“Creatures of the Night” descend upon the stage of Grinnell’s 15th drag show


Eleanor Hedges Duroy

Drag performers take a bow together to conclude the 2022 drag show.

Lucia Cheng, Features Editor

“The vibes are good,” said Lizzi Kelly `22.5.

“Vibes are very important,” said Aris Reyes `24.

In a word, that’s what the 15th biannual drag show was: vibes. Themed “Creatures of the Night,” the show was an opportunity for queerness to step out of the shadows and into the spotlight, a celebration of Grinnell’s queer people of color that does not necessarily happen on other parts of campus. According to Reyes, a co-leader of the aptly named Queer People of Color (QPOC), a focus on intersectional identities is rare; you can either talk about being queer with white queer people, or talk about race with BIPOC that aren’t necessarily queer. QPOC creates a space that holds these intersecting identities, a space that allows people to enter as their whole selves. 

On Nov. 12, 2022, Drag Show became that space. When the first song, “Calling All the Monsters” by China Anne McClain, started playing, the crowd went wild – feral, even – and didn’t stop.

During a rendition of “You and I” by Lady Gaga, an audience member reached on stage to smear lipstick onto Ms. Jen Dermé’s face and a second audience member instantly began to make out with the performer. Tips rained down on the stage. During another act, a raccoon flung trash onto the stage as a possum did a strip tease down the catwalk. Many, many performers were picked up and bitten on the neck with a lust for blood – among other things.  

“Grinnell is a very queer campus and queers love drag,” said Reyes. 

“Judith Butler would be pleased,” added Kelly. 

Compared to Kelly’s first year, Drag Show continues to grow. When she first came to Grinnell, upperclassmen organizing the show had to beg for even a thousand dollars of funding, said Kelly, and had to make do with decorations and outfits bought with their own money. Now, there are lighting and filming crews on hand, a runway brought in especially for the show, and approved funding from the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC). In addition, QPOC is building up the drag closet for future performers to use. 

“It’s really just artistic expression, a lot of playing with gender and finding fun ways to express their gender or their sexuality or both,” said Kelly of drag. “It’s pretty liberating because you can explore more sexual themes. People can express their bodies in ways they don’t get to on a daily basis.” 

When Kelly performed, she was able to slip into a different persona and embody a different kind of expression, to have a “multiplicity of identities,” in her own words. 

“It feels kind of intimate,” said Kelly, “Because you get to have a relationship with all these people while you’re on stage, where you’re being observed, in a good way, not a scary way.”

Drag Show, for Reyes, is also a way to give back to the community, both to Grinnell, as well as outside of Grinnell. This year’s tips will be donated to Reyes’ organization, the American Trans Resource Hub.

 At one point, QPOC was in danger of disappearing. Because COVID disrupted the passing down of organizations from upperclassmen to underclassmen, the loss of student leadership hindered students’ ability to engage with each other. 

QPOC has always been more than just a space of support and activism, Reyes said. It’s also a space to simply spend time with each. However, the effort to even show up and be there for friends is almost like unpaid labor, said Reyes. Especially because Drag Show is an integral part of institutional memory, like Tithead, it’s a way for people to get to know who you are. In a time where it feels like many organizations have died off, spaces like QPOC are becoming more and more important, said Reyes. 

“It [QPOC] is just a very intersectional, comforting place to be in. It’s a space for you to pause the speed of Grinnell, to sit with yourself and your experiences here,” said Reyes.