By Day, By Night: An Inside Look into the Drag Community

By Angie DeWitt

When I was 16 years old, the movie To Wong Foo came out. It has Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo, and they all are female impersonators in the movie. I rented it off Pay-per-View because I was interested to see these very extremely butch men play women, and I guess the thought of that always kind of stuck in the back of my head.

Halloween of ’98 may not have been a big year for most of us. In fact, given that I was four years old, I can only assume that I dressed up as a princess…again. However, for Jason Bennett, that year played a particularly large role in who he has become.

Celebrating at True Colors in Bennett’s hometown of Parkersburg, W.V.a, it was a milestone event.

“The first time that I ever dressed up as a woman was Halloween. I was 18. I went out and I talked to a bunch of people and they were all like, ‘You look horrible. Your hair’s a mess, your makeup’s a mess. Let me fix you up.’ And it just kind of went from there.”

IMG_0566
Bennett on Halloween in 1998. / photo courtesy of Trista Storm.

Months passed as Bennett began improving his hair and makeup strategies, and so came the time to choose a stage name.

“My friend asked me, ‘What’s your favorite female name?’ And I’m like, ‘I’ve always been prone to Trista, and here’s why.”

Bennett was initially supposed to have a twin sister, and his mother was going to name the two of them Tristen and Trista.

Due to the complications of Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, or TTTS, Trista passed away in utero. The name ‘Trista’ has always held a strong connection to Bennett.

The questions became more specific until a last name had been decided up on.

Favorite thing in the world > comic books > favorite comic book > X-Men > favorite character > Storm.

“There you go.”

A beauty was born: Trista Storm.

* * *

Trista gives me a chance to be something that I can’t be during the day.

 

IMG_9358
Costume made by Storm’s friend Todd O’Hara. / photo courtesy of Trista Storm

Storm, 35, has performed for 12 years and holds 17 pageantry titles, including two national prelims.

She now works at Vice Versa, Morgantown’s one and only Alternative Club, as one of two show directors, alongside Christina B. Morgan.

Additionally, Storm cleans Vice every Thursday – Sunday.

“[Vice] is one of the cleanest bars in Morgantown. It’s a great compliment to get,” Storm said.

Before moving to Morgantown roughly 3 years ago to be with her partner of 4 years, Storm held a number of jobs in healthcare.

She was a registered nurse back in Parkersburg working in the E.R. before moving towards hospice care. She stayed with Hospice for about two years, and then did in-home healthcare when her mother fell ill.

Having recently lost both her mother and father to illnesses, Storm decided to let her nursing license lapse.

“I lost my mom recently. It’s been a little over a year…I also lost my dad recently, so I wanted to get out of the medical field for [the time being],” Storm explained. “I was done dealing with death for a while.”

* * *

Many entertainers like to stay very mild, according to Storm. They wear more normal clothing: dresses, shoes, more ‘mellow’ hairstyles.

“I go to the exact opposite of that,” Storm expressed. “I do the $3-400 dresses, the $150 hair, the $300 jewelry sets…I don’t see the point in doing a job and just going halfway.”

When I go, I go big.

“Drag is an extremely expensive hobby,” Storm conceded.

When it comes to wigs, most entertainers have colors they stick with. Storm tends to be drawn towards browns, caramels, and reds.

When it comes to doing makeup? Well that’s a whole other beast. Anyone who has ever spent excessive amounts of time trying to nail that just right winged eyeliner can attest to that.

Different entertainers learn makeup different ways. Some watch movies or video tutorials; others see people do make up and copy certain things.

A lot of entertainers also have a drag mother.

A drag mother is the person who takes entertainers under her wing and teaches them how to dress, how to walk in stilettos, how to corset and pad the right way, and even which kind of music is right for them. She teaches a little, or a lot, of everything. Essentially, she’s their mentor.

“I did have a drag mother,” Storm reminisced of Morgan Lafay.

“You slowly start to branch out and learn things on your own.”

Storm’s makeup method is a combination of three different entertainers’ strategies. She contours one way, does her eye makeup another way, and uses a separate approach for her lips.

