To those only marginally familiar with the art form, the word “drag” may evoke imagery associated with RuPaul’s Drag Race, a boozy brunch downtown with queens serenading revelers, or elaborate makeup and masterfully applied wigs. While all represent components of drag, there is much more to it, including outlets for even more creativity, accessibility and connection within queer communities and the outdoors.
Photographer Cassidy DuHon is behind the Instagram account @dragofthewoods, and a quick scroll gives you a sense of something bigger than “traditional” drag. The bio states that DuHon is “capturing the beauty of the drag we find and make in nature.” Here, you’ll find photos of people of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages expressing themselves through drag, whatever that means to them. The simple, the horrifying, the glamorous, the elaborate – all captured with nature in the background.
“I like seeing drag queens outside their natural habitat of cities,” DuHon explains. “There’s such a contrast between people doing what are often these very contrived, artificial looks in a good way, in a natural setting. It also gives people more of a sense of peace and non-urgency in all of it, where there’s time to climb a tree and let the dress drape down. It makes for a more relaxed feeling.”
There’s a deeply palpable appreciation for both his subjects and the environment in how they are captured in all of DuHon’s photos. Many of them are taken at an event called Leaning Into Sissy Affirmation (LISA). DuHon founded LISA in the tradition of the Radical Faerie movement, a loosely formed group of queer people who, starting in the 70s, aimed to get back to nature and connect with one another through large gatherings in the woods. Although LISA is invite-only, the event is accepting and affirming of all queer identities.
“Everyone that’s wanted to come has been invited to,” he says. “We’re trying to keep it outside of a ticketed, commercialized thing. I want people to come there with a sense of intentionality. I think that is important, since queer spaces have become more blended into mixed spaces. Even the spaces that are queer, it’s in a more mainstream way. I have a belief that a little bit of queer separateness sometimes yields a different form of creativity.”
One such person leaning into this creative space is Chris Pugliese, whose drag name is Necro Nancy. If the name is any indication, it’s not the glitz of typical drag. Pugliese’s style is glamorous, fantastical and a little disturbing. He cites auteur director and proprietor of all things magically disturbing, David Lynch, as an influence, along with many movies in the classic horror canon.
“There are many queens who can do pretty, and they should, and that works for them,” Pugliese says. “I’m always looking for something you don’t see, whether it’s through using unconventional materials or visually. My goal in my looks is to make you not want to look at me. I feel like a successful look is when you can’t look at me for a long period of time, and it sends shivers down your spine.”
Another hallmark of Pugliese’s work – and many others who attend LISA – is the sustainability of it all. Many queens who participate in these events get creative with their supplies, often crafting looks from recycled materials, thrift store purchases or repainted items. One of Pugliese’s creations includes a dress and headpiece handcrafted from iconic red-and-white “thank you” bags, rounded out by grotesque makeup and a horrifying but confident expression on his face and in his pose.
“A lot of practices drag queens are doing are actually pretty damn green,” Pugliese says of this approach. “You see queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race hiring designers to make completely new things that have never been seen before. For the majority of drag queens, inclusive of myself, there’s no budget for that. What a lot of people do is the second principal of the three R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.”
This creative repurposing has another great benefit: using recycled materials, thrifting and the like is generally less expensive than always buying brand new materials and costumes, therefore reducing the financial barrier of entry for queer people who want to participate in drag.
“We are actively trying to encourage people to use old shit or make things from reclaimed materials, and people do a really good job of that,” DuHon says. “I say that not even so much to be environmentally friendly – that matters too – but also because there are people that avoid all of the drag arts because they have this belief that it’s going to be expensive and people will judge them.”
In an environment that actively asks you to think outside your usual perceptions, the natural side effects are more inclusivity and an extension of the reverence this community has for the way nature allows them to celebrate drag and queerness.