Drag Ball

Okay, first things first: I am, and have always been, a huge fan of Drag Ball. My second date with T took place at the '96 ball - she was the cutest little cowboy in all of America, and my outfit was to die for. I'd post a picture here but I'm not sure I want to see that plastered all over the web...

I digress.

Lots of chatter on the interwebs today about what's going on. Yes, it seems that DB isn't happening this year. No, this doesn't necessarily mean that DB is gone forever.

To break it down, there are two groups of DB supporters: those who love DB, and those who love DB so much that they're willing to organize, plan, and execute it (like my old friend Hailey Laws, who can tell you a lot about sacrifice and what it takes to make DB happen). The latter camp is virtually non-existent these days, and therein lies our problem.

I wrote to my friend Linda Gates to get some history and context. Here is her response:

Drag Ball started as a party in Talcott in the early '90s and quickly outgrew that space. It moved to South in its second year, and because that was a residence hall, the space was also not appropriate for a party of that scale. The event then moved to the 'Sco and in the earlier years benefited from a lot of student interest in how it was planned, organized, and run.
Beginning around 2000, student organizational support diminished. Students were enthusiastic about attending the event, but the planning and execution fell to just a handful of students. Each year for nearly the last decade we have struggled with the two main problems that have led to this year's decision: lack of proper funding, and lack of organizational support.
Last year after DB, a number of us met several times with the two DB organizers (including this year's organizer) and we were very clear: if students did not charter the group, did not plan and organize the event in advance, and did not procure funding through procedures that all student organizations use to fund their activities, DB would be in jeopardy. When none of those things happened, those of us who participated in that discussion - including this year's sole student organizer - reached consensus that DB should be canceled for spring 2010.
DB has been an expensive enterprise and although ticket sales do pay for a significant percentage of the expenses, the event has required ad hoc support from SFC, Student Union Board, and Forum Board without which it could never have met its financial obligations.
What about the future? If student interest is such that the event can be planned well and far enough in advance, and if DB is chartered and can submit funding requests as required of other student organizations, DB could certainly happen next year and in subsequent years.
What about this year? I have been asked if there is going to be an event of similar magnitude that will take place in its stead, or if there is any replacement event at all. Some of the acts who had been considered by this year's single student organizer will perform in the 'Sco, but this will not be viewed as a related event. The student who serves as the spokesperson for DB planning this year has been very clear that she does not want this to be viewed as a replacement for the larger event.
Why has this decision been made? Although we are aware that a number of people will be disappointed and may attribute this decision to a number of incorrect factors, the reason the event is being canceled is 1) that there has not been enough student interest and participation in planning the event and 2) that it has grown to such an extent that without adequate advance planning and funding, it is not sustainable.

I'll add my additional two cents here - back in the day, DB was really about education, awareness, and support. I get the feeling that this has faded in recent years - that most (not all, but most) students now just think of it as a big campus party with some fun runway stuff to watch. I'm happy to be corrected here, if I am mistaken... but it would certainly explain the lack of enthusiasm for planning the thing.

Where does this leave us? It's really up to the students, I think - it always has been. Because DB has ALWAYS been a student-organized event. If the administration were to take over, you'd hate it (admit it).

So - is this going to be another example of people being happy to complain but unwilling to be part of the solution?

I hope not. Hint: it's never too early to start planning for next year.

Responses To This Entry:

I was visiting the week before it last year. Aw. Fingers crossed for 2011.

Posted by: Kate on March 9, 2010 6:02 PM

I'll place myself in a third group of Oberlin students: those who like DB but were pretty horrified by the cost last year. $40,000--the price of a year's tuition--for one party is unjustifiable. I'd hate to see drag ball go away, but I think a year off is probably for the best.

Posted by: Will on March 9, 2010 6:08 PM

I'm sad, but I'm also annoyed by a lazy student body. We're not the Oberlin of yore anymore.

Posted by: Louis Grube on March 9, 2010 6:11 PM

The interesting thing about the chartering process is that the policy used to be that student organizations were not supposed to exist solely for the purpose of planning a single event. The Big Parade and the Hip Hop Festival (I believe) have paved the way for student activity fee funding to go to single events.

Was there ever a Plan Drag Ball Exco? That seems like a good way to entice the young 'uns.

And mad props to Hailey for throwing such a good party so many times. Even if there aren't explicit educational events *at* Drag Ball itself, I think embracing drag culture and diverse sexualities is a plenty good reason to have Drag Ball. Workshops, etc., leading up are certainly awesome, but it seems like that's more likely to work out if other stu orgs work with the future Drag Ball stu org.

