Transgender excellence takes center stage at City College drag event

The Trans Excellence drag show on campus celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility


Deja Re (far left), Abigail Beverly Hillz (second from left), Jamie Arangure (second from right), and Madame Brazil Noreaga (far right) laugh together during a panel discussion at the Trans Excellence drag show in Pride Hub March 23, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

Marco Guajardo, Multimedia Journalist

To view a photo gallery from the event, click here.

Fifteen minutes after the boisterous reception given for their dazzling drag performances, Madame Brazil Noreaga, Abigail Beverly Hillz, Jamie Arangure and Deja Re sat casually in plain clothes, shoulder to shoulder, facing their audience. 

As implied by the first question presented to them, this panel arrangement was not a scurrying transition from the pageantry of their drag routines, but an illuminating extension of it.

Being on the panel meant it was time to marry the extravagant with the mundane and unmask some of the lingering mystique surrounding the realities of transgender life and drag culture.

Deja Re, performer, event host and panel moderator, began by asking her fellow panelists, “What does ‘trans excellence’ mean to you?” 

The four artists summed up the personal meaning of the concept into one: being unapologetically authentic to themselves.

Deja Re then took back the mic to round out the collective response. 

“And I have to add,” she said, “doing it with ease.”

The benefactresses put that on full display as part of Trans Excellence, the headlining theme of the first-of-its-kind drag show held at the San Diego City College Pride Hub on March 23.  

Drag queen Jamie Arangulo performs to Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara” in front of an overflow audience at the San Diego City College Pride Hub, March 23, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media
Drag queen Jamie Arangulo performs to Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara” in front of an overflow audience at the San Diego City College Pride Hub, March 23, 2023. Photo by Marco Guajardo/City Times Media

The Student Health Center and Pride Hub celebrated International Transgender Day of Visibility, typically observed on March 31, with an overflowing crowd of students and faculty packed into the LGBTQ+ resource center’s meeting room.

Consisting of two parts, the event began with the headlining drag portion followed by a poignant, intimate discussion covering the life experiences and perspectives of the four women.

Each of the showgirls put on spectacular, multi-song, outfit-layer-shedding, lip syncing performances. 

The performances included songs that varied from Liza Minelli’s “Maybe This Time” to Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” to Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara.” 

City student Jessica Bahena, who made sure to attend despite her busy school and work schedule, said she was moved by their performances.  

“I feel like it’s the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Bahena said. “The music was awesome.”

The discussion spanned topics that included how drag inspires them, their experience amid the current national anti-trans political climate, the inconsistency of the broader LGBTQ+ community in defending trans rights, and navigating the challenges and intricacies of their transitions, among other issues.

“This was a very nice event to attend especially because not only for the entertainment but the message behind it as well,” Bahena said. “A lot of us come to drag shows as a form of entertainment, but we don’t really see what’s happening behind them, like what’s going on with their lives.”

The panel and Q&A discussion gave the audience a closer nuanced look at each of the four community leaders’ histories and perspectives, as each of them have an active role in the empowerment of the broader trans community.

Arangure is founder and CEO of Proyecto Translatina, a nonprofit that is helping Latinas, immigrants, asylum seekers and any other people with services for name and gender marker changes.

Drag performer stands at the doorway while students sit in chairs
Madame Brazil stands at the doorway of the performance space while being introduced at the Trans Excellence drag show in Pride Hub March 23, 2023. Photo by Nathaly Alvizures for City Times Media

Madame Brazil is America’s first Miss Trans Emeritus pageant winner from 2018 and the president and CEO of the Trans Queen Organization pageantry system. 

Abigail Beverly Hillz is the first Miss Trans Queen USA Emeritus winner and was Miss Trans Wisconsin in 2022. 

Deja Re is the sexual health community engagement educator at the San Diego LGBT Center, and the first transgender woman to sit on San Diego County’s Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

The novelty of drag culture was an aspect that garnered interest for several attendees during the minutes leading up to the performances. 

City students Oscar Delgado and Sebastian Pineda both attended their first drag show looking to experience something new.

“The whole idea of why we’re here is to experience new cultures, ” Pineda said. “The drag culture is something that piqued our interest.”

They both made a point of showing up, “especially with things like this being in the news, being shown in a negative light, when in reality it’s not bad,” Delgado said.

Marriage and family therapist trainee Nathan Smith was also in attendance seeing his first drag event. 

“The school in general has been working really hard to increase visibility,” Smith said. “I’ve been in the (LGBTQ+) community my whole life so I’m pretty excited to see what a drag show is about.” 

In addition to general City community spectators, the event was attended by other City organizations.

Luis Perez brought students from the Puente Project with him, and members of the HUBU cohort attended.

Intra-district solidarity was in effect with the attendance of Lucio Lira, adjunct counselor coordinator of Mesa College’s Pride Center.

With the recent news of federal funding for San Diego Community College District LGBTQ+ students, Lira spoke of increasing the visibility of events like Trans Excellence through future cooperation between district LGBTQ+ centers. 

“I think collaborating can definitely help us save money and provide that (event) space for students,” Lira said. “Whatever their accomplishments are, we can celebrate (LGBTQ+ students) together as a whole district.”

Drag performer dancing for student audience
Deja Re performs to “La Macarena” during the drag show Trans Excellence at Pride Hub March 23, 2023. Photo by Nathaly Alvizures for City Times Media

Event organizer Tristan Sotomayor said the occasion was “all about celebrating, bringing awareness, being empowered, and trusting your truth.”

Deja Re summed that all up with a bit of insight.

“Doing what we do, it might look easy, and that’s what it’s supposed to look like, but really there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work in order for it to look flawless,” Deja Re said. “And to me, that (is) some trans excellence.”

Editor’s note: As of March 23, 2023, the Associated Press Stylebook, which serves as the primary style guide for City Times Media, was updated to use LGBTQ+ “in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer and/or questioning.”