People in the History of the LGBT Community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Pageants and the "Drag" Scene

Drag shows, and men who go out in drag on an occasional or regular basis, are perhaps not as commonplace in LGBT bars in the 21st century as they were 10 or 20 years ago. Although there are still occasional “drag shows” at some of the clubs, they have become the exception rather than the rule. Twenty years ago, it seemed every non-leather bar had drag shows on a regular basis; today I can think of only a handful that still do. For example, even 10 years ago there were regular weekly shows at La Cage, Club 219, C’est La Vie, Ball Game, and the M&M, plus other clubs. Any dance bar would have drag shows on a regular basis (in their days, all three Factory bars, Red Baron, Pivot and 1100 West in Appleton, The Shack and Club 94 near Kenosha, etc.) In 2006, C’est La Vie is the only venue with drag shows on a regular basis, and La Cage less frequently.

And even then there are degrees of drag: the last show at the M&M Club in May 2006 reminded us how some men dress up as nuns or some other character as a lark or fun diversion for the occasional show (Baby Jane Hudson is perhaps another example), while others do it more frequently- perhaps for a weekly drag show, or for the many pageants or “Miss” contests held throughout the year. And there are still a few men who dress up in drag just for a night on the town (especially for Halloween).

Drag performers and shows, and various other gay stereotypes, are all indicative of a gradual acceptance of gay and lesbian people into general society, and thus a lessening of the need to make ourselves stand out to make a statement. We can be more comfortable with who we are without being “in your face” about our differences. But let’s not forget how we got where we are now- let’s embrace and enjoy the occasional drag show, leather event, etc. Let’s recognize that those “stereotype” extremes were one factor contributing to mainstream society’s increased acceptance of us.

Some historical background:

    In 1970, performers Mama Rae and Tiger Rose helped start the Miss Gay Milwaukee Contest, forerunner of the Mr. and Miss Gay Wisconsin Pageant. This 1989 History of the Miss & Mr. Gay Wisconsin Pageants appeared in In Step, vol. 5 issue 19.

    The "Pageant" Committee (which ran the annual Mr. and Miss Gay Wisconsin pageant) presented a special award to Jimmy Schnieders just prior to his death for his contributions to that organization.

Aside from the above, a comprehensive "history" of the drag scene in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is beyond our current capability to handle; if someone wishes to take a stab at describing it, we welcome the input! However, we do present here some historical perspective of the scene with the information at our disposal. (We include here both men dressing up as drag performers, as well as men performing as "Kings" or for various "Mister" contests; typically none of these use their real first and last name, but go by some sort of stage name, which is the name used in the following pages.)

Drag Performers: Divas and Kings

Drag Web Sites:

Credits: concept and format by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: October-2014.