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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Creating community through on-campus drag

<p>Avenue pointing at the announcement of “Beginner Drag Workshop.”</p>

Avenue pointing at the announcement of “Beginner Drag Workshop.”

I’ll never forget my 17-year old self, just two months away from starting my academic career at Middlebury College, wearing a SoHo beauty supply store pair of lashes and trying to strut my way into one of Brooklyn’s top drag competitions. I held my close friend’s hand while simultaneously trying to break in a new pair of high heels and glue on my last few press-on nails, all while making my best effort not to trip on the bumpy concrete street. Little did I know, I was about to discover the importance of fostering a community within the drag scene and apply this to Middlebury College’s campus. 

As we entered the Cuban club, we were greeted by Staci, one of my close drag artist friends who was hoping to take the crown home that night. My friend and I took our seats, ordered guacamole, chips and sodas before taking out our single dollar bills in preparation for the show to begin. The lights dimmed and the competition host, Janelle No. 5, walked towards center stage, causing the entire room to begin screaming in excitement. 

Throughout the night, I noticed how Janelle had the capability to bring a group of strangers together and foster a community over the course of just four hours. She engaged with the audience, shared positive affirmations and got the entire room to start dancing, laughing and jumping on their feet with her performances. I then realized how drag had the capability of creating a tight knit community. For those three hours, nothing else mattered and we all felt safe with one another. I kept thinking, “I want to be like her.” I instantly wanted to be a part of this drag community. I met drag artists that were just starting up in the NYC drag scene and were 18 and 19 years old. Prior to meeting them, I had never met people my age who were so comfortable in their own skin as queer individuals. I saw how community in the drag scene can not only boost confidence levels, but can also allow you to explore your own creative and gender expression. 

With this newfound inspiration to be a part of the drag community, I went to Ulta with my friends and bought new products with the hope of practicing my makeup more. Over months, I kept practicing makeup in my dorm room. February 2022 was a milestone in my drag career as I traveled to Sarasota, Florida with one of my friends. In a warmer climate, I was able to experiment with more feminine clothing for my drag. I hand selected outfits, like colorful crop tops, swimsuits and latex pants, that I would wear in photoshoots. While in Florida, I got into drag multiple times and conducted photoshoots in museums, community pools and even at a shooting range. 

I took this risk because I believe that drag is a walking and living representation of creative expression and joy. If one person could smile or see themselves in me, as I did when I saw the hyperfem (hyper feminine) queens in Brooklyn, then I consider the risk to be worth it. To me, drag also helps contribute to community building because visibility and representation can help others see themselves in certain spaces and feel inclined to learn more or join these groups. I was given tons of love on social media when I posted my drag photoshoots from Florida. Many Middlebury students were messaging me saying that I inspired them and wished that they had the courage to start drag. I realized how Middlebury desperately needed a community that embraced and gave people the tools to start drag. After this, I wondered how I could create a larger drag community on campus, like the one I had experienced in Brooklyn. I remembered how welcomed I felt by the NYC drag community before I was even interested in starting drag. It soon became my personal mission to create a Middlebury drag community that would continue to exist for years to come. 

As the 2023 spring Middlebury drag show was approaching, I realized that the other two student performers would be graduating and I would be the only student drag artist left. The Middlebury drag community has always been small and I wanted to expand it and give opportunities for inquiring people to dip their toes into this art form. I understand first-hand how nerve-racking it can be to stand in front of a large audience — especially in drag — come up with a number, practice makeup, learn how to walk in heels, and memorize choreography without any previous experience. So, I created the first ever Beginner Drag Workshop on campus, with the help of Middlebury Queers and Allies and Vlad the Impaler, my incredible co-host. The workshop spanned two days, the first involving a quick history of drag, basic makeup skills, and brainstorming a drag name and persona. The second workshop day consisted of learning performance skills and drag etiquette. The workshop was a beautiful experience. We were able to create a community of people eager to learn the art form of drag. After all, drag is a community that is meant to be shared with people. I am so happy to say that as of now, three of my workshop participants will be making their drag debuts at the Middlebury spring drag show. These drag artists are juniors, sophomores and first years, so Middlebury will continue to have its own drag presence after our seniors graduate. After the workshop, I came to the conclusion that having a community of drag artists and allies on campus is not only crucial, but needed. 

I am committed to continuing to bring drag to the Middlebury campus and use it as a way to create community not only with drag artists, but with other students and faculty who wish to learn and support drag. Having a flourishing drag community on campus is absolutely needed in order to provide a safe space for those interested in expanding their knowledge on drag or don’t know where to get started. Having a growing community presence also creates more visibility on campus to show that we are here as drag artists and will continue to make names for ourselves as artists on campus. I hope to continue my workshop next year and introduce drag brunches, open stages, and bring guest speakers who participate in the art of drag to campus. My goal is that these events will continue to grow the on-campus drag community and inspire others to feel confident in their own skin and experiment with clothing, makeup and accessories. 

This summer, you can catch me in NYC, where I was born and raised, making even more photoshoots and performing at any drag show that isn't 21+ — I still have a year left before the big 21st birthday! If you're interested in starting drag, be on the lookout for next year's beginner drag workshop or message me on Instagram: @alexandriaavenue to get started!