Sheffield Belmont combines influences from comedy, cosplay, and burlesque to create her own unique nerdlesque drag persona. When performing as a Drag King, she plays characters such as Wolverine, Teddy from Bob’s Burger’s, and her all time favorite Milton Waddams from Office Space.
Interview with Sheffield Belmont, February 9, 2021
To cite this particular interview, please use the following:
Masching, Heidi. 2021. Interview with Sheffield Belmont. Sociology of Drag, SIUE, February 9. Available URL (https://ezratemko.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Sheffield-Belmont-Interview-1.docx).
Interviewer: Hello can you hear me?
Sheffield: Yes I can. How are you?
Interviewer: I’m doing pretty well. How are you?
Sheffield: Good. Whoops
Interview: Thank you so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.
Sheffield: No problem, no problem. Um, I’m- I can do my video. Oh my hair’s a mess [Laughing]
Interviewer: You’re fine. [Laughing] Mine is too. Um, let me see. Did you get a chance to look at the, um, participant notification form?
Sheffield: Yes I did. Yeah, yeah. That’s fine. Yeah–
Sheffield: That’s gonna be fine, yeah.
Interviewer: Perfect. Let me pull up my questions and we’ll get started.
Sheffield: Oh, okay. And you’re- you’re uh working on a bachelor’s or a master’s or?
Interviewer: Um I’m currently working on my master’s.
Interviewer: In Sociology. So um, I’m a research assistant for Ezra, and he um started the, um, Sociology of Drag class. So that’s where these interviews originally started.
Sheffield: Nice, okay.
Interviewer: So let’s see, I’ll pull them up. Um, when did you first hear about drag and what was your initial reaction to it?
Sheffield: Oh my goodness. That was a long, long time ago. Um, let’s see. I’m, I’m 62 years old. I went to art school in the late 70s. So I think probably, that’s probably when I first heard about it when I was in art school, and uh I was intrigued. I-I thought it sounded really interesting. I don’t remember the first time I ever saw drag but um, but I was, I was intrigued.
Interviewer: So when, when you, um, I’m sorry. I skipped a question. When did you start performing as a drag artist and why did you start performing?
Sheffield: Sure. That I can remember a little bit better. I had been working in burlesque. I took my first burlesque class in 2014. Uh, started doing solos in 2017, and my very first solo that I worked up completely by myself was a drag act. Um, the character was like a wealthy fat cat kind of guy, you know like–
Sheffield: [Inaudible] Um, and that’s-that’s why I did it in-in drag. It was about, you know, power and money and, um, it was a- what is it. It was-it was an act we called a gender reveal. Uh, the character started out as a like fat cat in a top hat and then the layers came off. And then the initial version of this act I turned into like a female, uh, Robin Hood. So, and I gave play money back to the audience. So that’s why I did that in drag; is-is-is to make a statement about power.
Interviewer: Okay, so you said that was called a gender reveal. So there’s lots of terms for styles of drag, from drag queen to drag king, among others. Um, are there any particular labels that you would use to characterize your drag?
Sheffield: No. I do a lot of different kinds of things. I don’t just do drag. Um, some of my drag characters are characters I’ve made up myself and some of them are-are-are cosplay or nerdlesque which is a couple other terms which is characters that, um, exist in popular culture. Like I’ve done an act dressed as Wolverine, um my- I think my best character out of all my characters is a drag character. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the movie Office Space?
Sheffield: I do, I do Milton Waddams, and–
Interviewer: Okay [Laughing]
Sheffield: [Laughing] and, and he’s– I, I love Milton and [laughing] here I have a little, I’ve got a li-little Milton- Milton doll on my desk.
Interviewer: [Laughing] That’s great.
Sheffield: And he’s- he’s my, my favorite character. Um, so within, within drag I think I do Milton the most frequently. Um, and he’s kind of an anti-male, uh character. He’s like weak and down trodden, which is one of the reasons I love him so much. So, so doing drag you can play with gender assumptions, and you know, how gender is viewed by culture and you can play with it, you can play against it, or you can turn it upside down.
Interviewer: So has– since your– since we are talking about gender, um, how has drag influenced your sex and gender identities? Or has it?
Sheffield: It oddly enough it really hasn’t. I’m, I’m- my pronouns are she, her, hers. I’m- I’m pretty comfortable with-with the female identity. Um, the one thing that drag does for me is like after I do drag, especially if I do Wolverine, like a few times I’ve done Wolverine I’ve actually glued whiskers onto my face. And then after I take it off I feel very cute and feminine [laughing]. So, um, but it–it’s not critical to my own personal gender identity.
