Mikayla Hamilton Interviews Ben Negin (Benadryl) of Boone Barbies

Boone Barbies

Mikayla Hamilton Interviews Ben Negin (Benadryl)

Q: How did the Boone Barbies come to be?

A: The Boone Barbies was founded in November 2021 after Molly Pocket and Benadryl met at SAGA’s [Appalachian State University’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance] amateur drag show. We were both new to drag at the time and quickly fell in love with the art form. However, there were not many drag opportunities or events in town at the time, so we founded the group to bring more drag to the area. We’ve since put on over 50 shows and have been able to work with so many amazing performers. Our first show ever was at Lily’s Snack Bar, which continues to be our central venue. However, we have also performed at Legends, App Theatre, Coyote Kitchen, Lost Province, Bayou Smokehouse, Wildwood Community Market, with various grounds on campus, Boone and Greensboro Pride, and many more!

Q: What drives you to perform?

A: I am driven to perform because it serves as an outlet for creativity, expression, activism, and emotions. In terms of creativity, I love dyeing and styling my own wigs, making most of my own outfits, painting unique makeup looks, and putting together my numbers. When it comes to expression, when I am able to perform in drag, I am at my purest and fullest level of self-expression. When I am in drag, it feels like I am showing who I am to the fullest extent. I also use drag as activism. Money is donated from as many shows as possible, our social media accounts are used to promote civic engagement, and my performances often hold a political message as well. I combine my drag activism with other activism, such as working with App State admin on policy issues. For example, through my student activism, I worked to change the App Card policy to allow people’s correct names to be displayed and then raised money for students to get a new card for free at a show. Lastly, I bring what I am going through at the time into my performance. Whether going through a breakup or celebrating a law school acceptance, it is all on the table when I perform.

Q: What would you say is the goal of the Boone Barbies?

A: The goal of the Boone Barbies is to create queer spaces for performers and audience members alike. To give opportunities to drag performers and make sure that they are paid for their work and their art. To raise money for charity and raise awareness of political issues. To build community centered around love for all. Molly Pocket and I are both moving this summer, so we also are aiming to leave the Boone Barbies behind to the next generation, so drag will stick around in Boone forever.

Drag is Not a Crime

Q: Have any of you grown up in the South? If so, would you say that the social environment of the region had an effect on your self-discovery? If not, does working or living in the social environment of the region have an effect on you?

A: I was born in New Jersey but moved to Greensboro, NC, when I was 3. I then moved to Boone for college when I was 19. Growing up mostly in the South has definitely had an impact on my self-discovery. From HB2 to the current anti-LGBTQIA+ pieces of legislation, it is hard to be yourself, let alone be yourself in drag on a big stage. Other things that come along with the South are being harassed verbally and physically for being queer, facing discrimination at work and in school, and being told over and over again who you are and that who you are is bad. Overall, the main impact that all of this has is a growing trauma that accumulates over time. I often feel defeated that when all we do is work hard and strive to be the best people we can be, it can be reduced to hatred so quickly. However, I also take it as a motivator to never stop and to make sure that I prove myself against these small-minded people.

Q: The South definitely has a reputation, and rightfully so, of being not very inclusive of the queer community. Can you speak on the importance of safe spaces for the queer community in areas like Boone?

A: It is important to have queer spaces in Boone in order to combat the anti-LGBTQIA+ actions that are all around us, like water. It can serve as an escape from that. Queer spaces are also very important to have in Boone in the sense that it is a large college town. For many young queer people, it is their first time away from a dangerous home life. For these people to have something like a drag show to come to, it sends the message that they are going to be okay. That in the life they now get to build for themselves, there is going to be a space that is safe and fun and accepting for them. Queer spaces can be the first time in people’s lives that who they are is not taken as a negative thing.

Q: What are some positive changes you have seen in the community as a result of the work you do?

A: The queer community, and its allies, have definitely become closer in the wake of the Boone Barbies being created. This can be seen in the crowds that frequent our events or even in looking at the growth of something like our Instagram account. Also, many people have been able to experience drag for the first time, both as performers and as audience members. For me, and for these people, discovering drag changes someone's life for the better. It can make people more hopeful, more tolerant, and more aware of the issues that queer people and gender-nonconforming people face. Money has been poured back into the community through show proceeds and even events fully for charity. Both App State and Town of Boone policies have become more inclusive. Overall we have been able to show that queer strength overpowers hate any day of the week.

Q: How do you hope to be remembered by the queer community?

A: I hope to be remembered by the queer community as a trailblazer in the area. Molly Pocket and I, as well as Yutell Mi and many other amazing drag performers, have put in so much hard work to build the drag scene in Boone up stronger. Many came before us, and many will come after, but for our time in Boone, we have truly been able to create something so special. I hope to be remembered for this hard work and commitment to my community. I hope to be remembered as an example of what can happen when you turn ideas into reality, saying yes to whatever comes your way, and building a queerer world through the power of drag.

This interview was conducted remotely by Mikayla Hamilton on February 14, 2024.
Photo 1 by Kyla Willoughby, 2023 and Photo 2 by Liv Ernest, 2023.

Mikayla Hamilton is an intern at Sinister Wisdom. She holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Lees-McRae College. In her work, she strives to highlight the many different forms individuality can take. You can find more from her in The Salisbury Post and Ragweed, the student literary journal of Lees-McRae College.

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