Delaware Drag 101 Event Lives on Despite Controversy
Got a teen that’s curious about the art form of drag? Local queen Selena West will host a Drag 101 event on Tuesday, June 4 at Secret Identity Comics in Delaware. There, she’ll explore drag’s origins, how it’s manifested in popular culture, how to create a character, and the basics of makeup application.
Drag education isn’t a new arena for West; she did a Day of Silence event at Delaware High School last year, has done performances for parents and their children, and hosts instructional classes at colleges and universities. Still, when a Drag 101 event was first proposed for the teens of Delaware, the backlash from parts of the community forced West to move it from the Delaware County District Library.
“I think the anger is being dressed up in other things and being put forward as a concern for children, but that’s because there’s a fear of homosexuals from the conservative right,” West says, “that we’re trying to convert their children or that we’re predators.”
Leading the opposition has been Melissa Ackison, a candidate for Ohio Senate District 26. Her beef with the event stemmed from the use of taxpayer money and a public space to throw an event educating teenagers on the art form of drag, an art form they would not be able to experience outside of the class because it usually takes place at a bar or night club. Ackison compared drag to exotic and pole dancing, types of adult entertainment that kids typically aren’t allowed to view. In a video she posted on her Facebook page, Ackison also expressed concern about teenagers asking “men who dress as women” questions of a sexual nature.
“Guys, when, as a nation, are we going to come together and throw the political ideology out the window and say what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong?” she says in the video.
West says the teenagers attending the event are the ones who asked for such a class in the first place. She says, as the art of drag has exploded in popular culture — with RuPaul’s Drag Race being one of the most watched shows on TV — it’s been able to come out of the fringes, like night clubs and LGBTQ bars, and enter the public sphere as a recognized art form.
As far as the sexual nature of drag, West says it depends on what kind of show you’re creating.
“I do host 21-plus shows where we host male strippers and male entertainment, because drag queens — we don’t do one specific type of show,” says West. “I can do that, and then I can do a brunch where we perform for kids in high chairs with their parents.”
She compares it to late comedian Robin Williams performing raunchy, sometimes obscene stand up shows, then going on to voice Genie’s character in the popular kid’s film Aladdin. West does have “sexy” pictures on her Instagram, while “there are women teaching your kids dance classes who take pictures in string bikinis on spring break.” She says there’s a reason people have a problem with one of those things and not the other — “It’s about phobia, the fear of the unknown.”
West herself had to come to terms with the art of drag. She says when she was initially exposed to it in 2009, during her days at Bowling Green State University, she had a hard time really seeing it as art. Exposing herself to it more and more, in meeting the West family locally and seeing drag queens on mainstream TV, she came to see it as not so scary or intimidating.
For Drag 101 attendees, they’ll be getting a one-hour crash course on the brief history of drag, from Shakespeare to movies and TV; its relationship with cabaret; how to craft celebrity impersonations; makeup and character development; and the types of performances done on stage. West says in the nine years since she delved into drag, she’s cultivated the persona of Selena West as a whole separate identity from who she is in Kyle Gale, or her “boy life.”
“There are so many different facets, ways to express yourself. I’m melding the parts of my personality, something I had to develop over nine years of doing drag,” she says. “So, it really took me a while to put that together and feel confident in the character I’ve created.”
Secret Identity Comics is located at 34 N. Franklin St. in Delaware.
For more information on the Drag 101 event or to register, visit the event’s Facebook page.