DeKalb encourages expression

By Ginger Simons

DeKALB — Saturday, eight drag performers took the stage of the House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, to dazzle audience members with an explosion of glamorous makeup, stunning costumes and liberating self-expression.

Hosted by Queen Amethyst Vicious, “dRagtime” featured 1920s- and ’30s-themed music and costumes. Performers danced and lip-synced to both classic ragtime tunes and retrofied versions of contemporary songs, such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Radiohead’s “Creep.”

The energy in the room was palpable, as crowd members cheered and applauded the impressive music numbers, waving dollars to be collected by the queens and kings.

First-year theatre major Lee Manthley attended the event dressed up in an impressive drag getup. He said drag is an important part of the community for him, and he is glad there is a place for it in DeKalb. 

“I think it’s really fascinating,” Manthley said. “Coming here, I wasn’t really expecting there to be a big drag scene, but I think a lot of the student body at NIU is open to that sort of self-exploration and celebration of others.”

Though drag culture is more heavily associated with the city scene, MissFits has made DeKalb a regular performance spot, following their “Night of the Living Drag” event at Fargo Skate on Oct. 13. That event, too, drew an impressive crowd of both students and lifetime DeKalb residents, according to attendees.

{{tncms-inline content=”<p>"Queer men are condemned for expressing femininity. Drag allows us to empower ourselves through femininity.”</p> <p>Queen Georgia St. Pierre<br />Dragtime participant</p>” id=”526f8dd7-5b4e-43df-b0ca-df5bc5c02eab” style-type=”quote” title=”Queen Georgia St. Pierre” type=”relcontent”}}

Raised in DeKalb, Rachael West, 22, said she’s happy her hometown has embraced drag culture. She said it inspires creativity and expression.

“It’s so glamorous,” West said. “There’s such a tremendous amount of time and work and talent that goes into it, and it’s so clearly visible. It’s just so much raw beauty. The first time I saw it, it really took my breath away.”

Shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race have brought light to how intensive an artform drag can be. Now that drag is more prominent in mainstream culture, events like “dRagtime” are accessible to audiences that may have otherwise known little about drag culture.

The art of putting on an alternate persona allows people to explore themselves in an environment where all identities and forms of gender expression are celebrated. Manthley, trans-male who uses he/him pronouns, explained how drag is an opportunity to free oneself from the confines of gender.

“I really started getting into drag and actually doing it myself when I got to school because there weren’t many opportunities for me to do it back home,” Manthley said. “It’s important to have the opportunity to not take gender and sexuality so seriously and just have time to play. This celebration, it’s something that’s really special.”

Though it was only Queen Georgia St. Pierre’s second time taking the drag stage, her humorous yet bold performance to Tove Lo’s “Habits” drove the crowd wild. She said her schtick usually involves outlandish comedy but without sacrificing the glamour of her drag persona.

While drag has long been boiled down to “men in dresses,” the artform has taken on a role of empowerment, especially in regards to the portrayal of femininity. In drag, femininity is bold, strong and sometimes even intimidating.

“Queer men are often condemned for expressing femininity. Drag allows us to empower ourselves through femininity,” St. Pierre said.

She said for those who grew up in small towns, seeing drag accepted enthusiastically by non-metropolitan areas shows promise for the way societal views are progressing. Like Manthley, St. Pierre extolled the social significance of drag and how gratifying it is to see it embraced.

“I think it’s super important to reach out,” St. Pierre said. “Queer people are everywhere. Even though we tend to congregate more in the city, we still exist in these rural areas. It’s important that we have visibility and create some sort of community so that queer kids in the cornfields can feel accepted and know that there’s a way to express themselves.”

Events like “dRagtime” make it evident DeKalb has a thriving underground community that appreciates drag as an art form. Not only was it a fun-filled evening of glamour, costumes and dances, but it was also a celebration of individual expression and defying societal norms.

Clarification: The article read, “Manthley, assigned female at birth, uses he/him pronouns, said drag is an opportunity to be freed from the confines of gender.”

The article has been clarified to read “Manthley, trans-male who uses he/him pronouns, said…”.