Thursday, August 18, 2022

'It was my survival': Local drag queen talks changing drag culture in Lansing

July 5, 2022
<p>Photo courtesy of Erik Rogers</p>

Photo courtesy of Erik Rogers

As a kid, Erik Rogers loved Madonna.

“I grew up in a music era where women were confident in what they did…women from the heart,” Rogers said. “I think I just became attached to that vibe.” 

Today, Rogers performs as Alicia Moore at Lansing’s Ellison Brewing Company and the People’s Kitchen. He’s been doing drag for 22 years and has fought determinedly for his success. 

At his aunt’s house, Rogers got to play House, and dress up with his cousins. However, once he returned home, things were different. 

“Growing up the way I grew up, I was never really allowed to be myself,” Rogers, who described himself as a “farm kid” said. “Any type of femininity, it wasn’t accepted.”

Rogers said he hasn’t talked to his siblings or his father in a number of years.

“Because every reaction he has to me, has to do with me being gay or doing drag,” Rogers said. “Once I got away from that and I fell into drag, it felt like I could be who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be, and I just ran with it.”

Rogers started performing as an 18 year old, in a drag culture he said is much different from todays. The scene was territorial and often mean.

“You had to get through all of these ugly, egotistical, bully drag queens to get where you wanted to be,” Rogers said. “I would fight for bookings. It was my survival.”

Rogers didn’t have a high school diploma, which took many of his options away. However, he received his GED at 30 years old with a top score. This opened doors for him, allowing him to start beauty school.

Thanks to two tough mentors, Rogers learned how to do hair, and now works at the Artisan Company Salon in Reotown. Rogers said his hair skills and creativity come into play when designing performance looks.

Rogers styles his own wigs, and some of his friends make pieces of his costumes or help sew things. He’d paint other queens’ faces before shows to make some extra cash. 

After a brief drag hiatus, Rogers took up his passion again in the Lansing community. 

“Moving to Lanisng, (drag queen Trell Jackson-Clark, better known as) Delicious took me under her wing, and a lot of the other local drag queens helped me with stuff,” Rogers said.

Delicious is one of Lansing’s iconic drag queens — she started Lansing Pride and is known to many as a drag mother. 

With an absence of gay venues in the area, there isn’t a home base for drag in Lansing, Rogers said. Drag queens here will often form partnerships with restaurants, like Rogers with Ellison Brewery and the People’s Kitchen. Delicious performs at Sir Pizza in Reotown. 

Rogers describes the Lansing drag market as oversaturated, but while sometimes toes get stepped on, Rogers believes that the community as a whole is welcoming and that there is a space for everyone. 

As Rogers credits much of his success to people who have mentored him, he gives back by mentoring others himself. Bentley James and Aurora Manifesto are two local drag queens that Rogers has taken under his wing.

Rogers encourages drag queens to find their own style and to take the drag traditions that work for them and leave the ones that don’t. Many drag queens are abstaining from hip padding and chest padding—Rogers doesn’t even shave his beard for performances every time anymore. 

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“Just work your ass off, just be you,” Rogers said. “That’s all you can do.” 

As drag evolves, attitudes towards it have changed as well.

“For God’s sake, I have an f-ing drag brunch,” Rogers said with a laugh.

Drag queens have become a talking point for Republicans running for office, and Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon is one of them. 

One of Dixon’s campaign promises is that she’d make it a crime for minors to attend drag events.

Meanwhile, Rogers said he receives emails from parents saying “You made my kids so happy,” or “They’ve been so depressed and we look forward to this.”

Because of this, Rogers said he is disturbed by the anti-drag, anti-trans, and even anti-gay legislation that’s been proposed.

“To see all this anti-gay, anti-trans sh-- going on, and this younger, flourishing generation and they're just being slapped in the face,” he said. “I really just want these kids to stand their ground and, stomp their foot and be f-ing heard. You're visible. You have everything you need to be capable to stop what's happening.”

Rogers participates in pro-bono shows where the proceeds are donated to organizations that support the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I just want people to be happy and these kids to be safe, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure kids have a safe space,” Rogers said, joking that he’d pack them all up in a bus to Canada. “I’ll do my part to make sure I can just give someone a little bit of hope.”

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