With pink hair and a sparkling scepter in hand like Glinda the Good Witch herself, Columbia drag queen Autumn Equinox makes her way to the front of Skylark Bookshop. It’s the Halloween celebration of a now established tradition at Skylark: drag storytime.
“The moon is so much better than the sun, I can’t,” Equinox said while reading Britta Teckentrup’s “Moon,” warranting a laugh from the audience.
Equinox works closely with Skylark manager Carrie Koepke in organizing these drag storytimes to the great appreciation and enjoyment of the bookshop and its patrons.
“Because of Autumn, we have a regular event with high community involvement,” Koepke said. “These events are more than just storytimes, and each member of the audience is able to take from the event many layers.”
Koepke went on to add just how important these events are for families to experience together.
“It is undeniable that every child and every adult experience two important things,” Koepke said. “Exposure to books and exposure to people being comfortable in their own skins. And amazing outfits.”
Drag storytime is only one example of Equinox’s lively role in the Columbia drag scene.
On Oct. 24, she finished as the first alternate winner in the Yin Yang Drag Race competition at Yin Yang Night Club. Fellow Columbia queen Lorilie, who won Yin Yang’s October Drag Race competition, expressed her admiration and esteem for Equinox.
“Whenever she performs, she encapsulates the audience,” Lorilie said. “She has a sunny disposition, a professional attitude and a drive to her. I’m excited to see where she goes with drag and what she’ll do in the future.”
But Equinox’s drag roots don’t lie here in mid-Missouri. They’re found in Seattle, where Equinox knew from a young age that the art of drag was meant for her. Specifically, it was when she saw the 1995 classic drag film “To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.”
“It was just this transcendent thing,” she said.
Before ultimately performing in clubs, Equinox cites her first real drag performances as those she performed with the Murder Mystery Company in Seattle, complete with dinner parties and audience interaction.
“My makeup was terrible,” she said. “My outfits were terrible and it was hilarious. But I had a lot of fun.”
Gigs began to dry up in Seattle amid struggles with elitism and general exclusivity, and Equinox took a short hiatus from drag. It was the move to Columbia that paved the way for Equinox to fall back in love with drag. She found an active local drag scene at Yin Yang Night Club and a tight-knit community to become an integral part of.
“We all sort of gravitate around each other and enjoy each other's company as best as possible,” she said.
With a background in drama and theater, Equinox has found drag to be an amalgam of all the things she loves. Even more so, she’s found it to be a saving grace from the often homophobic or otherwise queer-oppressive woes of standard media and theater. A particularly troubling misconception of standard performing arts communities for Equinox is that they’re inherently “gay-friendly.”
“It's gay-friendly if you can act straight,” Equinox said. “I don’t do that. So drag is a way for me to express myself theatrically. You can sing. You can dance. You can perform. You can do comedy. You can create your own work, like I do.”
The exclusivity of standard media is not the only challenge Equinox has faced in her drag career. She described her apprehension in helping to organize drag storytime in Columbia after hearing stories of protests and even threats from those who find drag storytimes with young children to be inappropriate.
“Queer people, in general, are pervert-ized and sexualized to the point where non-queer people perceive us as a threat to the innocence of children,” she said. “The belief that we’re all perverts, right? You know what's a threat to the innocence of children? School shootings.”
She went on to say that in a world where children are no longer safe from violence in their own schools, the debate over drag queens reading to children should not be of such high concern.
At the end of the day though, the challenges are worth it. Equinox describes her drag character as “funny, clumsy and sad.” She finds herself performing numbers that parody and poke fun at conventional drag culture. A prime example is her “Death Drop” number, in which Equinox gets more and more injured with each death drop, hair flip and split.
Drama and theater are still an active part of Equinox’s life, and she intends to keep it this way. When not performing at Yin Yang Night Club on Thursdays and Saturdays, she can be found working on her one drag queen show, in which her character drunkenly crashes her cousin’s wedding. She hopes to make these original performances a large part of her portfolio.
In terms of drag, Equinox isn’t going away any time soon. She jokes that since her ship has sailed to be a virgin sacrifice and thrown into a volcano, she’ll stick around like 89-year-old drag queen Darcelle XV of Portland, Oregon; the drag legend has regularly performed for decades.
“I want to be painting makeup on my wrinkles,” Equinox said. “I just want to enjoy the time I have on this planet.”
Edited by Janae McKenzie | firstname.lastname@example.org