LOCAL SYNDROME: Butch Queen Realness

By on March 14, 2018

A local’s drag debut ignites an introspective, Wyoming crisis

Kelly Kouloir (right) made her debut at the Intergalactic Ball. She’s not so sure about another JH appearance. (Nona Yehia)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The Teton Theater was humming with electronic bass. A smattering of neon strobe lights cascaded across the dance floor. Most everyone was costumed. The dancers around me were cosmonauts, unicorns and various iterations of David Bowie. I, however, was debuting an oft-concealed part of myself. That meant dancing around with my massive feet squashed into a pair of size 14 stilettos with five-inch heels. Just five minutes into the ruckus festivities of the Intergalactic Ball and my feet were already killing me.

Saturday’s costume party presented the chance for everyone to be someone else. Luke Zender and I discussed going in drag and we decided the Intergalactic Ball would be the perfect opportunity to debut our drag characters. I donned the persona “Kelly Kouloir” (a sultry Jacksonite) and Luke developed “Ranch” (“Everyone’s favorite condiment!”). Kelly’s evening aesthetic was more in line with a traditional drag queen: big pink lips, fake breasts, hips made of memory foam, bitchiness, etc., while Ranch glowed with the aesthetic of a towering, glitter-soaked, avant-garde trash fire.

We looked incredible.

Being a fan of the hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, I thought becoming a drag queen would be a logical step for me. I am no stranger to performance, doing improv comedy, or embodying odd characters, so surely I would have Kelly Kouloir in the bag. This would be my night to prove to the community that I could embody confidence and vulnerability simultaneously.

Reality set in soon afterwards.

Luke as Ranch was working the room with an envious level of unapologetic authority. I, on the other hand, was dying. I’d lost all feeling in my feet, my fake nails were sore, my wig kept getting caught in my hoop earrings. Even after the stilettos came off and I reverted to sneakers, I felt off-balance. I didn’t feel like a drag queen.

It’s important I mention that gay men love RuPaul’s Drag Race in the way that black audiences love Black Panther. This is a show that celebrates gay men not as accessories or AIDS victims, but as glamorous heroes, rewarding the most unique and eccentric of the bunch with the ultimate prize: the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.

I thought spending a night as Kelly Kouloir would help me further embrace my identity as a young gay man in Wyoming. Maybe this could be my thing, and one day I too could be good enough to compete on Drag Race. However, being among Jackson partygoers, my deep-rooted fears of rejection replaced any notions of joy and fun. I was supposed to be exuding confident Kelly Kouloir, but instead I felt like Andrew Munz in a dress, and I didn’t know how to shake it.

If I didn’t know who I was, how would I know who Kelly was?

Phantom hands kept groping me in the crowd. That was to be expected, I guess, but it made me feel like I was vulnerable to more than a playful grope. Kelly Kouloir was no longer a shield from my insecurities, but rather a target for them. And that jolted me.

I can only wonder at how much my encounters with homophobia impacted that feeling. I’ve been called some form of “fag” more times than I care to remember. And I know others who can relate. Despite being out of the closet, any LGBTQ Jackson local will tell you this is a tough place for us to exist—in the state where, 20 years ago, Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered for being gay. Yes, there is a lingering haze of fear and uncertainty among the LGBTQ community.

Upon leaving the Intergalactic Ball, I was compelled to walk into the Cowboy Bar or up to the Rose and continue my night, but that ingrained fear held me back. When donned in a flannel shirt and facial hair, my identity as a gay man is not so obvious. But despite concealing myself under a dress, a wig, and copious amounts of makeup, I felt more exposed than ever.

I do not regret dragging it up for the night. After all, small-town artists have to test their limits; we don’t have an endless variety of artistic opportunities, so we must take risks and create them for ourselves. Donning the guise of Kelly Kouloir for a single party has not discouraged my attempts, but it has brought me closer to understanding myself. Perhaps my admiration for the female form and feminine beauty is one of the spectator rather than the participant. I still have a lot to learn about my own LGBTQ identity and where my personal comfort lies. And, admittedly, all of that is thanks to Kelly.

Kelly Kouloir may still resurface one day. But if she comes back, I guarantee she’ll at least trade her stilettos for some comfy wedges. 

About Andrew Munz

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