Posted by: Lillie on March 9, 2010 6:33 PM

I am part of another group of students - trans students (and allies) who found Drag Ball in recent years to be an extremely uncomfortable and unproductive space. The term "drag ball" historically refers to a space for urban queer/trans people of color to gather together and celebrate a culture of support and affection within the community. Oberlin's Drag Ball is just about the opposite - last year, being part of a crowd of mostly white, mostly drunk, mostly cisgendered students watching a burlesque show put on by people of color... I have never felt that uncomfortable or that upset at an Oberlin event before.

If Drag Ball does come back next year, I hope it can either be redesigned/reclaimed by people that could make it meaningful to the communities that a drag ball once stood for, or that it lose that connotation forever. As a transperson who loves the supportive community of Oberlin, however imperfect it may be, there must be a way to make this event more accessible and safe for people like me.

Posted by: San on March 9, 2010 8:21 PM

I can't find my notes from the time I served on JCSC but my recollection matches what Lillie said: the governance structure seemed very resistant to chartering student organizations for single events. Whatever you believe about that, the problem arises when you have a policy against single event organizations but then argue that a charter is requisite for the event to continue. If you put a group in this kind of no win scenario where they're bandied about for years, it's no wonder that interest in organizing the event has decreased.

Posted by: Colin on March 9, 2010 8:29 PM

I would argue that while I understand the point Dean Gates is making, it was irresponsible on the part of the administration to pass judgment on the event -- i.e. stating that it would not happen without xyz -- and not bother to inform the student body adequately.

There is no excuse for just assuming that we don't care about this issue, when in fact it's never been especially clear who (aside from very vocal people like Ms. Laws) are ever in charge of/running the event. If they needed a certain level of student support from people who hadn't been involved previously (due to previous organizers graduating, et cetera), they should have realized how important this event is to many queer students and made some kind of large, public statement to the effect that drag ball was in danger.

Letting it go until the last possible moment without a word from the administration to the general student body, then blaming us for the cancellation feels -- even if it is in fact no such thing -- like an excuse to get rid of a controversial event with the least amount of fuss.

Just my 2 cents. And obviously, we students need to plan something of our own to replace it this year.

Posted by: Connor Goldsmith on March 9, 2010 9:30 PM

Many thanks to everyone for leaving such thoughtful comments.

First, please allow me to replace "two groups of students" with "two groups of DB supporters" in the original entry. This is really what I meant to write in the first place - it is far more accurate, for reasons that both Will and San have expressed in their comments.

Colin/Lillie - excellent question about the politics surrounding charter. I will look into this.

Connor - it is my understanding that the administration made significant efforts over the last year to work with a variety of students who had been identified as DB supporters, but unfortunately to no avail (except for one, referenced above, who did her very best and deserves much credit). I suppose arguments could be made on both sides regarding whose responsibility it is to inform the larger student body about the lack of progress - the inner circle of students charged with producing DB, or administrators. Regardless, I do agree with you that it's unfortunate for the general student body to find out this way. I am meeting with Senate soon and will bring this topic up - perhaps we can strategize on how to avoid such things in the future.

I would caution against assumptions like "...should have realized how important this event is to many queer students" because from what I can see, the vast majority of outcries (at least so far) are not coming from this community. In fact, the comments I do hear from my queer friends have mirrored San's sentiments more than anything else. As a campus we must acknowledge and address this.

May I be so bold as to suggest that taking a year off might actually be a good thing. Oberlin needs to take a step back and evaluate what it's really trying to accomplish with Drag Ball. San comments "I hope it can... be redesigned/reclaimed by people that could make it meaningful to the communities that a drag ball once stood for," and I wholeheartedly agree.

Drag Ball was most meaningful when it stood for education and awareness - and those things didn't cost anyone 40K.

I really hope we embrace a dialogue around this, and that Drag Ball comes back next year reborn and true to its roots.


Posted by: Ben on March 9, 2010 11:35 PM

I would never claim to speak for -all- queer students, which is why I said 'many'. I know that a lot of my queer friends (and I myself) are loud people talking about this, so I'd dispute the idea that there aren't many queer voices objecting to this decision. I also respect San's viewpoint on the event as a whole, and think there are certainly problematics to be addressed, but I do not think s/h/ze (apologies, I do not know your pronouns!) would claim to speak for the queer community in general either. There are numerous different voices within what is a very large identity group.

I do agree that in the long run this may be a good thing in terms of shaking off the apathy, but that doesn't mean I don't object to the way this has been handled. I think it's poor for only "students who had been identified as DB supporters" to be aware that there was a problem.

I know the coordinator we're talking about was working her ass off, because I've talked to her about it, but the administration should know this event is important to the student body generally. If it was in danger of cancellation, we should have known about it. This could have been a rallying cause a long time ago, instead of a gigantic disappointment to many people (including those queer people who feel empowered by drag ball) left in the dark all this time as to the dire circumstances of the situation.

Almost nobody would even know -now- that Drag Ball had been canceled if Hailey hadn't made facebook posts yesterday; there has been absolutely no notice via e-mail or on the Oberlin website or anywhere else. It looks like they just took it off the events calendar. This cavalier attitude about the event from the administration is what is bothering me.

