Student inspires through drag

By Ruth Olivares

On a dark stage, eerie music emanated from the blaring speakers in Downtown Riverside’s The Menagerie venue, and the crowd anxiously waited as drag queen performer Athena Kills, sporadically darted on stage in a school-girl, collared, skirt and shirt outfit.

During her performance, the five, familiar, gut-wrenching words reverberated, “Do you believe in God?”

In an honest revelation, Athena answered, “Yes.”

“I wanted to portray that I believe in God because I still have some kind of faith, even though I am gay,” said Athena.

The edgy drag character was brought to life by Jovani Morales, two years ago.

Morales is a fourth-year student, double-majoring in animal science and theater, here at Cal Poly Pomona.

On top of school, he juggles a job as a supervisor at a tea shop, and he is Athena Kills by night.

Athena is not afraid to admit, her raw performances gained her the reputation of an avid button-pusher, both on and off stage.

During her most controversial performance, Athena’s body lifelessly hit the floor in a reenactment of death by gunshots.

Some crowd members cried, as they experienced a simulation of the traumatic pain and shock following the Columbine shooting.

She knew the topic of her performance was sensitive.

Athena caused a stir of emotions among the crowd because she reenacted the death of 17-year-old Cassie Bernall, one of the 15 students shot and killed during the Columbine High School massacre April 20, 1999, according to History.com.

That night, her ability to push boundaries made judges fall in love with her performance, ultimately securing her the first place in the competition.

“When we put on that female illusion, we have the ability to create whatever we want out of it, and it becomes your art,” said Morales.

His performances go beyond entertainment.

Morales defined drag as a political statement that challenges the definition of gender and what constitutes male or female qualities.

In particular, he referenced bearded queens, which are feminine drag queens with a full beard.

This shows how one can simultaneously have both female and male qualities.

Through his performances, he inspires young audiences.

“When people tell me I inspire them, that I’m amazing or that they want to be like me one day, that makes me so happy,” said Morales.

“I feel like crying every single time.”

Morales’ performances could not be done successfully without confidence.

“He knows how talented he is and he doesn’t let the opinions of others bother him,” said Morales’ best friend, Anissa Brown.

“He’s so confident in what he does it makes him shine.”

His confidence did not come quickly.

Morales waited a year until he was comfortable stepping on stage.

“It was so scary”, said Morales.

“I get stage fright ” that night 400 people were in the audience and I was shaking in my pumps.”

Morales wore a ’70s inspired, red jumpsuit he purchased on Amazon, along with an Afro.

His over-the-top dancing, and naturally funny personality did the rest of the work.

Soon enough, he had the entire crowd cackling.

“I didn’t think I was going to win,” said Morales.

“I won $100 and it was a pivotal moment because I knew I was good and I could see a future with this.”

Drag performances quickly became a central part of Morales’ life.

Just a few years ago, he knew very little about drag queens.

“At first, I’m not going to lie, it was kind of weird because I didn’t know what it was,” said Morales.

“The more I talked to the drag queens I learned it’s just a form of art and entertainment.”

Although drag performing was a recent discovery for Morales, he always had a passion for entertaining others, that stemmed from childhood.

He participated in dance clubs, joined theater in high school and performed in musicals.

“I needed to be a part of this,” said Morales.

Drag performing brought happiness to Morales, but it came with sacrifices.

The summer of 2016, he came out as gay to his parents and revealed he was a drag performer, and they kicked him out because they did not approve of his lifestyle.

In addition to recent homelessness, Morales previously quit his job.

That summer, he crashed on the couches of friends and cousins.

While homeless, he lacked a secure food supply and he ate whatever friends offered him.

“Only my Club 340 performances gave me the motivation to keep going,” said Morales.

“I could’ve easily quit and gone on a really bad path, but I kept going and I pushed through and it ended up being really good because I’m at a good place now.”

Things are turning up for him. Morales made amends with his mom, he lives in a comfortable apartment, and he pays for all his bills including rent, a car payment and school.

Before he expands his name, Morales focuses on giving back to the LGBT community and was recently crowned Miss Downtown Los Angeles 2017.

This title granted him a partnership with the city that helps him fundraise for homeless LGBT youth and provide the funds for their educational needs.

For now, he performs at Club 340 and he will make an appearance at a drag show on campus, February 2018.

Drag performances paved the way for valuable friendships.

Morales never met so many people like him, that came from damaged, abusive backgrounds, but still do what they love.

For Morales, drags are some of the people with the biggest hearts.

They are constantly marginalized by society, and drag gives this group of creative outcasts a distraction from the world’s troubles and a unique outlet for self-expression.

Fourth-year animal science and theatre student Jovani Morales plays the role of drag queen Athena Kills

Courtesy of Angel Olmos

Fourth-year animal science and theatre student Jovani Morales plays the role of drag queen Athena Kills

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