Interviewer: So do you think that your sex and gender identities have influenced your drag in any way? So just kind of like the opposite?
Sheffield: Um, there’s definitely an interplay. I’m very much aware of my gender identity, and I actually studied gender, um golly. Like, actually when I was working on my master’s degree like 20 years ago, I studied gender so. So yeah my own awareness of what my own gender is and, and more so- more so my studies of gender have, have impacted, you know, what I do with drag.
Interviewer: So when you, um, started performing, or um, I guess performing as a drag artist, how did your family, friends, and other loved ones receive you doing that?
Sheffield: Uh, my–my father’s deceased, my mother wasn’t aware of it, and she turns 92 today!
Interviewer: Oh, happy birthday!
Sheffield: She’s a little too old to retain that information. Fortunately, I have a sister who knows about my burlesque work and my drag work and who, who supports it. And a lot of my friends are actually in the burlesque community and they, they support it. And I’ve even shared it occasionally with, with colleagues or classmates if I feel comfortable doing it. So, fortunately the people that matter to me know about it and they’re fine and they actually encourage it.
Interviewer: That’s great. Um, where does your drag name come from?
Sheffield: That’s actually my um [??] performer name. I use that name for female characters, male characters, that’s–that’s everybody. Um, there is, I live here outside of Chicago, there is an intersection in Chicago, the intersection of Sheffield and Belmont that was critical to my, my personal, um, history. I was trying to come up with actually a burlesque name, and I was thinking like, the old game of, uh, “What would be your–your stripper name be?” Well the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on, and I started looking at streets and stuff and Sheffield Belmont sounded good. It sounded like a real name. Also, there’s a nightclub there, uh, Berlin Nightclub, and I was there in like the late 80s and I heard some music there that night that I knew came from Chicago and made me decide to move to Chicago. So it’s like a few different things, um, that, you know, that intersection is very meaningful to me, and it can- sorta sounds like a real name, too. So, that’s, it’s after that intersection.
Interviewer: So earlier we talked about the type of drag that you do. Do you think that the type of drag that you do affects your life as a drag artist?
Sheffield: Um, I’m not sure. Um, since I don’t just do drag, I do other kinds of performance, it might be easier to wrap my head around it if I think in terms of does drag affect my life as just as a performer overall.
Sheffield: It’s not a negative impact. It’s just another– I have a lot of different pieces to what I do, and it’s just–it’s just another component.
Interviewer: Who or what has influenced your drag?
Sheffield: Uh, lately I have been thinking a lot about Andy Kaufman. Um, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him. He did a bit many, many years ago on Saturday Night Live where he, he came out and, and his character was called foreign man which is, that’s kind of iffy but he came out and played a record. It was the theme song to the Mighty Mouse cartoon and he just stood there and, and then later he would just lip sync to “Here I Come to Save the Day.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Not so much in terms of drag, although actually now I’m gonna start thinking about it in terms of drag cause I don’t know if a lot of women would be comfortable doing that, but. That’s something I kind of like to play with. I like that with Milton is that he’s so uncomfortable and I can get the audience uncomfortable, and just playi-playing within that discomfort. Now that I think about it, I’m doing it as a male character, um that would be a little harder for a woman or a female character to do and I’m not quite sure why. I need to think about it. But that’s one big influence. Um, another infl- obviously Stephen Root, the way he does Milton himself really influenced what I–what I do with Milton, but I’ve taken it a lot further than that. And another performer that’s influenced me is Bob Newhart is that he has– his, his comedy and his speaking approach is very natural and he, he stammers a lot. It’s not really polished, so that is kind of an– that’s influenced me too.
Interviewer: Do you consider your drag political?
Sheffield: Um, my very first act was extremely political. Yes, the um–the, the, the fat cat who, who came out and was, was grabbing money. That act was extremely political. He, he came out and he pulled a bag of money out of his pants and was very, very rude and obnoxious and then, you know, reverted to a female character and ended up throwing money away. So that, that act was extremely political. Um, since then, no, not really. Um, I don’t think any of my other acts have been political. Um, but actually there’s a, I’ve done another act with the same costume pieces as that character but as a female character. That’s a little political because again it talks about power, but uh except for that first act, that’s-that’s the only act I’ve done that was like really, really political.
Interviewer: Can you talk more about, um, the power involved in that act?