Dropping this on us out of the blue a month before the event was to take place -- therefore giving the student body at large no time to try to help fix the problem -- is not how this should have been done.

I don't want to get into a huge back and forth here, but I wanted to clarify my statements a little bit. I'm hoping what we produce this year instead will be even better.


Posted by: Connor on March 10, 2010 12:08 AM

Connor I hear you on all counts. I'm really glad people are talking. I'm disappointed that it took something like this to elevate the conversation, but excited by the positive that could come from it in the end.

Posted by: Ben on March 10, 2010 12:14 AM

I just left another comment to replace the first one and the second one didn't get posted either. Is there some kind of censorship going on here? What's the problem. It is taking too much thought to write a third time, and it's late and I am going to bed now.

Posted by: Roger Goodman on March 10, 2010 12:44 AM

Definitely no censorship, and no one else is reporting problems so I wonder if it's some sort of browser issue. So sorry Roger. I sent you an email as well - if you want to email me your comment I will be happy to post it for you.

Posted by: Ben on March 10, 2010 12:46 AM

@Roger Goodman:

Ben Jones is good but MT (the blogging software that runs this site) apparently isn't. The software seems not to accept properly entered captchas. Sometimes I've had to copy & paste my entry, reload the page, and try again. The problem isn't related to the content of your posts.

Posted by: Colin on March 10, 2010 12:48 AM

As the first Queerman in the history of Oberlin to come out publicly on the Oberlin campus in 1965 when I was 18, and as a Queer alum who is the last of the founders of OLA (the Queer alumni group) left alive and functioning on the Steering Committee despite having AIDS, I feel that I must here pose a query. Could it be that the reason there is little interest in organizing and raising funds for DB is that the Queer-identified community that first started DB and that continued the traditions of DB over the many years that DB has been in existence, no longer exists as it did? Queer communities all over the country are fast disappearing in the blazing hot need to assimilate and be "just like everybody else" as we fight for Queer marriage (which is a red herring politically). As the Queer community loses its identity, its difference, it loses its culture, its Queer Spirit, and DB was very much a part of Queer culture on campus, until it became a boozing, drunken, ribald revelry of white folks, where especially Queer people of color who identified with drag culture no longer felt safe. DB was about difference. DB was about visibility. DB was about outrageous pride. DB was about liberation. DB was about diversity. DB was about Queer Fabulousness. DB was about Queer/gender politics. DB was about celebration. DB was about fun in a safe space. DB was a Queer event at which allies felt welcome. Alas, DB is no longer that. It is just another very large drunken party on campus, at least from what I have been told by my student friends at Oberlin, a drunken straight party, in fact, where Queer students feel welcome (sometimes). What???? Isn't that a little upside down? It is no longer a largely Queer event, but, rather, a largely straight event, or, at least, an event where a great many Queer people feel unsafe and unwelcome.

Ever since I came out in 1965 and fought at the Stonewall Rebellion in '69 getting my head split open by a cop's Billy club, I have fought valiantly for our liberation, for our visibility, for our difference to be celebrated, for Queerness to be a rallying cry not just for our own liberation but for the liberation of all peoples who are oppressed. DB was one of my ways of fighting for that. I would come back as an alum to experience the joy and unique Oberlin Community-of-Queerness at DB, and then things started to change. The Community-of-Queerness started to wash away. If DB is not an event of sexual liberation and celebration of difference, a space that is safe for all those who feel unsafe in other spaces, then what is the purpose of DB anyway? What is it about? As a Queer community, it is our responsibility to be a firebrand for sexual liberation, for celebration of difference, for living in the collective consciousness of our Queerness in a way that is outright revolutionary. DB is a means of doing that, and perhaps if that dynamic is brought back to the Queer community at Oberlin, the dynamic of outrageous, fierce pride and self-love, the dynamic of revolutionary declaration of our difference, not our assimilated likeness to the larger culture at Oberlin, then perhaps DB can again be the Fabulous Thing that it was. Perhaps then, and only then, will there be a real interest in organizing and raising funds for something that is again outrageously Queer. A fabulous DB comes out of a fabulous Queer community. Being unabashedly Queer is an impassioned rallying cry that yells, "we're here, we're Queer, and we don't want to look like you." Certainly, I don't want to be mistaken for non-Queer, not ever. I have lived an extraordinary, historic Queer political, spiritual, and sexual life, and DB was a part of that history, my history. I am really saddened that it has become something that may never happen in the same Queer way again, or even in a new Queer way again. My hope is that all Queer people at Oberlin, no matter what their sex, gender, or orientation identity, will feel their fierce beauty as different from everyone else. My hope is that all Queer people at Oberlin will be forever outrageously Queer and not look "just like everybody else", and will demand that our safe spaces be ours by right, by liberation, and by the power of Queer Spirit.

