"It takes a lot of money to look this cheap"

Illustration by Aleah Green

From wearing mountains of hair to hand crafting the most extravagant dresses, the drag scene in Flagstaff is growing rapidly.

Drag is a form of performance entertainment in which individuals use extravagant costumes and makeup. They usually perform by dance, singing or other onstage shows.

Anya Mann calls herself a “drag race baby boomer” and said she was influenced by “RuPaul’s Drag Race” to start doing drag.

“I remember watching the first season of “Drag Race” in secret after my family had gone to bed,” Mann said.

However, Mann really got into the drag scene by attending, and eventually participating, in drag shows on campus. Mann knew she wanted her name to have a pun. She originally wanted to be named Anya Knutz, but the name was already taken by another queen in Los Angeles.

Although Mann’s style is influenced by pop culture and other queens on social media, most of her outfits are made by hand. Mann said she struggled with makeup in the beginning but has perfected one neutral look to complement all her outfits.

Before drag, Mann had little experience with sewing. Now her pieces are well-known in and out of the community. Some of Mann’s dresses will even be featured at the Miss Gay America pageant, which according to their website is a beauty pageant for female impersonators. Mann handcrafted dresses for a performer and their backup dancers for the upcoming event.

Mann said the local drag scene has grown so much recently. Years ago there were only a handful of shows, and now there are several happening every month.

“These multiple shows make our presence known,” Mann said. “This helps open more minds in this already accepting community.”

Drag also allowed Mann to showcase her extroverted personality.

“Drag is like a superhero cape, and it helps people step out of their comfort zone,” Mann said. “It allows me to do and say things that I wouldn’t normally without caked-on makeup … and 8 pounds of hair.”

Drag has allowed Mann to meet new people and grow as a person. She said she has made friends in the drag scene who she now considers family.

“Drag will always be a part of my life,” Mann said. “As long as someone wants me to, I’ll put on my best rhinestone dress and give them a show.”

Drag has given Mann the opportunity to help the Flagstaff community through fundraising. She has participated in Wrecking Ball Flagstaff, an organization that raises bail money for undocumented people to get out of detention. She has also been in events that benefit the Shadows Foundation, a charity for people struggling with medical bills.

Mann said that drag isn’t only for cisgendered men. Anyone who wants to entertain can be a part of the community and are encouraged to do so. Drag queens can also be very approachable and open to engagement. However, boundaries and consent are also taken very seriously.

“Respect all drag performers. Always ask permission before touching, and please tip your entertainers,” Mann said. “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”

The biggest struggle that Mann said she has faced as a member of the drag community is getting from one show or event to another. The cost of traveling around Arizona can add up. Mann said she’s thankful that she has friends in the community who welcome her into their home. She also said she’s lucky to come from an open-minded family who are supportive of her art. The effect of drag also extends to people off the stage.

NAU graduate student Lauren Ellis is writing her master’s thesis on drag performances. Ellis has even had roles as a dollar boy, someone who collects tips for performers at drag shows, and is even considering becoming a drag king and performing in local events.

“I believe it will be a beneficial creative outlet for my mental health and an overall fun and exciting experience,” Ellis said.

Although the drag scene is up and coming, Ellis said members of the community still face discrimination, and performing in drag can be a safety risk.

“I believe drag affects the community, primarily in a positive way,” Ellis said. “Drag provides a space for queer individuals to engage in creative expression and to make radical political statements.”

Junior Roshauna James said she recently became a fan of drag and is happy to support individuals in the LGBTQ+ community. She said she appreciates how much time and sacrifice it takes to make a performance into an art form.

“I could never get on a stage and be that confident,” James said. “Today, it takes a lot of courage to be unapologetically yourself.”

Anyone interested in getting involved in Flagstaff’s drag scene can see Mann host a drag show Sept. 28 at the Green Room in downtown Flagstaff.