CULTURE KLASH: Gay Renegades

By on May 31, 2017

How a crew of savvy performers is disrupting social dynamics in Jackson Hole and beyond.

Not your grandmother’s bingo with hostess Spyke Naugahyde. (Photos: Robyn Vincent)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Small towns in the West extend little hospitality to LGBTQ folks. Jackson Hole, for its part,—and the state of Wyoming—is devoid of gay bars or clubs. It is true that PFLAG engages in local advocacy and hosts events, like its annual pride picnic happening June 10. And the town sent a message when it passed an ordinance in 2014 protecting its employees from sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

But spaces and entertainment for LGBTQ people, and those who identify more with counterculture than cowboys or climbers, are largely absent from the valley’s social sphere. This in the state with a U.S. senator who recently said a man wearing a tutu to a bar “kind of asks for” a fight. (It’s worth noting, though, that following Sen. Mike Enzi’s remarks, Wyomingites protested by donning tutus at watering holes across the state.)

“It’s an underground gay culture in Wyoming, like the underground gay railroad,” Idaho drag queen Spyke Naugahyde, a.k.a. Casey Wynn, said.

The first drag queen to strut on a Jackson Hole stage, Naugahyde (say that name slowly) was the platinum blonde, six-foot-eight hostess/co-producer of drag bingo and the Tease Burlesque Revues Saturday at the Lodge at Jackson Hole.

Why not use drag bingo as license to don wigs and fake lashes in the daytime?

The shows are the invention of Justin Buckles Productions, an outfit based in Portland, Oregon. Its mission: to inject doses of queer, and sexuality in general, into small communities across the West.

Founder Justin Buckles and his crew delivered to the valley its first taste of drag with the Caravan of Glam in January 2016 (think a shiny, queer-minded Cirque du Soleil). The performances included an all-ages early show “Circus” and the late-night scintillating “Freakshow” that garnered a full house at Center for the Arts.

An Oregon native who cut his teeth in Hollywood working for shows like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, among others, Buckles launched Justin Buckles Productions in 2014. Since then he’s brought the first drag shows to locales like Hood River, Oregon; Provost, Utah; Elko, Nevada; Kalispell, Montana; and the list goes on.

“We’ve done a lot of firsts,” he said. “I love being able to say that, because I know I’m setting groundwork for changes in these areas and that’s incredibly important.”

Growing up gay in small-town Oregon compelled Buckles to focus on places that would otherwise never have this kind of outlet, he said. “There were no options except drinking and partying. I wanted to change that.”

Buckles’ shows, in 14 states with about seven per month, not only speak to underrepresented populaces, they’re also satisfying a cultural void, especially in Jackson Hole, where events are often created with tourists in mind.

That the Old West Days, centered on Western lore, family activities and a rodeo, happened on the same day as drag bingo and the burlesque revues illuminated this truth.

Saturday’s burlesque shows starred men and women in glittery lace and fishnet. The performances were among the few burlesque shows to stop in Jackson Hole. The audience response was telling.

‘Boylesque’ care of Jaxon Yoff.

Armed with sultry song and dance, performers drove the crowd into gasps and hollers. From a 65-year-old woman in the front row to gay and straight couples in their 30s and 40s bedecked in sequins, there was a sense that Buckles and crew were providing an inclusivity long missing from the valley.

“Performers showcase their own brand and people who come to shows get to show up in their own brand too,” co-producer/musician Pablo Gonzalez said. He opened the show, accompanied by the self-taught songstress Dani Ward, belting soulful renditions of pop songs a la Amy Winehouse.

Other performers, like The Cigarette Girls hailing from Missoula, Montana, performed skits that riffed on pop culture, from Pulp Fiction to hip-hop, before splitting off for seductive solo numbers as Stella Pearl and Belle Rees.

Then there was the irresistible Birdie Le Tramp. As she leapt onto tables and into people’s laps some male audience members lost their composure. These were men who forgot the cardinal rule enforced by hulky security guards in other places: Look but do not touch.

They were appropriately admonished by performers.

An audience favorite: Birdie Le Tramp.

Meanwhile, Naugahyde peppered the show with witty repartee.

“This was from Cross Dress for Less!” he told the audience motioning to his sheer black dress. And while other performers were in the throes of a costume change, he wasted no time improvising, jumping on the stage to lip sync “I just want to fucking dance!” from Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Born and raised in small-town Idaho, Naugahyde’s unflappable confidence is an encouraging display for those swimming against the mainstream, especially young people. Buckles and crew understand this and it’s one of the reasons why productions like the Caravan of Glam perform all-ages shows in addition to their raunchy adult iterations.

“I think about our show in Hood River, Oregon, where in the broad daylight drag queen Nae Nae Dominatrix was talking to kids about bullying,” Naugahyde said. “As a kid, I was constantly bullied. You don’t think there is anyone else going through what you’re going through, until you see that there is.” PJH

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About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole Weekly and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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