This past Friday in our own Crystal Cove Auditorium, Irvine Queers presented the Sixth Annual Celebration of Gender Expression & Identity — this year’s theme being “One Upon a Time … in Drag.” The stated goal of the show was to “[educate] the UC Irvine community about the diversity of gender and expression … [for] students to creatively perform gender in a variety of ways” — and no question about it, they succeeded.
The show opened with emcee Cherry Poppins (double entendre certainly intended) performing a medley that included “Mother Knows Best,” from Disney’s “Tangled.” Starting off by channeling her inner Lucille Bluth in a broad fur coat, gloves, pearls and oversized sunglasses, Poppins quickly stripped down to an elaborate, almost-burlesque lingerie number, twirling and can-cans included. After her high-energy opening performance, Poppins introduced the show and set the stage with one concise sentence:
“This is not a traditional drag show.”
While there was certainly a presence of traditional drag style acts (Cherry’s own included), several UCI students took to the stage to express their own unique experiences of gender, juxtaposing poignant sincerity with some of the show’s more humorous selections.
One such act, from fourth-year psychology and social behavior major, Yang Yang, focused on society’s expectations for gender and gender expression, with an a cappella performance of Lady Gaga’s “Hair.” Halfway through his performance, Yang donned a long, brunette wig, and the audience began to wave their hands back and forth in solidarity. Yang described his inspiration to display himself as male at the beginning of the act, and putting on the wig to display feminine traits as “a normal thing … a natural thing.” When asked about what he’d like people to take away from his performance, Yang said: “I would really like to present the idea that we are okay in this society, to be whoever you want.”
Other less traditional acts included a spoken word piece from first-year computer science major, Luke Raus, entitled “Assume.” The piece focused on the expectations society puts on people regarding gender identity and sexual orientation — and why people care if you like rainbows are not. Another performer, Landyn Endo, gave another a cappella performance — this time “Reflection,” from Disney’s Mulan, whose lyrics (“Who is that girl I see/ Staring straight back at me/ Why is my reflection/ Someone I don’t know”) gained incredible new meaning in the context of the show.
The traditional elements of the show were equally entertaining — and still totally enlightening. Missy Vee and Calypso Jete, professional drag queens who don’t attend UCI, but perform locally all over Southern California, danced in oversized high heels like they were born wearing them, and strutted across the stage and down into the audience, pumping up with crowd to clap along. UCI students performing as “Trixxxi” and “Eliza Minnelli” also took to a more traditional performance, with Trixxxi channeling her inner Maleficent and displaying the Disney character’s trademark horns and cloak to a medley of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” while Eliza, in her drag debut, performed “Mein Herr” from Cabaret, all while dancing and bouncing precariously atop a chair.
All of the performers, sincere or comical, were met with unwavering applause and participation from the audience, but at the show’s conclusion it was yet again Poppins who stole the show, with a surprise performance of Frozen’s “Let It Go,” halfway through displaying a beautiful ice-themed dress. Poppins closed with a final narrative, calling for one last cheer for all of the performers.
After the performers marched on stage for a final bow (once again, to defining cheers and support), the backstage staff came on and thanked everyone for attending, calling out special support for Kitty Dorchester, the show’s Producer and Supreme Queen of Irvine Queers. As a closing statement on the show’s success, Dorchester had this to say:
“This year, we sought to use the show’s engaging environment to introduce and educate UCI students about the variety of gender expressions, identities, and experiences. The show’s fairytale theme was chosen as a way to challenge normative expectations about gender, romance and relationships which are culturally reinforced by fairytales in which princesses work tirelessly to be perfect and win the men of their dreams, all to live happily ever after.
The juxtaposition of the show’s fairytale allure and performances that explore real queer experiences of gender, romance and relationships invited the audience to consider the ways in which normative ideologies are imposed on us and the struggle experienced by those who do not exist within these expectations.”
A portion of the shows proceeds will be used to directly support the trans* community at UCI.