Shade: A Playful Gray Area?

"Shade comes from reading. Reading came first. You get in a smart crack, and everyone laughs and kikis because you've found a flaw and exaggerated it, then you've got a good read going."- Dorian Corey 


                “Shade.” “Shady Queen.” “She’s so shady!” All of these are common phrases we all hear as contemporary gay men at just about any gay bar, in any city, and now (thanks especially to the hit television show “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”) amongst any ethnic group. These phrases, made popular by drag queens, are somewhat like designer labels of language. It let’s everyone know that we are confident in our gayness, and that we also personally have or know someone with a logo tradition. What is “Shade?” Shade has many definitions and be manifested in so many examples from both words, to sarcastic eye rolls. The most iconic definition can be found said by Dorian Corey, in the hit documentary Paris is Burning. Shade. It’s not only funny and entertaining, in truth; shade is also a skill. A skill that in reaction of flawless execution, is rewarded with laughs, followed by ooo’s that serve as validation that one was clever enough, or bold enough to jokingly jab. Jabbing, on what could commonly be seen as a tender area in another’s self image. Needless to say, we all do it, have done it, have attempted, and so on and so fourth. Some of us of course with better delivery than others. More so than not, it is seen as a playful banter, a playful sport amongst friends.

In a sense; it mirrors the way our straight brethren speak brutishly over each other and occasionally punch each other’s ligaments over the result of watching a leather ball be thrown back and fourth in some manifest (shady.). But at what point is it too much? At what point does this skill that stems from self defense from homophobia experienced in child hood, become redundant, bland and ultimately exhausting? Furthermore, are we too insecure as a now mainstream culture, who has made our stance that we cannot be budged, too scared to admit to others that shade is like salt; it doesn’t need to be added to every dish.

    As a young boy growing up in the 1990’s, a time not far behind us, but seemingly juxtaposed (compared to contemporary sensitivity training on the correct usage of pronouns of individuals), where being aware of the sensitivities of others, (whether it be sexual identity or diet) were still in its beginnings as a mandatory act. Nay, responsibility. It was a time where most ate McDonalds, most had a favorite cereal, and most could tell an experience about being blatantly harassed by a classmate, without any serious repercussions following. Anti-Bully laws were a new concept to prevent children from suffering lifelong effects on their spiritual happiness. A different time indeed.

 Like most gay children, I along with so many others; learned to fight not with my fists, but with my words. As a person of color, I had already learned that language, was the ultimate disguise. Language, along with pronunciation could hide the fact that I was from a low income family, and make me appear that my parents were educated aristocrats. It could also make my sadness, sparkle in over self confidence. I wanted to have not only the sex appeal, but the wit of female lead roles I saw in the VHS movies that were rented from BlockBuster. I wanted to be as well spoken and elegant as the divas from classic Hollywood, along with the playfulness and oblivious popularity as the contemporary rich pretty girl.

The seeds of shade throwing had been born. Over the course of my adolescence, the once feebly delivered and stutter filled comebacks that were attempted sadly after being called a faggot or sissy, became daggers. They became well sharpened spears that never missed a throw to the jocks in high school who felt the need to point out my obvious sexuality. A skill I was proud of and honed. Well high school ended. So why do these spears (playfully) continue on to our friends as adults, after the bullies have gone?

            I love Drag Queens. We as gay men owe so much to these nightlife circuit performers who perform for us at hours of the night we only see when we don’t have to go into work early the next day (Shout out to all of my New York City Drag Queens!) These performers inherited the diadem of SHADE “throwing” as well. And rightfully! For it’s often heard that although we are amused by drag queens, but the idea of having a romantic relationship with one, still carries a stigma (perpetuated by a masculine obsessed culture). It’s for these reasons, drag queens may carry the torch, the right to “throw” shade; as inconsistent or inconsistently they chose (although it is somewhat as an essential aspect of a drag queens resume). In my opinion, it is because that although the bullying has stopped and replaced with local fame, the resentment and constant wanting to be loved, is commonly not put at ease. The real sacrifice for one’s art is more often than not, felt by these amazing performers.

Ultimately, this is not an anti-shade essay. This is not a “Shade is for them. Not for you!” essay that points out nightlife profession social advantages, ethnicity, age, whatever..this is just a reminder that all though we do throw shade for a laugh occasionally at our friends expense; we should perhaps consider a conscious point tomaintain a balance of positive reinforcement, because eventually, the reassurance that our friends our friends; may lose elasticity. That’s not a good place to be. High School is over. We may be constantly shown examples or “shady behavior" from television reality sitcoms (both for gay & straight demographics) however lets also wake up remember we are not these edited finished shots of performers on the Real Housewives or on Ru Paul’s Drag Race; we are people, in real life. Our friends know our insecurities, our tender spots, and we know theirs. We shouldn’t forget to throw an occasional “Yassss Queen!” in there every now and then. 


No Tea. No Shade.






Nathan Ayon