Editor’s Note: This story was written by Erica Dischino for Ithaculture, an Ithaca College student publication and is republished with permission.

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Bottles and brushes of different sizes and color ranges lay scattered on the table. Drag performer Paul Hogan reaches for another product to apply before completing the next step of his transformation. Each of his strokes have a purpose, like a painter to a canvas. But, instead of a canvas, he uses his face.

He is an hour a half into the process. His eyebrows no longer exist where they did before. They are higher and thinner, resembling the face of a woman. His cheeks appear sculpted, iridescent and quite refined. Hogan then applies more mascara and then retouches his lipstick.

Finally, almost two and a half hours later, he is transformed.

“[Drag] is an art form,” he said. “It’s a way of dealing with my own gender issues in an artistic manner.”

“Drag” is a term used to describe the dress and culture surrounding the performance of an individual wearing their opposite gendered clothing. Although drag is not limited to any gender identity or sexual orientation, drag queens, or self-identified males who perform in female costumes, are most commonly known in the LGBT community for their spectacles.

This form of entertainment is not just limited to queens. Drag kings, or self-identified females performing in male dress, are becoming more prevalent as well.

Drag is practiced throughout the world and has even found a following in Ithaca, NY.

Hogan, a junior Ithaca College student, has been practicing drag since his senior year of high school and continued to perform when he came to Ithaca as an undergraduate. As he became more comfortable in both his makeup and performance skills, he found that his style has changed over the past several years. He said he began to refrain from performing drag as frequently to due to the do social and political issues regarding drag performance.

“Through doing drag, I was able to breakdown a lot of my ideas about gender that I had been taught or picked up that weren’t certain to me,” Hogan said. “I was able to critique the ideas of gender through performance. I have a greater understanding of the art form, which will enable me to use it for my own political agenda.”

Bruce Henderson, an Ithaca College professor of Queer Studies, found the idea of drag, specifically drag queens, to be related to the commonality between the oppression faced by females and the LGBT community.

“Some of the love for the hyper-feminine that drag plays with comes out of an identification with [women] that have had to struggle for power and that have been stigmatized for wanting power.”

The association of drag with the LGBT community, Henderson said, is not always telling of the individuals who partake in it. This is also similar to the common misconception of drag being defined with transgender individuals.

“Drag is certainly a part of queer culture but I don’t think it’s necessarily a one-on-one correspondence between someone who’s involved in drag as a performance and their sexual orientation or chosen gender,” Henderson said.

Performers like Hogan have the opportunity to participate in a drag show hosted by one of Ithaca College’s LGBT affiliated student organizations, PRISM. Senior Daniel Fogarty is the current president of the organization and will help plan and run the event in the spring. He also plans to perform in the event as his character, “Em Fazeema.”

“My character’s [name] is kind of picking fun of that idea of a crazy old smoker lady,” Fogarty said. “She’s funny, she’s quirky, she’s curvaceous. She’s kind of like this trailer trash fabulousness with a hint of dominatrix and camp.”

Fogarty decided to name his character after the disease emphysema, which is commonly developed after continuously smoking cigarettes. He said it was parodying the idea of “an old smoker lady.” Fogarty found that with more practice, particularly with makeup, he has become more confident in his abilities to perform.

“[Drag] helps me to not care what other people think,” he said. “I take on that larger-than-life attitude, not-caring fabulous diva persona.”

Being in Ithaca, Fogarty was also able to meet his “drag family.” These families, he said, exist throughout drag communities and consist of “mothers,” “sisters,” “aunts,” etc. It provides a source of support, whether it be emotionally or regarding performance technicalities, which is necessary to have in drag.

“It’s a hard thing to do alone. In our society, it take a lot of guts,” Fogarty said. “Especially when you’re a male-bodied person, you’re not really allowed to dress in feminine ways. Men don’t have any leeway when it comes to the opposite sex’s clothing.”

Fellow queen, Elijahda Warner, a junior Ithaca College student and drag performer, has collaborated with both Hogan and Fogarty to perform. Drag has been a huge hobby of his because he loves the freedom to express himself as well as the attention.

“The face that you can have your own creative freedom and wear your own outfits and portray another character, to whom you may not be in real life, is great,” Warner said. “It gives me confidence when I’m in [drag]. People think I’m beautiful so I feed off of their energy.”

Warner studies classical music at the college and found that performing with those standards requires him to perform in a singular way. With drag, he is able to interpret a performance based on his own guidelines, a reason why he enjoys it so much.

“I feel like it’s a drug. My adrenaline gets bumping. When I do a certain dance move, or an entrance that the crowd loves, that feeds into the fire.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.