“It takes years. Oh trust me, some of my earlier pictures I look at and I’m like What. Was. I. Thinking! I’m surprised I left the house and actually was seen in public looking like that!” Storm laughed.

“CoverGirl™ does not cover boy,” Storm joked when referencing her inability to use the product.

* * *

“I’m a completely different person when I’m on stage than when I’m off stage,” Storm explained that she just had this conversation recently with her partner when he and two of his friends came to watch her perform.

While Storm’s partner is supportive of her, she does admit that drag is not his favorite thing.

“He believes men should be men, but he knows how much I love it so he’s supportive of it in that way…I’m more of a free-spirit type. We’re the exact opposite in so many ways.”

The Trista you meet at night and the Jason you meet by day are also almost complete opposites.

“I can still be sharp tongued [as Jason], but I’m really sharp tongued as Trista,” Storm said. “I don’t drink that much; I don’t do any kind of drugs whatsoever. I’m not on any kind of mood stabilizers or anything.”

Trista is the absolute best medicine you could ever imagine. Being Trista gives me a chance to express [myself] and let out everything that I’m feeling. If I’m feeling upset or aggravated, Trista helps me dissolve all of that.

* * *

Storm wanted to clear up some of the misconceptions with people not as integrated into the lifestyle.

“Just because you do drag or female impersonation, that does not mean you want to be a woman. There’s a big difference between being transgender, being a crossdresser, and being an female impersonator. A lot of people just assume that because you put on a dress, you must want to be a woman.”

So what is the appeal to drag?

Storm finds the appeal in the theatrics of it all, the way to express herself.

“I can go out and be this beautiful, glamorous, big girl – because I’m a big boy..I tell people the only thing I fit into at Hollister is their cologne. I’m not what society sees as ‘the hot guy.’

But as Trista, I can walk out on stage and be this big, beautiful, glamorous, gorgeous girl.

And believe it or not, Trista gets hit on a lot, and by a lot of the college boys!”

Storm said it’s ‘crazy’ how many college boys will hit on her online when they come across her Facebook page.

* * *

The appeal is clear, as is Storm’s passion for what she does, but that doesn’t always mean everyone is on board.

“My friends are very supportive…my family was not very acceptive. They didn’t understand it.

My mom had told me, ‘I understand that you’re gay. I understand why you’re gay. I understand you being gay, but I’ll never understand why you dress up as a woman.

Nobody in my family has ever seen me perform live.”

* * *

Storm has a creative streak in her as well. As she mentioned, she goes above and beyond with her drag costumes, and many of those she has actually made herself.

IMG_2835
Storm made this costume herself out of the scraps from older outfits. The torso is adorned with sequined fringe. / photo courtesy of Trista Storm

Those that she doesn’t have an opportunity to make, she entrusts in the hands of Todd O’Hara, who’s partner is also a female impersonator.

“He is probably one of the best costume designers that I have ever had the opportunity of meeting. He is so meticulous that the [costumes] are incredible.”

IMG_0096
This costume was made by O’Hara, but the top was completed studded by Storm herself. It took her about “two seasons of Buffy” to complete. / photo courtesy of Trista Storm

O’Hara lives in Morgantown and makes the costumes out of his home.

Tuesday afternoon, Storm had come across some antique vintage fabric at a shop in Westover and has big plans to make a “big, gorgeous, elegant, vintage ballgown” from one of the materials.

Storm loves to sing and will often sing during Vice’s karaoke night, but said she has never sang live in drag.

“I want to take lessons first. My whole goal is to be as feminine as I can,” Storm said, admitting that when she sings she sounds very masculine.

In fact, if you check out the 2006 season of American Idol, you’ll find that Storm, on ‘Idol as Bennett, made it to the second week of Hollywood. While there, Bennett got to accomplish one of my childhood dreams: he got to meet Shania Twain.

Unfortunately, the group that Bennett was paired with was unaccepting of him. They wouldn’t practice with him because he was gay, so when they went out to perform, the whole group ended up being sent home.

* * *

The alternative club strives to appeal to its patrons, and Storm says there are actually a lot of straight people who find themselves at Vice.