I look forward to seeing a lot of you on campus when I am back for OLA meetings in September.

Posted by: Roger Goodman '68 on March 10, 2010 1:59 AM

Quite honestly, I was outraged at the price tag of Drag Ball last year and am not sad to see it go. If you're going to spend $40k on something meaningful to the student body, you'd be better off putting in back into financial aid.

Posted by: Owen on March 10, 2010 2:19 AM

I have been involved with the organization of Drag Ball for the last 2 years, but I am now studying in Greece. I'd like to offer a proposal for how to revive Drag Ball next year. I've written an editorial on the demise and outlined my plan for the rejuvenation of Drag Ball that may be printed this Friday in the Review.

First, I propose eliminating decoration and use student union staff only for set up and take down we could reduce the mandatory hour load for student union employees and thereby slash a sizable portion off the price tag. We can use lights to get the right ambiance - we're still in a recession aren't we?

Second, we can reduce expenses by hiring fewer east and west coast performers. To me, this means picking one or two big name acts from New York and supplementing the rest of the show with a core of talent that doesn't live a plane ride away. This means looking inland to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago.

If there is enough enthusiasm out there, I propose that as a means of organization for next year, students form a small board of event organizers each one holding authority over a specific aspect of the event and over each other. This means, there must be someone in charge of finding and hiring talent, someone to plan the event publicity, someone to design and run educational workshops about the event, someone to organize Drag Ball events throughout the year, and someone to directly oversee the creation and implementation of a new budget. If committed people can seize these and other positions, than there will be no need for another Drag Ball titan like Hailey Laws.

Posted by: Jimmy Hagan on March 10, 2010 8:02 AM

As a heterosexual male with no inherent interest in drag, I'm the first to admit that my opinion on Drag Ball is not one of the more important ones. My freshman year, I admit that I went just for the fun of seeing what I'd look like as a woman, and seeing the way all my friends would look after reversing their genders. I expected little more than a fun night of drinking. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed it, and not just on a shitfaced, lookatwhatanuglywomanimake sort of way. There was something incredibly appealing to me about the way in which it allowed me to escape from my normal life, my normal body, even if just for one night. I never really watched the stage show. I just went to dance and have fun with friends and, most of all, to do something new. It also gave me a huge appreciation for the lengths women (and men who dress in drag) go to to look good. My god the shoes suck!

Anyway, my point is, even if I was one to indulge in the more excessive aspects of DB, that doesn't change the fact that it meant a helluvalot to me, and that the three of them I attended were three of the greatest nights of my time in Oberlin. I almost altered my study abroad plans just so I wouldn't miss it junior year! I hope they work this out, because it can definitely be a meaningful, liberating event once more.

Posted by: John Russell on March 10, 2010 9:07 AM

Yes, Lillie, there has been a "Plan Drag Ball" exco held in the past. Generally in the fall, to get ready for the spring. I don't think there was one this past fall, but I'm not 100% on that.

To me, the excuse of not being chartered as a reason for "cancelling" sounds dubious. Once all the papers are signed and turned in for chartering, how many students actually need to be listed in order to keep a committee/student org running- I think it's only two, isn't it? That doesn't change much. LG has set up arbitrary goals for the students who want to plan this event- even if a DB committee gets chartered, what is the critical mass of official planners needed to get her personal OK? Inadequate "official" student participation on the planning side seems to be something that an administration which fosters the growth of its students into individuals shouldn't overly concern itself with. Enough with the parenting, Deans- let students who are legal adults act like legal adults, and end the condescending in loco parentis. One of the special things about Oberlin is its willingness to let students to take responsibility for themselves (well, outside of housing, at least). If an organizer (and/or friends) wants to put on an event, they have every right to try to secure funding, outside support, etc. If they don't want to do the work, only then should the drag ball be cancelled. But to pre-emptively step in and they can't achieve this seems contrary to Oberlin ethos. When other people spend vast amounts of time on projects at Oberlin, be it climate neutrality, giant art projects, circuses, etc, they aren't told they can't do something because it involves too much work. Why is the line for what Oberlin students can and can't achieve drawn at DB? As to funding, people should be aware that it comes from sources that would not be transferred to Financial Aid- its SFC, Union Board, Programming Board, etc. If you want their budgets to be cut, then you're not just talking about the DB, but a whole host of other events.

