Watch out, Wesleyan: America’s next drag superstars are ready to storm campus in five-inch platform heels. Cross-dressing is not a new concept for most students—just look at the popularity of events like Bend it at Beckham and The Rocky Horror Picture Show—but BELLIG, a new student group, hopes to raise the practice to a higher level, educating both its members and the greater University population about the art and culture surrounding drag.
Freshmen Matthew Catron, Johnny LaZebnik, and Nicole Ruiz drew their inspiration from RuPaul’s “Drag Race,” a reality television show that depicts host RuPaul Charles’s search for the newest and fiercest drag personality.
“We want to bring a little sparkle to Wesleyan,” Catron said.
The group’s leaders cited a skit at their freshman orientation as their inspiration for the name of the club, recalling one performer describing something as “totally bellig.” The word stuck.
“BELLIG is short for ‘belligerent,’” reads the group’s Facebook page, “which is exactly what we were when we found out that there was no pre-existing group for students to experiment with the beautiful, mahhhhvelous art of drag.”
Neither Catron, LaZebnik, nor Ruiz is particularly experienced with drag, but all are eager to create a space where they and other interested students can learn and practice the various skills involved. They plan to fill their meetings with guest speakers, hair and makeup demonstrations, viewings of drag-specific YouTube videos, and screenings of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Ruiz, who will offer her expertise with clothes, hair, and makeup, emphasized that BELLIG will be, above all else, a collaborative experience.
“I think it’s just going to be everyone learning together and trying to figure things out,” Ruiz said. “You can take what you want out of this. If there are things you don’t want to do, don’t feel pressured.”
The group will spend each meeting focusing on a different element of drag and will eventually begin planning performances to showcase its members’ newfound talent.
“I have this idea that we’ll get everyone a pair of heels to just chill in, and every [meeting] they’ll just wear them the whole time until they get used to walking in them,” LaZebnik said. “Then we can strut.”
Catron added that the experience will be tailored to each student’s individual desires, not to any one notion of what drag is.
“I will probably not be wearing heels because I will fall flat on my face,” Catron said. “If you want to wear flats, I’m with you too.”
BELLIG’s extravaganza show will involve lip-syncing, emceeing, voguing, and possibly stripping. The group further hopes to collaborate with QueerWes and student designers to put up a fashion show, the proceeds of which will go to a charity, possibly an AIDS-related group. Though the founders acknowledged that there will likely be overlap between their shows and WesBurlesque productions, BELLIG will of course be differentiated by the fact that all of its performers will be in drag.
BELLIG held its first meeting on Sunday, Feb. 3, the purpose of which was primarily to gauge interest and hear what the group’s members were interested in doing. LaZebnik prefaced the meeting with a disclaimer, emphasizing that he and his co-leaders are no more qualified than any of the meeting’s attendants to teach; BELLIG is merely their brainchild.
“I don’t know anything, and I’m not going to pretend like I do,” LaZebnik said. “Well, I might a little, but that’s because I’m pretentious.”
After explaining the purpose of the club and hearing its members’ expectations and levels of experience with drag, Catron, LaZebnik, and Ruiz—known in BELLIG as the Sass Master, the Queen, and the Sass Mistress, respectively—quizzed the assembled students on drag vocabulary.
“Drag vocab is the art of saying something and meaning nothing,” LaZebnik said.
One such phrase is “camp drag”: the traditional, over-the-top style popularized by drag queens such as BELLIG’s source of inspiration, RuPaul. Another phrase, “serving realness,” refers to exuding as realistically as possible a specific sort of female style. Yet another word, “voguing,” describes a form of dance inspired by Vogue magazine and the fashion runway. Voguing is perhaps one of the elements of drag with which the mainstream is more familiar: Madonna’s 1990 music video for the song “Vogue” featured the style prominently.
At the end of the day, BELLIG hopes to act as a forum for self-expression, exploration, and, above all, just plain fun.
“We just want to introduce the community to something new and interesting, and to open their minds about it,” LaZebnik said. “Everyone needs a little drag in their life.”