Drag in Corvallis persists amidst national violence


Kate Zinke

Bela Lustrange performing at Bombs Away Cafe on April 20, 2023. They performed as a caterpillar to Beatles music and some of the sounds from Alice in Wonderland. They made their own outfit for this event.

Katie Livermore, News Reporter

Last year alone there were 124 attacks against events involving drag across the United States, and now that violence is seeping into the colorful drag community of Corvallis. 

Although many critics see drag as an act of crossdressing, according to Dharma Mirza, drag performer and graduate student studying women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University, drag is a celebration of gender.

“Drag really is just folks using gender and aesthetics to perform either a gender different than their own, or a hyper-exaggerated version of themself their own gender or something entirely out of this world,” Mirza said.

Whiteside Theatre, Max’s Food and More and Biere Library are a few spaces where drag performers participate in events around Corvallis. 

“It’s really great because here it’s different than a lot of the scene in Oregon,” Mirza said. “It’s been rooted in education, it’s been rooted in queer and trans of color liberation. We’ve always centered queer and trans people of color in the scene.”

Fernando De Los Santos, a local drag performer whose drag name is Carmela La Madrina, is the Haus mother of the Haus of Indica, where he and his co-producer hold a monthly show called “Saucy Saturdays.”

“Drag creates community amongst local and out of town queens,” De Los Santos said, “we get to know each other and see each other’s art flourish and grow with time we all cheer each other on.” 

Mithril Ajootian, a local Corvallis performer who goes by Charlotte D. Harlotte in drag, says that while drag is doing well in Corvallis, the recent violence surrounding drag events is “extremely concerning.”

“I canceled participating in a show last month because we had gotten so many anonymous threats of violence to a drag brunch, I was rightfully scared,” Ajootian said.

Ajootian said performers in the Haus of Dharma, a local Corvallis drag organization started by Mirza, are split in their opinions as to how they plan to handle these threats. Some individuals feel it’s time to lay low but others believe it’s the moment to be louder than ever before.

According to Mirza, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, there was an uptick in trans violence which ultimately lead into drag violence.

“People are experiencing a lot of violence. I’ve never felt actually scared to do drag until this year, like this is coming up (on) 10 years of tenure as a community organizer and drag queen,” Mirza said. “I used to walk around in Albany, in like skag drag, 18 years old and not be afraid. But now I’m afraid leaving my house.”

Ahead of an early April drag brunch held at Biere Library, Mirza, who was set to perform in the event, received death threats and feared the event would be canceled. 

Recently advertisements for the all ages drag brunches held at Biere Library have added a content warning including content warnings for potential strong language, suggestive humor and body positive expression, according to Mirza. 

On April 2, the day of the brunch, protestors were waiting outside of Biere Library and as Mirza got out of her car. They stuck phones in her face and began taking pictures of her and her car. 

During this, local community members and event security came to Mirza’s aid, outnumbering the protestors, and the protesters left. 

According to Mirza, the best way for OSU students and Corvallis residents to take action amidst the concerning climate is to support local organizations like Haus of Dharma, Haus of Indica and the venues that currently hold performances in the community.

In fact, financially supporting the venues by attending events means getting the drag performers paid for their performances. Many drag performers rely on these events and monetization of their social media accounts as a part of their income. 

De Los Santos said showing up and supporting local events will help create a safe space for all to participate in Corvallis drag. 

As for the future of drag in Corvallis, Mirza envisions having a designated space for drag, as the current spaces have limited capacities, only being able to turn into a drag space for a day. She hopes this designated permanent drag space will take the form of a gay bar opening in Corvallis someday.

De Los Santos hopes drag is accessible to everyone who wants to participate without the fear of violence, wondering if it’ll be their last show. 

“I hope we can express ourselves without the backlash of ignorant anger and misunderstanding. We are not dangerous, we are not perverted or dirty. We are beautiful, sacred and divine. We are living art” Ajootian said.

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