Queens of the Queen City

For these favorite Cincinnati drag queens, performance and Pride go hand in hand

The headliner of this year’s Saturday night Pride Festival is a collection of queens who competed on RuPaul’s Drag Race: Derrick Barry, Pearl, Tatianna, Roxxxy Andrews and BenDeLaCreme. And while they may be closing out the evening, the Queen City’s rich queen scene will be on full display all day on two stages with a handful of drag showcases featuring everyone from blonde queens and Goth queens to rhinestone-bedecked queens and fully choreographed lip-sync queens stomping it out on stage.

But as entertaining as drag is, it isn’t just a reality show or a sideshow for Becky’s bachelorette party — it’s a culture. Drag is an art fueled by resistance: resistance to the social construction of gender and the feeling of being made invisible, which should be doubly appreciated during Pride, an annual celebration and affirmation of personal, sexual and gender expression. It’s drag queens who leverage their stage to raise awareness and money for individuals and the community. In Cincinnati, drag is activism and LGBTQ+ expression, and these lovely ladies are at the forefront.

click to enlarge PHOTO: SCOTT DITTGEN
Photo: Scott Dittgen

Jessica Dimon

Drag is an expression of self, but when she started performing, Jessica Dimon didn’t know who she was. “I knew I was transgender but I didn’t know what it was or what I was feeling, so I assumed I was gay,” she says. “I thought my feet were too big and I was too tall to transition.”

When her best friend, Nomi, introduced her to drag, she really introduced Dimon to who she truly was. “I dressed up one time and it was everything,” she says.For me, drag was not about beautiful wigs and dramatic makeup, it was about being a woman. It was my escape to figure out who I was and years into it I figured out I could transition. I can like who I am.”

Now, Dimon (pronounced Diamond) is the It Girl of Cincinnati — an over-the-top, glamorous blonde bombshell. Think big hair, big boobs and big personality.

She is the host and show director of the drag show at The Dock Nightclub. “Being a host, you get to talk and help people feel welcome,” she says. “I never try to insult people, instead I try to lift them up and help them feel better. My audience are my friends not my fans. I really focus on that.”

Dimon’s job is to ensure everyone is having a good time, but she takes it further to help those who are trans.  

“There are so many people who are trans and don’t even know it, so many people who are suicidal or depressed and unhappy because they can’t figure out who they are and I try to guide them,” she says. “I perform in benefits for them to help with housing and fund hormones. Personally I’ll introduce them to doctors and talk to them.”

Performances: 8 p.m. Wednesday at Queen City Radio, 222 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, qcrbar.com; 4-4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pride Festival, Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, cincinnatipride.org; regular performances 11:30 p.m. Fridays and Sundays at The Dock Nightclub, 603 W. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, searchable on Facebook.

click to enlarge PHOTO: SCOTT DITTGEN
Photo: Scott Dittgen

Judith Iscariot

Drag is about pushing society’s boundaries and few do it better than “black sheep” performer and social satirist Judith Iscariot.

“I test the limits of what people feel they are comfortable with laughing at. It’s intelligent stupidity,” Iscariot says. “I come off as a dark Goth queen, but I consider myself more of a twisted comedy queen.”

Judith is a feminization of Judas Iscariot from the Bible. With her name, Iscariot questions whether Judas is the ultimate villain or a betrayed martyr. Iscariot has been there. After breaking up with an emotionally abusive man who put her through hell, she was vilified. She needed an escape.

“I heard about an open stage drag competition and thought that just for one night I could escape (myself) and become Judith,” she says. “I’d found a performative therapy to get in touch with my emotions and let an entire audience know how I’m feeling.”

Iscariot proves that drag goes deep, and she feels pride in what she does and in the history of the moment.  

“Drag is the artistry that set the LGBTQ+ fight in motion,” she says. “The very first person to throw a brick during Stonewall was Marsha P. Johnson, a trans woman of color considered to be a drag performer. Drag was at the forefront of LGBTQ+ equality. As a staple of the community, drag queens have to be included. Queens should be at the forefront of pride parades and every year I make sure that I do something important.” 