Sheffield: Absolutely, I’ll walk you through it. Um, the song is “Boys Keep Swinging” by David Bowie. Which is about, again, all the, you know, assumed power that, that men have and you know, he comes out. He’s got a top hat, he’s got a cane, he’s got a jacket with dollar signs stitched on the lapels. And he’s like “Oh, this is disgusting.” He’s brushing of his, his jacket. Um, and then, you know, um, then reaches in and pulls out the big bag money. It’s like “Oh, I love money. Money is great.” And sets it aside and then starts to strip. Um, the first version of the act was like a female Robin Hood which was a little harder to figure out. So the second version of the act I had a bra, uh with rhinestones on it, and the bra said “Resist.” And then I had panties to go with it and the butt of the panties said “Eat the rich.” So it was like very not subtle.
Sheffield: So, so, so the character who was pretending to be a fat cat was actually a Robin Hood that was gonna give the money back. So, so it was, it was like very not subtle. So [laughing]
Interviewer: [Laughing] Yeah.
Sheffield: So that was [inaudible].
Interviewer: Okay. Um, can you talk about what your life is like as a drag artist? So, um how often do you perform? Or where do you perform?
Sheffield: It’s changed a lot with COVID. Um, I haven’t– I’ve only done like one live performance since COVID took place. What I’m doing a lot is some films and actually taking photos and posting them online, and I have a Patreon page that I post those to and I consider that my performance right now. So I’m doing a lot of still photography, which is, that’s part of my background. Um, so I’m doing a lot of, of performing and, and, and posing in drag and also as female characters um for my Patreon page. So that’s what I’m doing now, and now that I think about it, um, the drag characters–usually it’s Milton that I pose as. I’ve done another character, I really wanna work with some more. I don’t know if you watch Bob’s Burgers, um, I’ve done teddy. I-I-I have a uh, I did some make up with Teddy, and it’s–it looks pretty good if I say so myself. I want to do a little more with Teddy. Um, so I’m doing those characters. Like for Christmas, I’m a member of a troupe in Chicago, “The Screwbelles,” and we did a little photo set about “Home Alone” and I was I think he’s Uncle Frank? I did one of the characters in, in “Home Alone.” So, and I– now that I think about it, now this is interesting. I realize that the other piece of what I do with my photos are very, very, very feminine, uh, pin-upy type photos. So, yeah. So that’s what I’m doing is, I’m doing like, like the drag characters, like usually Milton on the one hand, and on the other hand these hyper-feminine characters. So that’s what I’m doing, is like working within still photographs.
Interviewer: So what goes into getting ready for those performances or photographs?
Sheffield: Um, putting on makeup [laughing]. Everybody, you know, put on makeup for everybody, even if I have the time, I can do Milton really quickly. I’ll just throw on a mustache and eyebrows. If I have a little bit more time, I’ll do like a full face. But–it’ll be, for Milton it’ll be very light and natural looking makeup, but I will do eyeshadow and a little bit of blush, a little contouring, and, you know, put on the wig, put on, on the clothes, um. For Wolverine it was more intense. It was more like lines on the face and, and gluing the whiskers on the face. It depends on the characters. But absolutely for me the makeup takes the most amount of time and I think as drag artists go and as burlesque artists go, I go kind of light on makeup there. I’ve seen a lot of performers that their makeup is much more elaborate than what I do. And even for me, it might take me about an hour to put on my makeup, so I’m gonna assume for a lot of performers it will take more time than that.
Interviewer: What are the biggest challenges to doing drag and being a drag artist?
Sheffield: Hmm. I think some arenas, if you look exclusively at drag, are not as willing to book drag kings as the are willing to look– book drag queens. Um, I don’t have an issue with that again because I work more in burlesque, and sometimes I’ll– once and a while I’ll do a drag show if I think it fits. But I think for, for drag kings it can be much harder for them to get booked than it can be for drag queens. Um, again that, that’s not an issue for me because it’s just a part of what I do.
Sheffield: But, but um, yet, yet drag–sometimes drag kings have a hard time getting recognition. There are– and there are some amazing drag kings out there that really should get the recognition that they deserve.
Interviewer: Is there anything unique to the drag scene where you live compared to other places in the country or world?
Sheffield: Say that again, I’m sorry.
Interviewer: Is there anything unique to the drag scene where you live compared to other places?
