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Covered in Melanin: Tutorial on Drag Excellence

Zack Walsh
Sharaya Diamond performed for professor Rivera’s tutorial class.

Covered in Melanin, a drag performance group based in Des Moines, Iowa, came to Grinnell last Tuesday, Sept. 12 for a night of drag extravaganza. In tandem with their tutorial class TUT-100-28: … And the Rest is Drag, Alfredo Rivera, professor of art history, and the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) organized the event to give students a glimpse of drag.

According to Rivera, they wanted to bring drag to Grinnell so first-year students could engage in an experience that they otherwise may not have access to. 

“I think it’s an exciting moment to bring in drag performers to share their art, and particularly bring out drag performers of color who are based here in the state of Iowa,” Rivera said. 

Drag king Trade gives a masterclass on walking the runway at the Covered in Melanin performance show in the Quad Dining Room in Main Hall. (Zack Walsh)

Sharaya Diamond, creator of Covered in Melanin, along with Lieza Diamond, Chanel Savage, Nolare Diamond, Romeo Demornay Sanchez and Trade, each performed two drag numbers during the show. Rivera also made an appearance as Lolita on stage. Decked out in glitter, rainbows, sparkly outfits and a lot of glam, the performers interacted closely with attendees and kept energy high. 

In their introduction to the audience, Sharaya Diamond and Lieza Diamond said the first rule of drag shows is to get loud. Audience members heard that message loud and clear as the crowd was roaring with excitement by the end of the night.

Halfway through the show, three audience members were chosen to participate in a lip sync battle. Ella Papp `25, an attendee of the show who participated in the lip synch battle, said they thought the show was “absolutely fabulous.” 

“The performers’ energy was on point,” Papp said. “The glam, the glitter, the outfits were fabulous. The performers were so good at engaging the audience, and I loved the music.” 

I hope that having these different types of drag events inspires and informs students’ own endeavors whether it is exploring the art of drag or thinking about queer expressions themselves.

— Alfredo Rivera, professor of art history

Starting last spring, Rivera worked closely with the Grinnell College Department of Intercultural Affairs and the SRC, along with funding from the the gender, women and sexuality studies department, to make their idea for a show a reality. Additionally, they closely involved students from their tutorial by having them help with setting up for the event and closely watch the performers from the first two rows.

“I hope that having these different types of drag events inspires and informs students’ own endeavors whether it is exploring the art of drag or thinking about queer expressions themselves.” Rivera said. 

In the fall 2019 semester, Rivera organized a similar event called the “Drag Panel Extravaganza” to accompany their tutorial. In addition to exposing their students to drag, Rivera said it is nice that the drag show can also “entertain and benefit” the entire Grinnell community. When comparing their experience from 2019 to now, Rivera discussed the changing political climate that impacts the importance of drag. 

Drag queen Lieza Diamond collects tips from adoring fans during the Covered in Melanin performance event in Main Hall. (Zack Walsh)

“I think there’s a difference with how the student population understands the meaning of drag culturally and politically now compared to 2019,” Rivera said. “In 2019, it was seen as something going more into mainstream culture. Now, we’re seeing it being policed in certain ways, and being representative of LGBTQIA+ issues largely.”

Sophia Mason `26, an attendee of the event, echoed the importance of drag representation in the Grinnell community.

“Gender can be a really confusing thing to navigate with heteronormativity,” she said. “To be in a space where you can see people subvert all these gender norms and be their truest selves without any constraints from society is really special.” 

To experience local drag in Iowa, Covered in Melanin regularly performs at the Blazing Saddle, a gay bar in Des Moines, every first and third Thursday of the month.

Correction: This article was corrected to include correct name spellings in photo captions

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About the Contributor
Claire Giannosa
Claire Giannosa, Staff Writer

Claire Giannosa is a second-year from New York City studying English and Anthropology at Grinnell. In her free time, she loves reading and writing fantasy books and going on sunset walks with friends. Besides studying, leading Creative Writing Club, and S&B work she can usually be found on Mac Field playing ultimate frisbee.

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