The smell of fried chicken filled Pomfret Hall on Wednesday as folks lined up to listen to the “Panelist at Pomfret” event, a unique spin on the conventional drag show. Members of the panel, which included five Northwest Arkansas drag queens, provided a perspective into queer history.
“I hope that students take away from the panel that they're not alone, and that their feelings are validated if they've been feeling outcast,” drag queen “Dalt Flowers” said. “They can be themselves, and if they want to express themselves, they can feel comfortable doing that.”
The event was initially set to be a drag show alone and was scheduled to occur in November, said Leslie Parker, coordinator for residence education of Pomfret Hall. After a complication with the process, the team of resident assistants decided to delay the program. Unfortunately, the date landed amid turmoil from recent dialogue regarding drag show entertainment.
Amidst the controversy, the team of RAs pivoted on the idea of a drag show to make it a panel. Instead of a show, the event would be seen as an educational opportunity, Parker said.
Many skeptics criticized the event, claiming the panel was politically charged and in retaliation to Arkansas Senate Bill 43. In its original form, the bill classified drag shows as “adult oriented businesses” which would have prevented the show from taking place on a public university’s grounds. The idea of a drag-themed event had been in the works long before the bill, and was in no way connected, Parker said.
The panel consisted of two parts, with the second half featuring the drag queens.
Alex Alvarez, a senior RA at Pomfret Hall, hosted the first panel of the night. History professor Arley Ward and Anthony DiNicola, the university's coordinator of cultural communities, both provided personal testimonies into queerness in Arkansas. Ward said he sought to provide a historical insight to the history of drag.
“I see the goal of my role is to highlight the fact that drag has always been a thing,” Ward said. “It has been a thing globally, in the United States, in the south and in Arkansas. This has always been with us, even though it wasn't always an issue.”
DiNicola spoke about his experience as a brown queer person who chooses to live in Fayetteville. DiNicola provided personal testimony of aggressions he has been met with since moving to the city and emphasized the importance of speaking up from positions of privilege.
Thomas Cicatiello, an RA at Pomfret Hall, hosted the second panel. Throughout his segment, the five drag queens spoke about an assortment of topics, with a focus on self-expression and identity in young adults.
“I want students to take away more vocabulary to express themselves,” drag queen “Starflower” said. “More background knowledge that maybe, if I would have had years ago, would have saved me some sort of turmoil. I hope people get an expansion on the way they think.”
As young adults, many students find themselves in a search for their identity. The queens hope the panel’s diverse representation will provide comfort for those learning about themselves, they said.
“Seeing all of us queer people with such different styles, personas and identities will hopefully help other people. I hope students on campus can be more willing to be themselves, because it's like as a trans person, you almost fear being yourself sometimes,” drag queen “Bazaar” said. “So, I just hope that people start feeling more comfortable presenting themselves honestly.”
Although the panel was not held in rebuttal to the recent state legislature, some of the drag queens commented on the bill they say affects a greater community.
“I hope students see that even though we're panelists, there are people all over the college campus that are like us, and they will be attacked by things that are happening in our legislature right now,” drag queen “Angel Divinity” said. “I'm hoping they have more awareness of the people around them even though something may not be affecting you, it's affecting the community around you.”
The queens hope students can feel comfortable expressing themselves and feel confident in whatever identity they reside in. Many of the queens said they use drag shows as an outlet to express their creativity and encouraged others to find their own outlet to express themselves.
“Drag has saved some of us,” “Bazaar” said. “If we don’t have drag, we don’t have anything.”
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