The audience cheers as entertainer Starla Nyte walks onto the stage. Usually performing a comedy number, she will sometimes mix it up with pop music, but she always lip-syncs to a song by a female artist. The distinct difference between Nyte and other performers is that she is biologically male.
Starla Nyte is a drag queen. Nyte’s real name is Michael Turner, sophomore in anthropology, and he performs every weekend as a woman in venues located in Junction City, Manhattan and Topeka. Turner has been performing in drag for a little over three years.
“When I first told my parents about me performing in drag, my mother thought I was trans[gender], which was really funny for me. I had to ensure her that, no, I enjoy being a boy,” Turner said. “It’s just a hobby — it’s just something that I enjoy doing. It’s an artistic form that I really enjoy doing.”
Turner said that after he explained his interest in drag to his mother, “She started understanding that it was something that I was really passionate about. She now actually gives me makeup that she doesn’t use.”
Although his mother had difficulty understanding at first, Turner said his father has always been incredibly supportive of his drag career. His father always asks him how his shows went and where his shows will be, Turner said.
Though performing in drag is a huge part of Turner’s identity, he lives his life as a man. Last fall, Turner transferred to K-State from the University of Kansas. Turner is originally from Manhattan, and upon returning to Manhattan to attend school at K-State, he rushed the Beta Mu chapter of Delta Lambda Phi National Fraternity. He was initiated into the fraternity at the end of the fall 2012 semester.
“I have known Michael [Turner] for about four years now,” said Lukus Ebert, current president of Delta Lambda Phi and junior in sociology. “I have seen him grow into an amazing person over the years. He embodies the qualities that make a great brother. He brings a passion that is hard to find in people anymore.”
Delta Lambda Phi is the first nationally recognized progressive fraternity for gay men. Turner, who is gay, said he’d known about Delta Lambda Phi long before he ever thought of rushing.
All of Turner’s Delta Lambda Phi brothers know he performs as a woman. Ebert said many of the brothers of Delta Lambda Phi have performed in drag, and he feels it adds to the diverse and ever-changing community.
“I love the fraternity because of the bonds and brotherhood that comes along with being a part of it,” Turner said. “When I was in high school, the brothers were there for me all the time, and through the tragic experience of one of the brothers committing suicide, we all got a lot closer. It was a bond I could never sever. I love what this brotherhood stands for and their purposes.”
Turner has not limited his involvement in the K-State and Manhattan communities to just his fraternity. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, Turner competes in a bowling league with his father at Little Apple Lanes. Turner is also a part of LGBT & Allies. He said he feels the LGBT & Allies group is strong in promoting the equality of all students at K-State.
Even as a full-time student involved in multiple campus and community organizations, and with a part-time job at Jimmy John’s, Turner says drag is still one of the highest priorities in his life.
Junction City resident Joseph Brock has been performing in drag under the name of Lilkim Chi for about as long as Turner has been performing as Starla Nyte. He said Chi and Nyte, who often perform at the same venues, share an artistic dynamic.
“I do kind of feed off of her,” Brock said, referring to Nyte. “We are the same genre of performers, so we end up picking the same songs. It’s kind of who gets to the song first. We feed off each other, and we definitely learn from each other.”
Like so many other drag performers, Turner and Brock choose to live with two different personas — one as a man and another as a woman. For them, performing as Nyte and Chi is more than just a fun weekend activity; it is an art.
“I just think that more people should open up to the idea of drag,” Brock said. “It’s not just boys dressing up as girls or gay boys dressing up as girls because they want to. It’s a completely different aspect. It’s an art. It’s an expression of the appreciation of the female body, the female aspect and just females in general.”