People filled the room to capacity, and then some, at a 90s Drag Show this weekend in Billings.
A nonprofit drag group, the Countship of the Imperial Soverign Court of the State of Montana, organized the event. The Countship is part of a larger international organization and has chapters in different cities around the state.
The event this weekend could be a taste of what’s to come.
The Countship wants to establish a series of monthly performances in Billings similar to the ones it holds in Bozeman and Missoula.
Countship members performed alongside local groups and personas Saturday night.
On one side of the Elks Lodge building, a band plays to a room empty except for a dancing couple and a lady drinking at the bar. Somewhere else, a poker game is scheduled.
And in the grand ballroom, drag kings and queens lip-sync, dance, and do the occasional split for a delighted audience.
People come up one-by-one and sometimes crowd at the stage to hand tips directly to performers, who also strut up and down the aisles to take dollar bills from waving hands.
Drag performance is traditionally thought of as men dressing up as women, everything a little big and over the top, and while there is campiness at this event, there’s also glamor.
Men dress up as women, women dress up as men, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.
Drag queen iLana Jaxxx’n, or Lane Pascall out of drag, is beauty in a beard.
Before the show, she perfected her look in the dressing room, also known as the Elks Lodge bathroom.
“This is just a little something that I would wear if I were going to the grocery store,” she quipped about her outfit, a glossy white dress cinched at the waist.
iLana Jaxxx’n is part of the House of Iris, a four-person drag group, and she’s getting ready alongside her fellow drag queen, Regina Jaxxx’n, or Rick Hibbs out of drag.
Both are from southcentral Montana and met as adversaries when they were running track against each other in high school. They met again three years ago at a student film audition and, now, they’re like family.
iLana Jaxx’in explained, in the drag community, there’s often a “mother” who takes a mentorship role to a less experienced drag queen.
iLana is Regina’s “mother.”
“That stems way back from when queer people were kicked out of their homes,” said iLana. “They didn’t have parents, they didn’t have families, so an ‘older’ gay or queer person would kinda take a younger queer person under their wing.”
Another “mother” in the room was Anita Bamalamatangtang, who pulled a set of high heels out of a suitcase.
Bamalamatangtang, who declined to share her legal name as she isn’t out, is in a group with her drag king “son,” called Magic City Glamour.
She said she’s been performing drag for almost 20 years.
“Billings is starting to open up a little more from what they used to. When we first started, we were all scared to even come out dressed like this,” said Bamalamatangtang. “Now, I’ll drive and walk all over the place. I’ll go to Walmart dressed like this if I have to. It doesn’t scare me as much as it used to.”
Later, right before the show began, iLana Jaxxx’n walked past the crowd standing in the back of the grand ballroom.
She said she’d be performing to a Whitney Houston song.
“I think I’m just nervous a little bit, because that’s normal for me. I’m just a constant ball of nerves,” said Jaxxx’n. “But other than that, I’m just excited. Super excited. I love the turnout. It’s so awesome.”
Jaxxx’n said the large crowd is probably due to the article the Billings Gazette released the day before the event.
More than 350 people attended, so many that the Elks opened a connecting section of the room.
The performers were unpaid Saturday, and proceeds go back into The Countship of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the State of Montana, which directs the profits into the organization and its causes, including scholarships.
Some of the profits from the event will go to 406 Pride, which will be opening its LGBTQ resource center in Billings on March 23.