On a personal level, I and most of my queer friends loved the Drag Ball during our time there, but hopefully this will be a slap in the face to the community on campus to get up and organize more vocally for itself. Due to the amazing work in the past by so many people like Roger and others, Oberlin today seems like one of the better places in America to be young and Queer. However, there are just as many people in the broader Oberlin community (both town and college) that are not a part of the politicized Queer community. Drag Ball was a time that brought together parts of the Queer community with the larger community that isn't normally connected to issues around Queerness. It was a chance at reaching out that was in-your-face to the straight community and forced them to confront issues surrounding gender identity. Admittedly, it looks like along the way DB started being alienating to parts of the Queer community itself. However, let's not forget that DB was the one night a year where, rather than assimilate into the larger straight culture, the straight culture becomes assimilated into Queer culture. To me, this was what made DB so amazing. It's the time when the guy who doesn't feel comfortable in the male lockerroom at the gym, but also doesn't feel comfortable going to TAG, can experiment with his gender and not fear retribution from his friends. It's the time when a girl can pack and not worry what the people from her hall in South might think. For those people who are still finding how to be themselves, aas well as for those who are more comfortable with their assigned genders, DB represented the one night where they could actually begin to understand what it means to perform one's gender. It is this non-explicit education that has been central to the more recent DB experience, in my view. My fear is that a smaller, toned-down event will again split the Queer community off from the rest of the Oberlin campus, and we will lose this opportunity to show the non-Queer parts of campus the joy and fabulosity that can be found in not conforming to societal-assigned roles. There are problems, but hopefully some new organizing around the issues will re-ignite the fire of DB organizing.

(Sorry that's so long and probably non-coherent in parts.)

PS to Robert- How do us young alum join OLA? a few of us were talking about it yesterday but didn't know.

Posted by: Matt O'C ('09) on March 10, 2010 11:43 AM


You can become a member of OLA by writing to me at my email address and I will see to it that you become a member. We are the largest Queer Alumni Association in the nation with over 2000 members, I believe (don't quote me, please). We need your support Matt, and that of your friends who were wondering how to join. My email address is silvermajician@mac.com. I look forward to hearing from you.


Posted by: Roger Goodman '68 on March 10, 2010 12:33 PM


I appreciate the second part of your comment a great deal. But I don't think I follow the first part.

You wrote:
"...if an organizer (and/or friends) wants to put on an event, they have every right to try to secure funding, outside support, etc. If they don't want to do the work, only then should the drag ball be cancelled."

This seems to be pretty much what happened, no? Am I misunderstanding what you meant?

No one "preemptively stepped in" and said that students couldn't "achieve this," nor were there any "arbitrary goals" established. The reality is that you can't put 1200 people and a complicated runway show into Wilder without a TON of planning or you're looking at a series of liability and logistical nightmares. This is what was explicitly stated by LG almost a year ago, on behalf of many folks across campus, including the Wilder staff... and this planning simply didn't happen. It's as simple as that.

I'd love for us to collectively focus our attentions on figuring out how to fix this for the future. The solution doesn't seem all that complicated to me. Jimmy Hagan's comments above are a great place to start.

Posted by: Ben on March 10, 2010 2:11 PM

I just saw this on facebook. I'm an '02 alum. Similar to what John wrote, I was a straight male that took advantage of the opportunity to participate in the drag/queer culture. I had the same respect after about anyone that wears dresses and heels on a regular basis and puts on fabulous make-up.

I've been away from Oberlin for a while now and I don't pretend to have the answers, but it sounds like there's a simple solution for those passionate in the community to have an event to celebrate drag. Find a place, keep it simple, keep it small, keep the spirit. Having 20 house parties that are mini-drag balls would be better than one big 40K event. I live in Poland now and I've learned to respect this about the culture: When the bureaucracy gets too big and complicated, you go around and you hack life. There were Polish people without a Poland for quite some time. There can still be drag without dragball, and as others have said, it might bring everything back to its roots.

Whatever the outcome, I wish you all good luck. Respect.

Posted by: Jim Williams on March 10, 2010 2:51 PM


first, thanks so much for opening up a productive dialogue about this.

I really love Drag Ball, or at least, I love the idea of DB. Most recently, my experiences have been more in line with San's, and I think that dialogue about the politics of DB (and the fact that it is regularly not a safe space at all) has been going on in the queer community in Oberlin for as long as I've been here, and probably longer. I also don't want to totally blame straight, cisgender folks that attend DB for this shift--I think that the problem isn't their presence so much as anyone that is there and is disrespectful, mocking, antagonizing or worse the people that DB was originally intended for.

I do have an issue with the way that this has been handled by the administration--if this had been made public a few months ago, then there might have been opportunities for students to re-shape and re-envision DB and make it into something better, rather than this last minute cancellation.

I'd also like to respond to Roger's point--I don't think Oberlin is lacking in queer community. I've encountered far more radically-minded queers here than I have in most other places. I think we've started to ignore and abandon DB because of the problematic ways in which it has been co-opted by primarily white, cisgender, and straight students that make it an uncomfortable and unsafe space.

