Homecoming queen, drag queen and budget queen, too
Reann Ballslee (pictured) is just like other 20-something college girls: She loves getting dressed up, doing her make-up and feeling fabulous. The only difference between Reann and other girls?
Well, Reann isn't really a girl.
Reann's real name is Ryan (Ryan preferred his last name not be printed in this column), a 23-year-old recent college grad living in Richmond, Va. After being asked to host a talent show in drag, Ryan showed up to the gig as Reann. Since 2006, he's been performing locally as "Reann Ballslee" at bars and nightclubs, as well as on-campus events at his alma mater George Mason University.
Reann was crowned the 2009 homecoming queen at George Mason, beating out two women and making school history. Still, Ryan makes sure that outfitting himself both as a man and as a woman doesn't dent his wallet.
Every city has its own drag culture, each with its own style and attitude. Thanks to drag superstars like RuPaul, drag queens have entered the world's pop culture consciousness, demonstrating obtainable beauty, artistic illusion and queer pride. For this reason, combined with recognition of the need for diversity on college campuses, students like Ryan are often embraced by the student body -- and in his case, celebrated. Although Ryan loves performing as Reann, he stressed that it was not the focus of his time in college.
"School always came first, followed by my jobs, then drag," said Ryan. "Some performers live to perform, and for others it's their full time job. I love to perform, but I have other priorities in my life."
So with these said priorities and as a former Ms. Mason, how does Ryan perform to his full fabulous potential without shelling out purse-loads of cash? He says it's all about being budget-conscious and resourceful.
"For me, as a 'college queen,' I budgeted myself; I knew I had X amount to spend on this outfit and I wouldn't spend more than that," Ryan said. "A lot of my outfits come from stores like H&M, Forever 21 and Target. So it's about keeping a budget and being mindful about how much you'll make back in tips."
Reann knows the value of a good dress, and a good dollar. Instead of buying the most expensive accessories she finds, she taps into her own resources: one of her main ones being her drag mother, who taught and continues to teach Reann how to embody the character of Reann.
"My drag mom will text me and ask me if I want to go shopping [in her closet]," Ryan said. "She has been doing drag for years and has tons of costumes."
To separate the drag queens from the boys in dresses, Ryan advocates good old fashioned DIY.
"A lot of queens are great seamstresses," said Ryan. "I have a really fabulous gold tunic that I love beyond the cost of fabric."
Many schools have drag events on campus, giving any curious guy the opportunity to try on a pair of size 12 heels, like the ones Ryan wears, or for a girl to don a full tuxedo. However, if you're looking at doing drag on a regular basis, Ryan suggests sticking to a budget and making friends with queens having clothes to spare.
"Be smart about it: Don't go buy the most expensive jewelery or gown," Ryan said. "See if any queens in your size have things you can borrow or even buy off of them for cheap. A lot of queens who have been doing it for a while have tons of stuff they don't want because it doesn't fit anymore, they've worn it 80 times, or it needs some work and they're not interested in fixing it up."
Whether you hit up your local thrift store like Goodwill for an over-the-top dress, or discover your inner-Gaga by constructing an outfit yourself, there are ways to be both frugal and fierce.
Once you have the look, Ryan also tells us how to get that sassy yet elegant drag name.
"You take the first letter of your first name, and then the next letter up after the first letter of your last name," Ryan said. "Your first name needs to be believable but also ridiculous. The last name should be a little dirty without being trashy."
Using this formula, Ryan recommended I adopt the moniker "Juliet Huffer" for any future drag performances.
I definitely approve.