Dragademia mixes scholarship and performance

May 24, 2024

On April 18, the Hatcher Library hosted a book talk like no other.

Dragademia featured drag queens Lola von Miramar and LaWhore Vagistan taking a deep dive into two books that examine the cultural narratives and social issues surrounding drag performances. And while their experiences as performers were more than relevant to the conversation, both had additional standing to speak about the books in question.

The authors behind the personas — U-M Professor of Spanish, Latina/o, and Women's and Gender Studies Larry La Fountain-Stokes (von Miramar), and Tufts University Associate Professor of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies Kareem Khubchandani (Vagistan) have infused their books with the fruits of years of scholarly research as well as their multifaceted identities both in and out of drag.

La Fountain-Stokes invested over 20 years of research on drag and Puerto Rican culture in his book Translocas: The Politics of Puerto Rican Drag and Trans Performance, and he says performing as von Miramar, a bilingual Puerto Rican queen, has allowed him to engage Latinx audiences through an authentic cultural lens.

"I'm really interested in the politics of drag — how the arts use drag as an anti-racism tool to build awareness, promote bilingualism, spotlight transgender people, and more," he explained. "There's a complex line between drag and transgender identity that's important to understand."

Khubchandani's persona embodies the "South Asian aunty" archetype while challenging societal norms. Their recent book Decolonize Drag calls for liberating drag from its colonial roots and Western ideals of gender.

A performance followed by a performance

The conversation — itself a performance, during which the queens expressed great admiration for each other as well as appreciation for and deep knowledge of the books and authors under discussion — was wide-ranging, funny, and profound.

"Have you read the book?" LaWhore asked Lola, as they began talking about Translocas. 

"I tried," Lola responded. The audience, among them students and colleagues of Translocas author La Fountain-Stokes who were encountering his drag persona for the first time, gave a knowing laugh. 

"It's a little bit dense. It does require some patience." But, she added, "I think Larry La Fountain-Stokes did a really good job writing that book."

Drag queens in full dress and makeup talking into handheld microphones.
LaWhore Vagistan and Lola von Miramar answer audience questions in the Hatcher Library Gallery.

Among the topics discussed was an interrogation of how different identities cross. "One thing I noticed is that Dr. Khubchandani does not use the word intersectionality once," Lola said. The book, she explained, makes the argument that "our identities aren't just meeting, but they make each other." The shape of the face drag queens often aim for in their makeup routines "is a distinctly white one." 

Interspersed among important and thoroughly studied insights about the persistent role of drag in society and culture (yes, they do discuss Ru Paul's Drag Race) are some revelations about the logistics of preparing for a drag performance, including the advantages and disadvantages of silicone (more lifelike, but expensive) versus white athletic socks (cheap, but absorb a lot of sweat during a performance).

The book talk was followed by a brief but compelling performance by each of the presenters, and a book signing where they presumably produced more than plausible facsimiles of the authors' signatures. 

See a full recording of the event on YouTube, or go straight to the singing.

Dragademia was presented by the U-M Arts Initiative — which seeks to illuminate and expand human connections, inspire collaborative creativity, and build a more just and equitable world through the arts — in partnership with the library.


by Lynne Raughley

Lola von Miramar and LaWhore Vagistan.


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