One thing is certain: Nick and Greg know who they are, even under several layers of clothing, makeup and wigs.
They spend hours rehearsing and preparing for their few minutes in the spotlight. For these two gentlemen, being a drag queen is not about being somebody else. It’s a chance to express another side of themselves.
Just like professional athletes or actors, Nick and Greg have dreams and aspirations outside of performing. They are drag queens, but that’s what they do, not who they are.
“I just thought he was pretty.”
Nick doesn’t exactly have a manly build at 6 feet tall and 155 pounds. His mom used to accuse him of dressing like a woman years before he became a drag queen.
“I have a small build, so I wear skinnier jeans,” Nick said. “But she thought I was wearing girls’ jeans.”
Nick wasn’t into wearing female clothes, but he began experimenting with makeup when he was four years old.
“My mom came into the bathroom, and I had a face full of concealer, makeup and lipstick on,” Nick said. “I used to play with Barbie doll shoes, too, yet she claims she didn’t know I was gay until I actually told her.”
Nick always knew he was gay, starting with his first crush in preschool.
“I followed him around and I didn’t know why,” Nick said. “I just thought he was pretty.
Nick kept up appearances by playing it straight for years. When the teacher told the class to line up in elementary school, Nick stood with the girls. In sixth grade, he bought presents for the girls in his class for Valentine’s Day.
“I never considered myself removed from being a boy,” Nick said. “I just never connected with them well.”
Nick never dated in high school, even after he came out. He grew up in a small town and didn’t start dating until he got to Kent State. Nick said he can’t even remember his first date, only a jumble of people he never hit it off with.
Nick hasn’t been in a serious relationship since he’s started performing at drag shows. He mentioned it once to a guy he was dating. He didn’t respond well.
Some gay men unfairly judge drag queens, Nick said.
“Sometimes they think you have to be transgender to be a drag queen,” Nick said. “That’s not true. I am very happy being a guy.”
“Why can’t you just be normal?”
Before Nick’s parents found out he was a drag queen, they weren’t accepting of his sexuality. He tried going home for the summer after his freshman year at Kent State, but his parents told him he was not welcome to live there anymore. Nick stayed with a friend in Kent until he got his own apartment and lived by himself for two years.
Following his junior year, he attempted to move back to his parent’s house. Part of the reason he tried to go back was related to finances, but he said his parents also seemed sorry for how they had treated him in the past.
“It was largely me trying to rebuild connections with them,” Nick said. “I don’t want to be estranged from my parents.”
Nick moved back home for about six months, but it didn’t work out well. He hadn’t performed a drag show since he’d been home. He never told his parents that he was a drag queen, but they figured it out by themselves.
“My mother would ask me why I couldn’t just be normal,” Nick said. “It never occurred to me that I wasn’t being myself.”
Nick said he came home from a show one night and a few days later his father got drunk and ridiculed him for performing drag. Nick moved out again and didn’t return to college because of financial struggles.
“If I didn’t have the friends who were so willing to help out and let me live with them, I’d probably be out on the street or in a really bad environment,” Nick said.
“She’s the goofy side to serious me.”
Nick is an artist by trade. He specializes in fashion design but also writes, draws and blogs. He works with fabric, jewelry, hair and makeup and has several blogs about fashion design. One blog is about men’s fashion.
“It’s more than nitty gritty,” Nick said. “It’s not like GQ that works with designer clothes. My blog is about how to make your basics work for you.”
Another blog portrays Nick’s drag persona, Eris LaMorte.
One of Eris’ obsessions is the movie “Black Swan,” and a goal of hers is to dance a choreographed number from the film in a drag show.
Nick said some drag queens use their alter ego to say or do things that aren’t part of their nature, but that wasn’t the case for him.
“She was kind of a part of me already,” Nick said. “She’s the goofy side to serious me… She’s a fun character to play. She forces me to chill out sometimes.”
Eris is playful, has a colorful wardrobe and often changes her hair color. Nick said that’s where Eris and him differ: He has never changed his hair color and prefers to dress in neutral colors.
“Did you eat your lipstick?”
Before Nick started performing, he made costumes and did his friend Manuela Love’s makeup for drag shows.
Manuela, who wishes to keep her real name anonymous, and Nick have been close friends for five years. The first time Nick performed as Eris, he did a duet with Manuela while wearing six-inch stilettos.
“For all the modeling and stage performing I’ve done, I was shaking in my shoes.” Nick said.
Nick’s biological family may not support his lifestyle, but his drag family does. Alejandra Love, his “drag mother,” asked Eris to be her drag daughter one night in their dressing room – the back of a U-Haul at Inferno Night Club in Akron.
Eris was flattered but had to get permission from Manuela, who was already Alejandra’s drag daughter.
“We’d been friends for years, so she was thrilled to be my drag sister,” Nick said.
Eris, Alejandra and Manuela are now a drag family, and they sometimes perform at the same venues, hang out and help each other get dressed. Like a family, they also stand up for one another.
One night at Inferno, another queen was picking on Eris .
“The queen kept making fun of me for putting on gloss instead of lipstick,” Nick said.
