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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A retrospective on “Carleton’s a Drag” and queer culture

As the second half of Winter Term comes into view, campus not only has spring break to look forward to, but also the Winter ’22 student drag show, set to take place on Feb. 18.

The show’s official title is “When Worlds Collide: A Futuristic Fantasy by Carleton’s a Drag.” According to the show’s founder, Joe Radinsky ’23, the theme was intentionally left open so as to provide for a range of looks. 

“You can go in a couple different directions: you can go robotic, alien, outer space, galactic or cosmos,” Radinsky said.

The theme not only offers performers a chance to explore futuristic expressions, not only for performers but for the audience as well who are “highly, highly, HIGHLY encouraged to come dressed up.” Radinsky said, “We want everyone to be coming out, showing out, being awesome.”

The show, like last term, will also feature a runway during intermission where audience members are encouraged to show off their makeup and outfits — as well as themselves. For Radinsky as a performer, “to go into the audience, seeing people going all in is so rewarding and is so fun.” Regarding their own performance, Radinsky won’t share details but promises that “it will be remarkable, it will be memorable and it is going to be so much fun.”

Radinsky created their drag persona, DÜSH, while goofing off with a friend during their 8 a.m. creative writing class in high school. In terms of this persona, Radinsky likes to communicate both confidence and sensuality. “I really love feeling confident,” they said, especially when wearing makeup and cute outfits and when performing. “Sensuality is also really important to me, ‘cause I think that’s a really big source of power that is really undervalued and ignored.”

Their inspiration for their routines often involves “taking something really dumb, like so dumb, that really is not smart at all, and just making it the entire point of a drag number.” Over winter break, Radinsky did a performance as Gingy from Shrek where they were stuck to a sheet tray. Mundane, “dumb stuff” like that “makes me feel confident.” They love the audience’s reactions to these performances, especially when “people don’t take their eyes off me.”

They attribute this to their love of theater, “and I think one prerequisite of drag is liking attention — I like attention, and I like performing.”

Keeping in theme with the upcoming show, Radinsky is also inspired by sci-fi and fantastical themes in their makeup: “I just love, especially with my drag, those sort of larger than life and fantastical and colorful elements to what I do. Especially colors. I also love ugly things … I love it all.” Of makeup in general, “That’s what I love most about [drag]: you sort of transform your face and you go up on stage and you’re a different person.”

“I had been into drag for a while, through watching it through YouTube and Instagram. ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ of course … ” Radinsky says. “I was in sort of the mindset that I can’t just keep thinking about something but never do anything about it, and I was like, well if there was a school drag show, that would be a good way to just start doing drag, it would open the door.”

Seeing a friend start a drag organization at Wesleyan University, Radinsky realized the possibility of founding one at Carleton, beginning to think seriously about it the summer before their junior year. Throughout that winter (after being off-campus in the fall) Radinsky met with Danny Matthews of the GSC. “It was sort of like a twofold thing,” Radinsky says: planning administrative details like how to register an event, reserve a space and create the organization, as well as gauging student interest. “That was one of my worries, having a drag show and no one coming or caring.”

Upon arriving on campus, Radinsky remembers their excitement of being surrounded by so many queer people — 25% of campus according to the GSC during their Accepted Students Day. They realized then, “after a few weeks … it felt like there wasn’t much of community or connection.” For Radinsky, “Another reason for the drag show was sort of in response to a lack of queer community, or a lack of really strong, highly visible queer events on campus.”

The GSC hosts Pride Week every spring and Trans Empowerment Week in the fall, yet for Radinsky, “those are things I feel like are somewhat isolated and even though they’re big events, they’re not really highlighted on campus for whatever reason.” For the drag show, “I just wanted to have a big, queer party.”

The day of the first show, the event took place in The Cave, reminiscent of a typical setting for a drag performance, both “cozy and intimate.”

“[W]e literally packed The Cave when we did that show, like you couldn’t breathe, it was so full.” Radinsky didn’t anticipate the high level of turnout, recalling the day’s weather being “so crappy outside, let’s just say there was some forces that, it felt like, were out to get me during that day.” After that performance, Radinsky realized, “Oh, we need to level up, because clearly the demand is here. Part of the development, I mentioned, was seeing the initial interest, but after that show, it was so much.”

“In regards to queer community on campus, I think it is a point of coming together, a point of highlighting queer students and queer voices and now it’s in Sayles,” Radinsky reflects. “[The fall performance was] one of the biggest student events I’ve ever been to, and that was the second time that we did it. We filled Upper and Lower Sayles completely.”

Of Carleton’s a Drag’s third official performance: “This time around our tech and production level are gonna be amped up. We’re continually leveling up because we see the potential.”

The performances are also mutual aid fundraisers.  Audiences are asked to donate what they can and many performers give their tips to the cause. Radinsky said that the first two shows combined raised over a thousand dollars for the cause and that “for the queer community, mutual aid is especially important.”

Historically, drag is a political art form, with many performers weaving political messages into programs and the art being criminalized and stigmatized across the country. “To have sort of a political aspect and community building aspect,” Radinsky says. “This is a way to not only highlight queer art, but also to call attention to that continued need … to support everyone in our community.”

“I think that always with queerness there are gonna be representations and identities that are ‘more accepted, more acceptable than others’ and that is true in the world generally and that also applies to Carleton,” Radinsky says. “What identities seem to be more valued, exist also not just in sexuality, but exist along the lines of gender, race, and class.”

In regards to the drag show’s acceptance on campus, Radinsky says that it was something that campus just hadn’t seen. “Honestly, I feel like there’s been a really great reception to the show. There has been a lot of support from a lot of different people … students and staff.”

Right now, the show is focusing on “looping people into the process” of organizing a show, as Joe had done much of the work themself in the past. They are also trying to “lower barriers to entry. It’s not an exclusive thing, like, the whole point about drag is that anyone can do it.” For anyone interested in the makeup workshops and performing, the GSC reimburses the cost of makeup, which can be quite expensive.

“I think that we’re on a good track, and expansion is something that we’re actively thinking about and planning for as we ramp up for Spring Term, which is going to be even bigger,” Radinsky says, but the rhythm they are hoping to hit in this process “can change, and we hope that it changes and we hope that it grows and we hope that it gets better, ‘cause it’s getting better every time, and we just started.”

As a graduating senior and the founder of Carleton’s a Drag, Joe Radinsky is confident in the future of the organization. “The whole point of this is to have something sort of lasting at Carleton, ‘cause this can always be an opportunity for people to get started with drag or to show up and showcase their talent and their skills,” they say. Radinsky founded the show “to celebrate queerness, to celebrate transness, to celebrate all these people at Carleton, and to showcase this art form.”

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About the Contributor
Cecilia Samadani
Cecilia Samadani, Features Editor
I'm an English major with interests in Creative Writing and Middle East Studies minors. I love all things related to art whether that be writing, drawing, music or dance, and am an avid cat person. Cecilia '26 (she/her) was previously a Staff Writer.

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