Man, I feel like a woman

By Fred Koschmann

Hundreds of straight-back chairs faced an empty stage Friday night in the South Lounge of the Union. Within an hour, about 700 viewers filled the seats, and six professional showmen took over the stage – dressed glamorously as women.

The Illini Union Board’s annual drag queen show, Viva las Divas, featured the showmen of Stella Productions, an entertainment company based in Chicago. For the first time, students were not the only ones to direct and perform in the show.

Gender was to be the night’s topic and showcase, but the point, according to the performers, was to forget about it, if possible, and even transcend it.

“There’s nothing to be scared of, honey,” September Murphy, the show’s emcee, told an audience member. “We’re just men in dresses.”

Though cross-dressing is an important part of the homosexual community, the organizers and many of the audience members alike wanted to dispel any stereotyping.

“This show should help people understand that this is a perfectly good part of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns),” said Dan Schlacks, freshman in LAS who helped organize the event. “But it’s not all of it.”

Michelina Hassell, sophomore in LAS, saw similar significance in the event.

“It’s about being proud,” Hassell said. “In a way, it’s like the Civil Rights Movement – showing the world who they are, that it’s them.”

If the antidote to prejudice is exposure and awareness, the performers were more than ready to show who they were.

The first one up, Monique Green, came out covered in a shiny black slip but soon shed it for a skimpy and sequined dress. He strutted across the stage, through the isles and snaked through the audience, as the spotlight followed him all the while. The lyrics to his song were to set the mood for the night: a dress has always been my strongest suit.

The show itself included a long series of lip-synching performances, many of which were done as impersonations of Tina Turner, Cher and Madonna, for example. Audience members were encouraged to give tips, as the performers worked the crowd from all angles.

“It’s definitely unique,” Brian Griffith, freshman in business and committee chair of the Illini Union Board, said before the show. “It will push people outside of their comfort zones.”

As the bass from the music thumped before the show, some audience members couldn’t help but dance in anticipation. The air, though, was a curious blend of both celebration and nervous skepticism. Many audience members seemed apprehensive about what they were about to witness.

Even the show’s organizers admitted that they’ve never been to a drag show. They were ready to experience one though and were glad to offer the community this opportunity.

“It’s important to see that facet of gay identity,” Griffith said.

Ultimately, the show was received with enormous cheers, and the crowd was right with the performers for every song, dance and joke.

September Murphy, the show’s emcee, was as uninhibited a speaker as anyone is likely to find, and backstage before the show, he knew exactly why he had to be.

“This allows people to know that they can grow up being who they want to be,” he said.