Sheffield: I’m not sure. I think this has happened in other places, but I know in Chicago in the wave of the Black Lives Matter movement, there was, I’m trying to think of a good was to put it. There was much, much attention drawn to racism in the gay community and the drag community in Chicago. There were meetings held, there was one uh drag queen uh, Tyranni–tryannica rex? I haven’t even thought about her in a while. Um, yeah tryan–tryannica rex, I think that was her stage name, who was hosting a very popular show every week. Oddly enough at Berlin, at that one club that I went to many years ago. And, and they were absolutely called on the carpet for racism and mistreating uh performers. And unfortunately Berlin has been closed since then, but, but she’s absolutely–I’m not sure what pronouns to use. They, they’ve lost their platform. They basically were banished from the Chicago scene. I’ve seen them post like a few Instagram stories, but a lot of Chicago performers came together to address racism in Chicago and specifically address what, what, what Tyrannica was doing. That may have happened in other cities too, I don’t know. But I can say in Chicago–and I’m white, you know, I’m not a person of color, but I can, I can definitely see that the, the performers of colors here in Chicago definitely stood up for themselves. Um, so I don’t know if that sort of thing happened in other cities, and it may well have, but I know it happened here.
Interviewer: Okay, great. So you mentioned you race, being white, so I’m curious if and how your social identities have impacted your experience of drag or vice versa. So, uh, could you maybe share how one or more of your social identities, like gender, race, class, age, size, um, or the interaction of those identities have impacted your experience of drag?
Sheffield: Um, I know I bring–I bring my size to Milton cause Milton is a big guy too. And, and the awkwardness, cause sometimes I feel very awkward myself. Um, as far as race, I’m not really sure that’s like on the front of my mind when I’m working on acts, so that I don’t–, I don’t know if that’s really a huge piece of what I bring to the work. I know it’s–it’s there, cause that’s who I am, but that’s not something I really think about. Um, but definitely my identity as a larger person, um, I think of that when I think of Milton too, you know. Cause he’s–he’s down trodden, he’s middle-aged, he’s not a kid. Um, and just you know, I mean he’s a white male but he doesn’t really get the full deck of privilege that white males get because he’s, he’s, he’s so, he’s so timid. Um, so, I think I bring a little bit of that to it, bit I’m definitely–I’m also very much aware, you know, of I’m a person of size, um, and that’s one of the things–I actually play with that not so much in my drag but in my really feminine pictures. It’s like, “Hey, I’m gonna wear a wig and pose in my bra and I’m this age and this size and too bad!” So, um, does that make sense?
Interviewer: Yeah, that does. Thank you.
Sheffield: Good, good.
Interviewer: Earlier you talked about being a part, I think you said a troupe? Um, are you part of a drag family, house, or collective?
Sheffield: Ahh, I am not. I’m–I know– I know what a drag house is. I think it’s really neat. Um, I’m a member of The Screwbelles. We are a slapstick-comedy, burlesque uh Troupe. We’re not, we’re not a family, we’re not a house. So, um, but uh, but I– no, I’m not a member of a house, but I’m a member of a Troupe.
Interviewer: Could you talk, um, a little more about that Troupe?
Sheffield: Yeah, yeah. It’s– I love it, we’re–it’s wonderful. I think we have about, I don’t know, maybe 8 or 9 active members. Um, I think we got started maybe in 2000–yeah like 2018 or so. Was founded by Shirley Blazen, who is a comedic-clown-burlesque performer. She’s absolutely amazing and she was uh teaching burlesque and working with other–working with students and other people who just wanted to perform more often and, you know, she formed a troupe and it’s–it’s abso–it’s like my second home. Um, you know. We’re encouraged to experiment, we’re encouraged to do stuff that’s different, we’re encouraged to do stuff that’s not necessarily polished because sometimes in burlesque they want polished, which I think translates to, you know, hundreds of dollars of rhinestones and feathers and stuff. And we do, we do more, more comedy type stuff, um. But it, it’s–what is it that we’re– I think, I think we’re like fiercely artistic or something. I’m sorry, I forget our catchphrase. But uh, we’re–we’re pretty unique. We’re, we’re, we’re certainly unique in Chicago. Nobody is doing anything quite like what we’re doing. Anywhere else, I don’t know if there’s any other comedy burlesque troupes, you know, in all likelihood there are, but uh. But yeah we have a unique place in Chicago and I love being one of them.
Interviewer: So through that you mentioned, um, experimenting with things, or maybe doing things that aren’t as polished. Has that, or drag in general, impacted your confidence as a person when you’re out of drag?
