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…And the Rest is Drag: Students in Professor Fredo Rivera’s “Dragtorial” reflect on the experience

By Edo Biluar

Every Tuesday and Thursday at 8 a.m., Goodnow Hall hosts the most fabulous class on campus: TUT-100-25. Officially titled “…And the rest is drag,” the tutorial is often affectionately referred to by those in the class as the “dragtorial.”

Many in the class, myself included, naturally gravitated towards the “dragtorial” when perusing the offerings for the incoming first year class. 

Madi Chandler ’23, a member of the class, explained, “I’m a member of the LGBTQ community, but I realized that I didn’t really know a lot about queer history and it seemed like a perfect class.”

To me, this speaks powerfully to the importance of a class like this: it gives rise to the voices and stories often left unheard by the academic community. Professor Rivera, art history, teaches the tutorial and cites this idea as a major reason they pursued the teaching of this class. 

“I was interested in more seriously exploring [drag] at sort of an academic level,” they said.

When I first signed up for the course, I was unsure how we were going to spend an entire semester talking about and discussing drag. I couldn’t have imagined the array of topics we would cover.

The class embraces and explores queer histories, both the well-known and the obscure. Some moments, like the Stonewall Riots, have become ubiquitously memorialized as watershed moments for the LGBT community, while others, like the lesser-known Compton Café riots of 1966 or the disco demolition night of 1979 have faded from mainstream discussion, but are nonetheless important events with effects that continue to reverberate throughout time. 

Exploring these moments has given me a more nuanced view of queer history and allowed me to better understand both my individual queer identity as well as the larger gay subculture around me. 

Melena Johnson ’23, another student in the class, said of the subject, “It’s become a bigger part of my life now.”

One of the most fun parts of the class for many of us so far was the drag panel extravaganza that Rivera hosted in early October. The event brought five drag queens and kings from the Miami and Chicago area to the quad dining hall on campus and allowed us to see, firsthand, professional drag performers. Between all the kicks, turns, ballads and entertainment, we were treated to a surprise performance by our very own professor’s drag persona, Lolita Cabrón.

Many of the class activities, from the movies in class to the drag panel extravaganza, come back to the central ideas of discussing drag in academic contexts and becoming more aware of how queer history and drag manifest in our communities. 

One of our assignments, in fact, was to go around Grinnell and find examples of “camp,” a notoriously difficult-to-define concept, but one that can be somewhat understood as queer performativity and expression. 

The class has challenged me and my classmates not only to examine queer history and our own identity, but also the basic conceptions of what drag is and what it represents. Taking a cue from gender studies and post-structural ideas of gender as performance, we considered the idea that we are always in drag to some degree. 

Drag is not, however, immune to criticism from the class, as we often consider whether drag accomplishes the goal of subverting gender roles or whether it actually enforces societal power structures.

The class is a valuable addition to the Grinnell community by legitimizing the study and lived experiences of queer people throughout history. “I hope that [the tutorial] is continually offered in the future,” said Chandler. I couldn’t agree more.

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