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Local drag performers navigate stereotypes

MaveRick+Smith+and+YungRaccoon+pose+in+the+R+Bar+and+Lounge+in+Fort+Collins+Nov.+13.
Collegian | Milo Gladstein
MaveRick Smith and YungRaccoon pose in the R Bar and Lounge in Fort Collins Nov. 13.

The reflection of disco balls and shimmering pride flags fill an intimate room with sparkle and joy.

R Bar and Lounge, located at 107 E. Laurel St., is a safe space for many LGBTQIA+ identifying FoCo residents. With community activities such as karaoke nights, drag brunches and dance parties, the self-proclaimed “alternative bar” is a hot spot for Fort Collins drag performers.

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“Drag is really big on supporting each other, so if you’re a young queen or a new queen, they’re big about supporting that community,” said Amanda Jo Reisenweber, the R Bar’s social media and marketing coordinator.

Frequent R Bar performer Stephen Tafoya, whose stage name is YungRaccoon, moved to Fort Collins in 2017 and got their start in Colorado State University’s annual drag show.

“I find that I get the best response when I can just express myself freely and not be put into a box.” – Stephen Tafoya, Fort Collins drag performer YungRaccoon

“I kind of took a leap,” Tafoya said. “I didn’t have any friends who did it at the time. I started on Halloween, so I asked one of my friends to get me in drag, which was literally just cross-dressing, but it was super fun.”

After two years of solely tip work, YungRaccoon eventually proved themself as a talented drag performer, earning spots as a permanent cast member in shows at The Whisk(e)y, The Atrium and R Bar.

“It was kind of a rough start because I don’t do traditional drag,” Tafoya said. “I do drag creature kind of things, so a lot of people saw me and weren’t really sure about it, so I really had to prove myself.”

Tafoya said they gleaned some fashion and makeup inspiration from performers like Juno Birch and Trixie Mattel.

“I do a lot of sewing (and) a lot of cardboard construction,” Tafoya said. “I’ve always had a craft stash. I started printmaking by myself, collage work, painting at home.”

Tafoya’s outfits include a lot of spikes, leather and heavy jewelry. Their signature hoods are the “most important part of their costume,” Tafoya said, and they are inspired by Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” specifically the onesie the character Max wears.

“It kind of fits my story, too, because I wanted to be where the wild things were,” Tafoya said. “I wanted to be a drag queen.”

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Because YungRaccoon’s look is so original, finding appropriate makeup tutorials was a bit of a challenge, but after some experimenting, they settled into a suitable routine.

“Covering my eyebrows is probably the very, very first step, and that takes, like, 20 minutes,” Tafoya said.

Accomplished with Elmer’s glue and a rat tail comb, the eyebrows take two or three layers, depending on how hot the weather is.

“I start by picking the color foundation I want to do that night or whatever’s left in my brushes from the last show,” Tafoya said.

They custom-mix the foundations together to get what they want on a piece of tin foil to help melt the paint.

“I really try and stay away from the traditional drag female impersonation because I think it’s boring, in my opinion, for me,” Tafoya said. “I tried to do that makeup, and it just didn’t really sit with me.”

Despite female impersonators being the more traditional form of drag, the freedom to be creative is imperative, Tafoya said.

“I find that I get the best response when I can just express myself freely and not be put into a box,” Tafoya said.

Along with using drag as a form of self-expression, the accepting community Tafoya was immersed in enabled them to feel more comfortable in their own skin on and off the stage.

“Drag was a way for me to work past my social anxiety because it got really bad after high school, so I needed a place to belong, and people weren’t queer enough for me, and I was too queer for other people, so I needed to find a space where I felt really welcome,” Tafoya said.

Previous Mister Gay Pride of All Colorado and Mister Rocky Mountain Shining Star are just a few of the titles that MaveRick Smith, self-proclaimed “drag daddy of Colorado,” holds after his eight years of experience.

“Here in Fort Collins when I first started, we really didn’t have many drag kings,” said Smith, who uses he/him/his pronouns onstage and any pronouns offstage.

Smith got his start after helping out at a fundraiser that didn’t have enough performers; he was praised for his stage presence and ended up joining the longest-running drag troupe in Northern Colorado, Glitter Drag Show.

“It might be a bit harder for upcoming queens because there’s so many, … but you still have to overcome the discrimination of being a drag king, … like, drag kings can’t be as entertaining as drag queens,” Smith said.

Smith noted that even within the LGBTQIA+ community, there is still a lot of sexism.

“It is more challenging for drag kings to hit that same elevated level — they don’t get as much attention; they don’t get as many opportunities presented to them,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of performers that identify as nonbinary, and that’s a cool part of it. It is very open for interpretation. It’s art.”

