You better work, (blue) henny — the university’s drag culture
Thanks to “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a competition show where contestants prove their charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to the world, drag has reached a large audience, especially on college campuses. With the recent wrap of the fourth season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” a spinoff in which previous contestants compete for a spot in the Drag Race Hall of Fame, nearly coinciding with the premiere of season 11, campus has recently been saturated with talk of drag, from Perkins to the Little Bob.
“A lot of people like [‘RuPaul’s] Drag Race,” Kaitlyn Fennell, a member of the Lavender Programming Board and organizer of the group’s annual drag race, says. “I think in the past few years, a lot of people have gotten interested since there [are] two seasons a year.”
Drag has been around for centuries, but drag culture in America has historically centered around cisgender males dressing as women for performances. Now, drag has evolved to a point where anyone can enjoy and participate in the culture. Drag kings (who dress as men), female drag queens and androgynous performers have achieved recognition as well. The allure of drag remains the ability for the performer to transform into a character with a huge personality.
With students’ overwhelming enthusiasm for both the show and drag itself, it is surprising that the university does not have an organized drag scene of its own.
According to Fennell, Lavender has been organizing its annual drag show for close to two decades. The show features regional drag queens — or queens, for short — as well as a headliner from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and attracts around 600 audience members each year. Monét X Change, the winner of this year’s “All Stars,” led the lineup this past fall. For the past few years, some students have even performed in drag.
For junior Andrew Bochnovich, Lavender’s 2016 show served as his first introduction to the dazzling world of drag. Bochnovich remembers the experience fondly.
“This person is basically Beyoncé,” Bochnovich says. “It was Shangela. After watching her onstage, I was just enamored by this fantasy they were presenting. Her energy on stage and her performance really drew me in.”
Though both Fennell and Bochnovich have seen a few examples of student drag on campus, both attest that a fully fledged drag scene has yet to emerge. The university is well-equipped for performances, as evidenced by a highly publicized local music scene and the multitude of stages and performance spaces on campus. Active LGBTQ+ student groups hold plenty of events intended to bring a diverse group of students together, and at least three registered student organizations are dedicated to improv comedy — a hallmark of drag performance.
Bochnovich says that he would attend and even perform in drag shows if they were more available, and he believes that an established student drag show would attract a scene. But he also cites “Rupaul’s Drag Race” as a potential hurdle to local drag.
“The expectation set on the show is so high that people don’t want to see anything less than that,” Bochnovich says. “Queens have to have this perfect image and perfect personality, and that’s not really what drag was about. Drag was always very counterculture and subverting expectations and working against the mainstream … John Waters used to cast this drag queen Divine a lot and she would eat s—, like actual s—.”
When asked if she thought “RuPaul’s Drag Race” was an accurate representation of local drag, Fennell pointed to the dissimilarity between the two.
“‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ is a competition,” Fennell says. “There’s a lot of different stuff involved, like having to make costumes on the spot and improv, all in addition to what you would usually find in a drag show, like lip-syncing, an overall performance and then comedy. Those are typically the things you find in a regular drag show.”
If students want to come together to appreciate drag, Fennell recommends starting a registered student organization and hosting student performances. Students can also reach out to the Lavender Programming Board to set an event for next semester, or start by attending the organization’s lip-sync concert on March 13.