Drag often evokes feelings of spectacle, of gender play and big, over the top queens. And yet at this year’s Flawless Drag Show, presented by the Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC), one drag king went home a champion.
Genesis Hernandez ’15, co-president of QCVC, came first out of five performers, composed of two kings and three queens, at QCVC’s annual drag show last Friday.
In the past, few drag kings have participated in the Flawless Drag Show, but Hernandez and others were pleased with the change.
“I really wanted there to be some sort of drag king visibility on campus,” said Hernandez. “Last year I had intended to do it, because the drag queens last year were really fierce.”
Hernandez also said he felt that it was easier to participate when another king agreed to take part in the show.
“There was another person who also signed up to be a drag king, so I felt a little more comfortable,” he said.
Cassidy Hollinger ’13, a general body member of QCVC, hosted the event and was also impressed with the diversity of acts this year.
“I’m really glad that we had drag kings because I feel that they show the whole other side of gender,” Hollinger said. “Drag king culture is a little more varied than drag queens [culture]. [Queens are] very glamorous and super feminine and drag kings are sometimes performing stereotypical masculinity but there’s also this whole level of androgynous drag king performances.”
Drag as a form of gender expression and as a historically important part of the queer community also went over well and this event in many ways has the potential to increase discussion about gender and gender expression on campus, particularly in the queer community.
“[Drag] historically has been about empowerment,” said Jeremy Garza ’14. “There are just so many ways in which queers, and especially queers of color, are able to express themselves. Events such as this are about being able to have that pride and express yourself.”
Other students, such as Willow Carter ’15, felt that while drag has a purpose on campus, it also is not free from criticism.
“Drag can be used well, specifically when it’s already in the queer community,” Carter said. “[But when] it’s primarily done by white cisgender men, they’re kind of unaware of the privilege they have to able to play with gender and reinforce stereotypes.”
She also emphasized that sexism can be a problem in drag.
“I feel that a lot of drag queen performances are making fun of women or of gender variance,” said Carter.
But some aspects of the show were ones that many students thought were decidedly even less about empowerment or increasing discourse than some of the issues, such as sexism, transphobia and apparently ableism, that can come along with drag.
“That’s ableism,” shouted an audience member after one queen’s talent portion included an act of impersonating a visually impaired person.
Much of the audience responded quickly and negatively and several students walked out.
According to Hollinger, this year’s drag show came together without many rehearsals and with less preparation than usual. Hollinger went on to explain that this particular iteration of the Flawless Drag Show did not have a full rehearsal before it went to stage, and even she did not know what to expect for all of the talents.
“We only met with some of the judges beforehand,” she said. “The talents weren’t vetted by anyone, and no one knew exactly what the talents were going to be.”
The incident led to some quick thinking on the part of the host, Hollinger, who had to work particularly hard to maintain the energy in the room.
“As a performer, that show was a particular challenge. It was difficult to get through after the scandalous performance that people are talking about,” said Hollinger.
“That was really hard to deal with on stage. As a host you need to respect your audience and performers, but it’s my job to make sure the show is moving. I had to make some quick decisions to see how we were going to handle it,” she said.
Regardless of attempts by the judges and Hollinger to control the situation, many students in the audience were still shocked and offended.
“The whole thing about blindness was definitely an issue. I just thought that whole part was really offensive, and I’m surprised they actually chose to do it,” said Carter. “I was glad the audience responded the way they did, but it was still kind of shocking.”
That some of the acts could have been put together quickly and in a slapdash fashion could have contributed to some of the unexpected issues that campe up at the drag show.
“I always see queens who come in and have thrown things together last minute,” said Garza. “It’s more likely for people to get hurt.”
Despite the fact that few people knew what the acts were going to entail, some students still stressed that being humorous should not be hurtful.
“It’s okay for drag to push norms of conventional gender expression or conventional standards, but that’s not an excuse to do things that are offensive and hurtful,” said Carter.
Garza also acknowledged that there is sometimes a difficult balance to maintain of humor and offense.
“The performance itself alienated people and offended people. I think some of the audience reactions alienated others. My inhibitions were low and so I viscerally reacted to what we had seen on campus,” said Garza. “When it comes to performing, there is always a fine line to walk between artistry and scandal.”
Disorganization and a lack of rehearsal time ultimately led to unfortunate and alienating events that could have potentially been avoided with more guidance.
Garza said problems with organization similar to this have come up in the past with QCVC events.
“I thought it was a bit disorganized. I think QCVC has a history of putting on events that are both a hot mess and completely beautiful at the same time,” said Garza.
However, even with some of the negative publicity that came from certain parts of this show, students are still hopeful for improvement in the future.
“It made me frustrated, but I guess it makes me hope that there will be enough of a reaction that it will be better in the next year and the year after that,” said Carter.
Hernandez in particular said he hopes to inspire future drag kings.“I really do hope that this year our performances show the audience that there is so much more to drag than just simply being a drag queen,” Hernandez said. “I’m hoping that some freshmen will be inspired.”