By Gianluca D’Elia
As I was checking out at Hot Topic to buy a spiky silver necklace, the cashier told me, “I could totally see you in this.” I’m still not sure if he was being sarcastic. That day, I was wearing a flannel, jeans and Nike sneakers, and I still had a full beard. Little did the cashier know that five days later, I would be sitting in a greenroom pulling up a pair of fishnet stockings, putting on a black dress and making my debut as a drag queen named Finessa.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the queens on TV and the drag queens I spent my time with at Rider’s annual Drag Race on Jan. 27, it’s that drag queens don’t care what anyone thinks.
Backstage at the Bart Luedeke Center Theater, I was sitting with a small group of male students — and one female, who was cautiously drawing on a beard in the mirror — who were squeezing size 12 feet into high heels, gluing on eyelashes and bobby pinning curly wigs into place on their heads preparing for Rider’s second annual Drag Race.
Aside from the occasional episodes of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” I’ve seen over the years, the world of drag was new to me, but I was ecstatic to participate in an aspect of gay culture that is both liberating and entertaining for the first time. Although I was a newcomer, some performers from this year’s show were seasoned veterans. Truman Harris, a freshman musical theater major, started his drag career in his hometown of Spokane, Washington. He now performs professionally in Philadelphia twice a month.
“I had a number of friends who are already involved in the industry,” Harris said as he glued on a thick, glittery eyelash. He first befriended the Seattle-based queen James Majesty, who was featured in the most recent season of the online TV series “Dragula.”
“I just wanted to get into drag, so I messaged him online and said, ‘What do I do?’” Harris recalled. “He told me, ‘Find a queen in your area.’ So I reached out to some drag queens in my area, and I really got to learn a lot from them about the ins and the outs and things like how to block your brows, how to book a gig, how to pad and do your makeup.”
Meanwhile, senior theater performance major Arnaldo Carrasquillo first became interested in drag when a friend turned him onto “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He took the stage for his debut as La Dueña. Despite a broken foot, he gave an endearing lip sync of Jennifer Hudson’s “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” raising his crutches in the air victoriously at the end of the song, a boot one foot and a black high-heel on the other.
“I love how drag blends the line between genders,” Carrasquillo said as he put on a wavy brown wig backstage. “And I love that the lip sync lets my emotion and passion make a great performance into a replica of the female original.”
2018’s drag race was packed with one extravagant and gaudy number after another, including two performances — by sophomore behavioral neuroscience major Caleb Holt as Coco Chanel and sophomore English major Sean Hubert as Spectra Electra — that involved giving members of the audience a lap dance. Holt even threw fake $100 bills into the audience. There was even a drag king and queen duo, made up of freshman music education majors Leigh Huber and Devon Barnes, who performed “You’re the One that I Want” from Grease.
After each queen gave their individual performance, a Q&A and a catwalk followed, and the competition concluded with a group lip sync to Chelley’s “I Took the Night.” Last year’s winner, senior English major John Modica, also gave a thrilling performance of “Telephone” by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé before the winner was announced.
By the end of the night, the eight drag competitors raised over $600 for Relay For Life. Hubert took first place after a captivating performance of “Can’t Be Tamed” by Miley Cyrus and multiple costume changes.
Harris, among others, is hopeful that the tradition will return to Rider for a third year.
“This brings a lot of visibility to the gay community,” he said. “It introduces a different form of entertainment to a crowd that normally wouldn’t be able to see it.”
See the full photo gallery from this event at theridernews.com.
Printed in the 1/31/18 edition.