By Abby Koch-By day, Payton Buss makes subs at Goodcents in Lincoln, Nebraska. He enjoys having fun with friends and talking to his boyfriend in Germany, who he met when he spent some time living there. When he’s not building a ham on rye, he’s creating costumes for when he takes the stage for performances.
Buss goes by a different name at night when he is on stage, performing in drag shows. His stage name is Pollie Pocket Pussie, a name he created for his drag persona.
“My roommate and I were sitting there, and I was like, we need to think of a quirky, funny name. And my last name is Buss. I was like, we need to find something that like translates to bussy, and then pussy came along,” stated Buss. “I was obsessed with Polly Pocket dolls growing up, cause I was a gay little boy. We were like ‘Polly Pocket Pussy’, but we got to change the ‘y’ to ‘ie’ so we don’t get copyrighted. [The name] kind of stuck in a ‘I’m quirky, try to be fun’ type of way.”
Drag has been defined as a gender-bending artform where a person wears clothes and makeup meant to be an exaggeration of a specific gender, typically of the opposite. Drag shows have become a part of self-expression and pride within the LGBT community. A drag show usually has performers displaying an exaggerated look and lip-syncing or dancing.
Pollie Pocket Pussie has been shaped as a humorous personality, a choice made by Buss. “I knew I wasn’t gonna be a pretty queen and I knew I wasn’t going to be a dancing queen. So, I was like I have to be funny because there is no other route,” stated Buss.
Buss’ journey to become Pollie Pocket Pussie began when he moved into an apartment near a wig store. He personally had watched drag since he was little and enjoyed being an entertainer. Drag also gave Buss a personal challenge.
“I was an egotistical asshole before drag,” explained Buss. “I am overly confident in myself out of drag. In drag, it’s kind of dumbed down. I’m not as confident in drag.”
The first drag performance for Buss was like anyone performing in front of a crowd, a bit of a mess. Buss said walking in heels as Pollie was harder than expected and exuding a stage confidence was tough. But the mistakes made in that first show helped him improve for his next one.
Buss has had a lot of support for his drag performances and is asked immediately what his drag name is. “Mostly, everyone is really supportive. My mom comes to a lot of my shows even. My dad is a little bit harder,” explained Buss.
Buss has now been performing as Pollie and doing drag for two months and is considered a ‘baby queen’. His short time in drag is what brought him to Baby Ball 2021 at The Marquee in Sioux City, Iowa. Baby Ball is an event set up just for drag queens and kings who have been performing under a year or less.
Development of Drag
The history of drag dates back to ancient civilizations. The Ancient Egyptians and Native Americans would perform drag for ancient ceremonies. The Japanese would do drag in Kabuki and Noh dramas, in which Kabuki female impersonators were meant to suggest femininity, and Noh was more associated with the folk dance for rice planting and fertility.
Drag played a part in the creation of drama in Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks would use masks and drag while playing parts in dramas for female characters.
Drag has also has history within a religious environment, particularly in England. “Women played no active part in the services and the offices of the church, so the original acting was done exclusively by men, choirboys assisting the clerks and playing women’s roles when required,” according to Roger Baker, author of Drag: A History of Female Impersonation in the Performing arts, in an interview with Pop Sugar.
Baker notes that the religious take of performing drag to help illiterate church members learn the Bible is what helped form secular original dramatic plays. Male actors would take the stage in playhouses in England, performing in front of an all-male audience. “To find a woman acting in a public playhouse would have offended not only on religious grounds, but also be seen as a shocking example of inappropriate behavior,” stated Baker.
Drag remained a staple within theater culture until the late 19th century, when vaudeville acts would have an effect on it. Vaudeville had female impersonators creating their own caricatures of women for their acts. This time was the start of mocking the impersonators with terms like “wench” and “primadonna.”
The word “drag” and “drag queen” did not take shape until the 1930’s when a connection to homosexuality was made. This became one of the first moments of drag belonging to the LGBT community and what we know of drag today.
“Drag queens are not only males who dress and perform as female but also have some connection to a gay scene” said Joe E. Jeffreys, a drag historian at NYU Tisch Drama, in an interview to Pop Sugar “Until gay bars emerged, either clandestinely or legally, the drag queen was bounded by private parties, and even then police raids were possible.”
Drag culture became a powerful force during the late 90’s, due to New York’s East Village. East Village was experimental with their performance scene like creating the Pyramid Club and the annual drag festival, Wigstock. This new scene and public embrace was a turning point for drag.
