Mary beth Bjork

Equinox Staff


On Monday, April 2 in the Mabel Brown Room, students gathered to watch nationally famous drag queen Shanelle from Hope’s Voice (a national organization devoted to raising awareness of HIV/AIDs) give her testimony and also open it up to question and answers.

The drag queen diva said,  “Drag is smoke and mirrors. I believe everybody is in drag every day of their lives because we’re all born naked and everything that we all put on is all drag.”

Shanelle has worked at the Gypsy Bar, a bar featured on the first season of the show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” She has also performed nationwide in front of thousands and is now part of Hope’s Voice.

Shanelle, also known as Brian Watkins, said that Hope’s Voice is, “A great program because what it does is that we do entertainment and performance-based seminars and lectures so we’re able to go into different college campuses and perform and to deliver our diversity stories. To be able to give hope to people out there that feel that there’s no voice left.”

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Shanelle said while taking off their makeup after the show backstage, “I want people to understand that the art of drag female impersonation is not about that you’re a freak. It’s not about that you want to be a women drag is about entertainment and it’s meant to be fun. It’s meant to be enjoyable.”

According to Shanelle, her two different identities are pretty different. “[There is a] definite personality difference. I’m very out there, loud, outspoken. I think Brian is a lot more laid back, toned down. It’s a job, it’s a profession. I’m paid to be loud, to be flamboyant, ostentatious. If Shanelle was a person she’d probably be unliked; it’s a lot of personality for one person if Shanelle was real.”

When asked about his own sexuality, Watkins spoke about his belief that people are born that way. “I feel I myself was born gay. I think that someone who truly is gay has probably always understood and always known their whole life.”

During the question and answer session at the end, a student in the audience asked Shanelle to share with the audience how Brian “came out of the closet” to his parents. Shanelle said, “I was forced into it, they caught me. I was 17. There was an Italian guy. He was straight. He came over, one thing led to another, my mom walked in,” Shanelle explained.

“She [said], ‘Oh my god! What happened?’ and she came up [to my room] and I [said], ‘I have something to tell you’ and she said, ‘I know, you like sex a lot.’ I said, ‘I’m gay, that was a guy.’” Shanelle said that once he came out, her mother said, “I thought you were experimenting.”

Shanelle explained her mom cried for about 30 minutes.

“I said, ‘Please don’t tell Dad.’ My dad already came out to me and told me he was gay and he said, ‘If I ever had a child and he turned out to be gay,’ that he would feel like a failure. I told him he was not a failure,” she said.

Gender stereotypes within the gay and straight communities also created discussion between Shanelle and the audience.

“People have stereotypes that the society and the world have on us. Oddly enough, lesbianism seems to be more accepted than homosexuality with gay men. I mean two women you can see walking down the street holding their hands and no one [says], ‘Oh my god, what’s that?’ but you see two guys walking down the street and you have to stop and take a photo because you’ve never seen a gay man in your entire life.”

The turnout may not have been up to the normal standards, but Watkins believed the audience would walk away with a positive experience.

“I wish that we had a better turnout but I feel that the audience that was here was very supportive and understanding.” He said, “I hope that they were able to walk out with a new feeling or a new perspective on things.”

“My goal and objective on all of the campus programs that I do is for people, when they leave, if they felt that maybe all hope was lost, that there is still a voice at the end of the tunnel,” Watkins said.


Marybeth Bjork can be contacted at


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