For Penn State’s Drag Ambassadors, Need To Educate And Validate Matches Love Of Creative Expression
By night, Absinthe dons an all-black outfit and performs for cheering crowds with a healthy dose of adolescent angst. Her friend Hexxa, crazy and sexy and in control of her body’s every move, executes her routine with the same confidence. While campus sleeps and studies, Penn State’s drag queens are often just getting started.
Juniors Chris Castro and Colin Miller, or Hexxa and Absinthe, respectively, turn to their drag personas to embody who they weren’t allowed to but always wanted to be. However, they still convey some of the same qualities in daylight that their queens possess when the sun goes down — endearingly sassy, painfully quick-witted, and unsurprisingly fun.
Catsro and Miller represent Opulence, an organization built on representation itself. As Penn State’s premiere drag ambassador club, it strives to become the nexus for drag culture at a university that so often overlooks it.
“We want to make it more normalized to have drag in our culture. It’s rising up in society, but we still feel like it isn’t there, especially in Penn State’s culture. We’ll still get weird looks, and that’s always gonna happen, but we want to diversify and include it in normal culture,” Castro said. “If Penn State’s all about being diverse and open, we say let’s put drag into it. Why not?”
The club’s first-ever meeting this semester attracted a small but tightly-bound group of not only queens and kings, but drag lovers and enthusiasts as well. Castro, who went to his first drag show at the Houseasaurus Co-op, took the lead as president when he and the rest of Opulence’s executive board noticed a need for a drag-centric space on campus. Miller, who began his makeup collection in high school before starting drag as a Penn State student, took on the role of vice president.
Opulence’s mission is one of inclusion — its goal is to promote its own shows and events as well as the events of other organizations like the LGBTQA Student Roundtable and Queer and Transgender People of Color (QTPOC). The Opulence group chat and event calendar are hosts for drag events on campus and downtown and the people making them happen.
“Drag shows during [National] Coming Out Week are the biggest thing for the drag community on campus,” Miller said. “The idea to start this drag club stemmed from taking the drag shows, which are happening in other LGBTQ organizations that are meant to be doing other things as well, and giving them their own space.”
Castro, Miller, and the Opulence executive board are treating this semester as a “soft opening” for the club — a way to test, try, and prepare for incoming freshmen in the fall while still congregating for meetings and performances. Eventually, the group wants to expand into makeup and hair tutorials, documentary viewings, and more frequent shows.
The first Opulence-only drag performance will take place on Friday, Febraury 2 at the Hush Room, a venue Castro and Miller believe perfectly emanates the core values of drag culture.
“It’s not somewhere everyone’s going to know about. I think drag needs to have that underground vibe to it to stay central to what it’s based off of — the exclusion that the LGBTQ community has faced, the need for community that’s not mass-produced,” Miller said. “It’s underground, it’s there for the freaks, the geeks, the weirdos. Anyone can go to it, it’s an open community. It’s a small space, so it invites more interaction.”
Miller emphasized the kind of opportunities a drag show presents: chances to express and listen to different political and social views through music, comedy, and art. As for those who’ve never attended a drag show, the pair believes they’re missing out.
“I think people are gonna learn a lot from coming to a drag show. It just creates a different space in their mind for openness and raises awarenes,…” Castro began.
“…and they’re fun. They’re so fun. Everyone’s having fun at a drag show. Everyone,” Miller added.
Castro and Miller are just beginning to put Opulence together, but as they approach the end of their college careers, they wish for and wonder about the impression they’ll leave on Penn State, both as their queens and their day-to-day selves.
“I want us to build up a community here that’s already very active but no one really knows about. There’s a lot of people just doing their own things and not knowing that they can come together and be with everyone. That’s the legacy I want to leave — it’s just a big welcoming community,” Miller said. “If people don’t understand it or know about it, I hope they will understand it or know about it eventually. We’re here and we’re present.”