Taylor Abbey | firstname.lastname@example.org | January 28, 2019
On the surface, many of our peers may seem nothing out-of-the-ordinary–simply familiar faces we see in passing. To an extent, teenagers prefer to abide by the conventional nature of their high school; entrenched in a bubble of normality. However, beyond the manicured and ordinary halls of high schools across the country, and unbeknownst to their fellow peers, some teens lead somewhat of a double life.
Social media serves as the main vehicle for their self-expression; a glimpse into their own personal realm of androgynous, avant-garde fashion and dazzling makeup. Every single detail interwoven into each look is accounted for: the abrasive edges of drawn-on goatees, multi-toned eye makeup, even a subtle nose contour.
Each ensemble is perfectly unique, tailor-made to fit their respective cosmetic persona. Some prefer an elaborate get-up, with large, hoop earrings, Victorian-style corsets, and fishnet tights. Others opt for the simplicity of a plain Hanes tee-shirt–ensuring the sole focus is on their makeup.
Regardless of personal style, these teens share the same common denominator: drag. The world of drag is a creative free-for-all not thwarted by any arbitrary rules and restrictions–a feat that attracts new members to the scene.
Hailing from San Mateo, seventeen year-old Calandra Saidin, who performs under the drag name “Dionysus,” is a new and active participant in the local Bay Area drag scene and aims to convey the message that drag is more than just a glorified version of “dress up.” Rather, it can provide teens with an outlet necessary for self-discovery and confidence building.
Saidin is a creative force to be reckoned with. Her Instagram profile, under the username “calandra.jpg,” features everything from a typical selfie, to picturesque and multicolored makeup designs that transform her into original characters. One line in her bio serves as her personal mantra:“PAY IT NO MIND.”
Saidin describes herself as having been pretty “out there” all through high school, when it came to her physical appearance. She even sported a mohawk her sophomore year. It was no surprise, she says, that she gravitated towards the drag scene, a scene predominantly built upon extravagant and artistic self-expression.
Three years ago, Saidin attended a live theatrical performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. As is customary, it began at midnight and involved audience participation, red lipstick, fishnet tights, and provocative musical numbers. Drag, above all, is at the core of the production.
From there, Saidin dove into mainstream drag culture like the Boulet Brothers’ reality show Dragula, and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Saidin soon developed a drag persona of her own: Dionysus, the Greek god of ecstasy, ritual madness, theatre, and divine androgyny. The driving force behind Saidin’s character stems from Dionysus’ androgynous upbringing. This upbringing stemmed from Dionysus’ father, Zeus, ordering his son to be raised as a female in order to avoid detection from the goddess Hera, his wife.
Following his father’s orders, Dionysus’ life of gender duality began to take shape. Though born male, the young god wore women’s clothing, associated strictly with women, and took up feminine mannerisms. Dionysus became increasingly more conscious of his androgynous identity as he grew older, and as a result, never rid himself of his feminine clothing despite the societal norms men were expected to abide by. In artwork, Dionysus is characterized by long, effeminate robes, curly hair, pale skin, and a pudgy body; juxtaposing the tan, well-toned bodies of Ancient Greek men.
Saidin’s version of Dionysus’ involves a black, Victorian-style corset coupled with bright crimson bell bottoms, black platform heels, and large pentacle hoop earrings. She also wears a policeman style cap and a dark, drawn-on mustache-beard combination. Saidin doesn’t directly conform to any one gender identity. “I’ve always thought to myself that I don’t particularly feel like a woman,” Saidin remarked, “I don’t care what other people call me.”
“I like not being viewed as a girl but as an art piece.”
Drag acted as a means for Saidin to experiment with an androgynous style for the first time. “I was like, ‘this makes me feel so confident,’” Saidin said, “[but] I couldn’t put a finger on why.” However, when attending San Francisco’s Pride as Dionysus, Saidin said, “I saw how people reacted when I was in drag versus when I was dressed as a girl, normally, in my day-to-day.” She liked it. “I like not being viewed as a girl but as an art piece,” said Saidin.
The Bay Area isn’t the only environment where the teen drag scene is coming to life. Even in more socially conservative states, some teens are open about their involvement with the drag scene. Seventeen-year-old, Pennsylvania native Nick Skalican is transparent about his passion with all things cosmetic and drag related, flaunting a colorful and shimmering array of makeup looks on his instagram page: “@nickdoesmakeup”
Much like Saidin, Skalican’s drag journey has only recently started. An avid RuPaul Drag Race fan since the seventh grade, Skalican knew he felt a connection to the drag performers he saw on screen right away. Tuning in season after season to watch the addictive and glamorous VH1 reality show, Skalican knew he wanted to put his own skills to practice, drawing inspiration from the performers he had grown so familiar
Unlike Saidin, Skalican opts for a more casual and “toned down” drag look.
The eyes and lips are the true focal point. “Nude” tones are commonplace in many of his posts; shimmery and bright light pinks and blues. Other looks are more bold, featuring dark shades of plum and deep reds.
“[Makeup] is one of those trial and error type things,” Skalican states, “When my friend and I are doing makeup together, I’ll always be doing something different than he is. [Makeup] with look different on us; apply different.”
Beyond the makeup side of drag, Skalican has also come to realize the role drag has played when it comes to his personal gender identity. “I’ve always been super feminine from a young age. I was playing with Barbies and trying on jewelry, but I loved being a boy too,” he said. Drag culture as a whole is deeply rooted in theatrics; an art form dedicated to putting on a character of the opposite gender for performative purposes. “I fully identify as male,” Skalican continued, “There’s not a part of me that wants to be another gender, I’m just a boy who loves makeup.”
Within his home state of Pennsylvania, boys who also share his appreciation for makeup and drag are few and far between. However, despite this, he says he’s never been bullied.
“I’ve only ever had one problem and I’ve heard that other people have talked about it [negatively] before,” Skalican states, “If I hear people talking about it, it’s water off a duck’s back, you know? Their reactions don’t affect my life at all.” Skalican goes on to note how both his parents and his peers have been some of his biggest supporters; giving him the room necessary to flex his creative skills publically.
Nonetheless, he notes that every beginning artist, regardless of medium, is going to feel afraid to showcase their craft. Finding your footing is difficult; an experience accompanied by a lack of confidence in your abilities, in addition to feeling as though your own work is not “outstanding” or “creative” enough. “If you’re by yourself in your bathroom, just try, try, try. Make sure you have makeup wipes, but just keep trying.,” Skalican stressed, “Just keep at it. It’s going to be really frustrating in the beginning, but once you put all this time into it, it’ll work out for you.”
Adolescence is a demanding time, accompanied with pressures surrounding forming a cohesive identity. This road to personal self-discovery is one that can take years, if not an entire lifetime, to fully grasp, and while drag isn’t suited for everyone, members within the scene advocate for experimentation. For any teen who finds themselves having even the slightest bit of interest when it comes to dressing in drag, the consensus among younger performers within the scene proves to be universal: Just do it. The door is wide open, just pick up a palette of cheap face paint, a brush or two, and you’re ready to let loose.