When Robin Fulton’s son announced that, for his 13th birthday, he wanted to have a drag queen-themed party, she wasn’t all that surprised. From the beginning, she immersed her three children in a world where gender and identity were free to be explored, intertwined, and even bent.
As a professional photographer, Fulton had clients that ranged all over the spectrum of human, and many were diverse creatives from the LGBTQ community. However, as her tween son was evolving, his curiosity in exploring the drag scene left her wondering if there was a place for him.
“It’s a unique situation,” Fulton said. “In soccer, you just sign up with a bunch of other kids who like soccer, and they are all buddies. When you do drag, there’s hardly any other way to meet kids that do it.”
As Fulton reached out to friends and people in drag and queer communities, she kept coming up empty-handed. Was there no such thing as to a safe space for kids to dip a toe in drag and where he could make her public debut? Stumped, she began to think of alternatives; perhaps she could create an event that would allow her child, the newly branded Ophelia Peaches, an opportunity to build community and explore the culture of gender crossover.
Unsure if the community would even be receptive, she took a leap of faith in July of 2018, and the inaugural production of Dragutante hit the stage.
“It was an amazing event,” Fulton said. “Last year, we wound up with over 300 seats filled; it was family, extended family, neighbors, school friends… it was community.” Surpassing even her own hopes and expectations, Fulton discovered that Denver was calling for, even craving, a space for youth drag artists to perform. Now, she can never see herself going back.
The full-day event brought out a diverse range of kids from ages 9-16 and professional drag artists to work with the youth. The seasoned queens acted as mentors to the next generation of drag performers, including Denver’s own Vivica Galactica, Ginger Douglas, and Gemini Skye.
They provided guidance with hair, make-up, and performance coaching, all while humanizing something that appeared to be but a far-off dream to the young kids. The queens answered questions, offered insight, and demonstrated a variety of aesthetics and attitudes. The youth could truly see there was no single mold to fit into; they were encouraged only to express their authentically true, inner diva.
“I have not seen maternal instincts like that,” Fulton said. “They just took these kids under their wing and loved them.” Affectionately referring to the first year’s event as ‘Camp Dragutante,’ she said it was as though the experienced queens channeled the role of counselors, ushering the youth through the day with protection and care.
“I realized that drag is not a bad thing,” said Ophelia, Fulton’s child and Dragutante participant. “It’s not a thing where you have to worry you are different, or weird. I’m me; I’m more me in drag.”
As the young performers took to the stage that day, most for their first time ever, Fulton said there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. The experience was affirmation, equally for the kids and for their families. Each participant received a crown that day, not only a reward for finding the courage to take the stage, but also a milestone marker for getting them one step closer to self-love and acceptance.
“It was emotional to watch our children be their true selves,” Fulton said. “It was like watching a flower blossom under the stage lights.”
Proceeds from that night went to Rainbow Alley, the youth program at The GLBT Center, but going forward, the funds will funnel back into the event’s recent 501(c)(3) non-profit. Both Fulton and Ophelia acknowledged that the first year was just about getting their feet wet, and there are ways to be more inclusive for future years.
As Dragutante prepares for its sophomore year, the vision is expanding and opening the doorway for even more youth drag artists to dive in. In addition to inviting drag king Dustin Schlong to act as mentor for the up-and-coming king performers, they are looking to include a cis queen for the assigned-female-at-birth participants.
“Self-expression is the main message,” Fulton said. “Being able to have their families understand and watch that performance opens such a floodgate of communication for parents to identify with this, understand it, not be afraid. As far as their own journey with their gender, we are supportive, but Dragutante isn’t centered around defining that; that’s a personal choice.”
While eager to feature first-timers, Dragutante added an element for any returning performers: the chance to compete in areas like drag roulette and lip-sync battles. The exact date and location have yet to be announced, but Ophelia is excited to see her community, the sisterhood she has created within the growing niche of queer performance art.
“Dragutante is about loving and accepting people,” Ophelia said “No matter sexuality, performance, anything, it’s about realizing that it’s OK to be you.”
Ultimately, Dragutante is about providing a safe environment outside of the stereotypical club and bar scene for young people to explore gender, identity, and self. No judgment, no pressure, no definition required. Simply a place to be seen, practice, and push personas to the limit.
“It has done exactly what we wanted,” Fulton said. “It created a peer group for our kids to be able to lean on each other.”
Photos by Robin Johnson