While Iscariot is not a part of a regular cast, she can be found most often at Main Event (835 Main St., Downtown), but prefers being booked for private events where her versatility is challenged and her dark charm is appreciated. 

Performances: 2:30-3 p.m. Saturday at the Pride Festival, Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, cincinnatipride.org.

click to enlarge PHOTO: SCOTT DITTGEN
Photo: Scott Dittgen

Kisha Summers

Kisha Summers is a natural actress — a true chameleon who enjoys playing characters in meaningful ways. With her constantly changing look, ranging from your every day girl to an off-the-wall wild character, her only constant is that she will never be the same. Well, that and her signature pop of neon color. 

She truly appreciates the theatrical nature of drag, having performed all throughout high school. “Drag is nothing but bigger things in life,” she says. “Everything is bigger, everything is more dramatic and everything is more out of the box.” 

Her stage persona is “a girl that knows what she wants and knows how to get it,” yet this actress relishes the opportunity to use the stage to help her community. 

“I have friends who’ve had low points,” she says. “One of my friends from high school passed away and he and his family were vulnerable. I took a three-day weekend to raise funeral costs for him because it was very sudden and his family couldn’t afford it. I took all of my pay and tips, and raised that money for him.”

Performances: 6-6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Pride Festival, Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, cincinnatipride.org; regular performances Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at Main Event, 835 Main St., Downtown, facebook.com/maineventcincinnati

click to enlarge PHOTO: SCOTT DITTGEN
Photo: Scott Dittgen

Mirelle Jane Divine

Mirelle Jane Divine wasn’t always the glamorous queen she is today. In high school, she was the only openly gay boy in a small school.

“The hate I experienced isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy,” she says. “My best friend in high school was my leg to stand on so I picked her middle name, Mirelle, as an homage to her because she helped me survive an environment I normally would have perished in.”  

Years later, almost as if by divine intervention, Divine was persuaded by friends to try drag in college for a benefit. It was a perfect fit. 

“I put the wig on and the rest was history; I took to it like a duck to water,” she says.

Divine is old Hollywood glamour. With her sultry brown hair and arresting cat-eye gaze, she is the elegant Parisian model. “She’s the kind of performer who can captivate the room on a look alone,” Divine says. 

Yet her performances are never the same. There is always a part of her real life and the LGBTQ+ community being poured into the Mirelle Jane Divine mix. What remains consistent is that she is fighting for LGBTQ+ folks on stage. 

“Drag culture is a caricature of masculinity and femininity. Drag represents the extremes in life,” she says. “When you have two extremes represented in a space, anyone in between those isn’t going to get the backlash that they’d normally get. Drag queens become the icon that turns the attention away from that person who isn’t comfortable in their masculinity or femininity and allows them to feel comfortable and grow.”

Drag culture has changed as it has become more visible, but Divine exemplifies how self-expression is still at the heart.

Performances: 2:30-3 p.m. Saturday at the Pride Festival, Sawyer Point, 705 E. Pete Rose Way, Downtown, cincinnatipride.org; regular performances 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Below Zero’s upstairs The Cabaret, 1122 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, cabaretcincinnati.com.

Drag Show Etiquette

Six important lessons from queen Mirelle Jane Divine on how to not act like an asshole at a drag show. 

  • Respect drag for the art form it is. Tip! Drag is an art investment. Sephora isn’t cheap.
  • Support the drag and LGBTQ+ community by showing up when you’re needed.
  • Dance and have fun, but don’t jump on stage unless invited. The attention should be on the queens.
  • Realize that drag is to be appreciated, not consumed; don’t appropriate the culture.
  • Snapchats and pictures are encouraged, but no texting. Nothing is ruder than being glued to your phone.
  • Embrace the atmosphere and the opportunity to be your most authentic self!
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