I also think that Jimmy is right about getting fewer performers for the east and west coasts, and more from the midwest. I'd really like to disrupt this idea that the midwest is somehow lacking in queer folks or drag performers. I have a lot of good friends that do drag--and do it well--that are from the midwest. things are more difficult for queers here, definitely, but we are here and I think it would be a radical move on the part of the Oberlin queer community to disrupt this idea that queer culture (or even good drag) only exists on the west and east coasts and start supporting our own, right here in the middle of the country.

anyway, I don't want drag in Oberlin to die, or even for their to be no Drag Ball. I'm pretty sad that the event has been canceled, but I'm hoping that this will be a way to reclaim the event and also demonstrate the importance of having these sorts of queer spaces in Oberlin.

Posted by: Em on March 10, 2010 3:26 PM

It is one thing for whoever's organizing to say "this is too much for me" and decide not to put on the event; it is another for the administration to make a decision to cancel the event. My post referenced the possibility of the first scenario being prevented by the second.

When I logged onto Facebook last night, my feed was full of "Dean Gates cancelled drag ball!", not "Drag Ball needs more organizers/help!" If Chase was overwhelmed and couldn't handle it, there are other people who are willing to step up. Another email states that "an unreasonable effort on" the part of too-few organizers is the primary reason for canceling. It doesn't say that forms were turned in late, permits weren't in order, etc. - just says a decision has been made because it's too much work.

In her email to you above, Linda mentions a "consensus" built last year by several parties that involved chartering a DB committee. Of people involved in those talks last year, the two I have spoken with in the past few days never mentioned a "consensus", only that chartering was one idea thrown out there. For it to be invoked now as why this decision is a done deal seems back-handed.

Had a cancellation been put out there by the Student Union saying "there's no one organizing," this would have gone a lot smoother. But the fact is, it's only been presented as the administration making an executive decision to shut down the apparatus of DB planning. Like many things at Oberlin, DB over the past 6 years (from Andy to I believe Ariel to Hailey to Chase) ran very loosely. Like many things at Oberlin, now that the administration wants it to be run in a more bureaucratic fashion, it's finding itself in a crisis.

The finality with which this decision was presented is the shocker. People are mobilizing, but they're already been told they've missed their chance to even have a toned-down building-wide event. Em is right for pointing out that this should have been brought up earlier. It's the worry about institutional memory that really frightens me about this. Once an event like this skips a year, it is extremely hard to restart it. By next year, half the students campus will have never experienced drag ball. I've seen what that has done to other campus events, and my fear is that if Drag Ball doesn't happen at Oberlin this year, it will never happen again.

Posted by: Matt O'C ('09) on March 10, 2010 4:48 PM

So many others have already said the things I'm thinking far more eloquently than I ever could so I'll keep this short.

I think that if the student body had earlier understood the dire nature of the situation, there would have been plenty of people willing to step up and help out. I think it is a huge mistake to cancel it all together and a better idea to do a toned down version that takes into account the financial burdens associated with the event. I don't think Oberlin will be the same without Drag Ball, and like Matt ('09) said, I fear its cancelation this year will mean its permanent demise.

Finally, I WAS SO LOOKING FORWARD TO IT. As a senior, it makes me very upset that I won't have another chance to enjoy Drag Ball, one of Oberlin's most vibrant, spectacular, and yes, controversial, but most beloved events by students of all genders and sexualities.

Posted by: Rebecca '10 on March 10, 2010 6:07 PM

"By next year, half the students campus will have never experienced drag ball." - Matt

I was thinking about this earlier today and it frightens me as well.

Posted by: Kate on March 10, 2010 6:23 PM

I feel the lack of student support and organization is campus wide. It seems that lack of people willing to organize, plan, and work is the main problem with losing this vibrant, unique event. While not as large of an event, OPAN's Beltain Festival may end up canceled as well due to lack of help. There is enough money, but only a very few people are willing to help organize and just do the physical work for the day. It seems over the last few years student support, or at least the willingness to make commitments to organizations or event planning and keep them, had dwindled and dwindled and now it seems virtually nonexistent. It makes me sad that Drag Ball has fallen victim to this; as such a huge event I thought it would always survive. However, having put on Beltain with around 3 people planning for several years in a row, I understand this can only go on so long and is very, very taxing and frustrating for those involved.

Posted by: Elisabeth on March 10, 2010 7:33 PM

Wow, I had no idea this was even happening. Thanks for getting this going on your blog, Ben.

Thanks to everyone for the kind words as well.

I want to say firstly that I agree with EVERYTHING Matt O'Connell has said on here. Really everything.

I think what I'll do now is copy/paste an interview I did with the Grape a couple of days ago that will hopefully contextualize whats going on and give you all some insight into the behind-the-scenes.

Given that you've been so involved in the planning of Drag Ball in the past, can you speak to the burden on student planners? Do you have any ideas as to why there seems to be a lack of interest in participating in planning? How did things go for you last year?

