Eau Claire’s growing drag community embraces inclusivity

Back to Article
Back to Article

Eau Claire’s growing drag community embraces inclusivity

Medusa Stone, Wisconsin drag queen and United States Air Force Veteran, contouring her face before her performance in the

Medusa Stone, Wisconsin drag queen and United States Air Force Veteran, contouring her face before her performance in the "Christmas Drag Show" later that evening. © Kinsey Johnson 2018

Medusa Stone, Wisconsin drag queen and United States Air Force Veteran, contouring her face before her performance in the "Christmas Drag Show" later that evening. © Kinsey Johnson 2018

Medusa Stone, Wisconsin drag queen and United States Air Force Veteran, contouring her face before her performance in the "Christmas Drag Show" later that evening. © Kinsey Johnson 2018

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

By Kinsey Johnson

Although it’s only a few minutes past 7 p.m., muffled shouting to Ariana Grande’s “Thank You, Next” is accompanied by stomping thuds from the bar above. A barely-visible orange and yellow-tiled countertop lays under an array of brushes and makeup palettes. The air is as cool as the pale-gray wall holding up a vanity mirror long enough for three queens to get ready at once. Medusa Stone, 27-year-old United States Air Force Veteran and drag queen, powders her cheekbones as she gazes into the mirror. Stone has been performing in drag for six months and was last month’s winner of Scooter’s “Amateur Spotlight Night” hosted by Khloe Wold, where she was awarded two numbers in the “Christmas Drag Show” she’d be performing in four hours later.

“I am an abstract, ‘avant garde’ makeup queen,” Stone said as she began drawing in her dramatically-arched eyebrows.

Queens can often be found at Scooter’s, Eau Claire’s only local gay bar located on Galloway Street. Scooters is an environment where drag queens can perform for either their first time or their fifteenth year. It is the home of many drag events including monthly “Amateur Spotlight Night,” “Drag Queen Bingo” every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, and the “Christmas Drag Show” last Saturday night.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, “Drag is a type of entertainment where people dress up and perform, often in highly stylized ways.” But to many queens performing in the Eau Claire area, drag is a sisterhood, as well as a safe space for experimentation and self-expression.

“You have this character that you create in your head,” Stone said. “You’ve got to embrace who you want your character to be. Your character is kind of like your second persona, it really is. It is for me anyways. My character is everything that Nic can’t be.”

Like Stone, 25-year-old Devine Intervention is a new member of Eau Claire’s drag community and has been performing in the area for about five months. Intervention moved to Eau Claire about a year and a half ago to pursue her body-piercing career. She was inspired to try performing after attending her first few shows at Scooter’s.

“The amount of energy and the pure joy it seemed like they were having on stage made me want to try it. And then Khloe has had this Amateur Spotlight Competition once a month and I’m just like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to try it, if I don’t like it I don’t have to do it.’ But now I love it and I keep doing it. I couldn’t imagine myself a year ago being in the spotlight and now I am and it’s really scary, but it’s thrilling.”

Once Intervention began routinely performing at Scooter’s she was welcomed into the Nyland “family.” Intervention explained that the Eau Claire’s drag community is home to about five drag families, including the Nyland’s, Ashton’s, Degrant’s, DeLarue’s, and the Wold’s. These families form when an experienced drag artist “adopts” a new performer and takes them under their wing.

“Usually it’s like a mentor. Like, a ‘drag mother’ teaches the ‘drag children’ since they’ve been doing it longer. I joined the Nyland’s because I really get along with each and every one of them and we formed this bond. It’s like a big giant family-friendship thing.”

31-year-old Khloe Wold, host to Scooter’s Amateur Drag Night and “Drag Mother” of the Wold family, has lived in Eau Claire since she was a child. She attended her first drag show when she was 22 and has been performing ever since.

“We’re very different in Eau Claire than even in any other cities in the fact that we’re a very tight night group, you know, we definitely look at each other like sisters. We’re very supportive of each other, we are there for each other good and bad. We’re very close friends in real life too. We definitely are a family and that’s really expanded especially in the past four years, drag has just gotten huge especially in Eau Claire. We have a solid 20 performers right now and we’re all close with each other and have our little families.”

Wold has performed in events all over Wisconsin and Minnesota, including The Fire Ball, one of the biggest drag events held each spring in Eau Claire since it became an on-campus event in 2012.

