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A Day with the “Mother Hen” of Chicago’s Drag Scene

Lucy Stoole on bearded queens, black excellence, and being an inspiration

Above: Lucy Stoole aboard the 2017 Pride Parade float for Queen.
Photo: Max Herman

Lucy Stoole, host of the uber-popular Queen dance party, holds a special place in the hearts of Chicago’s drag queens: They describe her as “generous,” “mother hen,” “black excellence,” and, simply, “the legend.”

The Kansas native moved here in 2007 and started performing professionally about five years after that. She now DJs, bartends, and performs at a full slate of events and venues. She’s seen the drag scene—and the Pride Parade—transform in ways that she deems positive: It’s more diverse and inclusive than ever, in terms of race, gender identity, and sexuality. She says Chicago is now “hands down the best drag scene in the country.”

Ahead of spending Sunday—from a 7 a.m. call time at her apartment, to her 10:30 p.m. show, It Presents: Journey to the Center of Pridewe chatted with her about her experience and her future.

(Q&A begins below video)

 

Lucy Stoole wasn’t the first drag persona you had. What was that first one and how did you come to Lucy?

My first was a straightforward drag queen. Her name was Estuary Palomino, she didn’t have a beard, and she did a lot of Top 40 music because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do at the time. Lucy came after I became a little more knowledgeable about my gender, the idea of expressing gender in different ways, and questioning what it means to be a man or woman, masculine or feminine.

Why did you choose to pursue the masculine side and how has the scene reacted to that?

Five years ago in the Chicago scene, drag was completely different. It wasn’t open to playing with the rules, or gender, or the idea of what drag can be. It was very straightforward: dresses, big hair, boobs, hips. Coming out as a drag queen, especially a bearded drag—nobody wanted to see that drag expression—was probably a lot tougher [than coming out as gay], honestly.

I wasn’t getting booked at all in Boystown, so I ended up moving to the West Side and started doing parties over there, working with a lot of rockers, free spirits, and people who didn’t ask a lot of questions. Even though I was busted and weird, they were like, “This is something we’ve never seen before, she’s a great performer, she makes a great party, we’ll give her a chance.” It was a tough run. I was 27, still trying to figure out how I felt about it, so it was a huge learning experience.

How has the Chicago drag scene grown or evolved? Are you seeing more fluid expressions of gender now?

A lot of girls say that this black, bearded, queer had absolutely started this revolution in drag—that they started drag because they saw me doing the drag that they wanted to do, and that it was possible to do this. That’s the biggest thing I’ve done in my career—just being an inspiration for other people to stand and be themselves. That means more than any gig I’ve ever done.

What has it been like to navigate through the drag scene as a person of color? What challenges do you encounter?

People of color, especially black girls, have to work two times as hard as their white counterparts to be seen and taken seriously. Sometimes I get this vibe from people when I pull off a look, and it’s like, “Wow, I’m surprised you could pull that off.” I know this comes from systemic racism where people aren’t used to seeing a black girl in charge, or performing rock music, or not seeing black girls as artists, period. We’re making big strides, though, and luckily there are a lot of people of color in our community now who work their asses off in every aspect to make their change.

Can you describe the role drag queens play in the whole landscape of the parade?

I think they play the same role they do in our community, which is the bandleader. We’re the ringleader of the circus. We’re always the ones that are the loudest, the ones saying the most, that are telling people where to go, what to do. We have always been the people that said the things that no one else said.

How would you compare Chicago’s drag scene to other major cities?

People still ask me when I’m moving to LA or New York all the time. But in reality, this city is so fucking fantastic and filled with so much talent. It’s ridiculous. Chicago is hands down the best drag scene in the country. We’ve had so many drag queen transplants in the past year and a half or two years because there are so many opportunities to be authentically yourself and do your own kind of drag and make money off it. Plus our drag community is connected in a way that most aren’t. We have our fights, but at the end of the day we think of each other as sisters and an actual community.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

I feel like the next big step for me is to get on RuPaul’s Drag Race. There hasn’t been a bearded queen yet, but I honestly feel like with the work that I’ve done, a beard is not gonna hold me back from anything. I’m also working on my own line of sex toys, and thinking about becoming a sex therapist, but there really is no time to stop drag right now. That’s something that I’ll be doing as long as I can walk in a pair of heels.

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