As any historian will probably tell you, researching history is never straightforward. With the upcoming drag show this Saturday, I decided to try to determine the origins of the Mankato Drag Show. In doing so, I found myself stumbling across a variety of contradictory information. The only thing I could be sure of at the beginning of my research was that the Mankato Drag Show has been a regular staple on campus from at least the early 2000s.
A perusal of the online archives of The Reporter quickly revealed a few clues but not a lot of definitive answers. An article published on April 4, 2013 “The Show Must Drag On!” described the Mankato Drag show as a “20 year tradition”.
An article on Oct. 26, 2010 “Drag Show Goes Gaga”, which interviewed the late director of the Jim Chalgren LGBT Center, Jessica Flatequal, stating the following, “The concept for this event is laced in mystery and intrigue. Flatequal said the history of the event is ultimately unknown, but the show has become a core part of the work done by the LGBT center.”
An article published on Oct. 5, 2005 “Three Cheers For the Gender Bender” states that the drag show for 2005 was in its “second straight year”.
Searching through Kellian Clinks’ “A History of the Center for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Students on the Campus of Minnesota State University, Mankato” revealed a single reference to drag. That reference was for a cabaret show in 1993 that included a drag performer by the name of Felitia Fontaine.
To find more definitive answers, I turned to the Southern Minnesota Historical Archives, which has the physical archives for the LGBT Center. This proved a little more useful.
One interesting find was a poster for a “1st Annua”, “Come as you are Drag Ball” on Mar. 6, 2001. Given other information I came across, this event would most likely represent the beginning of the modern incarnation of the Mankato Drag show.
“Don’t be a lemming!” states the poster, reflecting the attitude of drag as a means of flaunting social norms.
I went through several year end reports for the LGBT Center from the late 1990s and none contained any references to any drag shows.
While it did not appear to lead to an annual tradition, there was a drag race organized by Jim Chalgren, the founder of the Jim Chalgren LGBT Center, in May of 1975. “The Ms. Mankato Drag Race” came with the tagline “the end of an age and the beginning of an era.”
“Social norms will be transgressed and attitudes will be challenged,” The Reporter published in Drag City (May 14, 1975).
In any case, regardless of the precise origins of the Mankato Drag Show, drag has been transgressing gender roles in Mankato for many decades. Hopefully it continues to do so for many more.
Caption: Photos from past Drag shows, from the Ms. Mankato Drag Race in 1975, to the Come as You Are Drag Ball in 2001, to the fall 2019 Gender Bender drag show.
Write to Jeremy Redlien at Jeremy.Redlien@mnsu.edu