Pink lips, large lashes and a curly pink wig adorned Dusty Garner-Carpenter as he finished preparing for the 16th Annual K-State Drag Show Friday afternoon. He swept glitter on his lips and eyelids to accentuate them for the future crowd — something he has done many times over the last 30 years.
This year, however, there is a difference. Garner-Carpenter said this is the first time there have been death threats and threats of protests of the Kansas State show.
“The more we receive those, the more we are reminded why this is important, why we do this,” Garner Carpenter said. “My job is to give back to the communities that gave me things. I thrived because I was in a community that welcomed me and until our students, whether they’re trans, queer, gay, whatever, feel safe and supported in everything they do, then we have to continue doing this.”
However, before all this, Garner-Carpenter had to try dressing in drag. At 15, he dressed in drag for the first time. It wasn’t something he expected to enjoy.
“All of the gay men that I knew did drag,” Garner-Carpenter said. “And in my head, we all just kind of took turns doing it. … I realized that is obviously not the case. I was good at it and I enjoyed it. So I just started doing it regularly. At different times in my life, it’s paid my bills. Now it is an opportunity for me to give back to communities that have helped me.”
Lil’ Kim Chi also didn’t expect to enjoy performing in drag shows, but has come to love it.
“I did not want to do drag,” Kim Chi laughed. “I was a person that was like, ‘I’m never going to do drag.’ But then there was an open competition hosted by Monica Moree, who’s the host of the show, and a couple of my friends just threw me in there and we had a good time. So I just kept doing it.”
Garner-Carpenter graduated from K-State in 2010 with a degree in political science and has been with the show since its inception. Now, he performs across the country with groups like the Cincinnati Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
The K-State Drag Show acts as a fund-raising event for the LGBT Resource Center. In addition, Garner-Carpenter has a KSU Foundation account to provide mental health care access and financial access for students that identify as transgender.
“I happen to work for a large tech company that matches our donations up to $10,000 a year, so that makes what we do here even more important,” Garner-Carpenter said.
Kim Chi lives in Manhattan and is the entertainment coordinator for Little Apple Pride.
“Not only do I have the role of finding entertainers for our big festival in April, I also do some of the performing at our fundraisers,” Kim Chi said. “So we do like a drag bingo. We’ll do drag shows raise money.”
The preparation the two queens go through for each performance is hours long. Garner-Carpenter said he spends about an hour doing his makeup, but total time can be as much as three hours.
“As I am sure anyone that applies makeup knows, you can take as long as you want to,” Garner-Carpenter said. “The more you fuck with it, the worse it can get.”
Kim Chi said they spend two hours doing makeup along. After that, they have to pad their body to give the impression of hips and curves.
“We have to pad our bodies to make like fake hips and butts and bras,” Kim Chi said. “So that can take anywhere 10 to 15 to 30 minutes, depending on what I’m doing.”
While it takes substantial amounts of time to prepare, neither Kim Chi or Garner-Carpenter would change it. Performing is something they enjoy and by doing so, they help others.
The joy of performing is why Garner-Carpenter invites a new performer on stage each year.
“I make them experience something that is uniquely K-State,” Garner-Carpenter said. “I have performed around the world. I had a show in the Las Vegas Strip for two years … I was in front of huge crowds like this every night. There is something about a K-State welcome that is unlike anything else and so I make all of my performers step out on stage and soak that in for a minute.”
The audience can also experience a new world they have never seen. Kim Chi creates a world for the audience to escape to — a world they call “the funky world of drag.”
“I think it’s just the ability to kind of step outside of yourself and into another character because it’s an art, it’s a performance,” Kim Chi said. “I like to create an environment where the audience gets to also do the same thing and kind of step outside of their own life and just be with us for however long they’re there.”