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Jaymes Mansfield, a Drag Queen's Story

Apr. 4, 2017
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On March 24 “RuPaul’s Drag Race” opened its ninth season to a record number of VH1 viewers. Cream City’s audience was abuzz with rapt anticipation, too, for among the 14 competing queens, Milwaukee’s own Jaymes Mansfield would sashay across the stage. She was the second Milwaukee contestant to appear on the pinnacle platform of America’s drag artistry. Trixie Mattel appeared in season seven and placed sixth. Sadly, Mansfield wouldn’t get that far. In fact, she was the first to “sashay away.”

Still, her achievement was in getting there. Having auditioned five times, her moment had finally come. Among the hundreds upon hundreds of queens auditioning each season, appearing on “Drag Race” is a well-earned crown unto itself.

But, for all the interviews and promos, Mansfield’s backstory barely got a mention. It’s worth exploring, especially since it reflects the empowering influence of some Milwaukee institutions from the Alliance School to the Milwaukee Art Museum and their roles in inspiring our LGBT artists to realize their dreams.

The narrative really begins when Mansfield came out as gay. It was sophomore year in high school. The bullying began immediately. But, there was an alternative, the Alliance School, a welcoming MPS charter school for LGBTs and other bullied students. Mansfield explains, “I heard about Alliance and went there. After that I never had fear of going to school. I will praise that school to the end of time. What they do there is beautiful.” And it was there where the school’s art program under Jill Engel-Miller offered both an escape and a means for personal expression. Collaborating with the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, the Alliance School exhibited students’ works at the Gay Youth Art Show. Mansfield entered felt dolls. One found its way into Joe Pabst’s art collection. It’s a Lady Godiva doll created in homage to the stripper-actress-writer-bombshell Liz Renay, star of John Water’s movie, Desperate Living, who, in 1974, notoriously streaked naked down Hollywood Boulevard. (Mansfield, by the way, while channeling her namesake Jayne Mansfield, looks suspiciously like the classic Liz … ) Soon thereafter, still other puppets are displayed at Milwaukee Art Museum’s Scholastic Art Awards Exhibit and awarded a prestigious Gold Key.

Then, in 2012, Mansfield debuts in drag at the LGBT Community Center. I first saw Mansfield (accompanied by an armed puppet) in early 2013 when she performed Julie Brown’s ’80s teen tragedy parody song “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” at an MGAC cabaret. She reprised the number on the PrideFest’s MGAC Stage that summer.

The rest is history, or herstory. Speaking of which, beyond “Drag Race,” Mansfield has embarked on a YouTube career that includes drag costume, make-up and hair tutorials, movie reviews and a Drag Herstory series. In the latter, Mansfield tells the previously untold story of past drag personalities like Lori Shannon of the sitcom “All in the Family.”

Commenting on her brief “Drag Race” stint, Mansfield reflects, “It freaks me out. The recording was a year ago. Watching my awkward phase of puberty on camera I realize how far I’ve come. Despite the shortcomings, I’m ultimately happy with the experience. I didn’t pretend to be something I wasn’t.”

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