Just Be a Queen – Defining Drag Culture in Oxford, Ohio

By Bella Douglas

Oxford, Ohio is the fount of many things, considering the mere seven square miles it encompasses. Home to Miami University’s 17,000 undergraduates, the Crunch and Munch and Brick Street Bar and Grill, Oxford provides a picture-perfect college existence for many.  More surprisingly, it also used to house a vibrant—albeit underground—drag scene on 13 W. High St.

To be clear, I mean underground in both senses of the word. Aptly named, Cellar Bar happens to be literally underground, but it is also the former host of one of Oxford’s more subversive scenes. In the past, queens such as Kisha Summers, Khloee Jae and Sarah Jessica Darker graced the humble dive with their presence on Turn Up Tuesdays.

Events like these are extremely important in diversifying campus life for students who may not fit into the traditional roles established by our heteronormative culture. It’s a shame that Turn Up Tuesdays have fallen through the cracks. With the rise of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the increased visibility of drag culture, one can only hope that something similar will take its place and offer a welcoming environment for the marginalized.

I reached out to avid drag-fan and former Turn Up Tuesday regular, Eli Graham, to gain more insight into drag in Oxford and its influence on Miami’s ethos.

UP: What is your personal history with drag culture and how has it shaped who you are? What do you love about drag?

I first found drag culture toward the end of high school, and was immediately obsessed.  Like a lot of others, I tumbled into drag starting with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and now I’m attending shows whenever I can. To me, it’s this world of taking everything that was ever used to put you down and reclaiming it as your own. Finally there was this culture where I didn’t feel like I was trying to meet society’s expectations of gender, and I think that has worked to make me a lot more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I love that drag is a subversive culture formed by people who were sick of dealing with a society that constantly persecuted them for being different.

UP: How and why did you become involved with the drag scene at Miami? What did Turn Up Tuesdays consist of?

I heard about the shows at the Cellar from a friend who really wanted to go, so it was very spur of the moment. We went, hung out with some of the queens and loved every second of it because it wasn’t something we expected to see in Oxford during our time here—Oxford’s nightlife is not super diverse.

The shows usually involved six to seven queens that did two or three lip-sync performances each, with banter between sets with the host. During the songs, the audience tipped the queens and the queens interacted with the audience—it was just a very inclusive and fun environment, as long as everyone was respectful. I really hope to see it come back this year, because it was honestly the highlight of my week.

UP: What do you think drag’s purpose is in 2017? Do you think our country’s current political climate has influenced the culture of drag?

I think drag is very important in 2017 as a tool for the queer community to stay loud and proud, and to be a reminder that life is not always that serious. The political climate has definitely changed drag culture, as they are issues that can heavily effect [sic] everyone involved. Same-sex marriage being nationally legalized is a very recent event, and a right many in the community are scared to lose under our new leadership. Transgender people are losing their right to serve a country that has been less than friendly to them all the way up to this day. There’s a new fear holding the community together tightly and now’s the time to be louder than ever.

UP: Do you think that Miami University has a welcoming and inclusive environment where drag can be embraced as an acceptable form of self-expression and entertainment?

I think that Miami is welcoming enough, but I’m not sure that we’ll see drag fully embraced too quickly. When we would walk down High Street with the queens, there were always hateful comments and plenty of weird looks, so it’s not exactly the most appealing location for performers. However, even more discouraging than that, it seems to be treated as a novelty. After the first week, the Cellar was quickly losing attendance because everyone had already gotten their Instagram picture. It was sad to see that there were not very many people who wanted to support the show and make sure that these hardworking queens would be able to come back. However, I do hope to see a lot of attendance when BenDelaCreme from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” season six performs in Armstrong in November. To see such a huge name from the drag community being brought in by Miami makes me very, very happy and I can’t wait to see curious people to come see what the world of drag is all about.

UP: Drag has long been considered a form of insurrection and a powerful protest of heteronormative society. Do you feel like this is still the case?

I think it’s a huge form of protest to this day. It’s a way to speak up and be seen, especially with “Drag Race” being more popular than ever and a large number of homophobic people in positions of power. It’s time for the queer community to be seen and respected, and I think it’s finally time to get rid of our societal notions of what men and women, and all those who feel stuck in the middle, should be.

From UP’s 2017 Fall Magazine, Unconventional