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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, June 21, 2024

WEEKENDER: Amid threats of political invisibility, ‘Drag Me To Tufts’ puts queer art in the spotlight

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The Jumbo Drag Collective is pictured.

On Friday, Tufts played host to some of the biggest names in queer pop culture as the Tufts University Social Collective partnered with the LGBT Center to put on “Drag Me To Tufts: A Trans Day of Visibility Extravaganza.”Hundreds filledCohen Auditorium to witness debut performances from four Tufts-based drag performers representing the newly formed Jumbo Drag Collective, as well as headliners Kerri Colby and Raja Gemini, two wildly successful “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (2009–) contestants. 

The show opened with a performance from emcee Dr. LaWhore Vagistan, who then introduced the members of JDC. Each member paraded their drag persona on stage prior to taking a seat at one of the tables along the stage’s wings, where they would cheer on the JDC’s four performers: Hyacinth, Kulfi Jaan, Lavender Scare and Nephesh the Slug King.

Lining the wings and front rows of the audience with small, cabaret-style tables was a conscious departure from Cohen’s typical “theatrical separation of stage and audience” in the event planning process, as JDC co-facilitatorLee Romaker explained in an interview with the Daily. 

“It was really important for us to have not just the performers alone on a big stage all by themselves,” Romaker, a senior, said. “It was important for us to have other people in drag on stage and around them, rooting for them, cheering for them, making it feel more intimate, more like a drag show.”

An emphasis on making the event a bona fide drag show, by and for transgender people, was shared by joel gutierrez, the LGBT Center’s associate director who played a large part in planning the night.

“We take very seriously incorporating our values into our programming,” gutierrez explained. “Making sure that it’s reflecting the students that we serve, making sure that our programs center trans and nonbinary students, center students of color and feel accessible to everyone, [is important to us].”

Though organizers expressed interest in designing the drag performance aspects of the night to be as high quality as possible, they certainly didn’t overlook the special meaning given to “Drag Me To Tufts” by virtue of the date on which it was held.

Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated every year on March 31, and is distinct from Nov. 20’s Transgender Day of Remembrance

“Trans Day of Visibility is, in a way, the opposite [of Transgender Day of Remembrance], to celebrate life and to celebrate who we are,” gutierrez said.

Celebrations abounded on stage, as students bore witness to their peers’ pride, glitter and butt tattoo-filleddrag debuts. However perhaps no moment was more celebrated than Vagistan’s introduction of Kerri Colby, a transgender woman of color herself. In an interview with the Daily, Colby explained the special meaning Transgender Day of Visibility holds for her.

“Trans Day of Visibility is actually huge for me, because that’s … [the] three year anniversary of my transition,” Colby said. “I started my hormone journey and transitioning publicly on Trans Day of Visibility in 2020.”

Colby, who placed ninth on the 14th season of “Drag Race”in 2022, was joined by Raja Gemini, who won the show’s third season in 2011. Each queen delivered two dynamic numbers: Kerri began by cartwheeling and drop-splitting her way into audience members’ hearts — and pockets — as Flo Milli’s “Conceited” (2022) thumped over the speakers, while Raja struttedthe walk that made her famous down the auditorium’s aisles, lip-syncing along to RuPaul’s “Supermodel (You Better Work)” (1992).

World-class entertainment was not hard to come by, though it was certainly not all that the event’s organizers hoped to bestow upon the crowd. In past months, an increasing number of bills aiming to limit the spaces in which drag can be performed, or ban drag altogether, have been introduced across state legislatures. Colby is highly attuned to the discrimination these bills encourage in drag and queer communities more broadly

“If you do any research into what the premise of a lot of these drag bans are in these more conservative states,” Colby explained, “It is a way to scapegoat into discriminating against someone’s identity because these laws and bans that are being imposed and brought up in court really are very broad.”

Having grown up in a conservative family herself, Colby, who hails from Texasa state currently considering four separate laws targeting drag showsknows firsthand the hardships countless transgender people are at risk of facing, should any proposed drag bans take effect.

“This is just going to create so many unsafe spaces for people that are just trying to live their life and go to the grocery store and run their errands,” Colby said. “And lo and behold, somebody might be like, ‘Oh, you look like a drag queen to me, you’re going to jail.’”

Romaker and gutierrez divulged similar concerns, explaining how, more than the lip-syncs and fur-coat-to-gown-to-bodysuit reveals, the true takeaway of this Transgender Day of Visibility event should be awareness and resources about ways to best express allyship.

“I think a lot of us don’t know how to address things that feel so out of our control,” gutierrez said. “And a lot of that just looks like educating ourselves and sending money and supporting groups that exist within your area and the people that you love.”

Romaker also emphasized how important it was that viewers walk away with information on actionable steps they can take, explaining how JDC put together aresource document within the program for where people can donate, volunteer, learn about trans legislation.”

“Drag Me To Tufts” perfectly encapsulated all that drag is, as well as so much of what it should be. As our country hangs over a timely precipice, as transgender people and drag artists face myriad threats of invalidation, insecurity and invisibility, it can often seem that half the battle is simply showing up. Tufts and the JDC certainly showed up — as performers and audience members. And the other half? “Drag Me To Tufts” did that part too.

They could have simply had four student performers who lip-synced and danced as they proudly opened for world-renowned drag artists. They accomplished that, but they also ended their opening act with a powerful protest march, carrying signs painted with slogans like “stop trans genocide” and “cis ‘allies’ say something.” Not only did they invite two of the biggest names in drag to perform, but they also made sure those queens were transgender people of color who spoke on a panelfollowing the show in order to drive home the importance of intersectional visibility in the queer community.

Tufts students would never pass up the opportunity to attend a glitzy, star-studded (free) drag show, which is why it is all the more impressive that the event’s planners made explicit strides to theme the evening around the stories of nonbinary people and people of color, and meaningful action that allies can take. TUSC, JDC, the LGBT Center and the entire community should consider “Drag Me To Tufts” a marked success — shantay, it definitely stays.

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