During the twenty years I’ve been on this earth, I’ve spent roughly eight of them knowing I was part of the LGBTQ+ community. Within those eight years, I’ve spent two of them feeling secure in my identity as gay. Finally, I’ve been openly out about sexuality for the last one and a half years of those previous two. Now, you may be asking why this breakdown is important or what these numbers mean and/or add up to. I’ll give you an answer: it was well past time for me to attend my first drag show, and what an experience it was.
On April 25th, Lamberton Hall was taken over by a flurry of rainbows, sparkles, and every aspect of pride that you could ever imagine. Spectrum, Lehigh’s undergraduate LGBTQ+ advocacy and support group, partnered with University Productions, Global Union, the Dean of Students Office, and the Pride Center to host its 13th Annual Drag Show. The goal for the night, in addition to celebrating the gays, was to raise money for the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown. Bradbury-Sullivan provides LGBT support services, arts and culture programs, health programs, and more for the LGBTQ+ community in the Lehigh Valley. We were told from the beginning that if we could raise at least $200, PRISM (the graduate student LGBTQ+ support group) would match in funding. With dollar bills in hand, we sat back as the lights went down and prepared ourselves for the start of the show. I wasn’t ready.
Oh, did I forget to mention that fundraising took the form of giving tips to the drag artists while they were on stage? And sometimes the dollar bills weren’t handed to the performers; sometimes they were thrown. Incredible.
First to the stage was The Chosen Family, a group comprised of the Pride Center staff. They got the crowd going with their performance of “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. Both the song choice and the obvious bonds between the performers on stage reminded us all of the fact that that night was about family. I looked around at all the people clapping with me as the performers strutted up and down the stage and truly felt like I was part of something bigger than just me—I was more than one gay girl in a rainbow sea.
After The Chosen Family came Sutton Fearce, one of the special guests and MC for the night. Sutton Fearce is a professional drag performer out of Philadelphia, and her expertise was apparent from the moment she took the stage. Her platform boots, lime green dress, and voluminous pink hair, paired with a version of Rihanna’s “B*tch Better Have My Money,” immediately demanded our attention. Like I said before, I was not ready. Rather than b*tches better having her money, it was all about b*tches having her McDonald’s McRib. Yes, you heard me correctly. McDonald’s McRib meal. Nonetheless, she was powerful, graceful, confident, and it was no surprise when a flurry of dollars came her way. It was well-deserved.
Taking over the mic after her performance, she gave a shout out to all the gay girls and boys, bisexual people, and trans and nonbinary people—she even thanked all those straight girls who have so famously supported the community. Truly everyone was welcomed (sorry straight guys, you were welcome to come though). Ace Evy, representing Moravian Spectrum, came next with a performance to Ariana Grande’s “Greedy” that elicited many cheers from the crowd. Flora and Flaunta (representing the Community Growers) did the utmost justice to the iconic “Fergalicious” with her poise and smooth moves that would’ve had Fergie herself shook. Mary Magdelish, dressed as the fiercest Mad Hatter I’ve ever seen, was next in the performance line up. Since I usually study with Ella Henderson’s “Ghost” in the background, I struggled to see how it would translate into a performance—and don’t get me wrong, it slaps—but Mary Magdelish gladly proved me wrong with a fiery strut and commanding rhythm.
Sutton herself expressed her excitement for the next performers in the line up, and their names in and of themselves were enough of a hint that we were in for a treat. Lil’ Shortcake & Lil’ Cheesecake, wearing tutu-like pink dresses, took to the stage with black sheets covering their faces. As the opening notes of Alaska Thunderfuck’s “Puppet” reverberated off the walls, the sheets were thrown, as was any ounce of cool I had left. With faces painted to match marionette dolls, sky-high hairstyles, and middle-fingers waving, Lil’ Shortcake & Lil’ Cheesecake made me want to dump my wallet onto the stage as they reminded everyone in the room that they were NO one’s puppet. In fact, I did get up from my seat and throw whatever dollars I had on me. Trust me—I had to.
Other performers of the night included special guest, gender queer drag artist Andrew Oddgenus who graced us all with performances to “Andrew in Drag” by The Magnetic Fields and “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Naturally, the second performance warranted Freddie Mercury’s famous yellow leather jacket, and naturally, the crowd loved it. Oscar Beguiled and Lamotrigina were double threats as they sang and danced to Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” and Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need a Hero,” respectively. Maya Hedda Hertz took us to the beach with her number to “The Tide is High” by Blondie, and Gendora Bent had us absolutely shook with her commanding presence while performing Todrick’s Hall “Wrong Bitch.” She had a pipe. Like, a steel pipe. Let me know if you can think of anything more powerful than that. Amelia Rosé brought in the iconic RuPaul’s Drag Race with her performance to “Read U Wrote U,” and Sutton Fearce blessed us with her second performance to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Had there been any question in my mind about whether or not I should attend another drag show after this one, Fortissa Hoe answered it for me. Her fishnet stockings, heels that would’ve killed my ankles, and hair more luscious than the frizzled mass on my head has ever known made it clear that she’d be leaving an impression. And boy, did she. Dancing to Lizzo’s “Juice,” she made the energy in the room build with every sashay, every hair flip, and every kick. The money started flying in, and people were slowly rising out of their seats as they seemed to also feel the rhythm take over them. However, no one was ready for the single greatest event of the night.
Fortissa Hoe’s death drop. Death. Drop.
I almost flew backwards out of my chair. Hell, I did fly backwards out of my chair and proceeded to try to give her whatever bills I still had in my wallet. In that moment, I thought to myself “wow, the gays really did that.” And I loved it.
By the end of the night, we learned that we’d achieved record attendance and absolutely obliterated the $200 goal. We raised $603. With PRISM’s $200 match, the final total was up to $803. The gays (and straight girls, thank you again), also did that. To say that I’m excited to go to my next drag show would be an understatement, and to say that I’m beyond grateful to be part of such a vibrant and welcoming community would be the wholehearted truth.