B’town Drag Queens: Merle

A series by Abe Plaut

Merle (@m._merle)

IU senior Chase Duncan identifies as a cisgender homosexual man. In drag, he is known by the name Merle and uses feminine pronouns instead. This is the norm in drag circles. While anyone can be a drag queen regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, the majority identify as cisgender homosexual men when out of drag.

Every society has rules and norms, written and unwritten. Every society has expectations for how folks are supposed to look, act, speak, and dress, especially as it relates to gender. With origins in LGBT culture to subvert these gender expectations, drag queens are becoming increasingly visible, influential, and recognized in the mainstream fashion and beauty industries. What a queen chooses to wear (or not to wear) can speak volumes to their artistic inspirations and their character’s personality.

Merle started developing an interest in drag after going to a pride-prom while in high school in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.

“They had 3 queens come out and perform,” Merle said. “One of them was the mayor of Omaha!”

“It was really amazing and I remember looking at them and being like ‘these women are powerful and large and they are so… immaculate.’ I think it just got embedded in my psyche.”

Merle knew she wanted to do that someday. With a background in theater, Merle began investing more into drag during her freshman year at IU as drag was a way for her to put on her own show.

“I started collecting makeup and dresses and outfits and wigs, but back then it was just an expensive hobby,” she joked.

In drag, Merle loves “being that glamorous woman” and draws inspiration from vintage “golden-age” aesthetics. She credits Judy Garland as a singularly important influence “I would watch the Wizard of Oz everyday for four years, starting at the age of three. I loved Judy Garland” she explained. Musicians like Nina Simone and Janis Joplin, and more broadly the fashion of the 1960’s also inform her style.

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