“We strive to be the absolute best place to spend your time,” Storm said. “It’s a safe environment to be yourself.”

Vice Versa has many upcoming shows and competitions planned as well as weekly events.

Every Thursday at Vice is ‘Open Stage’ and anyone with a talent is welcome to perform: strippers, dancers, singers, fire-eaters, you name it.

On Fridays, booked female impersonators perform, and on Saturdays the audience gets to see some skin as bigger name strippers and dancers make their way towards the stage.

Sundays are $5 liquor pitchers and karaoke night.

Events:

  • [Just passed] April 1: Miss Vice Versa pageant
    The winner was Katrina Colby. 
  • April 16: Papa Bear’s famous “4/20” buffet
    Hosted every year for his ‘kids,’ the buffet could have anything from his ‘killer’ mac ‘n’ cheese to meatballs, stuffed shells and even braised beef.
  • April 23: Vice Versa’s annual “Fetish Party”
    The fetish party is advertised as a judge-free environment that allows people to explore their interests.”There will be lots of guys walking around in leather and jock straps,” Storm described.

    The party does not consist of sexual acts; it’s to help people to connect and meet others who share their same interests.

    “It’s so you can see you’re not alone,” Storm explained.

    Many patrons will walk around in white t-shirts with their festishes written for others to see.

    There will be “exciting entertainment,” according to Storm. Montez Morgan, co-owner of Vice with his partner James Yost, will be performing something “pretty outstanding.” One number he may perform will be aimed at tickle fetishes.

  • April 30: Miss Large and Lovely
    Storm will actually be competing in this event!
  • May 5-7: Cinco de Mayo weekend
    There will be 2 strippers and a female impersonator

Come out and join in the fun at Vice Versa!

A lot of people aren’t sure where Vice is located. I’ve gone to West Virginia University for four years, and only last spring did I learn of its location.

Just to show you its close proximity to the other bars that you may be spending your weekend nights…

For more information, click here.

Find me on Twitter: @angelinadewitt or @Motown_UGscene

 

6 thoughts on “By Day, By Night: An Inside Look into the Drag Community”

  1. This is amazing. All the different layers you have really tells you who he is and what Vice is. I have never been to Vice but have heard a lot of good feedback about the place. I always say I will go sometime but have never made it. I think its super important to have a place like this for everyone to feel welcomed and not judged. Bennett/Storm sounds like a really awesome person and I love how you tell background about him and then how he progressed overtime. Really nice job.

    Like

  2. I feel like I’ve learned so much! While I’ve never been to Vice, I have friends that go often and it’s just never worked out for me to go. I loved seeing not only the surface of what being a drag queen entails, but we also got to learn about what’s behind the scenes, like how the costumes are made and that Storm even cleans the place! Really awesome post!

    Like

  3. This is an incredible story. I truthfully have never seen a drag queen in person. I feel like this story really helps me understand the process that makes a drag queen. It is especially cool how you even went all the way back to the first time that he dressed in drag. It is also cool how you had several photo’s of this person dressed up as well, and I also liked the picture you took of him by day and by night.

    Like

  4. You literally covered every aspect of his life from then to now and I was hooked from the very beginning. Everything about this piece was interesting because it’s about a lifestyle that I’m just not that familiar with. Besides the movie mentioned in the piece To Wong Foo (great movie) I would have no idea about what drag entails and what kind of commitment it takes, financially and physically.it was so great to read about someone who is really comfortable in their own skin and it seems like he has a big no apologetic personality which is awesome. This was a really great piece and well written.

    Like

  5. This is the best blog post I’ve read all semester. I was trying to get a subject like Bennett for my capstone class, but he seemed like the perfect person to do a story on! It’s hard to critique this, but I would’ve liked to see a little bit more on his interactions with the outside world. The American Idol story was my favorite part, and I would’ve been really interested in other times he’s been discriminated against due to being gay/doing drag.

    Like

  6. This is so cool! I have always heard about the drag shows at Vice and how awesome they are, so this is a really interesting post. Learning more about the people behind the drag is a great idea.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s