Topatío’s Vision: Redefining drag for inclusivity and diversity in the Midwest
Drag artist Topatío is doing drag on their own terms.
The Oklahoma City drag performer’s persona is over-the-top, colorful and anything but boring. Their look, which involves vibrant hues, exaggerated facial hair and and streetwear, defies drag norms, allowing Topatío (whose real name is Luís Barajas) to express their identity more freely and authentically.
“My goal for drag was never to be a man becoming a woman,” Topatío said. “I wanted to create something with makeup that conveyed a character — one who was the life of the party, one that would be joy, one who would be really ridiculous, but also slay at the same time … Putting on this character has helped me become so comfortable with myself, my body and my expression.”
Before they grew up and found their calling in the drag world, however, Topatío said they grew up in an unstable environment, with a family plagued by substance abuse, poverty and, at times, homelessness.
Born in Oklahoma, they relocated to Sacramento at a young age with their family, moving many times in California and Nevada before moving back to Oklahoma again, Topatío said. They estimate they and their family moved nearly 20 times throughout their adolescence.
“Everything I had to go through at a young age gave me a lot of life experience,” Topatío said. “I feel like that translates into my art and how I build community — I have a lot of empathy now.”
After moving back to Oklahoma as a teen from California, Topatío said they witnessed the intense racial divide in Oklahoma City firsthand.
“There was a clear divide in where the Black community lived, where the Latinos lived, and where the white people lived that I hadn’t experienced in California,” Topatío said. “I noticed there weren’t any resources for queer youth in my area, either — I would enter queer spaces and they would be very white, with maybe one other person of color.”
Everything changed for Topatío, however, when they met their future drag mothers, Shalula Davenport and Lady K. These performers welcomed Topatío into their drag world, mentored them and helped them hone their unique drag identity, stereotypes and expectations be damned.
“When I first saw [Shalula and Lady K], I was mesmerized — they were the first drag performers I saw who had more of an androgynous look, which was so polarizing from what I’d seen before,” Topatío said. “When I saw what they were doing, it really inspired me and showed me that I could do whatever I wanted [with drag]. I didn’t have to be a man becoming a woman, I could be me becoming me, or me becoming Topatío.”
In developing their signature makeup look, Topatío was inspired by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of queer and trans nuns whose focus is community outreach, service and activism. Their instrumental role in fighting the AIDS crisis was especially meaningful to Topatío, they said.
Additionally, Topatío said they drew on their Latin heritage while developing their look, utilizing vibrant, dramatic hues to create a striking appearance.
“For me and my cultural identity, color felt very emotional — vibrant colors make me feel happiness as well as deep sadness,” Topatío said. “I predominantly use purples, reds and blues. To me, purple feels very queer, blue feels very beautiful, while red feels very powerful.”
Topatío’s exaggerated mustache and eyebrows are a key part of their drag persona, which signify the performer’s unique approach to the art form.
“The eyebrows and mustache came about because they seemed really distinct, different and fierce — they were campy, but fashion, at the same time,” Topatío said. “They help my facial expressions, and the emotions I want to convey come through more because of them. They made me feel more like me.”
Despite finding joy and acceptance within their drag family, Topatío said they, along with other people of color, nonbinary individuals and trans individuals were not welcomed within Oklahoma City’s broader drag community. Many gatekeepers in the community “were not supportive,” of anyone who wasn’t white or had a nontraditional way of doing drag, Topatío said.
“They were like, ‘You’re not a drag artist, so I’m not going to have you on stage with me,’” Topatío said. “Not only would they not validate our art, because we were different in expression, but they also didn’t like us because we were people of color, or trans, or nonbinary.”
Due to this exclusion, Topatío said they decided to start their own drag show — one that was not only welcoming to, but excited about, performers and audience members of all identities. Thanks to the guidance they received from their mentor, Ann McDermott, Topatío had the community-building and event-planning skills needed to make the show happen.
“After being told ‘No,’ so many times, I was like, ‘What if I just created something myself?’” Topatío said. “My act of resistance — and kind of being a bitch about it — was to say, ‘Well, I’m going to make something better and more relevant.’”
For a whole year, Topatío and their cast of performers hosted drag shows with 100+ people in attendance. These events provided a safe space for performers who had previously been ostracized to showcase their art and talent in front of audiences on a regular basis, Topatío said.
“We were changing the game,” Topatío said. “It was a really healthy space that allowed different types of drag art to be showcased, and allowed things to get super experimental.”
Reflecting on the success of these shows, Topatío said they want to keep working toward creating a viable, accepting queer community in Oklahoma City, aiming for a better world for drag artists and queer individuals now and in the future.
“I want to create a sustainable community around a whole nightlife event, one that speaks to modern nuance and queer maturity that looks like nothing else,” Topatío said. “I want to do something that stays relevant for the next generation to come.”
As an artist and performer, Topatío said they hope to constantly keep growing, evolving and improving their drag.
“I don’t feel like I’ve fully realized my drag persona — as far as I’ve come with it, it’s still a work in progress,” Topatío said. “I want to elevate my art constantly.”
Stay up to date with Topatío and their performances by following them on Instagram @bi_latin_them.