Art comes in many forms in Athens. With its popular local music, murals across Uptown and musical theater performances scattered about, Athens does not lack creativity. While all of those are the traditional things one may think of when it comes to art, there is only one form that encapsulates fashion, performance, music and a voice for many — drag.
The drag scene in Athens is “small but mighty,” according to one of Athens’ queens, Evelyn Everything. Out of drag, Evelyn is Jack Wilburn, a junior studying classics, from the Cincinnati area where he goes home nearly every weekend to perform.
“It is fueled by people who are passionate about drag as an art form,” Wilburn said. “They're not really there for the business. They're there because they love drag and that is so beautiful.”
Wilburn’s first experience with drag was “Ru Paul’s Drag Race,” where he took inspiration from many queens such as Naomi Smalls and Aquaria. Wilburn described Evelyn Everything as “fiery, cheeky and youthful” and strives to be well-rounded in all areas of drag and bring everything to the table.
Athens’ drag scene is driven by its loyal community and fanbase, allowing it to thrive and grow to reach a wider audience. Another goal many have is to inspire others with their drag. Reed Holt, a junior studying music production and the recording industry, strives to achieve this goal.
In drag, Holt is Rayley Saphron, a queen who takes part in pageant drag, which is seen as more dance-heavy and expensive-looking, said Holt. Rayley Saphron debuted with Evelyn Everything and has not looked back since.
“It's been a fun journey,” said Holt. “Even doing a lot of self-discovery about who I am, my gender, my self-expression and who I really am and want to be. It's kind of a confidence boost I never knew I needed or could have had. It's just been a whole magical experience seeing the reactions of people and the influence I've had this past year.”
Holt and Wilburn have been proud representatives in the Athens’ drag scene, and when it comes to hosting events in the community of Athens, Myke Linscott, general manager of The Union, is proud to have local queens on the stage.
“The thing they (people) love the most about the drag show is the community that shows up to support the drag show,” he said. “I think obviously the performer and the performance is what brings everyone together. But I think it's really that community element of it, of everyone showing up and supporting something and enjoying something together.”
Linscott said he believed while the scene in Athens is on the smaller side, it is still growing and the support for it has no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Similarly, Wilburn shared his thoughts on the importance of the existence of the scene in a small town like Athens.
“It is so important because there are so many young queer people who are sort of ostracized by the larger community of Athens,” he said. “Having that sort of escape and art form for people to look up to or sort of dive into is really valuable and it gives us a sense of community that I don't think we would otherwise have.”
Despite the support drag has in places like Athens, Ohio lawmakers are proposing legislation that threatens the existence of drag. According to News 5 Cleveland, House Bill 245 explicitly defines drag queens and kings and will prohibit "adult cabaret performances in locations other than adult cabarets."
This legislation is a cause for fear among drag artists and the craft they have designated so much time to perfecting. Regardless of this fear, drag artists are more inspired than ever to show everyone what drag really is.
For many, drag is a creative outlet and a way to express themselves with the support of others. For everyone in the drag community, it is a welcoming and fierce family.
“There are so many (artists) for being a little old, Athens, Ohio, in the middle of nowhere,” said Holt. “There's so much representation. I don't think a lot of that sometimes surprises me, but I love having the community, the drag family that we have that we have here. It's amazing.”
Linscott, Wilburn and Holt all said to be on the lookout for upcoming events to spread more love through one of Athens’ most expressive and creative art forms.
“It’s good to have a representation anywhere and everywhere for the LGBT+ community and drag queens and drag kings and drag artists are viewed as very strong pillars in the LGBT+ community,” Holt said. “Having art drag artists in just any area is such a beneficial thing.”