Lane Zyvoloski, MSUM Multimedia Journalism
MOORHEAD, MINN. – In 2009 at age 21, Shawn, of Fargo, worked at a bar that hosted drag shows. It wasn’t until then that his interest in drag was sparked. He approached the leading drag queen, Kadee Starr, and asked her if she would be his drag mother. That’s when Alli Monroe was born.
“I fell in love with it,” says Alli Monroe, also known as Shawn, who preferred to not use his last name for privacy reasons. “I did my first show and never stopped.”
Alli Monroe, whose name comes from her grandmother, Alice, and her idol, Marilyn Monroe, says a few of her aunts have attended her drag shows, and her mother has not yet.
“You definitely feel very almost famous for a moment,” Alli Monroe says. “The crowd’s attention is a wonderful feeling.”
During the week, Shawn manages a group home for adults with disabilities. He says dressing in drag gives him a chance to be somebody else. “It allows me to get away from the day-to-day hard reality. It gives me more self-confidence than I have in Shawn.”
Wine, Wigs and Women
The queens dress up only on performance weekends or for special occasions and only refer to each other by their drag names when in reference or preparation for a show.
Drag is a Shakespearean term that stands for Dressed As Girl. It was used as a stage direction to indicate that male actors should be dressed as a female for a show, unbeknownst to the audience.
“The people that you get to know is probably the best part,” Alli Monroe says.
In a bright red dining room, the men begin their transformation into feminine queens, a process that takes two to four hours. It includes applying makeup, chatting, sipping wine, preparing wigs and blasting musical numbers for the evening’s drag show. Some of the queens even run through the choreography of their numbers.
Kadee Starr, 23, also known as Ryan Thompson, is Alli Monroe’s drag mother. She explains that she is his “mother” since she helped him get his start.
“’Drag family’ is pretty much our name for a mentoring system,” Kadee Starr says. “We usually get ready together, we like to help each other out, and we’re usually there for each other when we need help in our personal lives as well.”
The drag families consist of daughters, mothers and grandmothers. Kadee Starr explains that the first time a drag mother does her drag daughter’s makeup, it often turns out looking the same as her own, thus the term drag mother.
Rules of Drag
As in any community, the glam and glitz girls cannot function without a set of rules and routines.
“If you’re using a wig to perform in, you do not wear it until you perform in it because it takes away the ‘wow factor,’” explains Alli Monroe. “Same with outfits: we don’t wear anything before the show that we’re going to be wearing to perform.”
Alli Monroe says that the girls have a completely different outfit and wig for every number. She says she has about 25 different wigs altogether. Each wig costs $20 to $120.
“Hair is my favorite piece,” says Alli Monroe. “I have so much fun with it cause you can change it up.”
Another rule between the queens is that the girls must ask one another for permission if they’d like to perform a song that is normally done by another member.
At the beginning of the week, the queens send the director (whichever queen is hosting the night) a list of songs she would like to do. The director makes the show list and the queens are responsible for getting their props during the week.
The transformation from male to female takes place backstage at Jerry’s Trail Tavern in Moorhead. The queens duct tape their chests for cleavage and add artificial breasts. For hips, they use cushions custom cut for each girl and carefully place them under up to eight layers of tights.
“I tell women you could look like me if you took the amount of hours in a day that we take to get ready for a show,” Kadee Starr jokes.
Alli Monroe says she often gets cuts under her arms from the duct tape.
“My favorite part is when the face is done, the body’s on and you’re ready to go,” Alli Monroe says.
“I know a lot of the queens here in town and love them,” says Jinny Trotti of Moorhead, manager at Applause Costumes and Dancewear. Trotti sells the drag girls makeup, tights and other basics. “I talk to them like guys when they’re not in drag, but I talk to them like girls when they’re in drag.”
Trotti says working with the drag queens is one of her favorite parts of her job because they are customers who have become friends.
“I think everybody should go to a drag show because I think its educational. I think it’s fun,” Trotti says. “And you realize there’s nothing intimidating about them and there’s nothing wrong with them.”
Emcee Kadee Star starts the show surveying the audience, inviting all the straight folks to cheer, the gay folks to holler and the lesbians to make some noise, revealing that the crowd consists of a vast array of sexual orientations. The age range is roughly twenties to fifties, suggesting that there’s something in a drag show for everybody.
“It’s purely entertainment,” Alli Monroe says about the show. “Usually people that are new to it that come out end up falling in love with it. It blows their mind. They can’t wrap their minds around it and I think that’s what makes them want more.”
One by one, the queens perform their numbers, lip-syncing and adding choreography to each song. The costumes are elaborate and the audience takes no time in warming up to the queens. Dollar bills from the audience quickly make their way to the hands or chests of each performing queen.
“It’s not as scary as people think it is. It’s actually a ton of fun,” says Kadee Starr. “I’ve never met a drag queen that takes themself seriously. It’s just another way just to have a good time.”
Kadee Starr encourages anyone who’s interested in trying drag to start with an amateur show, and all the queens invite the community to step out of their comfort zones and enjoy a show.
“It’s a female impersonator. Who cares what gender they are to start with?” Trotti says. “Especially when you watch them, cause it’s like there are some girls it’s like ‘Damn! I wish I looked that good!’”
Click the photo below to watch the Being Queen slideshow!