Ian Hill intently contours higher cheekbones on his face while heavy bass music thumps in the background. A huge makeup case sits open on the counter exposing the products that Hill uses to transform into his alter ego Irene Dubois. After spending an average of two hours painting his face, he puts a three-part wig on as his finishing touch. Hill is gone and Irene has arrived.
“Have you heard of the Tibetan Mandala? That’s what this is to me. It’s like my mediation. I obviously do it as a performance too,” says Hill, a senior theatre major at SMU.
Drag is the pastime of at least 10 SMU students, estimates Hill. There is also at least one administrator who performs in drag. Most drag happens off campus at local bars known for the shows.
But the scene appears to be growing on campus. The LGBT group Spectrum, hosts a Drag Bingo night that students can attend, whether or not they do drag themselves. “Last year we had around 300 people show up,” said Val Erwin, SMU’s LGBT & Women’s Center Advisor.
The first Drag Bingo of the year is from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. Friday night in the Hughes-Trigg ballroom. The event, which will include performances, food, and prizes, is free and open to all students.
“There is certainly an SMU audience, and it’s growing,” said junior theatre major and drag artist, Isaac Young. “I would now love to see our artists get out and engage the broader SMU community more. I think our girls could become powerful agents of change.”
Last year, SMU’s very own Jenna Skyy hosted a Drag Bingo event.
Jenna Skyy is Miss Gay US of A 2014 and is the other personality of Joe Hoselton, the Director for Graduate Admissions in Meadows. Jenna’s fans say she is one of best acts around, so much so that Jenna has even hosted the Staff Talent Show two times.
“She is fearless, she is commanding and she knows her value. She has expectations, not only of herself but also of everyone around her “ said Hoselton of Jenna.
Though Hoselton performs as Jenna as an inherent need to perform, others on campus have their own reasons for transforming into their character.
“I’ve heard students say they do it just for fun, and I have also heard them say they find joy in gender bending and exploring it,” said Erwin.
Drag queens, not to be confused with transvestites, typically dress as women for the purpose of entertainment, not because they are men who want to be women.
Hill first tried dressing in drag in his performing arts high school as an assignment in his makeup class, and fell in love. As someone who loves breaking the rules, he kept doing it and his peers loved it.
Young also started in high school after some encouragement from a friend. “Drag gives me the opportunity to tell stories I couldn’t otherwise tell,” said Young. “I hope invite an audience to step away from their preconceived notions about gender and sexuality.”
As Hill developed drag as a performance tool he began to understand why drag appealed to him.
“Putting on the clothing of a woman if you are a man, is essentially saying, this clothing really has nothing to do with being a woman,” said Hill.
Because gender is a socially constructed norm, drag is a way to reject it, he explained. Once you can do that, “having a bunch of shallow people call you a faggot doesn’t hurt at all,“ said Hill.
Hoselton becomes Jenna Skyy for his own reasons too. Not because he wants to be a women but rather to emulate a character that is female for entertainment value.
Skyy is a louder version of Hoselton, and she can say and do things that Hoselton may not say or do.
He has been performing as Jenna for longer than the 13 years he has worked at SMU. In all that time the SMU community has supported him and Jenna.
“People are excited for me when I compete and win, it’s not something that I have to suppress” said Joe.
This support for Hoselton is made evident by Jenna’s crowns, photos and other paraphernalia that have a special spot in Hoselton’s office.
Hill and Young say that both their parents and friends have supported them. Some students aren’t aware of the drag scene on campus, and others are indifferent.
“It’s not my place to judge,” said junior Ben Blanchat.
Hoselton thinks everybody should be given a chance to be unique. “You don’t have to come here and be gay or be a drag queen, just come here and be yourself,” he said. “Don’t feel like you have to fit into something, you can come here and be you and do you.”
For anyone interested in seeing a drag show, Jenna Skyy performs at the Rose Room in Dallas regularly and Hill will be creating a show called “The History of Drag” in the future.