CHICAGO — Lucy Stoole is one of the most glamorous and dirtiest drag queens you’ll meet.
As if you couldn’t tell by the name.
Stoole, a 34-year-old Avondale resident, is one of the few queens in-demand enough that’s she’s been able to turn her passion into a full-time job.
Her style a mix of famously filthy drag queen Divine and the elegant and hilarious Lucille Ball, Stoole regularly performs around the country at clubs, festivals and more.
But drag isn’t just Stoole’s career: It’s the medium she’s used to explore her gender and identity. Stoole identifies as non-binary — meaning her gender falls “outside the categories of man and woman,” according to GLAAD — and famously has a thick, black beard even while performing, an unconventional sight among drag queens.
It was drag that helped Stoole realize she’s nonbinary, and it was drag that has given her the confidence to explore using makeup and long-haired wigs in public even while proudly showing off her beard.
Now having a deeper understanding of her own gender, Stoole’s using her drag and fame to advocate for other gender non-conforming people and to help people explore and love their identities.
“A lot of [my enjoyment in drag] has to do with me finally finding my voice and kind of my platform and my way to use my platform and my community to make change,” Stoole said. “And even if that change is just as small as one other person seeing me doing what I’m doing and deciding they can be a little more open or they can wear nail polish or they can put on a wig and they can do drag — just anything I can do to try to help.”
‘She’s Glamour And Filth’
Stoole’s done drag for six years, starting with a charity show with her friends. Her choreography was fine but her makeup was awful (“but that’s everybody when they first start drag,” she said). Though she wasn’t known as Lucy Stoole at the time, the show made Stoole realize she wanted to explore drag more and “find my own voice in it.”
“From there, Lucy was just kind of born,” Stoole said. “She’s glamour and filth kind of all rolled up into one. Lucy kind of came, she definitely came from me wanting to be just a little bit more of my authentic self.”
It took time for Stoole to discover her “authentic self,” though.
People pushed back against Stoole’s trademark gender-bending look: heavy makeup, glamorous hair and … well, a thick, luxurious beard. Her drag mom and friends worried the beard would alienate Stoole from the audience and prevent her from succeeding in the drag community.
“Obviously I didn’t really listen to it,” Stoole said, laughing. “At first, it was something I didn’t really want to go without having. … The more and more people asked me about it and the more I started thinking of myself and finding my place in drag, I started to realize [the beard] meant more to me and my drag, in particular.
“It really became a way for me to kind of turn drag and gender stereotypes — and gender, period — on its head and make people question things.”
That’s exactly what she did: Stoole can remember a time “not too long ago” when bearded queens wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the city’s “pageant” drag community.
But Stoole kept working, singing, lip syncing and dancing throughout the city for years, gaining fame for her unashamedly raunchy, sex- and body-positive performances. Fans could see her dancing with a boa shaped like a penis at Berlin or Smart Bar or go on social media to see Stoole promoting sex toys.
Through it all, she tried to be kind and advocate for people of color, queer people and other minorities.
With Stoole and other drag performers leading the way, Chicago’s already diverse queer community became “a little bit nicer or caring” during that time, she said.
“When I came in, being authentically myself and doing my own thing and … also making opportunities for other people, it definitely changed our community,” Stoole said. “I have seen a huge wave of change in our community.”
Now, Stoole’s one of Chicago’s most famous drag queens. She has performed around the country for clubs and festivals, and she’ll be one of the emcees at this weekend’s first Chicago is a Drag festival.
Stoole’s popularity has enabled her to become one of the few queens who can make their craft into a full-time job. It’s a constant challenge and “every booking is a blessing,” and she’s grateful to her fans for supporting her because it means she can continue working as a queen.
“It literally keeps a roof over my head and bed and clothes and able to even do this,” Stoole said.
‘The Effect That I Have On My Community’
While Stoole said she does love the attention she gets from her drag, her career isn’t just about being famous: It’s helped her discover who she is.
The more at ease Stoole became in drag the easier it became to explore her identity off the stage. She never used to feel comfortable expressing herself as non-binary by going out in a skirt, wig or eyeliner, she said, but going out under the guise of Lucy made her feel like she had a “suit of armor” that protected her from what people might say.
“Lucy really helps me be able to kind of discover a lot of the feelings … without being too scared to ever try it,” Stoole said.
Stoole has striven to be an advocate for gender non-conforming people like herself, and her outspokenness as a non-binary, bearded drag queen has proven inspiring for her fans who are exploring their own genders.
Stoole said many fans — who she prefers to call “friends” — come to her after shows and tell her about how seeing her as Lucy helped them understand, experiment with and love their own gender identities.
“It makes me feel like I’m actually doing something right,” Stoole said. “The thing that matters to me the most is the relationships and the effect that I have on my community in Chicago more than anything.
“It means the world to me.”
Stoole said she was helped along the way by many other drag performers and members of Chicago’s queer community, and now she uses her career to uplift those same people and newcomers and help them explore their identities.
“Our queer community, it is pretty large, and no matter the problems that we do have going on inside it, there are a lot of people who are focused on making sure that we do stay together as a community and create more opportunities for each other,” Stoole said. “One of the biggest things is pretty much everyone has a place in this city and this drag scene.
“There is a spot for every performer here who is willing to work for it.”
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