THE QUEENS OF QUEEN CITY
Cumberland, Maryland was once the “Queen City”, a hub of industry and culture in Appalachia and second only to Baltimore for the largest urban population in the state. But the story of Cumberland has paralleled that of many once-great cities throughout the Appalachian region: the gradual departure of industry and, with it, a slow descent into economic and cultural stagnation.
But in the cracks of the pavement, odd flowers appear. In 2015 I happened upon a “drag pageant” showing in a historic theatre in Cumberland’s downtown walking mall. That drag queens exist in post-industrial Appalachia does not surprise me, but what I found inside did: a packed and diverse crowd cheering wildly for a passionately delivered show by not one, but twelve drag queens. That night I met Wayne Wolters (aka “Iva Fetish”), a founder and a past winner of the “Queens of the Queen City” annual drag competition, which has now been running for over 10 years and has a faithful local following. And I found myself wondering, how is this happening out in the open in a deeply conservative part of America?