At almost seven feet tall in heels and a wig, T Rex is a pillar of Chicago drag. From the Drag Race viewing parties at Roscoe’s to Crash Landing, the bi-monthly amateur drag contest, at Berlin Nightclub, T Rex is responsible for some of Chicago’s best drag shows. And, after eight years in the scene, the seasoned queen is such a staple that Boystown without her witty remarks and corny jokes is practically unimaginable.
The first time I saw T Rex was at a small drag event at a rock climbing gym. The space was intimate enough that I ended up right next to her a couple times, and as she towered about a foot and a half above me, I was completely intimidated. But it’s not just the height difference; T Rex is intimidating because she so thoroughly and effortlessly commands any room she enters. It’s no coincidence that her Myers-Briggs personality type is called “The Commander.”
As I prepare to talk with T Rex for this very article, I can’t help but retain some of those initial feelings of trepidation. But when we do start to chat, it’s comfortable, and my anxieties fully wash away as soon as she introduces herself: “I am 30-years-old, and my favorite food is melted cheese.”
So, T Rex is tall and direct and commanding in a totally awe-inspiring way, but she’s also honest and goofy and knows exactly how to put an audience at ease. Be it calling out that messy drunk girl at the show—“Well look at this fucking drunk idiot. Drink some water! What are you doing? Why are you tipping like that? Don’t put it in your mouth, we don’t do that here”—or simply standing on the side of the stage where the audience can see her—“you see me having a good time and it helps you have a good time–” as a host, T Rex always manages to make her audiences feel at ease in the club.
“I try to inspire the audience to talk to each other,” T Rex further expands on her approach to hosting. “Because as an audience, you go in to a movie or something because you do wanna laugh with other people, because it is more fun to take things in as a group.” And it works: there’s a certain collective effervescence of the crowds at T Rex’s shows that have us cooing in unison at every stunt, read, or embarrassment.
At the microphone, T Rex can be direct and no-nonsense, yet brash and zany. Cheesy punch lines are spliced in with scathing roasts of audience members and performers alike. But it’s this ability of hers not just to read the crowd, but to engage and connect with it that makes T Rex such a spectacular and entertaining host. She captivates from the minute she takes stage until the very end of the night.
Aptly and lovingly labeled Chicago’s “drag dad” for her blunt but incredibly supportive attitude and her penchant for dad humor, during Drag Race season, T Rex runs about 13 regular events a month across different Chicago bars (and one in Milwaukee). The “business-minded” host brings each of these shows to life from behind-the-scenes to on-stage. “I fly queens in, make sure that they’re taken care of, but I also host on the mic,” she explains. “A lot of my work really does come in on the back end like the daytime stuff that a lot of people don’t see, that I really love…I’m pretty much my own business that the bar hires in.” Every aspect of what it takes to build a drag show is tightly and meticulously pieced together by T Rex herself to birth some of the most unique, vibrant, engaging events I’ve attended.
More than anyone, T Rex has spent the last eight years taking Chicago drag by storm, repackaging it, making it her own. On a very basic note, T Rex has broken a paradigm, perpetuated by TV and other media representations of drag, that to be a good drag queen is to be a good lip-syncer. T Rex doesn’t perform in the traditional sense. Instead, she’s found a niche in hosting and producing, and she’s good at it. Instead of struggling against poor short-term memory to memorize choruses that she’d inevitably “flub,” anyway, T Rex found a way to make drag work for her. So, she might not be lip-syncing for her life on RuPaul’s show, but T Rex truly thrives spitting quick quips at the mic, and her presence in Boystown is irreplaceable.
“Maybe it was just audacity,” T Rex muses when I ask how she fell into this role. “Maybe it was just me being so naïve and so big-headed to think that I could just stomp in and start engaging in the big leagues, but I just did it, and then I look back and I think, ‘oh, wow, you just took that for your own’… It really was just a bunch of audacity in the beginning.”
Take Drag Matinee, a certifiable cornerstone of Chicago drag culture. The show, which takes place at Berlin Nightclub every Saturday night, is a huge success, featuring an exciting mix of special guest performers and local entertainers, but nine years ago, it was a simple, bi-monthly production. Even then, the show had a huge impact on a young T Rex: “You know when you find your interest and the click goes off in your head? I was there at Drag Matinee.”
Since then, T Rex has gone from an inspired audience member to the host and producer of Drag Matinee, building it into the hit it is today. “When I started it was just so small,” T Rex recalls. “Every week, I went back with the intention of going, ‘what little thing could we tweak? How could we make the budget $20 bigger?’ And then, it’s eight years later, and you have this cute blockbuster. But in the beginning it was just so week-to-week. It was just a bunch of people throwing things at the wall, but it made us who we are.”
There’s an urgency to T Rex’s voice as she searches for the right words to describe Drag Matinee. The queen grapples with metaphors explaining her fond relationship with the show, but none of them seem to hold quite the right weight. Still, it’s incredibly heartfelt when she tells me, “Matinee is in my DNA now. It’s the show that I look forward to every single week. And it really is the tent pole. It’s the main one. I would say it’s my favorite but it just kind of is. It’s never going away. It’s a weekly appointment that I have that I can’t miss.” Finally, she settles on something more lighthearted: “It’s just one of the most fun shows…You get to see a little bit of every type of drag, and you get a little bit of everyone in the audience…Its just fun to cram everyone in there and hang out with the girls for 2 hours and just get drunk.”
Before we part ways I ask T Rex how drag has changed her day-to-day life. “Well, it’s pulling out my hair, it’s ruining my body, my feet hurt, I have corns, my toenails are bruised and bloody, and you know…just the normal shit.” It’s the perfect comedic end to a delightfully relaxing and free-flowing conversation about drag, and it’s the perfect note on which to leave T Rex: perfectly honest, ridiculous, and relatable.
T Rex can be found at Roscoe’s hosting XYZ on the first Sunday of every month, at Berlin running Drag Matinee every Saturday as well as hosting Crash Landing and Plot Twist on the last three Mondays of every month, and at DIX Milwaukee for Wrex on the third Friday of the month. Those of you not in Chicago, can catch T Rex on her new podcast, “The Tea,” where a group of drag performers will be answering questions every Friday.