Portland (& PSU alum) Drag Queen Sugarpill talks queer youth upbringing, art, politics and Allie X

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PSU alumni Sugarpill performed for an all-ages audience as she opened for Allie X at Portland's Star Theater on Thursday, August 24. Credit: Andrew D. Jankowski.

Sugarpill is the stage name for Portland State alum Alex Horsey. Titles held by the 22-year-old Sugarpill include Rosebud XXXVIII, Power Word: Protest | Critical Mascara (T:BA) 2015, Miss Jr. Gay Portland Pride 2014–15, Drag-a-Thon: All Stars winner and #FearlessPSU ad campaign drag queen. She recently performed alongside Seattle drag queen She as opening acts for alt-pop singer Allie X at the Star Theater. We sent Sugarpill an interview questionnaire over Facebook. The responses were edited for format.

PSU Vanguard: When and why did you start doing drag?
Sugarpill: There are so many “start dates,” but to be brief, I started drag at the age of 17 in September 2013, after three years of attending “drag workshops” at the Oregon Queer Youth Summit. I’ve always been interested in performance, music, fashion. I literally used to choreograph lip sync numbers in my childhood bedroom before even knowing what a drag performance was.

From my tiny shared dorm in Ondine, I started drag to satisfy a long-term itch, and I’ve stuck around for the high paycheck and large pool of men who are interested in dating a queer performance artist. (On the real, I stick around because I didn’t realize how much I needed the liberation until I found it.)

VG: Why is your name Sugarpill?
SP: When I was 17 years old at queer church camp (because I grew up as, and used to identify as, Christian, I had the opportunity to attend a queer-affirming church camp in Minnesota called The Naming Project on scholarship), a fellow camper applied makeup to my face for the first time.

They listed off the brands they were layering on, one of them being Sugarpill Cosmetics. A camp counselor overheard and thought it was my “drag name,” and it stuck! Now I simply wait for the cease and desist or sponsorship offer.

VG: What does Allie X’s music mean to you?
SP: Allie X is a newer artist in my life, but instantly became part of every playlist I’ve made since I discovered her this year. Her song “Sanctuary” is my queer space anthem and truly makes me feel lucky to have spaces that I can call my queer home.

VG: What was it like to open for Allie X with She at the Star Theater?
SP:
This show brought me back to my Escape days. There were so many teenagers in the crowd who had never been to a drag show before. These youth had energy and were ready to go wild for a show that they honestly knew nothing about.

VG: Explain your performance inspiration for that night.
SP: I was informed about a month ahead of time that I’d have 10–15 minutes of track to work with. For a few days, I was absolutely clueless about what to do, because I consider 5 minutes to be a long number for me.

However, that very same week, Kesha dropped two or three new album tracks, and I knew that I had to honor her with this set. I waited until her new album dropped, a week before the show, to piece together a short selection of her works. Now I wish I could perform the album start to finish somewhere, because it’s such a beautiful piece of art.

VG: How do you come up with a look or an act?
SP: I know this is boring, but I really feel like performances and numbers just come to me at random! I love a good theme look, which stems from my Escape Nightclub roots. When I was Rosebud (essentially the resident queen and party mom of the underage club), I was required to attend, mostly in theme, twice every week for a year.

I’ll be the first to say that performances are where I can grow the most. I’m not much of a dancer, and can get caught in ruts. However, I’ve learned that a good performance is one with some sort of inspiration used as a starting point—”I really love this costume piece, what should I do with it? This is a tearaway, and it sorta looks like a flight attendant uniform. I really want to make out with vegan Taco Bell for five minutes, what song should I do?” Themes at Dragathon (which I competed in three times) poked my creative side from another lens: give them a fully-realized look from head to toe or lose the competition.

VG: What is the highlight of your drag career and why?
SP: I feel that there have been many highlights, with hopefully many to come. However, I’d say that the most prominent recent highlight would be winning Dragathon All-Stars [a weeks-long drag competition at Scandals PDX].

I competed in Dragathon Season Two and Three from the ages of 18–20 and along the way learned so much about performing for the public and who I am as an artist. I tried new things back to back, because I had to in order to keep myself interesting and growing over each 10–13 week season. Ecstasy Inferno and Justin Buckles have set the precedent for what a rigorous and life-changing competition looks like in Portland.

Finally, back on the drag scene after putting it on the back burner for about a year, I was 21 and ready to prove to myself that my art was still worthy. I slept for less than four hours every night and cried at least every other day for the entire ten weeks out of stress and frustration. I grew in ways that I needed to as an artist and as a person. And in the end, I won with just a one percent lead. I owe it to the other competitors of All Stars, Mack Stachio/Birdie LeTramp, Miss Inanna, Marla Darling, and Sofia Valdez.

VG: What does it mean to explore identity in the Trump era?
SP: 
I’ll be the first to say that my doing drag is not inherently revolutionary. I am one of the safest people in the Trump era. Being a white queer man living in Portland, Oregon, I’m in pretty damn good shape. Exploring my own identity means using it to raise awareness. I think people with this much privilege need to be very intentional about how we use it to bring light to the systems that were created to push others behind us.

VG: Anything else our readers should know?
SP:
If you do drag or are interested in doing it, take the time to break the mold and make it yours. Use drag as a platform. I don’t care about your crease, I care about your politics.

Related Content: “Warm Inside the Art Bubble: Allie X & Sugarpill at the Star Theater.”

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