Smith is well known for his show-stopping boots and buys a lot of his costumes online. The most consistent part of his costume is the makeup, which includes lots of contour, eyeliner and a beard.

Gender neutrality is something Smith has been experimenting with ever since the beginning of his drag journey, enabling him to express gender fluidity outside of drag. Although male artists such as Adam Lambert have a large influence on his fashion and makeup, Smith lets his identity as a bi-gendered individual seep through into his drag, he said.

“I’m not trying to deny one part of myself or the other, and I will acknowledge that I embrace both my masculinity and my femininity,” Smith said.

Gender norms are not the only barriers drag performers are commonly faced with.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ laws have been rapidly implemented across the United States, many of them targeted at drag performers, banning them from performing in certain places or participating in community events.

“I think a lot of it is ignorance of those who are creating these so-called bills to ‘protect children’ because they’re not,” Smith said. “They’re just targeting marginalized groups.”

Smith is concerned with where these bills draw the line, bringing up questions of whether or not they target people dressing up on Halloween or in plays.

“Everyone knows The Rock (Dwayne Johnson); he was a wrestler, he has voiced and played parts in children’s movies but he’s also been in movies that are extremely violent that you would never take your child to,” Smith said. “He understands that there’s a balance. He’s also a parent, so is he being offensive because he’s performing in R-rated movies versus G-rated movies? No.”

Smith voiced his frustration with the lack of research lawmakers have put into these oppressive restrictions.

“As adults, just like everyone else, we know when it’s appropriate to do one thing versus another, so if we have a show that’s geared toward children, we know to adjust our appearance, and we know to adjust our performance,” Smith said.

Reach Alex Hasenkamp at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @alexhasenkamp.

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About the Contributors
Alex Hasenkamp, Arts and Entertainment Director
Alex Hasenkamp is the returning arts and entertainment director for The Collegian. Last year was Hasenkamp's first time working for The Collegian as the A&E director, and she is happy to be back. Over the summer, Hasenkamp worked as a writing intern for The Borgen Projecta nonprofit organization working toward ending global poverty. She learned a lot, and she intends on finding another internship or writing position at a paper this upcoming summer as well. Currently a journalism and media communication major and a French minor, Hasenkamp is hoping to study abroad her senior year with the goal of learning and writing about different cultures. Growing up in Seattle, Hasenkamp loves anything music-related and enjoys the opportunity to write about local bands and concerts for the school paper. Besides reporting, Hasenkamp enjoys skiing and playing ultimate frisbee for the Colorado State University team Hell's Belles. She also has an affinity for the visual arts: Previously an art major at the University of Oregon, she enjoys covering local art shows and exhibits, as well as sketching up the occasional graphic for her articles.
Garrett Mogel, Photo Director
Garrett Mogel is a third-year journalism student with a second field in philosophy. He is one of two photo directors for the 2023-24 school year.  Growing up in Colorado and surrounded by dreamlike landscapes and adventure sports, it was only a matter of time before Mogel picked up a camera. For over a decade, Mogel explored Colorado, portaging rivers, postholing through several feet of snow, rappelling over cliffs and skinning up mountains, all with a camera in hand. Through his adventures, Mogel began attaching stories to images and began to engage viewers in conversation about their favorite areas. Eventually, Mogel’s passion for photography and storytelling drew him to pursue a degree and career in photojournalism.  In his years at college, Mogel has worked with The Collegian every year. In progressing through the publication, Mogel has seen all the ways student media fosters growth both individually as well as through collaboration. Additionally, the opportunity to witness how impactful a story can be on a personal, organizational and community level is his greatest lesson thus far.  Beyond The Collegian, Mogel still finds time to appreciate his Colorado upbringing. When not on assignment, he can usually be found mountain biking, skiing, camping, river surfing or at home planning his next adventure.
Milo Gladstein, Photo Director
Milo Gladstein is a fifth-year senior majoring in journalism and media communications. He is currently serving as one of the two photo directors for the 2o23-24 school year. Gladstein's work focuses on long-form stories diving deep into what it means to be human and sharing people's passion and story with the community. He did not begin as a journalism major and has worn many hats while at CSU. He began as a conservation biology major, moving to undeclared and then horticulture therapy before finally landing in the journalism department. He seeks stories about community members who are impacting the world around them in positive ways and shares those stories. Working at The Collegian has taught Gladstein about working on a team, how to develop a story and the best ways to present said stories. Most importantly, he has grown from a photographer into a photojournalist. As co-photo director, he hopes to pass that knowledge on to the next group of journalists rising through The Collegian. When not working at The Collegian or in class, Gladstein can be found reading a book or in the outdoors climbing, camping, exploring and getting lost in the mountains.

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