Freshman Erik Gonzalez is looking to expand the D.C. drag scene to campus.
Gonzalez, an interior architecture major, said he has spent the past year honing his performance skills back home in McAllen, Texas and has already been in shows at Songbyrd and Grand Central in Baltimore since he arrived in D.C. He said he wants to increase awareness for drag by performing around the District and potentially planning a show on campus that would raise funds for LGBTQ youth homeless shelters.
“I think that the issue of queer youth homelessness is important because those who are left without their family go through mental trauma that can last a lifetime,” Gonzalez said. “It’s important to be able to give them the necessary tools to at the very least lead a mentally and physically healthy life.”
Gonzalez said he began practicing makeup in high school with his female friends and spent the past year performing drag as an art form.
His first performance took place last October at a theater in McAllen called Cine El Rey. He said he found a sense of community among the other drag queens in his hometown, adding that the artists have their own “house” – a term used to describe a family unit within the drag community.
“We all love playing with makeup and being creative,” he said. “It’s just one thing led to another and we all started doing it, and we all perform together.”
He said the drag scene in the District differs from what he experienced in Texas in that his shows back home focused more on female impersonation and “pageant queens.” Gonzalez said he tries not to perform female impersonations, defining himself as “a drag character” instead of a drag king or queen.
“Performing in the D.C. area I think I get a way better reception than back home in McAllen, Texas, because the scene back home is very traditional, it’s what you would call a pageant scene with pageant queens,” Gonzalez said.
He described his drag persona, called “X,” as an eclectic “androgynous persona.” His drag Instagram account, @manifest.x, features photos of his face covered in edgy black and white paint and images showing Gonzalez sporting accessories like fishnets, knee-high boots and headpieces made from colorful balloons.
Gonzalez said the modernist movement and artists like Piet Mondrian, a 20th century abstract painter, inspired his drag makeup and clothing. Mondrian used sharp, black lines that intersect to create rectangles juxtaposed with primary colors, which Gonzalez said he uses in his makeup.
To build X’s drag ensembles, Gonzalez goes to thrift and craft stores to find pieces that he can make his own. He said he once bought a “grandma nightgown” at a thrift store and splattered red and blue paint on it like Jackson Pollock, a painter known for abstract work.
“I don’t want to look like anyone else, I don’t want to be anyone else,” he said. “I want to be my own person, so I try my best to even take inspiration from other people but make everything my own.”
X’s performances on stage involve a combination of dancing and lip-synching, which Gonzalez described as theatrical and electric. He rehearses his dancing and style in his room and practices his performances by picturing them as he walks down the street listening to music, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he has found a community at GW through student organizations like Queer Radicals and the Transgender+ Nonbinary Group. He said he felt like a “superstar” when about 30 of his friends came to his show at Songbyrd to cheer him on.
“GW is a very liberal community, I think, and a lot of people are open-minded about those kinds of things and also just queerness in general,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said he wants to expand the drag community at GW by planning a show that raises money for LGBTQ youth who have or are experiencing homelessness after being kicked out of their homes for coming out as queer.
He said the event could be hosted in venues like the City View Room in the Elliott School of International Affairs, Lisner Auditorium or District House. He also said the event could be sponsored and hosted by queer organizations on campus like Queer Radicals or the Transgender + Non-Binary Club.
In the meantime, he plans to continue performing in the D.C. area.
“I have so much fun performing,” he said. “It’s never a chore or something to be scared about. It’s just me going up on stage and showing people what I have to offer. And that’s it.”
One of Gonzalez’s friends, freshman Gabriella Bann, said she thinks his idea for the drag show is “magnificent” because “not only is it for a great cause, but it’s community-building.”
“From what I could tell as a freshman, it wasn’t a big scene here, so it’s so great he’s introducing GW students to new experiences,” Bann said. “I admire his creativity so much. From his costume and makeup to his performance, fantastic.”
Freshman Annabelle Kavounas has attended some of Gonzalez’s performances in D.C. Kavounas said watching him perform was “mind blowing” because he is generally quiet in person.
“He is a pretty shy and not confrontational guy so when I saw him onstage, it was mesmerizing,” they said. “Gonzalez was the sweet and modest guy and here was someone beautiful, creepy and seductive.”
Kavounas said Gonzalez has exposed members of the GW community to drag by inviting lots of people to his shows.
“Without Erik, I’m sure a bunch of people would not even know where to see a drag show, never mind be comfortable in a gay club,” they said.