In a dressing room littered with sequined dresses and bald wig forms, well-used make-up kits and electrical tape, a group of young Colorado men and women tried on a new identity for the night.
And in those new identities, they expressed a part of who they really are.
â€œItâ€™s all about sexuality. And with my sexuality, itâ€™s always going to be about power, and situations like this allow me to play with that power,â€ said Kalie McMonagle, a senior communication studies major and participant in CSUâ€™s fall drag show. â€œ… honestly, in a place like this, I feel at home.â€
In a performance she said was two and a half months in the making, McMonagle performed as Lady Gagaâ€™s gender-bending alter-ego Joe Calderone, brandishing a cigarette onstage while monologuing about Gagaâ€™s faults as a lover.
While more than 1,100 students came to this yearâ€™s drag show, McMonagleâ€™s brother refused, saying that what she does is â€œf***ing weird.â€
Meanwhile, her father did show up that night, and in the ultimate show of support he wore a dress.
â€œThis community is valued and worth something on campus, and itâ€™s things like this that actually start the conversation,â€ McMonagle said.
For Denver drag queen Mona Blanc, who performed the Yeah Yeah Yeahâ€™s â€œHeads Will Rollâ€ while clad in a bustier and seriously teased hair, drag performing is the ultimate way to take part in an often taboo conversation about gender norms and sexuality.
â€œItâ€™s like having a voice,â€ Blanc said.
Taking part in the conversation gives members of the gay community, like McMonagle and Blanc, a sense of acceptance about who they are â€“â€“ and this sense of acceptance has led the CSU drag show to grow from only 20 audience members just four semesters ago to more than 1,100 this year.
â€œQueens are the most confident people in the gay community,â€ said Aureria Essenem, another Denver drag queen who performed at CSUâ€™s drag show. Drag history and culture
When CSU Drag Show MCâ€™s Robin â€œda hoodâ€ Ward and Nate â€œMinajâ€ Todd took the stage during Saturday nightâ€™s drag show, they made it clear that drag is about more than the superficial.
â€œDrag is not about feather boas, false lashes and obnoxious facial hair,â€ Todd said. â€œItâ€™s about supporting a great cause.â€
While the term â€œdrag queenâ€ didnâ€™t originate until 1941, Ward said females have been performing as men as early as the 1700s, and that conversely, during the original performances of Shakespeareâ€™s work, all the female roles were played by men.
Since then, drag has become more than performance. For many, it has become a way of life.
Many drag queens and kings are organized into â€œdrag families,â€ which are presided over by drag â€œmothersâ€ and â€œfathersâ€ who construct rules for their house and often serve as role models for younger members of the drag community.
At the beginning of Desiree ManGold Sextonâ€™s career, when he was posting videos of himself performing on YouTube, he caught the eye of Denver drag queen Ginger Sexton, who took Desiree under her wing, eventually asking Desiree to be part of her drag family, and later, take her name.
â€œItâ€™s cool to be part of her legacy,â€ Desiree ManGold Sexton said.
For Mona Blanc, while drag families provide a good support system, they, like any other family, have their share of dysfunction.
â€œThereâ€™s always gonna be a little bit of bitchiness,â€œ Blanc said. â€œBut at the end of the day, everybody helps everybody.â€
The logistics of drag life
It cost $80 for the 6 inch heels that gave Desiree Mangold Sexton her signature strut. It cost $20 for her hip and butt-padding, $30 for a pair of white contacts, $30 for a fabulous wig, $3 for a six-pack of sequins and $15 for a bra, which she said she made a personal decision not to stuff.
â€œI usually visualize my outfit and then just throw it together,â€ she said. â€œAnd I usually donâ€™t wear a lot of boobs.â€
However, most drag queens do choose to add some female curves, like Essenem, who uses rice-stuffed panty hose.
Other drag queens use different techniques, such as â€œbreast platesâ€ and chest contouring.
â€œA lot of other queens use the plates,â€ Essenem said. â€œTheyâ€™re pretty much a tit necklace.â€
And while most drag queens need to enhance their naturally flat chests, some of their outfits require them to conceal another naturally less-flat region.
To hide these nether regions, many drag queens rely on tape, specifically, electrical tape.
â€œYou canâ€™t take it off without a shower and a lot of Vicodin,â€ Essenem said.
Drag kings have the opposite problem, which requires them to improvise techniques to look more typically manly.
Beyond the fake facial hair, kings rely on socks to give them that anatomically correct â€œbulge.â€
â€œHow big of a sock I use is dependent on how big my ego is that night,â€ said Britney Brightwell, who performed â€œJunk Floppingâ€ by Flight of the Conchords during Saturdayâ€™s drag show, clad in single-sock-stuffed Batman briefs.
While thereâ€™s a common misconception that drag queens are transsexuals, the queens at Saturdayâ€™s show wanted to clarify that when theyâ€™re offstage, they go back to being men.
â€œItâ€™s fun acting like this, but at the end of the day, itâ€™s just that: fun,â€ Desiree ManGold Sexton said. â€œI still go back to my life as a boy. A gay boy, but still a boy.â€
â€œWe love our penises,â€ Mona Blanc added.
While glamorous females onstage, offstage, the queens try to live their lives as gay men. And even in a normally accepting community, they encounter stigmas about their drag life.
Mona Blanc has encountered problems in the gay dating scene, saying that when she tells some men about her hobby, â€œthey run for the hills immediately.â€
But she added that those who know her well, specifically friends outside of the drag community, are totally accepting of her drag persona.
â€œMy friends f***ing love this sh*t,â€ she said.
And drag popularity at CSU has increased immensely, getting more fans and repeat performers for the show every semester.
Jasmine Burkes, a.k.a. Michael Jasmine, has performed in the CSU Drag Show for four years, and was first introduced to drag by her cousin, a CSU alum who performed last year as â€œJane Fondle.â€
This year, the sophomore dance major closed the show with the â€œThrillerâ€ dance.
â€œI love supporting this cause, and I love seeing how it has grown over the years,â€ she said.
Editorials Editor Colleen McSweeney and Content Managing Editor Allison Sylte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.