A boisterous crowd of students filled an at-capacity Student Union Theater during this year’s drag show, hosted by the Rainbow Center and featuring Jinx Monsoon, winner of the fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“Are ya’ll ready for the greatest show on campus?” Fleurette King, the director of the Rainbow Center, said, triggering an uproar from over 300 students, some from universities other than the University of Connecticut.
Garrett Schlichte, coordinator of orientation, transition and retention at American University and a UConn graduate, hosted the show, making sure to give out as many Rainbow Center T-shirts as possible, and recruiting students from the audience for on-stage competitions between drag performances.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do,” Schlichte said. “There are a lot of campuses that do drag shows, but the Rainbow Center is one of the only organizations that intentionally leverage the show’s large audience to raise awareness on issues like sexual assault.”
Although the show was unsurprisingly filled with drag performances, it also included a slam poet who shared two pieces on his own sexual assault experience and issues of acceptance. Eric Haygun is a public speaker and poetry workshop facilitator from Boston who used to tour with the Harlem Globetrotters, according to an introduction given by Schlichte.
The feature performance of the event was given by Monsoon, a famous American drag performer and TV star. The crowd burst into cheers as Monsoon walked on stage, stumbling on-purpose and gripping the microphone in her golden Marilyn Monroe-style hair and sunglasses. She said she just got off of a tour in Europe with eight other drag queens.
“Nothing tells me I’ve made it like getting off the plane at JFK and coming to Storrs,” Monsoon said and the crowd laughed. She explained her first night in Storrs the day before the show.
“I felt like a fly caught in an intricate gay web,” she said, referring to interactions she had with UConn students in her Nathan Hale hotel room. She used Grindr, a “gay social network app,” according to the app’s website, to meet a group of gay students living in Nathan Hale.
John Zambrelle, a sixth-semester women’s, gender and sexuality studies and sociology major, was among the group of students Monsoon ended spending time with until 2 a.m. the morning of the drag show.
“She hit us up on Grindr saying that she liked our profiles and wanted to hang out,” Zambrelle said. “We chilled out for a while and we’re going to see her again tonight before she leaves.”
Monsoon’s performance was less of a drag show and more of a comedy show with a dark twist, as she transitioned into jokes about death and mortality.
“Oh, did I bring the mood down?” she said.
Now that there’s been 100 drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race, she mused – what if they start dying off?
“It’s job security!” she said, and sang a song about the death of the drag queens.
Other performers during the show included Tyler Lemoine, an eighth semester pathobiology major who is also part of the Rainbow Center team that organized the drag show event. Lemoine felt like performing in this year’s drag show, so he began to prepare over a month in advance by playing music in his room and “going for it,” he said.
“It was an amazing experience,” Lemoine said, remembering his performance on stage. “Everyone was so energized and it felt very inclusive.”
Lemoine quickly changed back into a suit and tie to help wrap up the show after taking off the football jersey he wore during his performance. He said he wanted to pick a role that was masculine because he identifies as male but likes to play with and redefine the idea of masculinity through drag.