Not her first rodeo: Student drag queen Enigma sees drag as an outlet, inspiration



Thomas Sutherland, a vocal performance major, dresses as his drag queen persona Enigma. The Texas native learned about drag after coming to WSU.

Growing up in Texas and going to a Catholic school, Thomas Sutherland knew next to nothing about drag.

It wasn’t until he came to Wichita State four years ago to study vocal performance that he was introduced to the drag scene.

“Throughout my first year, I started having my first real gay friends — started going to the bars and getting into the culture,” Sutherland said. “When I went to my first drag show . . . it was, in a lot of ways, a culture shock.”

Sutherland, who goes by the drag name Enigma, said he realized then that drag was a performance art, just like any of the other theatrical performances he had been a part of in high school.

“I sort of understood the concept of drag and the concept of fluidity of gender,” Sutherland said. “At that point, I didn’t understand what being a drag performer was, and it wasn’t until I saw that show that I was like, ‘Oh, that’s a show — it’s a performance someone is putting on.”

While Sutherland is a vocal performance student, he said he sees drag as an opportunity for freedom from that discipline. He’s only sang during his performances a handful of times.

“The thing about it for me is that I have been known as singer pretty much my entire life,” Sutherland said. “Anybody who knows me from . . . childhood up until high school pretty much exclusively knows me as ‘Thomas the Singer,’ and they really only contextualize me in that sort of mindset and that sort of space.

“There are a lot of people who I knew in high school who pretty much only know how to talk to me about music — only ask me about music . . . and so for me, doing drag was a really great break from that. It was something way out of the box that I got to do that wasn’t just the same thing.

Sutherland said Enigma tries to go for a comedic, funny performance, but ground it “in some sort of reality.”

“I love very surrealist humor. I love stuff that is just weird, but for me, what makes that funny is a real and natural reaction to that kind of thing,” he said. “I try to mix the two together to have very strange and surreal mixes, but the performance is in some way kind of natural, so to speak.”

Sutherland said he draws inspiration from Mimi Marks and Tammie Brown.

“They’re completely different queens from opposite ends of the spectrum,” Sutherland said.

Marks has been in the drag industry for more than 25 years and is more professional, while Brown is “wacky and weird,” as Sutherland describes it.

Sutherland uses drag as an outlet, and he said he also enjoys creating an outlet through drag for others to forget about what’s going on in the world.

“Today, being a queer person can be really difficult sometimes — especially if you’re, say, a trans woman of color or a queer person of color,” Sutherland said. “It can be so difficult to live in an environment like this where people who are homophobic or transphobic feel very emboldened by the political situation.

“Being able to perform for those people and give them a space where they don’t have to feel excluded and they don’t have to think about the things that are happening outside of the bar and just making them smile — making them laugh or making them forget about the horrible things that are happening — that’s my favorite part.”

Sutherland, as Enigma, will perform at Wichita State’s annual drag show on Friday in the CAC Theater. The show will also include Trinity the Tuck, who appeared in Ru Paul’s Drag Race season nine and was the co-winner of season four of All Stars. Local acts such as Faux L’Beau and Ladiesman will also be performing.

Free tickets are available for students in the Student Involvement office.