Portland is known for its drag scene, which features famed acts like 89-year-old Darcelle, the Guinness World Records’ oldest drag queen, and Carla Rossi, who was at the center of the “Drag Queen Storytime” controversy at the St. John’s Library. However, most of the drag scene is inaccessible to people under 21 due to liquor laws.
Despite these challenges, all-ages drag persists in Portland, challenging the idea that drag is inherently limited to adults. Lewis & Clark students and alumni have been involved in this push for youth-accessible drag.
Junix Senner ’20 is one of the founders of the drag collective Dang Heckin’ Nerdy Drag, which frequently hosts all-ages drag shows at Marrow PDX.
“Alex and I, my friend who got me into drag, just saw that lack (of all-ages drag) and wanted to fill in the gap and to be at least one of the spaces that was actively trying to include youth in drag,” Senner said. “I think it’s a loss to the community when we don’t give (young people) the opportunity.”
Senner, who is doing his thesis on drag, aspires to make drag his full-time job after graduation, despite the financial challenges that poses. His drag, which often challenges gender and has spooky and nerdy inspirations.
“I find it personally really empowering,” Senner said. “It gives me the opportunity to be authentic and do things that I can’t do in my ‘normal life’ where I have to abide by all the societal standards that don’t actually fit who I am.”
Senner first performed as his drag persona Prince Lavender a little over a year ago as part of a Marrow PDX show. Marrow PDX is a Portland nonprofit youth space that “aims to empower teens to take ownership over their education, and to foster a community of youth who are visually, socially and culturally literate,” according to its mission statement.
The organization offers free membership for 10- to 24-year-olds and frequently hosts events for LGBTQ+ youth, including drag shows. The space is one of the few non-bar venues in Portland that hosts drag shows.
“There’s a lot of youth who want to like be a part of the queer community,” Senner said. “Drag, as a specifically queer space, is a really great way to do that, but (minors) just can’t go because it’s at a bar.”
Anya Upson ’23 also performs drag as Anyanka Romanov and has found it difficult to find venues both in Berkeley where they grew up and in Portland.
“I only could ever really perform at all ages venues like brunches and Hamburger Mary’s in San Francisco, which they’re fine,” Upson said. “I’m glad I had those opportunities, but their audience is more like tourists and families, so there’s not an opportunity to do what I really wanted to do.”
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) requires minor postings at any location where drinking is a predominant activity or a “drinking environment” is established. This may mean minors, or people under 21, may not be allowed on the premise at all, or in specific areas. At Dang Heckin’ Nerdy Drag’s most recent show on Oct. 11, the Ghastly Gala, this was a limitation. Guests under 21 were only allowed in the portion of the Aerie & Auxiliary where the stage was, and were restricted from entering the area of the venue with a bar. Upson attended this show and they found the venue odd, but recognized why the show was held there.
“I wish there was more drag available to all ages, but at the same time I do understand where people are coming from when they make shows that are 18+ or 21+, partly because of the alcohol thing, but also because like some of the things that happen on stage can be pretty explicit and intense,” Upson said.
College campuses also serve as another outlet for drag that people under 21 can access. LC hosts several shows a year by Gagged LC, a student led organization headed by Maya Winshell ’21. Gagged LC started in February 2018 after efforts in years past to hold drag shows at LC had failed.
Winshell’s drag centers on pop culture references and is “stupid, silly and sexy,” according to Winchell. She’s found difficulty accessing the scene as a performer who is 20.
“Some amazing people have put together under-21-accessible drag events through organizations like Marrow PDX, but in my experience all ages or 18+ cover-free events are few and far between,” Winshell said via email. “I think that it’s crucial that drag be accessible to youth in Portland, because of the way it can allow LGBTQ+ youth a safe space to express themselves, and to find and participate in their community, discovering mentors, friends and allies.”
Gagged LC’s next show is Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Platteau.
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