From the magazine: True colors

Queen Illusion Michaels performs at the Mr. and Miss BG Pride Pageant at BG FuZion on Saturday, Sept. 2. Wearing a hand-made rainbow costume, Michaels performed for the first time in 18 years at the pageant.

Editor’s Note: The sources in this story were granted anonymity due to their concerns about their safety if their real names were used. For this reason, they are referred to by their stage names throughout the article.

Queen Venus Knight said her favorite part about performing in drag is knowing that she is making a difference, even during personal struggles. She said her ability to inspire people with her craft serves as a temporary escape from the world. 

“When I’m performing, I can see that no matter how bad of a day I have, from the moment I’m on stage it distracts me enough from that,” she said. 

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, drag is a theatrical form of expression where someone, typically a man, impersonates a woman in a highly stylized manner. Often, drag is used for entertainment purposes such as singing, dancing or comedy. Queens can be found entertaining all across the country at venues such as night clubs, bars and more.  

Drag performers have used performing as a creative way to freely express themselves and define their identity.

Knight is a female impersonator from Bowling Green. Throughout her 14-year career, she has performed at several pageants and claimed multiple national titles including Miss Utopia 2015 and Miss Kentucky Female Impersonator 2023. In 2020, she co-founded BG FuZion, where drag pageants are held on the first Saturday of every month at the Bowling Green Youth Theatre. 

Before starting her career, Knight said she didn’t have many inspirations to start performing. As a child, she loved wearing her mother’s prom dress and pretending to be Cinderella, she said. 

Queen Venus Knight engaged with the audience during the Mr. and Miss BG Pride Pageant on Saturday, Sept. 2. Knight joined the drag community in July 2008 and has sustained her career since. In her biography, she said, “I promise to always give 110%, from my initial step onto the stage to my final one, and most importantly, offstage and beyond the realm of female impersonation.”

“The inspiration came because I felt like there was something needed in the world,” Knight said. “I’ve met so many people because of my career path. I know that I’ve changed lives.”

Knight used her platform to raise $15,000 in donations after tornadoes hit Bowling Green in 2021. 

Despite the positive impact drag has had on herself and the community, Knight said that performing has its downsides as well.

“There was a time when it was all about fun, right? And joy, and just being on stage and creating new costumes or evening gowns or whatever,” Knight said. “I still find joy in it, but lately, it’s more draining than anything. ”

Knight said there always seems to be drama within her community and other local drag communities.

“You think that the drama is clearing up, and you think you’re making progress, and then you get knocked 10 steps back,” Knight said. “If it’s not with your community, it’s with the government trying to make laws that legalize discrimination. It just becomes overwhelming.”

Despite the challenges, Knight said many queens still just want to perform while others want to use their platforms to enact positive change in the world. Many queens have used their platforms and performances to help bring people together in the seemingly disconnected community of Bowling Green,
Knight said. 

“There are queens out there truly trying to make a difference, and I think that’s more important to focus on especially in a world full of hate right now,” she said. “I truly think that we can make positive changes in this world, but it’s gonna have to take a big effort.”

Louisville senior Syrenity Smith has been attending drag shows since she was in high school. She said she has been to many performances in Louisville, Bowling Green, Nashville and even in the Netherlands.

Growing up, Smith watched a lot of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and has always loved the queer community.

She said that the drag shows in Bowling Green feel very personal and inclusive, no matter who you are.

“With most types of shows, there is a disconnect between the entertainer and the audience, but with drag, it just feels like one nice community,” Smith said. “You can fit into the crowd no matter who you are or what you look like. You can literally just be yourself and nobody cares.” 

Smith said that when she attends shows, she can tell that it takes an enormous amount of effort and dedication to be a drag queen.

“They have to be so creative with their ideas and picking songs. They have to learn all of the lyrics to the songs. And then they have to figure out a way to keep the audience entertained,” she said. “I could not do it.”

Queen Illusion Michaels performs at the Mr. and Miss BG Pride Pageant at BG FuZion on Saturday, Sept. 2. Wearing a hand-made rainbow costume, Michaels performed for the first time in 18 years at the pageant.

Smith said she is angered by the targeted discrimination the drag community has received in recent times with the Senate bill 115 in Kentucky that attempted to restrict all drag performances.

“They do it because it’s entertaining and it makes people feel seen and expressive and build a community that’s, like, safe for individuals,” Smith said. “They’re just chilling, having fun.”

Rita Room is a drag queen from Bowling Green and has been performing since 2018. For two and a half years, Room has been a part of the bearded queen community, where she leaves her beard on her face when she performs. 

She said she incorporates a lot of her musical theater background into her persona.

“My style is very much like campy comedy with a little bit of rock ’n’ roll thrown in,” Room said. 

Room described her drag persona as an extension of who she is in real life. As someone who has performed in theater her whole life, she has always played characters. 

“I’m really shocked when I see people, and I’m not in drag because they’re like, ‘Oh! You’re not Rita, you look totally different,’” Room said. 

Room said political activism is a significant aspect of her drag career. She is the current ambassador representative for Drag Out The Vote, a nonprofit organization that has helped increase voter participation within the drag community, according to its website. 

As someone who has had struggles with her own identity and sexuality, Room said the most rewarding part was being able to find her place in the drag community. She said that she has been able to help others with their journey of self-discovery and become comfortable in their own skin. 

“It’s given me an outlet and given me a platform to stand on with my own personal journey,” she said.

Room has experienced many hardships since she joined the bearded drag queen community.

As a bearded queen, Room said she has received judgment and criticism from both outsiders and members of the drag community. 

“I’ve been told I’m lazy. I don’t take the time that other queens take to do what they do. I’m not legitimate because I keep my beard,” she said.

However, Room said a lot of people have backpedaled on these statements after watching her perform. 

 “Let me get on your stage, and let me perform and then see what you think,” Room said.