Brandon Rounds | Madison, WI
Growing up, I was very close with my stepsister. She had posters of the boy band NSYNC on her wall, was just a cool person and I wanted to be like her. We were in the same grade, and she was always supportive of me. If anyone picked on me at school, she always came to my aid. When I was 16, I got my driver’s license and first car, and the word ‘queer’ was often scrawled on my car in window chalk. My stepsister and stepbrother would wipe off the chalk so I wouldn’t see it. I had supportive friends and we accepted each other as we were. But I saw lesbians at my high school get picked on every day. So I hid myself and didn’t come out until I was a junior in high school because I didn’t want to be bullied.
I attended UW Platteville studying communications and was the co-president of The Alliance, an LGBTQIA+ student organization on campus. I ended up dating a guy who did drag. We established an LGBTQ+ conference and drag show in 2010. At the time, I knew very little about drag, but the art of performing and putting on a show interested me. I was a huge fan of musicals as a kid and loved to watch people perform. The history of drag actually dates back to Shakespearean times when only men were allowed to perform in plays. Male actors would dress as women to fill the female parts. The story goes that the name came from the petticoats male performers had to wear dragging on the floor. So, it is an art form with a long history that encourages an audience to accept others in every shape and form. One thing I appreciate about drag is that everyone is welcome to come and enjoy a drag performance.
When I was 25, I moved to Madison. I love living in Madison, I feel like myself here. I see other people like me and have a huge supportive community. When I was in high school and college, I never felt like I fit in. I joined the Madison Gay Hockey Association in 2012 and am now a mentor for new skaters. And I re-connected with drag.
I was at a local gay bar with a drag performer watching ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’, a reality TV competition show. In between commercial breaks, we ended up looking at some photos of my first drag performance during college. She named me ‘Bianca.’ The name, ‘Lynn,’ was my mother’s middle name, and I wanted to include the name in remembrance of her. So, my drag queen name is Bianca Lynn Breeze.
A more experienced drag entertainer took me wig shopping to help me figure out how Bianca was going to look. My first wig was a dirty blond wig that looked very similar to Britany Spears hair. Two weeks later, I performed my first show and fell in love with the stage and spectacle of all eyes being on me. When I stepped on stage during drag it made me feel like I was meant to be who I am. My friends from the gay hockey association came to all my early shows and laughed and cheered and encouraged me to keep doing this art form.
When I was young, I remember watching my mother get ready for the day. She was just naturally beautiful and didn’t wear a lot of makeup. I experimented with playing dress-up–wearing her makeup and old bridesmaid dresses that she had. Growing up, she had always tried to talk to me about being gay, and I just never really gave her the time to do that and to accept me. In 2008, I lost my mother to lung cancer. I know deep down she accepted me for who I was. She’s always here with me in spirit no matter what I do and where I am in life.
I remember the time during a drag pageant I got chills when I saw my mom in me. I had just been announced the winner of Miss Club Wisconsin. I was in the back dressing room securing my crown into my brown wig so I could go greet my friends and family. I happened to glance at myself in the mirror and saw a reflection of my mom. It was a sweet moment that I will never forget. When I put on drag, I see my mother in me, and that’s a way for me to connect with her.
As a kid, I fell in love with musicals and theater performances. I had always wanted to be on stage but never thought I would be good enough to sing or act. I love pageantry and being beautiful and glamorous. At first I was terrible at it. But as with anything, the more you learn and practice the better you get at it. Art takes time.
Drag dates back to the 19th century when only men were allowed to act in plays so male actors dressed as women. Today drag is a type of performance that features people of all identities who like to perform through fashion, dance, and music. There are so many different types of drag – comedy drag, pageant drag, alternative drag. Drag isn’t always a cis man as a female performer. The word ‘cis’ describes a person whose gender identity is the same as their assigned sex at birth. There are drag kings and male entertainers, men who dress in amazing, fun costumes and lip-sync to songs on stage. There are women who are drag queens. We also have trans performers. There are all different types of drag in our world, and that’s what makes drag so amazing and so interesting. Drag is like a blank canvas, you are transforming from one person into another.
It is important to me to give back to my community. My mom and dad raised my brother and me to be good people and give back to the community. To be a positive light. As an entertainer one way I give back to my community is to donate my tips. During my beginning years as a drag queen I performed for free and donated my tips to Wilma’s Fund, a great resource for struggling LBGTQ+ people. Wilma’s Fund holds a special place in my heart because I have a very supportive family, but not everyone does. When I came out to my dad and stepmother at age 18 they just said, ‘Yeah, we already knew that.’ It did take them some time to understand and learn, but now my family attends a lot of my drag events, wearing their fan t-shirts and holding supportive signs. Wilma’s Funds is a helpful resource for someone who got kicked out of their home and needs some extra money for a security deposit. Many of my friends’ families do not support them and it really breaks my heart. So donating my time and money is a great way for me to help those not as fortunate as me.
Once I started hosting Drag Bingo and Drag Brunches I realized it offered me an opportunity to do community work. These were sold out shows and people were listening to me as a drag performer. At the end of each event I said, ‘If a friend, a cousin, a brother, a family friend or anyone comes out to you please let them know you are a safe space for them. Not everyone is afforded a supportive family and friend so just letting that one person know you are a safe space can potentially save a life.’
Drag shows are for everyone. Our audiences are very diverse. People are touched by the experience in very different ways. I started having people come up to me after these events with tear filled eyes and tell me their stories about their family or friends in the LGBTQ+ community, some losing members of their family. They tell me what a breath of fresh air I was for them. Some have told me growing up they were taught that being gay was not good or that it was bad. A few have said, ‘I was afraid of offending a trans person by asking them about their pronouns. Thank you for teaching me more about it and helping me build the courage to ask.’ I’ve had non-binary individuals cry and hug me, thanking me for acknowledging them by using their correct pronouns. Just recently, I was doing a drag event, and a family came up to me and said, ‘I just want to thank you for this amazing moment. We had just lost our mother last week, and we almost canceled coming to tonight’s drag event, but we really needed it. You gave us a moment to smile and just have a fun time.’ Hearing that kind of stuff is really what keeps me going, and that’s why I’ve been doing this for 10 years.
People ask me why I do drag. Is it for the sparkly gowns and glamor? Is it to be the center of attention? All of these things are great and contribute to my love for it, but the top reason why I do it is to educate and spread positivity and happiness to others.
Brandon’s story was produced by Jesse Yang.
Photos 1 & 2: Taken at the 2021 Milwaukee Pride-tober Fest. Photo 3: Taken in 2022 at the FIVE Nightclub.