“You will not silence us” – Drag brings resistance to oppression

Following hours of performance, drag queens bask in audience applause. Photo by Nick Childs.

On March 17, Campus Activities partnered with Student Government Association and Intercultural Affairs to bring the annual drag show back to Cullowhee. Axis Security ensured the community was safe. 

The show was hosted by Katarina SynClaire and featured Mayhem Miller, a drag queen who appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” along with other performers, including some fellow Catamounts and queens from a local drag group, Sylva Belles. 

Drag is meant to build a community, entertain, and be a message of resistance. 

Hundreds of community members showed up to rock Ramsey with their applause, cheers, and stomps. Attendees laughed, danced, and clapped. At times you could feel the energy in the building lift as attendees came together to have a fun time or simply forget about outside problems for a few hours that night.  

Parts of the night brought out bittersweet emotions as Mayhem Miller and Katarina SynClaire shared tales and life stories.  

Performers described drag as their voice, their passion, and their expression. 

“Don’t ever let someone take your voice! Voices are made to be heard, not silenced,” SynClaire told the attendees as applause echoed. 

As a trans woman and drag performer, SynClaire has faced plenty of attacks during her decade-long drag career. She has persisted through North Carolina’s attempt at H.B. 2 in 2016 requiring individuals to use the bathroom corresponding with their assigned biological sex, personal social media attacks, and various states introducing legislation that many view as anti-LGBTQ, anti-trans, and anti-drag. 

Despite repeated attacks, SynClaire always bounces back stronger. 

Anti-LGBTQ legislations and bills are under the latest culture war umbrella, with many conservative politicians and states seemingly attacking the LGBTQ+ community. 

Tennessee Senate Bill 3 (TN SB0003) makes “adult cabaret performance” on public property or on areas that may be viewed by minors an offense. First-time offenders may receive a misdemeanor with subsequent offenders threatened with a felony. The bill defines “adult cabaret performance” as featuring “topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient [sexual] interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration.” 

TIME reported that Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia have all also introduced anti-drag bills. 

Conservative supporters claim these measures are being taken to protect children, prevent grooming and sexualization of minors, and restrict what they view as obscenity.  

Left-leaning individuals, LGBTQ+ advocates, and fans of drag say these shows are there to offer entertainment and relief. 

Drag performers, like SynClaire and the lovely performers who graced WCU with their presence, say drag is not meant to offend or groom. It’s how they share their voices. Again, voices are meant to be heard, not silenced. 

The Carolinian asked SynClaire her thoughts on the current state of drag through Instagram. While many fear and are saddened by anti-drag culture, SynClaire said the community has encountered oppression before and still survived. 

“It is an opportunity to look at our history. We have stood together and overcome these situations before,” she responded. 

While talking about her career and attacks she has outlasted, SynClaire left a message of resilience on stage. “We are not going anywhere. You will not silence us.” 

SynClaire quit drag at the beginning of her transition. It was a dark period during her life, one in which she self-harmed. Yet she overcame the attacks and negative emotions. “I don’t do drag for money or fame. This is my voice,” she reiterated. 

She said drag is not meant to hurt anybody. It is uplifting, fun, and inspiring. For some, SynClaire included, it is salvation. “It’s about having fun in the face of everything negative throughout your life. It saved my life,” she emphasized into the mic. 

Eyes watered. No doubt some in the audience were moved to tears. 

In an intermission from the dancing and fun, SynClaire hosted a Q&A with Mayhem Miller. SynClaire asked Miller why she got into drag to which Miller responded, “I don’t do drag for you.” Miller just has fun doing it and enjoys being herself. 

Miller saw the opportunity and ran with it. She encouraged the audience to manifest their destiny and be confident in themselves. Make your own path. “If you don’t have the space and opportunity to get your path, make your own.”  

Miller paused. The audience lit up with applause. 

Miller concluded the Q&A with a powerful statement. “Know you’re beautiful and don’t let nobody tell you differently. If they do, tell ‘em to f— off.” The audience erupted. 

The performers took the stage to be themselves and entertain the audience. It’s worth noting that the audience overwhelmingly enjoyed the show. Money was given to the performers since it is customary to tip. Afterall, it is their life. For many performers, this is their job, their livelihood, how they make their living. 

Excited screams, laughs, and chants rang through Ramsey’s ears and poured out of its roof. Some profanity was said, some dances were meant to be sexy, scandalous, but in an overdone manner for laughs. Good times were had. It was the nature of the show.