- I used to sign emails asking for money, advice, meetings, talent, equipment, staffing, poster printing, decorations, etc etc etc from the "Drag Ball committee". There is no Drag Ball Committee. It's something I made up so I wouldnt feel like such an idiot for taking on a task that really requires a full team. What I meant was "Hailey Laws." And thats what Andy Monk meant, and whoever came before him, and thats really what Sarah Chase (despite her efforts to assemble a team) also means. To give you a visual concerning the pressure it takes to complete the work of an entire team solo, last year I got so sick I shit my pants. Literally. Twice.

Why does this keep happening? Why isnt there a team? There are a lot of reasons.
Everyone is terrified of Drag Ball. EVERYONE. Nobody wants to touch it. It's difficult, yes, but its really the reputation that makes it difficult, not the actual production of the event. Drag Ball has ZERO political support from the administration. By this I mean that while people who have to will put in the work, nobody (with the exception of maybe 1 person) is passionate about it, excited about the political implications, in love with the idea of it. That means that when it comes time for a student planner (who IS in love with it) to do something, they're swimming up stream the whole time. Nobody really wants to help the student planner, and the people who do do so because they feel sorry for hir. Everybody else seems to wish the event would just go away.
There is no community based support. The student planner is generally an oblivious 'Sco employee who gets suckered into it. This is historically because Chris Baymiller offered to house the event at the student union years back, Chris has all critical Drag Ball info locked in his bald head, and 'Sco employees are close to Chris. It seemed like a natural thing to do. The problem is that this event doesn't mean anything to the 'Sco or Chris or the student union, it's just work. But as queer people working within this structure, it means everything to us. It meant everything to Andy, to me, and to Chase. But it's impossible, particularly without political allies on the organizational front, to have us represent our entire community. This event needs to be given back to the people. It needs to be loved and rebuilt, and then housed in the student union if we want it to be.

I was also wondering how you feel about the suggestion that Drag Ball has devolved into just another, albeit very large, party. How connected or disconnected has Drag Ball been to the principles of drag ballin' as of late?

- I feel pretty strongly about the implications of statements like these. "Just" is the word that really gets me. No matter how you feel about the event, it isn't "just" anything. Strip it of politics, remove the people attending, and you still have one of the most phenomenal on-campus productions in the country. No doubt about it. But add in the essentials, and you have a space for students and community members to be WHOEVER they want to do be, whatever genders they want to be, to feel beautiful or silly or masculine/feminine or everything all at once. A space where even the most conservative person can express gender variance without fear of retribution from their peers. A space where some of the FINEST talent in the country come to show us their art, to communicate with us and to inspire us. And a space for all of us to celebrate ourselves, and to celebrate a queer legacy of gender performance. "Just?" Thats just fucking beautiful.

Could you think of any alternatives to Drag Ball? Not necessarily replacements, but other means of celebrating Transgender Awareness Week specifically and genderfuck in general? How important do you think genderbending and genderfucking are to this campus?
-There need to be more events leading up to Drag Ball to engage students and to contextualize the event. I would love to see the MRC get involved in making more things like this happen. I think it would be rad to genderfuck all the time. It is essential that the school support students being whoever they want to be whenever they want to be it.

So there's that.

I love you guys, let's make some shit happen.


Posted by: Hailey Laws on March 11, 2010 3:34 PM

Thanks so much for the additional context, Hailey.

Also, latest Review coverage:

We are working on putting a forum together for everyone to share/capture ideas/concerns/etc. and plan for the future. I will keep y'all posted...

Posted by: Ben on March 12, 2010 9:40 AM

I don't have much to add, but I'm glad this post exists, really good discussion.

Posted by: Chris on March 12, 2010 10:19 AM

Let's have our own Drag Ball! Or how about... a Drag Crawl? (more on this later)

I haven't really had time to read everybody's comments, so perhaps this idea has already been expressed... but here's what I have to say:

So they canceled Drag Ball. A total bummer for anyone who was looking forward to attending this fabulous event, especially those graduating students who may never get the chance to attend the ball again once they've left Oberlin.

Of course, attending Drag Ball is never really the same once you're a few years out of school, all of your classmates have left town and you're left standing in fish nets and faux fur, all alone in a sea of college kids you DEFINITELY don't recognize, with all the makeup, taped breasts and whatnot. Makes you really nostalgic, and pretty sad. Believe me, I've been there.

With that being said, I still love to get dressed up for the occasion and celebrate by gallivanting around town in my transformed self, my alter ego, a gal named Jamie. (This character was born 10 years ago when I attended my first Drag Ball as a prospective student. If I had any doubts about attending Oberlin, Drag Ball dispelled them all!)

Last year, my friends threw an alt-Drag Ball party at their apartment for those who didn't want to pay for a ticket or who just didn't want to attend the ball. There were still lots of great outfits and happy people, and the scene turned into an after-party for other friends who did make an appearance at the Ball. We had a blast! I have pictures to prove it.

