The University of Wisconsin is about to get a taste of hot pink lipstick and fedora. The queens and kings are coming down the catwalk, and it’s going to be fierce.
As part of Out & About Month, UW’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Campus Center will be hosting the “UW Drag Spectacular” in the Memorial Union Great Hall on Thursday night.
The drag show will feature performances by students, local queens and kings and headliner JuJuBee, known for her appearance on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“People should come expecting a very high energy show,” said Kara Bissen, outreach coordinator at the LGBT center. “We are hoping that it is going to be just fabulousness for two hours straight.”
Drag shows, by nature, are known for reversing, contorting and swirling our preconceptions of gender through costume and performance. Lip syncing to dance club beats, receiving dollar bills in bustiers and pant pockets, drag queens and kings entertain gay and straight audiences alike. They stretch our ideas of what it means to be men and women. And they make the experience fun.
Senior Camden Hargrove is the event and program coordinator at the LGBT Campus Center and spearheaded planning tonight’s drag show. He previously performed as a drag king in the Madtown Kings troupe.
“I think gender performance means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” he said.
For some performers, drag is a way to reverse gender norms by adopting garb of the opposite sex. In this case, Hargrove said, “People who are either born biologically male or female are performing gender as a female or male.”
But drag is not always a flip n’ switch. Some performers combine aspects of masculinity and femininity, sometimes referred to in LGBT circles as a “gender queer” way of presenting oneself.
This is something that Jakob Aebly has witnessed throughout his career. Known as “Davina DaVille” when he graces the stage, Aebly has worked professionally as a drag queen for seven years. He will also perform tonight.
“My character is sort of half sexy pop-princess, half cartoon character,” he said.
When he was a UW student, Aebly began his drag career in student theater, followed by gigs at local LGBT establishments like Shamrock Bar and Club Five (now referred to as “Five”).
Aebly currently works as the show director at Plan B nightclub, hosting events where community members can perform in drag, showcasing their costumes and makeup. Aebly sees all sorts of gender presentations while he emcees.
“One of the things I really enjoy about [drag], it teaches people that you can kind of be anything you want,” he said. “You can do whatever you want.
“If you want to just be a boy and go out in heels and feel fabulous, you can do that. If you are a girl and you wanna have really big hair, you can go out and buy a wig, buy extensions. You can do this stuff. It’s not only something that’s for drag queens.”
In many ways, drag becomes a deeply personal experience. It gets to the core of how people both express themselves and determine how they want the world to view them.
For Hargrove, performing as a drag king became an outlet for him to express his gender identity. Hargrove openly identifies as a transgender person (colloquially, “trans”). Although many drag queens and kings do not consider themselves transgender, for Hargrove, the two were connected.
“I’ve performed [drag] myself when I was female identified,” Hargrove said. “For me, it was a fun way to perform – I like dancing, I like doing the choreography and stuff – and it was also a way to represent what I was feeling about being trans.
“A lot of performers are not trans. They just like to be able to play with the gender binary and perform as somebody else. I think it’s just a way to be able express yourself in a different way that you don’t necessarily get to express yourself.”
The Spectacular Show
In a show filled with self-expression, the lineup of the UW Drag Spectacular will reflect the diversity of its performers.
As JuJuBee emcees, Davina DeVille and Lucy von Cucci will represent Madison’s divas of the drag stage. The Miltown Kings will bring Milwaukee’s drag king swagger, hunkiness and strength. UW students will belly dance, rap and showcase the university’s diversity.
Bissen is excited for this outpouring of LGBT culture and what it represents.
“The goal, for me, of the drag show is celebrating who we are. Because we all know that there are tragedies and sadness that come with holding the identities that we have,” she said. “But we’re also fierce and fabulous and resilient.”
Hargrove provided some other guidelines for attendees.
“Come and be ready to have a good time. It’s just a lot of dancing. Lip syncing, high energy,” he said laughing. “Glitter. Sequins.”
The evening after I wrote this preview about the University of Wisconsin Drag Spectacular, I attended the cabaret and snapped 283 photos. A lot of them were crap – too dark, too bright, obstructed by the stereo speaker and floating heads in front of me. From these I whittled the tome down to 30 that I thought were decent (leaving aside the issue posed by the lower right quadrant of the pictures).
A version of this article appeared in print on April 11, 2013, on page 7 of the The Badger Herald with the headline: “Campus drag show full of glitter, heels.”
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