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Drag shows — no longer just big city events — expand into rural Michigan

Drag queens prepare to take a bow after their show in Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Brett Dahlberg
Drag queens prepare to take a bow after their show in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

Rural villages like Edmore, Mich. ⁠— population 1,192 at the last census estimate — don’t fit the typical mold of communities that host drag queens and their gender-bending shows. But people in the state’s drag scene say big cities are no longer the only places where performers can strut their stuff.

Drag queens who lived through less accepting times say the change is welcome. “Being somebody who was queer growing up in a small community, being able to see any kind of representation is super important,” says Misael DeJesus.

Misael DeJesus on the importance of drag in rural communities

In Edmore, Dakota Bovee splits his work between Main Street Pizza and a cottage industry of drag costume design that he runs out of his apartment above the pizza shop. As Dahlia Rivers, he performs at drag shows across mid- and Northern Michigan.

“It just shows that you can be what you want to be, do what you want to do, be happy, and make others happy too,” Bovee says.

Dakota Bovee describes how drag can empower its performers

One of Rivers’s most recent shows was at Mount Pleasant’s Broadway Theater. Joshua Roznowski drove there from Grand Rapids with DeJesus. He says he’s performed in rural parts of the state before, and it always comes with some fear.

“We had some reservations driving up here, like ‘Oh my gosh, what are we getting ourselves into,’ but we both come from small communities, so I think that response is because it’s reminiscent of where we come from,” Roznowski says.

Joshua Roznowski on the fear of traveling to drag shows in rural areas

Bovee’s mother, Sheila Martin, was in the Broadway theater audience. She says she fears for her son, too.

“I worry. I worry every day,” says Martin. “I’m scared for him in small towns. I’m scared for him in large cities. It doesn’t matter. There’s so much hate.”

Still, she says, she sees that the drag community is welcoming and protective. “This is the first time my son has felt a connection — felt free. I love that,” she says.

Autumn Kuechenmeister, 17, was also in the crowd. She says the world needs the freedom and community that drag queens offer.

Autumn Kuechenmeister on the inclusivity of the drag community

“They make just, like, a safe and inviting space for people — everybody — so everybody’s welcome. Everybody’s invited, no matter your background or ethnicity, no matter what you identify as,” says Kuchenmeister. “It’s just really cool.”

Brett joined Michigan Public in December 2021 as an editor.