For students who are not local, it can be difficult to find off-campus entertainment that isn’t in Los Angeles. For LGBTQ+ students, finding high-energy, LGBTQ+ parties and spaces on- and off-campus is even harder. One place that can satisfy everyone’s needs is the 340 Nightclub and Restaurant in downtown Pomona.
Just 20 minutes away from Claremont, the club hosts drag events almost every weekend, bringing in popular queens from all around the country. Despite being somewhat small and tucked away, the club books many famous queens from Logo’s reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race, a competition for drag queens based on their comedic talents, performing abilities and overall looks.
Most recently, the club hosted drag queens Bianca Del Rio and Raven. Del Rio was the season six winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and currently lives in L.A., while Raven appeared on season two and the all-stars season.
“I think 340 is a fantastic place for LGBTQ+ events because it is well planned, it feels safe and the people seem nice,” said Arman Ahmed PZ '19, who attended that particular show. “There is also a diverse group of people; it's not just gay men or gay women, but a wide range of people.”
Despite drag culture being a presence in the LGBTQ+ community and its increased popularity in the mainstream, clubs like 340 are still relatively unknown to students at the Claremont Colleges. Additionally, drag culture barely exists here, even within LGBTQ+ organizations and spaces.
This is surprising because Southern California maintains a very strong drag culture, with L.A. widely considered the unofficial capital of drag. Other colleges like University of California, Riverside host events like the annual Dragalicious Drag Ball, catering to its considerable drag community.
Michael Mao PO ’19, a drag queen enthusiast, said that the lack of drag culture at the 5Cs could be due to its underground nature, still mostly limited to nightclubs—it is not mainstream enough yet, despite RuPaul’s efforts. Mao said that there are still many stereotypes and perceptions of drag that are difficult to shake.
“I think it has to do with the intrinsic hypocrisy of the 5Cs,” he explained. “On one hand, they’re trying to voice equal rights for everybody by setting up campaign organizations, gender neutral bathrooms. On the other hand, they don’t want this to maintain a public status, because they can be really sensitive issues and scare people off … if they introduce drag culture to the 5C's campus, then a pandemonium would ensue.”
To this, Ahmed replied, “Drag isn't for everyone, and acknowledging that is important. It seems to be a mostly LGBT form of entertainment, but people who notice that it is in fact such an integral part of media nowadays can appreciate it.”
The lack of drag culture could also be credited to the fear of breaking gender roles and straying away from social norms. A stigma exists surrounding drag, especially with it constantly being confused as being transgender, which is a very distinct thing. While there are some transgender people who have used drag as a way to ease themselves into their transitions, drag is for anyone of any gender.
By becoming a drag queen or king, one is simply playing an exaggerated male or female character based on archetypes. Drag is another form of acting and cosplay in that sense. However, it is often looked down upon to dress as a gender different from the one assigned at birth, whether to fulfill a gender identity or to simply play a character. The fact that drag is widely regarded as an LGBTQ+ activity adds to the stereotypes and the stigma.
Describing his personal experience with drag, Ahmed stated that while he wasn’t interested in doing drag himself, he admired others who did, calling them “brave, creative and fantastic people.” Mao, who has done drag before, explained his reason for doing so.
“Femininity seems like something that is being looked down upon in modern society,” Mao said. “Drag is a way to embrace and empower femininity. When I get in drag, I feel more empowered than when I’m my boy self.”
When each was asked about their thoughts on having a stronger drag culture on campus and whether it would be an improvement for students, both Mao and Ahmed agreed that while it could be fun, potentially increasing diversity, drag culture should not be forced or imposed.
“I know LGBTQ+ people who aren't comfortable with drag, and that's okay,” said Ahmed. “But having drag events on campus helps create awareness about a struggling class of artists that are underrepresented even in this day and age.”
Mao noted that bringing drag to the Claremont Colleges could have its problems.
“It would be great to add more diversity into it, but I don’t think it would be right to make it a political agenda to bring drag culture to the 5C campus,” Mao said. “Drag queens have to have a demographic basis, and we’re not sure about how people would accept this.”
Whether or not drag culture becomes a part of the Claremont Colleges, drag shows, like those at 340 Nightclub, are still an option for students who love the art form, are part of the LGBTQ+ community or who simply want an unconventional source of off-campus entertainment.
There are a million types of drag, and a new experience might just be in the cards.