Vanessa Claybbert, a freshman psychology major, cited a single rationale above all others for showing up dressed as she was to the seventh-annual VCU Drag Ball this past Saturday.
“Mustaches are really cool,” she said, her own magnificently full-bodied chestnut specimen waggling as though in response.
While unique, Claybbert’s pleated trousers, suspenders and bowler hat were by no means alone Saturday night in the Commons Ballroom, where a student constituency had arrived, not just ready to dance the night away, but dressed to kill – with fabulousness.
While male attendants donned hose, lipstick and evening gowns, female attendants took to classy dress shirts with bold patterned ties, fedoras and the occasional dusting of facial stubble.
Both genders, it seemed, were able to harness the power of a pair of pumps and a good tall wig.
Richmond’s “Queens of the City” provided the evening’s music and entertainment, with VCU’s own Ms. Daisy Stockton headlining. Robert Friedline, who for the past six years has appeared at the event under the name of Tiffany Devereaux, emceed. His appearance at this, the seventh iteration of what event organizers call “Virginia’s largest collegiate LGBT event,” involved “a little less shoes, a little less wig,” Friedman said.
“How many of us are straight?” Friedman asked the crowd by a show of hands as they compressed towards the Ballroom stage. After a pause, “How many of you are lying?”
“How many of you don’t know until you don’t know which bathroom door to go into?” he continued.
Between performances by Richmond drag celebrities such as Sharon Husbands, Millennium Snow and Chantennah Spaulding, Friedman and Ms. Daisy Stockton – in her day job, Brian Rutherford, VCU sophomore political science major – drew raffles for over $1000 worth of sponsored prizes.
Winning ball-goers collected, among other prizes, date packages to events at Godfrey’s and the Byrd Theatre and makeover packages at local salons.
A considerable number of hands and cheers were raised when Friedman asked, early in the evening, who had never been to a drag show before. As the night pumped on, however, the crowd grew ever more ecstatic with the proceedings – as well as more generous with their $1 bills.
Caitlin Samuel, treasurer of Queer Action at VCU – which organizes the Drag Ball every year – described the festivities as a “more socially acceptable” means to experiment with the aesthetic side of traditionally defined gender boundaries. “And that’s a profession for some,” she said.
“For us here tonight, it’s just fun. It’s a chance to express yourself.”
“I don’t have to be me. I don’t have to be Alicia,” Alicia Helm, a junior photography major in a debonair blazer and facial scruff combo, said. “It’s liberating.”
Helm, under the stage name Apollo, appeared as one of the VCU Drag Ball’s only non-professional performers Saturday night for the second year in a row.
“I feel like as soon as I put on this outfit, I turn into Apollo,” Helm said shortly before taking the stage. “And Apollo isn’t afraid of crowds.”
One hundred percent of the proceeds from the VCU Drag Ball’s $5 ticket price benefited the Fan Free Clinic, which established the first community-based HIV/AIDS outreach program in Virginia in the 1980s.
“I’m always so blown away … by how welcoming VCU is and how open it is,” said Deshun Defreitas, a Fan Free Clinic representative handing out information at the VCU Drag Ball.
“Twenty years ago, we were never this out and this open. … To be around such a diverse group of younger kids – for me to be twice their age – they inspire me.”
Photos by Glenn Jodun