Annual drag show challenges audience to rethink issues of gender, sexuality

Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian Chelsea Pearl receives a kiss from an audience member during a ballad.

In a packed Forum Hall, every audience member rose to give Dusty Garner, who performs in drag as Monica Moree, a standing ovation both Friday and Saturday nights. The last number performed every year at the annual K-State Drag Show is “What Makes a Man, a Man.” Moree starts on the stage as a woman, then gradually becomes Garner, a man, to show the fluidity of gender.

“Even though I had seen [the closing number] previously, it still kind of blows your mind,” said Stephanie Skinner, senior in animal sciences and industry. “In Kansas, it may seem unusual. It really isn’t talked about. But when you compare that [mentality] to the drag show, and you see what they do and you see the transformation, it’s cool.”

Every year, Garner, who is a 2010 K-State graduate in political science, performs this closing number and performs it with the same song and the same general concept. Garner said this number is a good way to challenge what people think about the social construction of gender.

“It’s very easy to think that we are feminine, or female even, when in reality we are actually quite masculine,” Garner said.

During last year’s drag show, money was raised for the Jason Dockins Memorial Scholarship. Dockins was a fraternity brother of Garner in the Beta Mu chapter of Delta Lambda Phi National Fraternity who took his own life near Tuttle Creek in 2008. Garner continues to work diligently in the Manhattan community, even though he now lives in Phoenix, Ariz., to make sure the community never forgets Dockins.

Community was a major theme incorporated into this year’s drag show. One of the newest editions to Manhattan’s Hot, Sticky and Sweet drag group was Lilkim Chi, also known as Joseph Brock, Junction City resident. Chi performed both with her drag troupe and on her own in this year’s show.

Chi has been doing drag performances on weekends locally for almost three years. Above and beyond that, Chi has also worked closely with local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusive groups, performing in benefit shows for those organizations, including the Flint Hills chapter of Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Little Apple Pride and Flint Hills Pride. Chi has also performed benefit shows for different pageants.

“It was more than I could have ever expected,” Chi said. “I have been in the audience, but it’s completely different being on stage and feeling all the energy being directed towards you, instead of being the one projecting the energy. It’s definitely a rush having all these people excited to just see you. It’s almost unexplainable; there are almost no words to describe it.”

The continued collaboration of student, campus and community organizations to make sure this drag show could be as successful as possible was highlighted throughout the show. The Student Organization for Cultural Studies, the Student Governing Association, the Union Program Council and the LGBT Resource Center all helped sponsor this year’s drag show.

“[We] want to raise awareness about cultural issues on campus and within the community, which is why the K-State Drag Show is one of our biggest events,” said Melissa Prescott, president of S.O.C.S. and graduate student in English. “In the past years, we realized, that we talk a lot about gender and if there is a construction of gender. This year we wanted to do something a little bit different.”

This year’s drag show theme was “Going to Camp.” Looking “campy” can sometimes be described as over the top or exaggerated. Camp, as a look, has been popularized since the 1960s. Some famous examples of camp are Dr. Frankenfurter from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and RuPaul from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Many performers were welcomed back for the eighth K-State Drag Show. Some of these performers included Monica St. James and Penny Tration, from Cincinnati, Ohio, and Chelsea Pearl, from Lexington, Ky. These three performers have been performing in the K-State Drag Show for several years.

Tration was a part of the cast for season five of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a reality show drag queen competition on Logo TV. Tration was selected as audience favorite.

“We travel all over the country — literally all over the country — performing in drag, yet every year we look forward to this show,” Tration said. “All those kids out there are so excited to be here. Sometimes when we’re doing shows we have to pull it out of the audience, but we don’t have to pull nothing out of these kids. They’re here, they’re having a good time and they’re ready to go.”

Tration said she, St. James and Pearl all look forward to coming back to Manhattan every year, and this year they were joined by another queen from Ohio, Leah Halsten. She said they all drove 12 hours one way to get here, but because she and the other performers who come in from out of state enjoy being in Manhattan and at the K-State Drag Show, they are willing to make the drive.

This relates back to the feeling of community Garner advocated throughout the show.

“A part of the way I give back to my community is to show how things aren’t always as they seem,” Garner said. “You don’t have to be a pretty, pretty skinny girl to be a woman. You don’t have to be a pretty, skinny boy to be a gay man. You have to love yourself so much before anyone else can enter that picture. If it weren’t for all of you helping us and showing us how to love ourselves, none of this would be possible.”