It was hard to miss. Three feet long and covered in sequins, the “disco dick” turned heads as Brent Farmer walked onstage at Drag Ball on April 15. Under the stage name Bryce Plow, Farmer pelvic thrusted and helicopter swung the disco dick to “Get U Home” by Shwayze.
Farmer’s reasons for attending the Drag Ball were simple.
“It sounded like fun. I had sexy underwear, and I had a disco dick,” said Farmer, a UC Santa Cruz student. Later Farmer noted he was drawn to other aspects of Drag Ball. “I came here to be educated, but I also came here to have fun with friends because drag culture seems free, so why not be free with your friends?”
For over 21 years, Oakes College and College Eight have put on this event to engage students with drag culture. Though the event was free, a $2 donation was suggested and proceeds will fund Porter College’s Queer Fashion Show. The event was supervised by Mandie Caroll, Oakes’ coordinator for residential education, but was largely organized by a team of nine students.
“There is a great diversity at UCSC,” said student organizer Vincent Rivera. “And there’s a difference between having diversity and engaging diversity. I hope that this is a program where we’re engaging the diversity on our campus and creating a safer space.”
This year’s Drag Ball theme was Vogue, a style of dance inspired by the fashion magazine. The dance gained popularity in 1990 when Madonna released “Vogue,” but the term started with drag queens in the gay ballroom scene. Other terms like “fierce” and “shady” and entertainment displays like lip-syncing also originated in the drag community before entering mainstream culture.
The appropriation of drag culture led many to believe drag is solely about dressing as different gender identities, but it’s so much more.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what drag is … But drag has a history from the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said student coordinator Josue Ayala. “It was also, at one point, a political identity. It was a culture.”
This year, Drag Ball consisted of a dance party, an education station where students could learn about drag from around the world and about trans women of color who are activists, a raffle to win sex toys from PurePleasure, a student drag show and a professional drag show.
Sally Struts, Ayumi Winehouse and Karla Dream make up professional drag group Girl Trouble, this year’s featured entertainers.
When Struts took the stage to the sounds of “Glam” by Christina Aguilera, students flocked to the front, some standing on chairs for a better view. Struts lived up to her name as she strode up and down the catwalk. Her confidence and grace could not be more different from her first drag performance.
“It was crazy,” Struts said. “I fell. I slipped onstage. I’m pretty sure my wig fell off.”
Despite her stumbles, the drag community made sure Struts didn’t feel bad about her first performance. “Everyone there was just so welcoming and so nice,” Struts said. “They were telling me, ‘We’re a family. We stick together. Deal with it.’”
Next on stage was Dream, who danced explosively to Ke$ha’s “Blow” in a pink top and silver leggings. Dream’s years as a competitive dancer showed as her gyrating hips and body rolls elicited screams from the crowd.
“For me, it’s a stress reliever,” Dream said. “I get to release all this tension and let it all out. It’s a good outlet.”
Winehouse appeared in a Freddy Krueger sweater with matching razor gloves to “Disco Dancing” by Paco Ymar and Deelo. Using a flashlight, Winehouse put it up to her face to add a spooky effect as she put her razor claws up to students’ throats.
“I become a different person [when I’m in drag],” Winehouse said. “But they’re both me. It’s me allowed to shed every social norm or social anxiety I have. We become this very actualized person that I made up.”
Then there was the student drag show that was open to all. Drag king Chad Poonslayer gave a performance reminiscent of Magic Mike to The Weeknd’s “Earned It.” When drag queen Freida Sánchez’s wig fell off during “It’s Raining Men… The Sequel” by RuPaul and Martha Wash, no one minded. Amid cheers and applause, Sánchez put her wig back on and went right back to dancing.
Miss Stacy C. Menn, portrayed by residential assistant Brett Witteck, danced and lip-synced to “Applause” by Lady Gaga and even got a few dollar bills from other students. Menn echoed Winehouse’s sentiments about drag as an identity.
“Drag means encapsulating a whole new identity because around the campus, I’m myself. I’m Brett. But once I put on the wig, the makeup, any of the dress, I’m Stacy. I’m a new person,” Menn said. “I become more of a person who I probably could have been by myself. Just having the drag community as a whole is just very opening, very inviting, very fun. It’s just a good place to be.”