Thomas McCarter knows how to throw a party. In fact, he’s become something of a local legend when it comes to his gatherings and it’s not unusual to see his home filled with dozens of party-goers. But, don’t expect to go looking for McCarter while out and about near his Midtown residence, a meeting with his drag alter ego, Kellie Killjoy, is more likely. She’s the host of the most famous of McCarter’s parties: WIG. These monthly shows display a variety of local drag talent right in McCarter’s living room. He said that the idea for regular WIGs came about when he started doing drag a year ago.
“Pretty much the show ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ got me into it and I’m sure a lot of people can say it’s blowing up the drag universe right now. I’ve been watching it for a while, but it wasn’t until season nine that there was one particular contestant that inspired me to do drag myself. So, I had a drag queen friend of mine get me to the stage for the first time last June,” McCarter said. “I was a total busted mess, but I had the most fun of my life and I knew it was something I was going to keep doing for a long time.”
But as enthusiastic as he was about slipping into Killjoy’s outfits more and more often, McCarter had a problem: Accessibility.
“The only easy way to do it was in Ann Arbor — which is great that there’s even that, I mean, I could have nothing at all and that would be unfortunate,” he said. “But there’s kind of nothing worse than getting in drag and sitting in a car for 45 minutes with your waist cinched, everything tucked; it’s incredibly uncomfortable.”
That’s when the Wayne State University dance major decided that he’d bring an audience to him, rather than make the drive each time he had a gig.
“My roommate and I — she’s a supporter of drag but doesn’t do drag herself yet — we were very much into the idea. So, the second I said, ‘Let’s just do something here at home,’ she was, of course, right on board. That was the beginning of the semester,” McCarter said. “We’re both a Wayne State and it wasn’t until springtime until we both had the motivation and the support to do it.”
The first show happened in April and focused on a “standard” drag show.
“The one that we’ve had was everyone just lip synched, a standard drag performance, however we’re open to any other type of performative expression,” McCarter said. “The first one was sort of like, we weren’t fully ready for it. We kept pushing it back because we kept thinking we weren’t ready, but eventually, we said, ‘We’re going to do it this date, whether we’re ready or not, and it’s just going to have to happen that day.’”
Fortunately for McCarter, the audience reception was excellent. He estimated that his first gig drew almost 100 to his literally home-grown show.
“That’s what’s so exciting about WIGs. These are just people out in Midtown looking for a party and they aren’t even drag fans,” he said. “Some people are like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.’”
When asked why he didn’t start hosting his events in existing Detroit LGBTQ bars and venues, he said that forming partnerships is his goal. But, he said that he wants to create something centrally located in Detroit, to expand on the LGBTQ staples that already exist around Detroit and its Metro area.
“I’ve essentially grown up in Detroit and I’ve lived here in Midtown for six years now. And, as a very actively gay person and a fan of drag, I didn’t really know of any opportunities or shows or parties or bars or anything. The only one I could think of was Gigi’s, which is a great bar and they do this cabaret show which I’ve been to, but even that it’s sort of on the outskirts of the city and the people that go aren’t really the drag fans that are generating the energy behind drag today,” McCarter said. “Other than that, I know there’s Royal Oak, but that’s really all I knew about.”
However, McCarter made clear that he is aware he’s not bringing Detroit something that it hasn’t seen before, he’s simply hoping to attract a larger group of new-to-the-scene queens and an audience that might not know much about drag period.
“And if there are more opportunities then shame on me for not doing more research and getting involved in those. Except, I feel like these things should be in your face, you shouldn’t have to go digging for them,” he said.
And Detroit’s Midtown community certainly seems receptive. McCarter said that the only way to maintain WIG shows will be to expand, because with only a few shows under his belt at this point, his apartment space is quickly being outgrown. Especially since word of mouth and Facebook event pages were the only means of communicating the events to the public. And, after all, “it’s also my home and you don’t want it becoming a dive bar people can just stop in,” McCarter said.
So, for now, McCarter is busy asking around for local venues that might be interested in hosting a regular WIG night. And, in keeping with the show’s innovative flair, McCarter said that he and his roommate, “Wanted to also look at some unconventional spaces like open, warehouse-y venues.”
Because ultimately, WIGs is McCarter’s way of sharing his passion with more of Detroit’s community, while adding his own Kellie Killjoy-brand flair. McCarter said that interested attendees should keep a close eye on the Midtown party scene and venues and hopefully soon, there will be a regular spot for WIG events outside of his home.