This past Thursday evening, Campbell Hall experienced a complete makeover as it welcomed stars Willam Belli and Detox from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to host a professional drag show for UCSB’s Pride Week, put on by UCSB’s Pride Committee.
The event, which happens each year along with a student drag show during the same week, attracted a huge crowd, many of whom pre-gamed in anticipation of a wild show. The performances lived up to the hype, and so many people came that some were turned away at the doors.
Willam Belli and Detox were absolutely hilarious and entertaining emcees who loved to engage with the audience. From giving lap dances to yelling profanities at professors, the two divas stole the show with their charm. Detox and Willam Belli are famous for their two singles “Boy is a Bottom,” a parody of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire,” and “Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A),” a rendition of the Wilson Phillips song “Hold On,” both of which they performed onstage that night.
The drag show also featured local drag queens Jenna Scyde, Deja Re and Isis, who also performed at the drag show last quarter in the Hub. The performers had backup female dancers with choreography and matching outfits as they danced to Beyoncé. The show was upbeat, with the audience singing and dancing with the performers.
The rowdy crowd settled down for a more serious performance: a spoken word piece performed by Jenna Scyde. Outside of drag, Jenna is Andrew Hamlin, a student at UCSB. Jenna Scyde’s performance focused on reminding people that drag queens are people too – people who are just like us.
As Scyde commented in an interview, “Many people turn to drag because they are wounded by society’s perceptions and demands, and drag is a way to escape that torment, valorize the self and not have to be that personable entity. However, audience members tend to not be able to separate the person from the persona, and it is the queen that takes reign.”
During Scyde’s performance, she slowly took off her outfit and wig as she spoke to the audience on not feeling beautiful in her own skin.
“My piece was to share a part of myself and show how even though I am strong and fabulous, I still hurt and I am still a person who has hurtful experiences,” Scyde said. “I wanted to remind the audience that I am simply one of them.”
The piece ended in tears as she expressed how hurt she felt at being rejected by a lover who did not accept her as beautiful in drag. There were a couple of offensive comments and inappropriate reactions during her performance, but there was no doubt that by the end of the performance the message had successfully reached the audience.
“Drag shows celebrate everything mainstream society says is wrong and lesser about a person,” Scyde said. “For me, it is my femininity that I struggle with, and through drag, I celebrate it. For others, it may be their complexion, their weight, gender-queer identity, trans identity, etc. What is hard is that the dominant culture provides criticism about these things that hurt really good people. It is definitely hard to emotionally and mentally break away from what mainstream society says and the stigma that is placed against you, but once you are there, that elevation in personal freedom is pure bliss.”
Drag shows are a place where both men and women can get creative with their styles and personas. They are a place where we can see others take on gender and enjoy the freedom and release of being on stage.
“As a participant in drag shows, what I love is getting to reject my socially prescribed gender role and just have fun,” Scyde said.
After the show, Scyde explained to me that many people also struggle with insecurities when trying to conform to society’s gender roles.
“Everyone is beautiful. But we are too focused on the standards of beauty we are trained to appreciate and aren’t able to see the beauty in absolutely everyone,” Scyde said. “To me, beauty is loving yourself and loving the person next to you without knowing a single thing about him/her. Beauty is being whoever you are no matter who society tells you to be. And anyone who says otherwise is simply another victim in the artificially oppressive system we are all raised within. So to all of my beautiful people, be mad at the system, not the misguided individuals. Sympathize with them because they will never be able to see their true beauty the way that you will be able to.”
The professional drag show was a great way to celebrate LGBTQ Pride on campus as the strong and beautiful performers left the audience wanting more.
If you are a fan of drag and have not yet seen the music video for “Chow Down (at Chick-fil-A),” I would definitely check it out.