Alejandra stood up for Nick with a sarcastic remark.
“She turns to me and says, ‘Bitch, please. Did you eat your lipstick?’”
That’s what being a drag family is all about – being there for each other.
“If I didn’t have their support, I probably wouldn’t be performing,” Nick said.
“Time to get the ball rolling”
February was a turning point in Nick’s life. He landed two internships in New York with jewelry designer Shannon Shiang and ORA, a public relations and consulting firm for trend reports on hair, hand bags and accessories.
“I was miserable in Kent,” Nick said. “I was fighting with 30,000 students for small jobs. It was time to get the ball rolling with my career.”
Ultimately, Nick wants to work in the beauty industry and be a designer, but he’d like to continue performing. Before he came to New York, he started networking with drag queens in the area through Facebook. Some city queens have positive experiences, while others say it’s a lot more intense than small-town drag shows.
Nick said he doesn’t want to continue drag if it’s going to compromise his comfort level. He performs to perfect his makeup skills and have fun.
“I’ll go against the grain to perform, but I won’t turn my life upside-down for it,” Nick said. “It’s not integral to my existence.
Nick cares more about designing drag clothes than performing. He said high fashion and drag couture are the same thing, only one is in men’s sizes and the other is women’s. They’re both over-the-top, theatrical designs that include rhinestones and shiny fabric.
“Drag is an industry I’d like to stay a part of,” Nick said. “The characters are definitely worth sticking around and getting to know.”
Gregory Hatch, 27, Lakewood
Greg is an easy person to spot in a crowd. He’s more than 6 feet tall with red hair, freckles and a heavyset build. He’s in the back of the Essence Beauty Mart in Akron, picking out a flashy costume necklace. He likes the red and gold one better, but the multi-colored necklace will go with more outfits.
Greg also needs more eyelashes. He said he likes the shiny rainbow kind, but they’re a waste of money — they don’t stand out enough for anyone to notice them at the drag shows. He instead picks a simple pair.
He walks by the tables of high heeled shoes and boots, laughs and doesn’t even stop. Greg doesn’t buy his shoes here; he has to special order shoes because his feet are too big. Depending on the brand, he needs either a size 14 or 16 in women’s shoes.
Greg grew up in a small town about 20 minutes south of Akron. He went to Manchester High School, where being gay wasn’t exactly socially acceptable. He came out when he was 16 with his parents’ support.
“That’s the same way they feel about me performing drag,” Greg said. “They may not understand it, but they support it.”
As a drag queen, Greg is almost 7 feet tall in heels. He likes to call himself “Dragzilla,” but his official drag name is Helen Ohio.
Greg began designing costumes at a small shop in his hometown called Akron Design and Costume. When he came to Kent State, he got involved in fashion shows on campus, designing clothes for Rock the Runway and the Beaux Arts Ball.
He graduated from Kent State in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in art history and a master’s degree in library and information science. His goal is to attend Ohio University and get a second master’s degree in Fine Arts Sculpture and Extended Arts. Ultimately, he said he wants to be a teacher.
“I like to help people,” Greg said. “But I’ve always wanted to perform as well.”
Greg has a busy schedule that includes a 40-hour work week at Morgan Communities, a leasing company, and working on his photography and sculptures.
Greg started preforming in drag shows after he got married. His husband, Chris Hyde, 27, wasn’t crazy about the idea but he accepted it, Greg said.
Greg said he started doing drag because it was a way to be a “little more fearless” as he has always been self-conscious.
“I’m not really built like a man or a woman,” Greg said. “I have broad shoulders, but my hips are wider like a woman’s.”
He said the things he was most self-conscious about as a male are some of his best attributes as a female. His hips and breasts are aspects of his body that he is proud to show off as a drag queen.
“Performing drag helped me be more comfortable with who I was as a person,” Greg said.
Getting dressed for drag shows is still a lot of work for Greg. He wears a gaff, which is tight underwear, four pairs of pantyhose, a girdle and a bra. He tapes his boobs together and completes the ensemble with a body suit.
He then puts on two colors of cream foundation, two setting powders, a highlight color, contour color and blending powder. He puts on at least five colors of eye shadow and three colors of lipstick at once. The whole process takes about two hours.
“The variety of colors gives my face dimension,” Greg said. “The goal is still to have a natural look.”
Both Helen and Greg are red-haired and flirty class clowns.
“I use my family and myself as a point of reference when I pick out her outfits,” Greg said. “We joke that I (Helen) was blessed with my grandmother’s boobs.”
Greg said he doesn’t take being a drag queen emotionally, but he takes his job seriously.
Some queens are provocative and serious about their drag persona. Some are dramatic or do things that aren’t professional. They get drunk during performances, hit on the bartenders or disrespect other queens. Greg said he doesn’t act that way because he sees performing drag as a job, not a lifestyle.
Greg said his drag persona isn’t glamorous, but she’s someone who people respect and enjoy watching. She has a few rules when she performs: Always be nice to the staff at the bar, respect all the entertainers and be courteous and gracious.
“I think I get invited back because of the attitude I have about drag,” Greg said. “I love what I do, and I’m not ashamed of it.”