Shannel, known as Bryan Watkins offstage, took to the stage and performed a dance number while interacting with the audience at the Grand Theatre on South City Campus on Wednesday, Sept. 26.
Divas of Diversity travel to many campuses across the nation to share their message of education and awareness.
“I felt really empowered after I left,” wrote SLCC student Patrice Vasquez in an email about the event. “A lot of what Shannel said had resonated deeply with me. When I made it home I immediately wrote, ‘You are beautiful! You are wonderful!’ on my mirror.”
After his performance he shared the story of how he changed from a shy, introverted boy to become Shannel, the fabulous, extroverted Drag Queen.
“I really loved when she said, ‘I don’t care if you love me. It’s not your job to love me, it’s my job to love me and it’s your job to love you,’” wrote Vasquez. “ I really respected Shannel for being so bold and strong enough to stand true to the person that he truly was inside, even if it’s hard for so many to really understand.”
Divas of Diversity
This program is intended to bring awareness of the diverse student population on campuses around the country. They encourage dialogue to end discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. They bring cast members of the hit reality cable series RuPaul’s Drag Race to share and discuss issues relating to gender discrimination.
Shannel was a contestant in RuPaul’s Drag Race, a drag queen talent search program on the cable network Logo. He will be on the all-star season this year.
Shannel spoke to the audience about who he is and why he does female impersonation and to shed light into the world of Drag.
A drag queen, according to Shannel, is an “over-the-top flaming homosexual who likes to wear women’s clothing and parade around and make lots of money.” He explained how it is different than a transsexual, who is a man that has had a sex change operation, and a transvestite, who typically is a straight man who likes to wear women’s clothes for sexual enjoyment.
Shannel came from a humble, lower class, mobile home upbringing.
His father left his mother for the gay lifestyle when he was just a young boy. He explained some of the difficulties of childhood but how those experiences made him who is today.
He grew up knowing there was something different about him without understanding why. He knew at a young age that he was attracted to the same sex but it wasn’t until he was an adolescent that he struggled with who he was, became more introverted and gained weight.
He was able to overcome some issues, including losing weight, but was still bullied in high school. He took a speech and debate class that helped him realize that he had a voice and could change the world.
He asked the audience if any of them had an issue with weight and asked if their issues came about because they thought they were overweight or that the world and media has influenced their beliefs about being overweight. He expressed concern about the practice of airbrushing and photoshopping images of celebrities to obtain the perfect appearance.
“We are so brainwashed into believing that we are stereotypically supposed to look, act and be a certain way,” says Shannel. “As a young child or adolescent, we internalize a lot of these things and what happens is we become very mental confused by it. Some of us become suicidal, some of us become bulimic, anorexic, and some of us eat ourselves to death. Why? Because we all want to feel like we can fit in.”
“Looking like the last skittle in the entire box, I love who I am”
Shannel shared how he became successful in makeup artistry which led him to the career in the art of female impersonation, through which he obtained a lifestyle of fame and fortune. He also realized how he had become a voice for many who do not have a voice, or that don’t feel like they fit in.
“I can honestly say, standing up here looking like the last skittle in the entire box, I love who I am,” says Shannel. “I can truly say that when I look in the mirror, I like me. No matter what you may be dealing with in your life right now, you have to understand one thing. You have the power in life to create change. If you believe it, you can make it happen.”
After speaking, Shannel spent another hour answering questions of the audience, which steered the event in a more personal and intimate direction. Several audience members shared the fact that they don’t love themselves. Shannel offered advice and examples from his own life about how he came to love himself.
“It does not matter in life if you’re black, white, purple, polka dotted, Asian, Buddhist, Mormon. I don’t care who you are or what you are, you simply have to love who you are,” says Shannel. “Unfortunately the stereotypes and the diversities and the things that we don’t understand about other people hold us back.”