said has remained the same in drag culture today is the passion and competition.
“I see [drag queens] who were very passionate back then, and have always been passionate, or they are just as passionate today,” he said. “The other thing, in the drag community, there has always been a lot of competition with pageants or just, in general, to try to stay on top or be successful—I still see that today.”
What keeps Paisley Parque going is the love of entertaining and her character, which is entirely different from who Taylor is under the makeup.
“Paisley is a lot more out there and outspoken than I am,” Taylor said. “I have enjoyed being able to evolve over the years; to do drag as long as I have you have to constantly evolve, you have to keep up with the current trends but still not lose yourself or lose your identity. I feel like, that I have been like a role model for other queens or newer queens coming up—I am a testament if you want something then you can eventually have it and reach these goals. It just takes time. Everything I have had over the years, I have always done myself. It has been a very, very rewarding experience.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of drag artists have had to adapt and take their art online in digital drag shows. Taylor said even though he has participated in one digital drag show, he has mainly taken time off from Paisley to rest and take a break for the first time in 30 years.
“I have always been doing drag and working a full-time job, and just right before the pandemic, and just the past couple years, I have been running myself ragged, burning the candle at both ends performing a lot and working full time. So, I actually took most of the first several months to rest and reflect, because I haven’t had a break in 30 years. I have never gone longer than a month without performing,” Taylor said. “Then I started getting the itch again. I did one live show last month with the new standards—it’s different, but I still had a good time. I recently did something digital, and I may look at doing more digital stuff. I just basically used this time as a break and to reflect on where I want to go forward with it. I spent some time working on costumes, revamping some of my stuff, where a lot of queens did take to the digital platform to perform spread their message, I took a break to relax and regroup.”
Paisley Parque isn’t stopping anytime soon, but Taylor said her retirement from drag would be coming in the next five years.
“I am reaching the end of my career, and I know that at the end of the day, I have made a good mark on the drag industry, and that is something that I can be proud of,” Taylor said. “Only because I have given so much of myself to being Paisley that I want an opportunity to be the person behind the makeup.”
During the pandemic, Taylor said he had gotten the chance to experience what it is like to be Chad again, but the end of his drag career won’t be the end of his passion for drag.
“You’ll know when you have given your all and your best,” Taylor said. “When I retire, I want to go out knowing that I’m still wanted and needed. I want to go out with a bang. I have accomplished everything I have wanted to do.”
Even though Paisley Parque’s time on stage is coming to an end, Taylor hopes that the stage remains so that other queens can experience all that she has while performing live.
“I would like to see that gay bars are still open,” Taylor said. “A lot of gay bars throughout the United States have closed because people are being more accepted and all-inclusive, but I still feel like there is a need for the gay bar for people to go to have a place to call their own—where they feel like they belong and are safe. But also, I want them to still be open to give performers a venue to perform in, so they don’t have to do it digitally. That is how, back in my day, a lot of people learned the craft was from going to shows, meeting queens, and learning the trade. I hope that doesn’t die. I hope that even after I retire that is still a thing, that you can see drag live and in- person, especially in gay bars and nightclubs. That is where the queens performed all these years, but I still think it is good to have [a place] the LGBTQ community can call their own.”
Taylor said he also hopes those bar owners and show promoters value and respect all different kinds of performers and all forms of drag.
“Not just a select few, all queens who perform have something to offer,” Taylor said. “Everyone who performs can offer something to an audience.”
Parque is the host of the monthly drag show, The Sex Kitten Roundup at Chemistry Nightclub. To mark her 30th year of drag, Paisley Parque will host a socially-distant drag dinner show on Aug. 22 with performances by Aria Russo, Rose Jackson, and Ariel Knight Addams. There are two shows at 8 and 10 p.m. with giveaways, dinner and a different setting than other drag shows before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
“It’s more of dinner theatre, or a drag brunch, instead of a regular night show,” Taylor said. “I wanted to do something close to the original date if I could. When things start getting back to normal, I want to have a bigger show with some of my favorite entertainers that I have worked with over the years and that I have known.”