On Monday afternoon, Duncan Gelder carefully examined his makeup in the office of Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians and Everyone, or EAGLE. The table in front of him was packed with a plethora of foundations, powders, eyeshadows, blushes, pencils, and lipsticks.
“This is just my travel case,” he said.
A few hours later, Gelder, a junior performing arts major, showed up to the Piano Row Multipurpose Room with penciled eyebrows, red lipstick, fake lashes, and an abundance of eyeliner. He was wearing a shiny, tight-fitting American flag dress, fishnet stockings, and three red wigs.
For the Presidents’ Day Drag Show on Feb. 16, Gelder was no longer Gelder—now, he was Lucille. Gelder, who independently organized the show, invited two other drag queens to perform alongside him. Joining Lucille was Anya B. Hynz, the persona of Darian Carpenter, a senior visual and media arts major, and Jay Revlon, performing as Crystal Van Cartier, the “drag daughter” of Boston queen Sapphira Cristal, who is renowned on campus as the host of EAGLE’s annual Dragtoberfest. The three queens lip-synced and danced down the runway to an audience of over 50.
Dressed in a sequined white dress and huge black heels, Crystal opened the show with an homage to the national holiday as she lip-synced to “The Star Spangled Banner.” She then broke from elegance to energy in a lip sync of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” Later, she evoked a Cher aesthetic, wearing knee high black boots and a lacy leotard as she performed a dramatic routine to a salsa song.
Carpenter said that audiences should expect to be shocked, confused, and uncomfortable during his performances as Anya.
“I love to do more performance art,” said Carpenter. “I don’t like to get glammed up and totally beautiful, but I do put on a good show. And make you think about your sexuality.”
Wearing a plaid crop top and a red bandana around her blue wig, Anya showed some serious hip hop moves in her lip sync to “Beg for It” by Iggy Azalea. Later, she brought out her inner Sia in a contemporary dance to “Elastic Heart.” Clad in a blonde bowlcut wig, huge eyelashes, and some minimalist black underwear, she smeared black paint all over her body and face as she lip-synced, eventually pulling her bra down and tearing off her wig.
Gelder said that every queen has her own style of performance.
“I’m more of a comedy queen, campy, ridiculous,” said Gelder. “[Lucille] has such a high view of herself, she thinks that she’s the queen bee, but she’s actually kind of a train wreck.”
Lucille, the host of the show, gave a lip-synced rendition of “Hollywood” by Marina and the Diamonds. The performance, which opens with the lyrics “American queen is the American dream,” included a red, white, and blue feather boa, patriotic streamers, and red Solo cups thrown into the audience. The final act of the show was Lucille’s lip-sync cover of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” during which she alternated between eating cream cheese frosting with her fingers and swallowing what appeared to be pills. After she stripped off her floral silk dress to reveal an orange, prison-themed leotard, she put the apparent pills directly in the frosting container.
Gelder, who said he started publicly doing drag at EAGLE’s Dragtoberfest competition his freshman year, said drag often makes people uncomfortable.
“Sometimes you get these ‘bros’ that show up, and they’re always sort of shocked by it, but I feel like those are my favorites,” said Gelder. “Whenever I’m performing and I need to drag someone up on stage… I seek out the most masculine ‘bro’-y guy that I can find, and I’m like, ‘Ooh, let’s duct tape you to a chair!’”
Gelder emphasized the difference between drag queens and transgender individuals.
“I can’t speak on what it means to be trans,” said Gelder. “Some trans people start out doing drag because it gives them a chance to step into a different body and perform, but… not every trans person is a drag queen, not every drag queen is actually trans.”
Carpenter also said that drag queens don’t necessarily want to be women.
“We’re basically actors,” said Carpenter.
For Gelder, drag performances are a way of tackling the contrived roles for different genders in society.
“Drag to me is like gender as a performance art,” said Gelder. “You see people like Kim Kardashian—well, they have super contoured cheekbones and big lips, so what if I turn that up all the way? Am I still just as pretty?”
Gelder said there isn’t anything inherently gendered about makeup, dresses, or high heels, and that the associations society does make are arbitrary.
“People are like, ‘Oh my god, those guys can walk in heels better than I can!’” said Gelder. “There’s no law saying only girls can wear them.”
Like Gelder, Carpenter said he sees gender as a social construct that is fundamentally a performance.
“I’m someone who goes to H&M and I look at both sections... and that’s just when I’m being me, being Darian,” said Carpenter. “We have this construct of how people are supposed to behave and supposed to dress, and I think drag is just another outlet for people to say, ‘It doesn’t always have to be like this.’”