“When we first started it wasn’t a big thing at all,” Wold said. “It’s blown into this monster that it is now and it’s just really incredible to be a part of it.”

When The Fire Ball first began it was held for one night in the Ojibwe Grand Ballroom. The event was not ticketed, and had about 400 attendees. The Fire Ball has since grown and is now ticketed and divided into two nights, selling out of the nearly 1,500 total tickets offered in 2015 and every year thereafter.

Christopher Jorgenson, director of UW – Eau Claire’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, was thrilled about this progress and said he created The Fire Ball to feel more like an experience than an event.

“People feel very strongly about drag, whether they have had any experience or not,” Jorgenson said. “The Fire Ball allows on a large-scale format to expose people to a culture they may feel very strongly about but have zero experience with.”

Tickets for The Fire Ball’s upcoming shows are now on sale for the nights of February 22-23, where guests are encouraged to dress and present themselves however they please. Jorgenson looks forward to seeing guests of The Fire Ball dressing in drag and expressing themselves in ways they may not always be able to.

“The tagline for The Fire Ball has always been ‘come as you are, come as you want to be,’” Jorgenson said. “It’s an invitation to embrace what The Fire Ball offers, which is an opportunity and a space where you can experiment, or you can allow people to see your truest expression as far as your gender is concerned.”

Each year The Fire Ball follows a theme that Jorgenson likes to fill with meaning. 2019’s upcoming theme “APOQLYPSE” was inspired by Jorgenson when he was visiting San Francisco for the Eau Queer film festival, a festival held on UW – Eau Claire’s campus with films selected from the LGBTQ+ international film festival Frameline42.

“I saw this film short that really spoke to what I wanted to do with ‘APOQLYPSE,’ especially ‘APOQLYPSE’ with a ‘Q,’” Jorgenson said. “And it’s marginalized folks, in particular queer people, are used to being demonized, being called ‘unnatural,’ or ‘abominations,’ ‘monsters,’ ‘wicked,’ those sorts of things. And to some degree, varying by person, that ends up affecting how you see yourself. It’s difficult not to internalize those messages when you hear it constantly. And so I love the idea of engaging that in a way that allows people who feel as though they’ve been cast out as ‘wicked’ or ‘unnatural’ to define for themselves what that means. So we’re embracing ‘monstrosity’, we’re embracing ‘unnatural abominations’ so that we can decide for ourselves how we define that. So it’s like this idea of reclaiming something that was harmful, but using in a way that’s empowering.”

In correlation to the theme, The Fire Ball is often used as a platform to discuss various social or political issues, including the “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too” movements. This year, The Fire Ball will focus its attention on transgender lives and their importance, standing up against recent efforts by the Trump Administration to erase what it means to be non-binary, gender non-conforming. According to The New York Times, the Trump Administration is considering “the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law” in attempt to restrict transgender people from serving in the military.

In addition, The Fire Ball will be focusing on the collision between the transgender community and drag culture, a topic that can be controversial due to the LGBTQ+ community’s differing ideas on who can be a drag queen.

“There is that dissonance,” Jorgenson said. “And so how can we have these productive conversations to be mindful of drag and yet not squelch opportunities to explore gender performance? A couple of our performers are trans but also do drag. It’s this complicated, kind of fabulous conversation that you can have.”

Despite the country’s political climate and its differing opinions on drag queen qualifications, queens describe Eau Claire’s drag culture as a place of inclusivity for individuals who identify with any gender identity.

“A lot of mainstream drag isn’t what drag is about,” Intervention explained. “They’re starting to be like, ‘this is what you have to do, this is what you can’t do,’ and drag shouldn’t be like that. Drag is expressing yourself. Sure there are things that might make you look better, but just do you and do whatever you want. You can be a cisgender female and do drag, they call them ‘bio queens’ and there’s different terms for everything. If you want to perform and do eccentric drag makeup and stuff, it doesn’t have to be of a male. Drag is kind of limitless.”

Stone agreed, embracing the idea of inclusivity for anyone who wants to perform in Eau Claire.

“There is a lot of controversy between some people because some people are like, ‘Drag is men being women.’ But at the same time, society is changing so, so much… If you’re going to go through the pain, regardless of what gender, sexuality, orientation, whatever, to go through the pain to do what you love and express who you are on the inside and to get paid for it, you’re a drag queen.”