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Spring 2018 Biannual Drag Show

By Emma Friedlander

For the members of Queer People of Color (QPOC), Drag Show is about more than putting on something you wouldn’t usually wear and performing a dance routine. It’s about celebrating drag as an art form, understanding its history and continuing to push the bounds of gender expression. And of course, for James Caruso ’18, QPOC leader and a fixture of Grinnell Drag Show, it’s also about being “the skinniest, prettiest, most beautiful drag queen, face and body, truly cheesecake.”

Last Saturday, April 14, QPOC hosted its biannual Drag Show. Drag Show is an opportunity for Grinnell students to audition for and then potentially perform a drag number, on the condition that their piece aims to subvert gender in some way. The performers on stage then collect dollar bills from the audience, donating the total funds to charity. This semester, the ten performances raised $840.70 for Crisis Intervention Services — a sum nearly double the total raised last semester. 

“On the fundraising side, it was very successful,” Caruso said. “We were very excited to donate to Crisis Intervention services. We have donated to them in the past, and I think it’s good to support local organizations because it’s so close to home.”

Caruso has been performing in Grinnell Drag Show since the first semester of his first year. Under the moniker Kristal Meth, he worked as a stage manager, director, mentor and performer, all while guiding the younger QPOC members who will assume his roles when Caruso graduates in May. With all this collaboration in mind, Caruso is pleased with the final result of last Saturday’s event.

“At the end of the day, I was very happy that everyone was able to perform and have a good time,” Caruso said. “I didn’t hear anyone get off the stage and say that they felt insecure about their performance, or that they could have done better. Everyone put 100 percent into each performance and I’m so proud of everyone who was part of this show.”

Fellow organizers and MCs of the event included Tucker Haddock ’21, a.k.a Coin Slot; Errol Blackstone ’20, a.k.a Heaven Ne’ Vaeh and April Showers ’21 (who prefers to be referred to by her drag name for this article). Haddock, Blackstone, Showers and Caruso each have a special relationship to their drag persona.

“Not being out at home, I feel like I have to suppress a lot of my femininity,” Showers said. “I think that April is a celebration of all the things that I usually try to suppress. She can be beautiful and go out wearing six inch heels and a full face of makeup and acting like a slut and flirting with guys. Anything that I can’t usually do as myself, especially at home, I can do as April.”

Haddock is non-binary and therefore views drag as an opportunity to explore the various dimensions of femininity and gender.

“I think I’m in an interesting position because I’m a non-binary person,” Haddock said. “I just like having the opportunity to celebrate certain types of femininity.”

Blackstone revels in drag’s opportunity to express yourself differently and have fun doing it.

“For me, drag is just about having fun and being able to express something that you might not be able to express every day,” he said.

“And I’m a big slut,” Caruso added.

When selecting this semester’s performances, the members of QPOC ensured that the show demonstrated an awareness and celebration of drag’s origins. This is particular to drag’s origins in communities of queer people of color, as documented in such classic films as “Paris is Burning.” The QPOC members were especially excited byt he high number of individual performers, references to the history of drag and a special appearance by Ben Vaughn ’15, a previous fixture of the Grinnell drag community who took part in the swim team’s performance.

“I was happy to see Charlie Rosenblum ’18 (also known as Challah Back Girl) do some more classic voguing, because I like drag that really understands where it’s coming from,” Haddock said. “I want it to be more than just putting on a good performance and instead celebrating something beyond that.”

While the QPOC members were ecstatic about all of the performances this year, they hope to see Drag Show get more queer and feature a greater diversity of individual performers.

“Of course, we have drag queens that perform individually, but I want to see drag kings and non-binary performers take the stage by themselves and pave their own path in drag,” Showers said. “I think there’s this huge misconception that drag is necessarily binary. I want to subvert that and show that drag can be all these different things. It’s not just a man dressing up as a woman.”

The drag queens acknowledge that for some, getting started out in drag can be an intimidating prospect. However, there are many helpful resources when starting out that can make the process more approachable.

“YouTube!” Caruso exclaimed. “YouTube is where everyone is learning shit nowadays. If you want to learn how to beat your face, how to pad. … Also, just practice. Just start by buying the cheapest makeup at CVS and start practicing. … With performances, I think that Drag Show is a really good space to start out. If you are fearful of going out in public or going to a party dressed in a different way, you have that supportive environment.”

And while drag is often about putting on a persona, the QPOC members also stressed that finding yourself in drag involves implementing the things you love in your everyday life.

“If there’s a song that you always listen to, that you feel you could lip-sync the hell out of — that one that comes on at Harris and you’re really feeling yourself — watch a YouTube tutorial, throw on a dress and a wig and do your choreo actually on stage in front of people,” Showers said. “See where it goes from there.” 

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