Miss Victoria Lace and Miss Cee’Mour Cox, two professional drag queens, held court at the All Ivy Drag Competition on Frist Campus Center’s South Lawn. “Let’s see what’s edible,” Victoria commented ominously to Cee’Mour near the beginning of the show as they scanned the audience in the tent for “tasty” men. By the end of the evening, Victoria had given several semi-astonished male students lap dances and pantomimed fellatio. Naturally, the two emcees were dressed as high parodies of female performers, sporting gaudy, theatrical makeup and wigs. They changed costumes at several points during the evening, though their outfits were invariably combinations of sequins, iridescent lamé, bright geometric patterns, and high heels.
Between student performances, Victoria and Cee’Mour not only performed their own high energy dance and lip-sync numbers, but also roved through the tent, badgering male, female, queer, and straight spectators about Princeton and their sex lives. Midway through the evening, Victoria accused a belligerent, presumably heterosexual heckler of being a self-repressed sufferer of a “Brokeback Mountain” complex.
In contrast, the rotund and double-chinned Cee’Mour, primarily mocked her own campy, larger-than-life image. She repeatedly mentioned how gassy her large dinner had made her. During her performance of “Man, I Feel Like a Woman”, she interspersed her lip-syncing with prerecorded interludes of flatulence. Then at the end of her performance, she worked the audience for laughs by dabbing the perspiration on her face with her silicone bra insert.
A drag performance has two conflicting elements: challenging gender roles and embracing gender stereotypes. Of the eight Princeton students competing on April 14th (the “All Ivy” was a misnomer this year, since no students from other schools competed), genderqueer spoken-word activist Jean/Gene Beebe ’10 had the most elaborate up-front explanation of her performance’s commentary on gender. In addition to her usual pixie haircut and angular-framed glasses, Jean/Gene wore army fatigues and combat boots. Her most conspicuous accessory, though, was poking out of her trouser fly, a lavender-colored dildo that Beebe insisted was skin color. “You can touch it. It feels real,” she said, thrusting in my direction. (The dildo’s texture did not strike me as particularly lifelike, but, then again, I have not had the necessary contact with a wide variety of penises to make that judgment.)
“I’m performing as Rocko,” Beebe explained when asked for biographical details about her character. “He’s a nineteen-year old vet – discharged from the army. He discovered he was gay when he lusted after a fellow soldier.” adding after a brief pause, “Wearing a dildo is a political commentary on what constitutes nudity in a public space. I’m especially interested in seeing how a police officer will react.”
The Drag Competition was not only a wholesome substance-free Alcohol Initiative event, but also an LGBT Center, Pride Alliance, and Queer Graduate Caucus event. Naturally, the audience was a progressive and highly tolerant subset of Princeton’s population. But the tension was palpable in the tent when Beebe pulled out the dildo during her performance, concealing it at first with a black cloth. After she briefly covered her face with the black cloth, she gripped the exposed appendage with both her hands. As Beebe ran up and down the stage, simulating masturbation and arcing her back in mock ecstasy, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne seemed to watch in fear from the judges’ table, chewing his gum nervously, perhaps wondering whether Beebe would take the performance to even more risqué territory.
The dildo was not the only reason why Beebe’s number was unusual. Unlike the other entrants, Beebe hardly bothered to lip-sync to her chosen song, Eddie Rabbitt’s “American Boy”. And in contrast with her competitor’s often elaborate dance numbers, Beebe’s dancing largely consisted of stomping her feet from side to side in time with the music when she wasn’t pretending to masturbate. But Beebe’s lack of grace fit the character she was trying to stereotype. After all, how many red-blooded (albeit repressed homosexual) Oklahoma boys can dance or lip-sync at the same time?
Beebe was not the only student whose performance went above and beyond the typical drag parody of the opposite sex. Yujhán Claros ‘10, performing as “Annie”, strutted down the catwalk to the pulse of Annie Lennox’s “Walking on Broken Glass.” Near the end of the performance, despite protests from the crowd, he proudly ripped off his red wig to reveal a closely shaved head and continued lip-syncing, which was either a proclamation of the irrelevance of gender, an allusion to Annie Lennox’s historically butch haircut – or possibly both.
Jenn Ruskey ’07, who has represented Princeton at the competition before, successfully lampooned the greasy-haired, stubbly sleaziness of the male gender, beginning her performance as “Carl Hunks” wearing nothing but a wifebeater, underwear, and numerous necklaces and metal chains. She reclined in a chair, opened a copy of Playboy, grinned lecherously, and reached for her briefs. But instead of pulling out a dildo or pretending to pleasure herself, Ruskey slid a banana from her underwear, which she proceeded to peel and partially eat before she threw it out into the audience. The crowd went wild, and continued to cheer as Ruskey began to slip on her clothes, reversing the traditional striptease.
Ruskey and Lorena Lareina ’10 were crowned as the respective Drag King and Queen. After the show, Dean Thomas Dunne was coy on the judging process, which he said was based on a set of highly structured criteria that gave heavy weight to the contestant’s enthusiasm and preparation. “Jenn’s was very creative. We were impressed with the props. The reverse striptease was really creative,” he admitted. Dunne was enthusiastic about the event, which he has judged before. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Princeton students to network…The contestants expressed some strong opinions. I think it was fantastic.”
Many spectators were heard grumbling about the competition’s length (two and half hours), though organizer Paul Pawlowksi ’07 was unsurprisingly upbeat. “The competitors were of an excellent caliber, and the drag queen hostesses were hand picked and truly delivered great performances. However, more enthusiasm from other Ivy League schools would have been greatly appreciated.”
The gender identity conflict in the drag competition also played out offstage on Saturday night. At issue was the same question explored by the drag queens and kings: How do you assert and express your sexual identity? One Pride Alliance official offered commentary on the competition on the condition of anonymity, not out of concern for an intolerant heterosexual majority or for criticizing an event sponsored in part by the group, but out of “fear of Jean/Gene [Beebe]’s wrath”. Beebe’s masturbatory performance itself was not upsetting. “It was what was expected and it was her prerogative,” the official said. At issue was Beebe’s recent claim (“The Gender Revolution”, Nassau Weekly, April 12) that queer women have a low profile on campus. “You don’t need to be some psycho-freak liberal to be queer,” the official said. “I don’t think [Jean/Gene] gets that. She thinks that any queer that doesn’t want to constantly confront people is an assimilationist. But you never heard that from me because we all love each other in the Pride Alliance.”