On Saturday April 2, students from various groups on campus hosted the second ever queer drag ball at Brandeis University entitled “Inviting In: A Ball Celebrating Pride.” The ball was a follow up to a similar event, “Drag Me to the Stein,” which occurred in October.
The event was hosted in the lobby of the Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC) in partnership with student-run organizations the Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition (QTPOCC), Queer Jews at Brandeis (QJAB) and Triskelion. Ballroom culture is a notable historical aspect of queer culture, particularly for Black and Brown queer individuals, explains a Time Magazine article on the topic. The ballroom scene in New York City created an “empowered performance space” for queer people who otherwise were unable to have such freedom of expression. Events such as “Inviting In” and “Drag Me to the Stein” attempt to bring the same feeling of queer empowerment and connection to the queer community at Brandeis. The Brandeis Hoot asked Nicholas Ong ’23, leader of QTPOCC and host of the event, about this key aspect. “I think it’s crucial that events that center queerness at the intersection of cultural identity are at the forefront of our campus’ queer community. This particular event focused on ball culture, an integral union of Black and Brown queer bodies to come together and celebrate life and joy,” Ong emphasized. “When our campus has spaces and events centering the lives of our Black and Brown siblings, the overall energy is welcoming and empowering for the otherwise marginalized group of individuals in the Queer community.”
The Hoot also spoke with Esther Daube-Valois ’23, President of QJAB, about the event. “Queer life on campus and the queer clubs can sometimes get a little segregated—not everyone has the time to be in all of them—and it was amazing to celebrate all together,” Daube-Valois told the Hoot. The event itself brought together various queer groups in one evening, that may otherwise not have been able to hold such an event. “Eli [Sobel] from the GSC reached out to me as they were interested in creating a combination between a drag ball and a gay prom. QJAB was really excited to be on board as we don’t have the time or resources to plan something that big,” Daube-Valois explained. The event was focused on being “an uplifting party that was based on inclusion and diversity” in order to increase student morale during a long stretch in the semester. The Brandeis GSC wrote about the event in an Instagram post on Saturday “reject cis-het normativity and express yourself!”
“Inviting In” utilized the ball format and gave students the opportunity to walk in categories—themed runways and performances. The categories available for students to walk at “Inviting In” were Spring Fling, Patterns ‘N Prints and Bearded and Beautiful. At the event, multiple students took this opportunity to express their unique styles as well as to express their queer identities in a safe environment. Ong, the host of the event, performed alongside approximately 13 participating students and guest drag queen Nerukessa. The Hoot reached out to Nerukessa, a queer performer and artist from Rhode Island, to discuss their experience at “Inviting In.”
“I truly enjoyed my time at the Brandeis University GSC Ball this past weekend. The exceptional turn out of love and appreciation for one another is unmatched, and the energy was really good!” Nerukessa explained to the Hoot via Instagram DMs. Seeing “[participants] just enjoying their time was more than enough to make this a worthwhile experience,” they wrote.
Ong explained to the Hoot the importance of Nerukessa’s attendance as the guest star. “A Black local drag artist felt like the most important aspect to center the event around, because we’re here to celebrate our queerness at the intersection of race,” Ong noted. “We chose to do the last category [Bearded and Beautiful] to honor Nerukessa, the performer we invited, because of her iconic mustache,” Ong told the Hoot.
On the queer community on campus, Daube-Valois explained to the Hoot, “I really love being the president of QJAB and being part of such a wonderful group of people … I enjoy every event and love creating queer communities on campus.” Ong told the Hoot similarly about forming QTPOCC and working on events such as “Inviting In”, “I wanted to bring the fun and show Brandeis how Queer and Trans People of Color celebrate life.”