Neon pink fringe flew in every direction as Gigi Monroe shimmied under the spotlight. Her dress whirled to the music blaring out of the speakers hulking on the sides of the stage. In the audience, Logan the Jello Shot Boy hawked his wares in magenta zebra-print leggings and black angel wings, chest hair and muscles on full display. Glitter, sequins, and flash are the main currencies at the event — a regular night of drag at the Rendezvous.
This particular Saturday night was all about love. A belated homage to Valentine’s Day, the Heartbreakers drag show featured songs about every type of love and relationship, whether it was going well or… not so well, as Gigi put it. Gigi, known as James Hoagland in the daylight hours, and her husband Jeff Rogers have created an oasis for the queer and the weird. Outspoken and active members of the LGBT community, they have made the drag shows a safe place to play with gender expression and to live authentically.
It shows in the diversity of the performers and audience members. During the Heartbreakers show, the queens ranged from Aura Borealis’ delicate femininity to Aquarius Valentine’s farcical take on womanhood. Ryder Strong strutted on stage as an overtly pregnant King. Hank Van Dickerson, on loan from Mad Myrna’s in Anchorage, seduced men and women alike. Luke the Duke of Bell made it a family affair, dressed in drag along with his “son” in the audience. The crowd was filled with LGBT couples and allies, alternative haircuts and Black Lives Matter shirts worn proudly.
The drag family welcomed two new members this Saturday. Heather LaVerne took to the stage as the loveably goofy Dear Evan Handsome with Richard Carter as the elegant and charming Miss Guise. They debuted with a rendition of “Baptize Me” from the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” a song about two virgins who experience “baptism” for the first time.
The audience was hooked the moment Dear Evan Handsome bounded from behind the curtains with pure boyish earnestness in a Mormon missionary uniform. Miss Guise joined him as an enthusiastic religious convert, managing to ooze sexual tension and naive innocence all at once. The audience giggled at the thinly-veiled euphemisms peppering the performance, chuckled at the endearing awkwardness of Dear Evan Handsome’s advances, and howled when Miss Guise reentered the stage dripping wet when they finally “did it.” It was a production of hip thrusts and innuendos but it was the sincerity that sold it.
Between shows, the kings and queens either chatted up the audience or prepared for their next number. During a drag show, the Rendezvous’ storage space and freezer turns into a backstage spectacle. The concrete hallway is lined with mirrors and DIY lighting rigs, and every available inch of space is covered in makeup and wig stands. Kings and queens are consistently in varying states of undress: spandex is everywhere. It’s a tight squeeze, and social awkwardness about other people’s bodies quickly dissolves.
Miss Guise and Dear Evan Handsome were wigless and in skivvies when they shared how it felt to do drag for the first time.
“To be out there the first time, blinded by the spotlight and the noise of the crowd… I blacked out and don’t remember much,” Miss Guise said. “I remember thinking, don’t get distracted by all the people and forget that you’re singing a song.”
Dear Evan Handsome had similar fears but they didn’t last long.
“I was super nervous,” he said, “and the second I stepped out there and people cheered, I was like, ‘Oh I got this.’ It was crazy how confident I suddenly became because I usually don’t feel that way. You do kind of become another person, which is really cool.”
Miss Guise pulled on a combination of street clothes and stilettos as she talked about the process of becoming a drag persona.
“It’s so much more difficult than it looks. The performers make it look really easy, but you need the right makeup, and you need the good makeup, and you need a steady hand. There’s a lot that goes into it. It took us all day to prepare.”
Dear Evan Handsome had a slightly different experience with his drag king makeup.
“I was really nervous about it because I was getting ready next to Miss Guise in our bathroom,” he said as he put on a construction-orange shirt for his next act. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough because next to a queen, (kings) don’t have to do as much. And I was like, ‘Why am I standing here, why am I not doing more?’ So I am really excited that it worked out.”
Both of them glowed with success (and sweat). As frequenters of the Perseverance stage and community theater, getting up in front of an audience is, for them, nothing new. But there’s something special about being able to go against social norms and have an audience cheer for it. Miss Guise said she was grateful for support from the drag community and Gigi Monroe in particular.
Dear Evan Handsome agreed. “I am so appreciative of the Juneau community and how much they embrace this culture, because it is so fun to be a part of.”
• Jack Scholz, a student at the University of Alaska Southeast, is the Capital City Weekly’s spring 2018 intern.