It all started when Antonio ’12 watched Manila Luzón, a television personality and runner-up in the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a show that premiered in 2009 with the hope of finding America’s next drag superstar.
“I was a huge fan,” said Antonio in a phone interview with the Orient. “I figured, I can learn from Manila.”
(For personal reasons, Antonio prefers to be referred to by his first name only.)
After he began watching drag on television, Antonio began performing drag as Aurora Whorealis, the alter ego he adopted his senior year at Bowdoin.
“I didn’t know much about drag or drag queens. That was my first exposure to it. I had never been to a drag show before, but I wanted the campus to experience it,” said Antonio.
“I actually had Manila [Luzón] come and teach me a workshop—me and maybe 12 other kids. We learned how to do drag makeup,” he said. “I’ve actually seen Manila a couple times since then and reconnected with her, and been able to show her that my drag has come so far.”
Antonio will be hosting the drag show sponsored by the Bowdoin Queer-Straight Alliance (BQSA) as Aurora Whorealis on Saturday night.
“I thought it was a great idea to host the Drag Ball,” said Antonio, “I felt honored to be asked because I had so much to do with it my senior year. I think it’s a good opportunity to get to come back, since I’ve continued to do drag for two years, and it all started with the BQSA Drag Ball. That was formative in deciding that this was a hobby I really enjoyed.”
According to Antonio, regardless of sexual identity, drag’s main draw is its appeal to people who just want to have fun and experience something new.
“Some of my friends who had most fun my senior year were students who just decided they wanted to have fun and dress up in drag,” said Antonio. “They were students who identified as straight and non-straight, and there were some students who chose not to identify [as either]. You can be as big or as little as you want to be.”
Antonio was president of BQSA his senior year, and “wanted to make drag culture bigger” at Bowdoin.
In 2012 he invited a drag queen to Maine to host Bowdoin’s first ever drag show. It was held in the basement of a College House, and it was there that Antonio performed for the first time.
“I was really frantic that entire day,” recalled Antonio. “I was nervous about everything being in place. [Before performing] I always find an inner calm. It was nerve-wracking to dance around wearing high heels and ratty wigs, but it was really fun. I had a blast and got a really positive and supportive response from the audience.”
However, Antonio noted that only a handful of people attended. The audience, he said, was “fantastic,” but he still wanted to find a way to make drag culture more visible at Bowdoin.
Since Antonio’s tenure, BQSA has held events like the Drag Ball in Jack Magee’s Pub and Grill, which has increased awareness of them on campus. Being in the Pub (where Saturday’s performance will be)—under the lights and on a real stage—makes the show more of an experience.
“It definitely will feel more like a real drag show. [The venue] is appropriate for the event and it’ll be a really good time. I’m glad the BQSA moved it out of a social house and into the Pub, because that’s one of the most central, public spaces on campus.”
For the past few years, Antonio has been living in Philadelphia—a bigger city with a bigger LGBTQIA population.
“There’s just a lot of people looking for outlets to express themselves,” said Antonio.
Antonio said he does not feel his alter ego is too much of a leap from his everyday personality.
“Aurora Whorealis...it isn’t too much of a persona,” said Antonio. “I don’t really act too differently. I put on some makeup, some tight fitting outfits, but I don’t really have a different performance identity. I don’t really draw a line of distinction between the two. I haven’t invested too much time in creating character. [Drag] is a hobby for me; it’s on the side.”
A typical drag show consists of several different performances, usually including a lip sync to a song or a mix of songs. According to Antonio, the experience is very theatrical.
“It takes a lot of guts to get in drag. You really share a part of your soul, your creative side,” he said.
Since Antonio only began perfoming in 2012, he said he sympathizes with performers who are anxious about getting on stage and he has some advice.
“Just have fun. Don’t take it too seriously,” he said. “The common thread seems to be to do it for the fun. The moment it becomes labored, it’s not worth it anymore.”
“A drag show is something different, something the grand majority of students have never seen,” Antonio added. “I’m excited to see who comes out and see what kinds of fun we can have.”
If students are having fun, Antonio said, there is a customary way of showing it.
“At bars, people tip drag queens with dollar bills. It’s a really great way to show them you are having a really good time,” he said. “Drag performers love tips...though I don’t think you can tip in Polar Points.”