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  • Elise Lien, Staff Writer

Willamette students open for drag queen Poison Waters

Photo by Jason Lehman

On March 18, the PNW-based drag queen Poison Waters came to Willamette to perform a show presented by the Willamette Events Board. Before Poison Waters performed, two Willamette students hit the stage to open the show with a bang. One of them was completely new to drag while the other had some experience under her belt already. 

The first opener was Ceph Tronco (‘26), who made his drag debut to the song "The Ballad of Mona Lisa" by Panic! At the Disco in a middle school, emo-inspired look, complete with Dr. Martens boots. Tronco’s full look consisted of a black wig and a black dress, with the latter borrowed from his mom. “My mom has been a really big help on this,” Tronco shared. “I feel like that is a really cool experience to have for my first time doing drag, [which] is my mom being 100% supportive.” 

Tronco had been eyeing getting into drag and thought that being an opener for Willamette’s drag show was a perfect place to try it out. “This is a type of performing that I have never done before and am really really excited about,” Tronco said. “The chance to try something new is big for me, and also as a trans guy I think that women’s fashion is just more fun in a lot of ways — there [are] more variety options. It appeals to me aesthetically. I think it’s fun to take something to its logical extreme.” Tronco also said that drag is a great way to interact with his interest in women’s fashion in a way that feels comfortable to him. “It's a circumstance where it’s clear that this is a costume, that this is a bit that I’m doing. I get to engage with it and explore it again and have it be safe, contained and clear that it’s not true to me.”

The second opener was Natalie Risse (‘24), who has been doing drag for about a year. Last year in her study abroad program in Ireland, Risse had the opportunity to go to a drag school and perform in a drag show. “It was a great experience,” Risse said. “I wanted to do it here because in Ireland my friends from here didn’t get to see it, so I wanted to bring it to Willamette. It was perfectly timed.” Risse performed with the drag name Shrexxy both in Ireland and at Willamette, dawning a bright green wig, green clothing, fishnets and completing the look with bright green platform heels. Shrexxy became Risse’s drag persona in high school long before she actually started doing drag, when she and her high school friends would watch "RuPaul’s Drag Race" and discuss what their drag names and looks would be. Even though she started doing drag for her high school friends, Risse found a lot of comfort within the art form. 

Photo byJason Lehman

Risse shared that drag “was essential to growing in my queer identity and understanding myself as a queer person.” From watching her favorite drag queens to doing drag herself, Risse appreciates the accepting and liberating atmosphere that drag provides. Risse added that drag makes her feel “that I’m not strange and that I’m not wrong. It’s been a long road of suppressing it and being like, ‘no, being gay is wrong,’ ‘being sexual is wrong,’ ‘doing all these things [is]wrong.’ College has been that experience of trying to leave that boundary that I was placed into and understand myself in a new way and in a way that is liberating and joyous and my true self.”

After the show, Risse expressed the pride she felt after performing: “I rewatched it and thought I did good. It makes me happy and joyous that I feel like I performed my genuine self and my friends all enjoyed it and everyone came to support me [which] l really loved.”

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