From this movement, new drag queens embraced a more vulgar and playful ethos that became the modern queens today. One of the queens to come from this drag movement was RuPaul.
RuPaul helped put drag and drag queens into the spotlight with the launch of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2009. The show helped those already in drag scene discover others in the community without going to local gay bars. RuPaul’s Drag Race also brought the best drag queens in America and introduced them to people in the comfort of their homes.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has now introduced 13 seasons of drag queens across America and featured favorites for five all-stars seasons, soon to be six. Within those seasons, education moments have happened like about drag culture itself to what it is like having a eating disorder.
Many of the drag queens who have been featured on the show now have large followings on social media, business deals, and other opportunities. All of this is due to the opportunity given by RuPaul. “We are in the Ru era of drag, and those 100+ performers who have been contestants on the competition reality show can now do quite well for themselves,” said Jeffreys to pop culture website, Pop Sugar. “Television and other media platforms are powerful things and the stage of your local gay bar can hardly do.”
Baby Queen of the Midwest
The RuPaul effect has even inspired the Midwest drag scene. “There has always been a steady stream of drag queens, with drag queens being the backbone of the LGBT community forever. But I think now there is a chance, a small chance, that you can get rich and famous and people are like ‘oh, I can do that,’” said Buss.
Buss explained that Baby Ball and the Midwest drag scene is really competitive. “Everyone’s trying to perfect their one thing. It’s not as hockey pokey as you’re thinking,” explained Buss. “We hold ourselves just as high as the standard as the L.A. queens and New York queens with hosting and stuff. It may not be on the same product level, but it is at the same ‘oh we need to strive to be that’ and do a little bit more than that.”
Baby Ball 2021 was a packed event, standing room only in the small space of The Marquee due to aggressive occupation over seats. People pushed past one another, from the bar to grab drinks and then back to their spots in the dark room. As soon as the hosts’ voices echoed in the small space, the crowd let loose whoops and heckling.
The hosts broke down the rules. There would be two rounds for eight contestants would all take part, first one being a lip sync or talent round and the second involving costume. Five from the eight would then come back for a third act, then one would be crowned.
After telling the audience how the night would go, the hosts introduced the judges for the night. “If you’re pissed at who wins, fuckin’ yell at them not me,” said one of the hosts after the introducing judges.
Pollie Pocket Pussie was third for the night, wearing a long blue trench coat and a red sparkle cowboy hat. Her blonde wig was down on her shoulders with loud, stylized makeup on.
The first notes of Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” sent the audience into a flurry of enthusiastic screeches. Pollie strutted up to the front of the stage, lip syncing to Twain’s lyrics.
Pollie kept the audience engaged by not only lip syncing but performing dance moves and hair flips. Members of the audience filtered up to the stage with dollar bills to give to her.
As the song went along, audio of a cow mooing interrupted Shania’s woman power anthem. Doja Cat’s soft melodic intro of “Mooo!’ echoed through the small room. Pollie Pocket Pussie turned away from the audience, teasing that there was a costume change about to come by twirling the belt on the trench coat.
The room scrambled for phones to record and catch the moment on Snapchat. Pollie Pocket Pussie began teasing what was on underneath the coat. A sequined two-piece cow outfit.
The speakers blasted out “Bitch, I’m a cow!” Pollie Pocket Pussie turned around to reveal an udder on the front of the costume. The audience immediately broke into loud laughter and howling.
When her performance was done, Pollie Pocket Pussie picked up all her removed clothing then waved to the audience. One of the hosts quipped, “She had a problem with a flat udder there. If you need some help with that, I know a place you can go.”
Much of this type of performer and supportive audience interaction happened with each queen. It encouraged the nervous queens to keep going. The more confident ones saw it as a sign to push their performance more.
Baby Ball was an indication of the impact that drag has made in the Midwest. It is not as elaborate as the shows in the coastal big cities, but still a welcoming space for those who want to express and be themselves. A good space to try and develop a drag persona.
Drag doesn’t seem like a big hotspot in the Midwest, but it is expanding with each queen that decides to take the stage. Events like Baby Ball and role models like RuPaul help some find the courage to take the stage.
For Buss, the expanding Midwest drag scene allows him to take the stage more often and get a free drink. He sees his performances as something to do for pure enjoyment. “I’m not going to get rich and this [performance] is not going anywhere but this bar,” said Buss.
Buss hopes the future of Midwest drag will be highlighted by a queen making it all the way to the top of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Until then, Buss will continue to go with the flow of his life.
Sourdough sandwiches during the day. Sashaying in cow print by night.