For faithful fashionistas, the Met Gala is the one event every year where celebrities and high-profile figures are free to express themselves visually however they please, giving spectators plenty of looks to dissect and designers to discover. Even the fixed date of the affair every year — the first Monday in May — has become a staple.
Queer people outwardly express themselves on a regular basis, which is something Queef Latina — the bearded beauty awarded New Times’ Best Drag Performer of 2019 — has sought to highlight over the past several years.
Queef is the mastermind behind Wigwood, Miami’s annual queer festival celebrating all segments of the LGBTQ community equally and with the same spirit of the Met Gala. “I felt like Miami’s queer community needed an annual thing,” she says of the creation of the festival four years ago.
She adds, “I like to call it the queer Met Gala,” noting the opening-date connection between the first Friday in February and the first Monday in May.
Miami’s queer renaissance has been well documented throughout the late 2010s, and the number of options available for LGBTQ people looking for an experience beyond thumping music at a gay bar have grown with each passing year. Counter Corner, the monthly alternative drag revue at the bar the Corner in downtown Miami, for example, celebrated its fifth anniversary in December, while Las Rosas’ queer punk party — Gender Blender — and Gramps’ weekly Double Stubble continue to attract locals of all kinds to experience drag and performance art in ways only Miami can deliver.
“As the queer community started growing, there seemed to be a need for something greater,” Queef remembers. When she approached Gramps owner Adam Gersten about Wigwood four years ago, she wanted to fill a void she thought members of her community could no longer ignore.
“I think Miami's queer community was always here, but it didn't really have a place to go,” Queef says. She acknowledges iconic longtime gay bars such as Twist and Score for their inarguable place in Miami’s LGBTQ community, but believes events such as Counter Corner, Double Stubble, and, eventually, Wigwood were born out of necessity for “what the queers wanted to see, which was performance art and crazy things that are outside of the norm.”
Even though Wigwood invites and celebrates drag and performance art of all kinds, that’s not to say every Wigwood has looked exactly the same: Just last year, for example, Wigwood set sail on the high seas in what was undoubtedly Miami’s queerest boat party. “Adam and I try really hard every year to switch it up... because our interests keep evolving as a community, and I don't want things to get redundant,” Queef says. “I want performers and venues and themes to change every year because it keeps it exciting and keeps it different.”
This year’s Wigwood is set to be the most exciting yet, with an all-star lineup of performers scheduled to take over the 305. Much like the pythons and iguanas of South Florida, Queef Latina views queer people as “invasive species” who have made a habit of “invading” nonqueer venues. Naturally, this year’s theme — "Invasive Species" — was a no-brainer.
“I’ve always felt like queers are invasive species to the Corner bar, to Gramps, to Las Rosas, to wherever the party is,” she smiles. “So we're going to dress up as our queer selves, but as little critters and plants and whatever we want to be.”
It all begins Friday, February 7, with a kickoff party at Club Space, which Queef says will be decorated like an “extraterrestrial forest.” The fact that a festival such as Wigwood is invading a venue that isn't explicitly LGBTQ-friendly is reflective of the theme and the extent to which Wigwood and Miami’s queer scene have grown in such a short time. “[Wigwood at Sea] was glamorous, but Space is going to be a party that’s just as glamorous, but in a different way — a club kid type of glamorous.”
It makes perfect sense, then, for legendary club kid and burlesque performer Amanda Lepore to headline this year’s festival and host the evening at Space. Lepore will be joined by drag king Landon Cider, who made history when he won the most recent season of the Boulet Brothers’ Dragula and became the first king to win an American drag competition show. Music will be provided by superstar drag DJ Jodie Harsh and New York-based queer DJ duo the Carry Nation. The shows will begin at 11 p.m., followed by meet-and-greets, but the craziness will extend into the wee hours of the morning.
The party will continue at Gramps the next day, when out-of-town guests such as Miss Toto and Dragula alum Abhora will perform. Locally based queens like TP Lords and Serena Chacha (of RuPaul's Drag Race) are also scheduled to take the stage. Meanwhile, the Wynwood bar's front patio will be transformed into a dance floor soundtracked by local DJs such as Internet Friends mastermind Gami. A mini-ball, with vogue and look categories open to all, will also include the ballroom community in the weekend’s festivities.
On Sunday, after two days of queer debauchery, Wigwood attendees can cool off at Broken Shaker in Miami Beach with drag, drinks, and a barbecue. Abhora will be among the afternoon’s entertainers, who — in keeping with the invasive species theme — run the gamut, including “drag kings, drag things, and drag aliens!”
The celebration of local talent is something Queef Latina has prioritized from Wigwood’s inception; indeed, it was the lack of representation of Miami drag artists and performers in comparison to their New York- and Los Angeles-based counterparts that led her to create the festival. “I make sure every year to keep the element of community around; I make sure to book a minimum of 75 percent local people if not more,” she says. Despite Wigwood's offering a prime opportunity for local performers to network with those in other cities, Queef wants to ensure the fest is primarily “a celebration of us — here — and all the different struggles and paths we've all gone through to end up in Miami.”
Wigwood has seemingly filled a void in many people’s lives not only in South Florida but also nationwide. “What makes me happiest is seeing a lot of people from out of town and from out of state come every single year because they're like, ‘I look forward to this every year!’” Queef says. “And that makes me happy because they're investing their time and their money to come all the way just for this.”
As a result, Queef believes Wigwood continues to inspire its queer guests to pursue goals of their own, whether they be performance-related or otherwise. “The more successful it becomes, the more people hear about it, the more people come, and the more other people want to create events along the same lines,” she says. “A lot of people have been inspired to not only do drag but also do events and do programming just from having attended Wigwood.”
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For Miami's queer community, the out-of-the-box nature of Wigwood is the appeal. The diversity of the entertainers is “indicative of the performance art that we have in Miami,” Queef says, and solidifies the city's status as a queer hot spot when performers of all kinds are presented on such a large platform.
“I think it makes it a more interesting festival if you just don't know what to expect. I don't even know what to expect, and that's what I like about it!” Queef laughs. “The weirder it is, the happier I am.”
Wigwood: Club Space Invasion. 11 p.m. Friday, February 7, at Club Space, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; wigwoodmiami.com. Weekend and meet-and-greet tickets are available via wigwoodmiami.com.
Wigwood: Gramps Drag Festival. 5 p.m. Saturday, February 8, at Gramps, 176 NW 24th St., Miami; wigwoodmiami.com. Day and weekend passes are available via wigwoodmiami.com.