Miss Cali Je

Miss Cali Je is standing against a light colored shingle building, smiling. She is wearing a light green dress with colorful flowers on the shoulders, front and side. Her Hair is completely made of colorful flowers.

*The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Tell me a little about your experience as a drag performer?

I've been doing drag since 2015. My journey commenced with theater, specifically in a production of Little Shop of Horrors where I took on a role. Being underage then, I sought out opportunities for drag within my means. Participating in drag became a part of certain classes, university competitions, and eventually pride festivals. 

In Pocatello, Idaho I won the youth title in a pageant, and along with the other pageant title holders we created a program called Reading time with the Queens.  

I moved to Corvallis, Oregon and I kept doing drag there. When I came back to Pocatello, everyone kept asking if I was going to start doing Reading Time with the Queens again. Since there was an interest and need for it, we announced our intentions to make it into an actual organization in 2019 and I've been doing that monthly ever since. I think that's probably my “claim to fame,” doing programs for kids. 

Most recently I started going into a very niche sector of drag. I’ve been doing a lot of drag and spiritual work, like performing at the Interfaith service [at pride] or performing at the Unitarian Universalist Church. 

I'm really interested in continuing my work with that because I am really baffled by this weird binary that has been created between Christians and drag artists. Being both a Christian and a drag performer, I think it's foolish and unnecessary and I'd like to tear that apart a bit. 

Tell us the backstory of how you got involved or interested in doing drag? 

The first time I did drag was in high school theatre. 

I played Jack’s mother in a production of Into the Woods. I wouldn't have been able to do it if a girl hadn't specifically dropped out of that role and I had to raise my hand, saying that I would fill it. 

I loved that play, and I was excited to have a role that I found extremely comedically funny. There was nothing about playing a girl that made me want to do that role. It was all because I found the seemingly minor role extremely enchanting. Also, just the funniest one-liners. I love them. The student director wanted to play up the man playing a woman thing and kept trying to stuff my bra, but I wanted to do pretty makeup and kept asking other girls for help with that. 

Later, as a college freshman, I first became Cali Je during a Drag 101 workshop with Spyke Naugahyde and Cassie St. John. 

What is the performance or experience as a performer that you are the most proud of? 

Recently, I got to perform in drag at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Boise. 

That was the first time my mother had seen me do Cali Je. Before that, my mother had always maintained that she doesn't want any part of that part of my life. 

She heard me sing Brandi Carlile and encourage people that we need to protect our hearts and sang Mr. Rogers to some kids and said what I had to say, and she was very happy. Afterwards when I was out of drag, she said, “Next time you should just let me know when you're in town, regardless of the reason”. 

How did you feel the first time you watched a drag performance?

The first drag show I saw was at ISU (Idaho State University); performing was Spyke Naugahyde and Charley’s Angels, Spyke, Annie (Rexia), and Ashley (LaCour). I didn't really understand what I was walking into. I understood the concept of drag because of my experiences in high school. I'd seen drag my whole life. One of my favorite drag performances is Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, but I didn't think of it that way. 

[At this show] I saw some of the most ridiculously raunchy things, but it didn’t inspire me to start doing drag. My interest in doing drag sparked later after I had different contexts for it with influences from RuPaul's Drag Race. For me, it all goes back to that initial experience in theatre though.

Is your family supportive? If yes, tell me what that’s like. 

A lot of my family is supportive. All of my grandparents are extremely accepting of me, and they put time and energy and resources behind me and my pursuits. That performance at the UU Fellowship was happening on a weekend after I had just done drag with my grandfather for Reading Time with the Queens.  

Have you had any negative experiences in the drag world?

Of course, there's drama in the drag world. Do I consider those to be negative experiences in the same way that I consider being protested at a children's program I'm running being a negative experience? 

No. That's bone-chilling and it feels negative. I can't recall a time that me personally [as a drag performer] or Reading Time with the Queens has been protested outside of pride this year. 

I consider [the hate group] Mass Resistance and Mountain Valley Baptist Church joining together to take up so much space in the library community room that no one felt safe or had enough room to be in there so exemplary and so negative. I find it ironic that they do this purporting to protect our children, but they're not talking about everyone's children. They're talking about their children. As if their children are the most important, more important than any other children. 

I was one of their children at one point. 

I was being hurt by people like them. 

So, I don't have any patience for that. They're not protecting their children because if they didn't want their children to come, they did not need to bring them. What they're [protestors] really trying to do is make sure that people feel afraid and that the children that would have been reached are not protected, do not feel safe, do not have the language to explain their feelings, and do not have the ability to look up to somebody and say, I can survive. 

I created this program (Reading Time with the Queens) so that I can make sure that whatever kids attend know that they can grow up and be happy, healthy adults. It doesn't matter what anyone else, adult or child, says to them.

Why is it important that we protect drag in public and private spaces in Idaho?

Beyond constitutional reasons, combating misinformation is crucial. The dialogue from proposing a drag ban to defeating it is where misinformation thrives, shaping public opinion negatively. 

When people have conversations about things that are being legislated and don't have the facts readily available, that's where the devil does its work. That's where IFPC {Idaho Family Policy Center] or the Idaho Freedom Foundation create the misinformation betting for oppression. And, it works!  

Some people call it a chilling effect. That's why we need to be fighting to protect drag wherever you are. It might not be a law in the books yet, but it’s already becoming law in the public conscience, and unless we are constantly fighting back against the misinformation, they can suppress us back into closets and we’ll be put underground again.

Were you involved in the postcard collection effort last year to get the word out about protecting drag in Idaho? Tell me about your experiences with that.

I think it came to me in a dream. At some point I just started fixating on this idea of a bunch of purple postcards. 

The color purple was intentional. It's liberative. It's aesthetic. No one's using purple at the Statehouse so, it's noticeable and striking. 

My friend Dallas McCarry made the logos, and I figured out a way to put them on buttons and T-shirts. I knew if we put it on postcards and send them en masse to lawmakers, then they would have a physical representation of how people feel.  

I tried to put a concerted effort into making sure that people were putting individual messages on those cards. I think it boosted the profile of the movement and the dissent against those kinds of laws a little, but what I think it really did was bring communities together.  

It’s difficult in activism, because you feel like you’re just sitting around fretting unless you have something to do. Postcards were a good way to have conversations with people who are outside of the spectrum of political knowledge, especially at the state level. I found it extremely helpful as a way to get bar audiences to do something while they’re enjoying a show.

Is there anything else you’d like to share or would like people to know about drag in Idaho? 

If I need to be the sponge for everybody's poor behavior and opinions... that's fine... drag queens are used to that. I'd prefer that politicians just fixed the roads and funded schools. But since we seem to be allergic to that and you are also going after people who are way weaker than drag queens... Sure. Spend all your time talking about drag queens at the State House. If that's what you want to do. I can take it.

About the Center Stage drag story project

We center the stories of drag performers across Idaho to celebrate queer joy and advocate for the protection of drag performances as legal art form and first amendment right in Idaho. We believe in the value of visibility and the understanding of being seen is a crucial factor in preserving lives.  Our intention is for performers to redefine the narrative of drag and expand the public perception of its true essence through their stories and lived experiences. Drag is a form of creative expression like any other and has always been about joy and acceptance. The stories shared on this page are here to celebrate and advocate to protect the constitutionally guaranteed right to dance, fashion, music, and DRAG!

Share your drag story with the ACLU of Idaho  Reach out to ACLU of Idaho Advocacy Fellow Jenna Damron to learn how you can participate.