Tatianna Matthews sat in her hotel room at the Baymont, the thought of her day job as a customer service representative at Verizon Wireless the farthest thought from her mind. As she sat with only a lamp light beaming on her, she beat her face, using a purple stick of glue to lay her eyebrows and a dollar bill to cut out her contour. She proceeded with her routine, a routine she has mastered with almost nine years of experience under her perfectly quaffed wig and dagger-like red stiletto boots.
That night Matthews would perform at Legends for the Sexuality and Gender Alliance Pro Drag Show, her fourth appearance at App State, along with some of her friends, colleagues and sisters.
Matthews got her start in drag at UNC-Pembroke, where she earned her undergraduate degree. She and some friends started a circuit of drag shows on their campus.
“That was tough,” Matthews said. “It did not take well on campus at first, especially when the stereotypical frat boys would show up and they just didn’t understand.”
Now Matthews is booking shows all over the East Coast and abroad, an idea she did not think was possible when she was a student.
Backstage at SAGA’s first drag show of the year, the queens, kings and their assistants squeezed together in the only two dressing quarters Legends provided. The energy was poised but electric as performers greeted one another with support, or maybe a quick quip, accompanied by a playful side-eye glance while getting ready.
Accompanied by her many wigs, paddings, costumes and what seemed like endless amounts of palettes, eyelashes, contour powders and other beauty products was Shelita Bonet Hoyle.
Hoyle, App State alumna, comes back when she can to celebrate her roots and support what it means to be a local drag queen in the town that gave her her start.
Before performing Hoyle admitted that it was never her intention to “be another statistic” as a gay man in college who did drag.
However, Hoyle’s best friend, Charlie Sibrant, was adamant about either making Hoyle “super straight” or “extremely gay.”
“I told Charlie, ‘I don’t think that’s how any of this works,’” Hoyle said.
Sibrant almost convinced Hoyle to participate in an amateur drag show when they were students. Their goal was to make everyone laugh. But one night in Hickory a drunken driver crashed into Sibrant’s car, killing her.
“At that point I felt that I had to drag in order to keep her memory alive,” Hoyle said.
The tragedy gave birth to Shelita Hoyle Boufett, which, when said in a deep southern accent, sounds like “she’ll eat a whole buffet.”
For her first appearance, Hoyle performed to the Lords of Acid song “Show Me Your Pussy” in collaboration with one of Margaret Cho’s comedy skits about washing vaginas.
“It was supposed to be a one-time thing,” Hoyle said.
However, the reaction from Hoyle’s first show was not something she expected.
“They all absolutely loved it,” Hoyle said.
Dressed as a 1950s housewife, Hoyle went up to people in the audience with a toilet brush in hand and personally washed their crotches. From that moment on she was “addicted” to performing because of the reactions she could get from the crowd.
“For those three minutes that I would be on that stage people could forget about what they were going through and I would either make them laugh or I would tear at their heartstrings,” Hoyle said.
Hoyle was also a member of Alpha Sigma Phi, a fraternity still on App State’s campus. Before finding out that Hoyle did drag, her fraternity brothers were already supportive of her sexuality. Hoyle thought she could keep her drag a secret until a fraternity roommate found one of her wigs.
“They were all really amazing about it though, they were all very supportive,” Hoyle said.
Hoyle said she realizes that not every person struggling with their identity has the same support system. She wants to remind anyone willing to listen that “it is perfectly OK to not be OK.”
“Shelita” as an ideology or as a public figure stands for more than just a drag name, Hoyle said.
“She stands as a beacon for others who believe that they aren’t enough,” Hoyle said. “Instead, be unapologetically you. Because the time that you have, you can’t get it back, so why waste your time being anything other than yourself?”
Even within the drag community, some don’t feel their aesthetic is validated or accepted. Viktor Grimm, who subscribes to a drag king look, shares that sentiment. Although being a king in the community can be interpreted in many ways, a drag king usually takes on male gender stereotypes. Grimm advises fellow kings to “not stick yourself into a box.”
“It’s not necessary to just do one thing. The boundaries that have been put on us are not needed,” Grimm said.
The Nov. 10 event was not only to support SAGA, but raised funds for its scholarship, which helps students who are struggling to pay college tuition due to issues of identity. The show alone raised over $1,500 to support the scholarship, junior interdisciplinary studies major and SAGA president Alex Luckett said.
Story by Savannah Nguyen, A&E Reporter
Photo by Efrain Arias Medina Jr, Graphics Editor