So here's what I'm driving at: let's still celebrate the splendors of gender-bending and get dressed to the nines! Even without the bright lights and the killer drag show (oh man, I'm gonna especially miss that), we can still revel in the beauties of trans-gender awareness and acceptance.

We'll need lot's of drag parties on April 10th, definitely a scene at the Feve and Agave, and perhaps something somewhere on campus. Oh, and the college kids and everybody else should definitely continue to have rawkus dress-up time before going out. (This is almost my favorite part of the whole drag experience!)

But let's also hope that folks get their act together and make Drag Ball happen again. I feel confident that it will.

Drag Craaaawl!!!!

Posted by: James Peake on March 13, 2010 4:29 PM

Hi everyone,

A lot of this debate has been extremely interesting to follow, and I think many of the points brought up have been very valuable.

The only Drag Ball I attended was Drag Ball '07, back when I was a freshman, and I don't remember staying for very long. I also helped a couple of friends dress up for it in '08. That has been the extent of my involvement with the event, so keep in mind the comments that follow are made through that lens.

I wanted to respond to some of the comments that were made saying that Drag Ball wasn't about learning anymore. I agree, there wasn't much about the programming that was specifically intended to be educational, but whenever I cast my mind back to Drag Ball, I immediately think of all the things I learned.

As a cisgender, female-bodied feminist, the lessons I learned from Drag Ball were perhaps relevant to issues that resonated strongly with me.

For example, I noticed how men reacted when they wore women's clothing for the first time. I've never heard so many male-bodied people say "Oh my god, I look so fat!" and "How do people walk in high heels?" in the same night. The issue of body-insecurity is so often automatically deemed 'girly' by society, that not many people stop to think that the very clothes that society excepts women to wear may be part of the problem. I am not about to jump on the 'wearing skanky clothing is immoral' bandwagon, and I respect people's right to choose what they wear, but the fact that so many men were suddenly self-conscious about their slightly protruding bellies the moment they stepped into women's clothing says a lot about societal expectations for the way female bodies should look, and perhaps better allows us to think about issues of body image as not just something inherent or specific to women.

Another thing that fascinated me was the way people moved. People played up the way they walked at the beginning - but after an hour in Drag, it just seemed natural to people to walk the way their clothes allowed them to. Women wearing baggy pants took long strides from side to side, and took up a lot of space in their stride. Men wearing skirts often took smaller dainty steps, regardless of whether or not they wore heels. These were cisgender people, who lived their entire lives being comfortable with their gender, and rarely questioned it. And here they were, changing the way they walked for the last 18-22 years, sometimes without even noticing it.

Maybe these weren't the lessons Drag Ball was intended to teach me. But the event made me wonder a lot about our relationship to gendered clothing. To what extent do we choose our gender expression? To what extent is it constructed by society? How important is our clothing to gender expression, and what happens to our gender expression when we change our clothes?

Drag Ball made me realize that clothing did much more than keep us from being naked. Four years at Oberlin taught me much, much more about trans issues than one and a half Drag Balls did, but wrestling with these issues as a first year was important to me, and helped begin my own quest to understand issues of gender identity and expression more fully.

It deeply upsets and disturbs me that Drag Ball is not a welcoming space for trans students on campus, and we certainly must address these issues while planning any future Drag Balls. But, like with any new, different experience, Drag Ball has the capacity to educate those seeking to be educated by it. I know I'm not the only one who learned from it. I hope we can have more inclusive, queer-friendly Drag Balls in the future, and continue promoting discourse about gender issues in Oberlin.

Posted by: Sneha Narayan on March 14, 2010 7:19 PM

Hi all,

I headed up the drag ball team in '07 and assisted Andy Monk in '06... I am just now learning that DB did not happen this year, so my thoughts are spinning, but I am open and motivated to collaborate with current students or alums to come up with ideas to help bring the tradition back...
that said, a few initial thoughts:
First, in response to San, I appreciate your speaking up. I too struggled often with the complex politics of DB... it seems what might be needed is a larger forum for members of the Oberlin community to think critically about DB and to suggest what might make people feel more safe. I tried to do this in '07 but the process should never end. Ideally DB would be a collaborative effort of many students and student groups, which would hopefully help to bring more input into the planning.
2nd, Hailey is right, DB is far more than "just" a party. I do think that more education could happen around it but I think we forget the personal, experiential education that DB itself can provide.
Also, agreeing again with Hailey, DB is not the only way to celebrate/educate/engage with queer and trans awareness... drag ball need not be a singular queer event on campus. As Haily said, more events could and should occur throughout the year, whether or not DB returns soon....

More to come soon... good luck to you all.

Posted by: Nickerson (Nickie) Hill on March 18, 2010 12:08 PM

Ben, you rock. Thanks for putting this up, encouraging the debate, and helping us understand some of the issues.

Posted by: Guille on May 5, 2010 2:01 PM