Sheffield: Actually, I think doing drag and doing burlesque has actually increased my confidence even though I’m not– I’m not a super polished performer, you know. My costumes are–are fine, um, I’m not much of a dancer, um, but, I can still get up on stage and, and, and wow a crowd. So, so, outside of burlesque and outside of drag that has actually increased my confidence.
Interviewer: Alright, let’s see. So we are getting to the end of the questions here.
Interviewer: Um, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self as a drag artist?
Sheffield: Oh, oh do it. Just do it. Whatever ideas you’ve got, don’t hesitate; just jump on in and do it. It’ll be fine. You know, I’m here in Chicago, people will be receptive to it. So just do it.
Interviewer: How do you define drag?
Sheffield: Oooh, that’s a good question. Um, I think for me drag would be dressing in and performing in–for, for me personally, um– it’s–it would be dressing and performing as, as male. As, you know, somebody that would be identified as male. Um, that’s a pretty–it leaves out a lot. So, that’s what I think of, it’s like “Okay I’m doing a male character. It’s drag.” And that’s as far as I go. I know that there’s a lot more to it than that.
Interviewer: What do you think is the purpose of drag?
Sheffield: Hmmm. That’s a good question. I think a lot of it is play, you know. Play with something it’s–it’s similar to performing or acting. It’s–it’s play, it’s like playing as a different character. It’s playing as, um, trying out what it’s like to be somebody other than what you are everyday.
Interviewer: Do you think that drag is sexual?
Sheffield: Um, I think it absolutely can be. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. Actually now that I think about it, you know, yeah, it is. Cause I know when I did Wolverine that was a very sexual act. Um, I have an act that I did with Milton that’s oddly enough it’s very sexual. So, um, it can be. It, I think it doesn’t have to be, but it certainly can be.
Interviewer: Are you familiar with, um, Ru Paul’s Drag–Drag Race? How do you feel about it?
Sheffield: Um, I wish I could get season 13 streaming [laughing]. I have, I have a limited–I have hulu but I don’t have this, I don’t have that. I don’t have full cable, um. I think it’s enjoyable, um I know some people have had issues with Ru Paul being transphobic. I don’t really know the details about that. I’m pretty sure this season one of the contestants is a trans- is a transman who is also a drag queen. So it seems like there’s been progress made towards that, um. And–and I know there’s more kinds of drag than what you see on drag race. I do know that there’s more than that. I also know it’s–it’s interesting that they have gone beyond– a million years ago they called it female impersonation. Um, you know, and they’ve gone way beyond that at least and that’s good. So, um, I enjoy it. I think there are drag queens that are going to have a more detailed opinion about Drag Race that what I have because it’s gonna be closer to what they do.
Interviewer: If you could change one thing about drag, the drag scene, or the drag community, what would it be and why?
Sheffield: Oooh. Oh wow. Um, I can’t really think of anything, again cause I work–I work more within the burlesque community. There are things I’d like to see changed in the burlesque community. I’d like to see older performers and larger performers booked more often. Um, the drag scene I don’t really know cause that’s not–that’s not like my, my core identity. Uh, there probably–there may be similar, um, things that um other drag performers may, may want to see change. So, um, as far as drag goes I don’t know. As far as burlesque goes, I–I’d like to see, again, you know, larger performers and older performers booked more often.
Interviewers: What do you think are misconceptions people have about drag?
Sheffield: Hmm. I think a long, long time ago there–there may be people who–and I don’t know if there may be people who still think this–that, like, say for instance if someone’s a drag queen they really want to be female. Um, you know that’s definitely not, not the case, Um, some–I do know some people do work with drag to help work on gender issues, um that’s not been the case for me. Um, but I think, I think that was one of them. That, that a drag queen really wanted to be female and I think there are some drag queens that are working on, on transitioning to be trans women, um, but that’s certainly not the case for all drag queens.
Interviewer: What do you think would help change those misconceptions?
Sheffield: Um, I think just continued exposure. I know if you watch drag race you see–oh this is very helpful–you see the contestants in drag and out of drag. I think that’s very, very helpful, just to continue that sort of exposure.
Interviewer: If you chose one thing you want people to learn or know about drag, what would it be?
Sheffield: Hmmm…. I think that drag can be universal in a way, like you can have a beard and be a drag queen, um that you can, you know, be a transman and be a drag queen, you know. You could, you could be a drag king if, if that identity suits you. In a way, there’s this sort of universalness to it. Um, I think that’s what I would–that, that yeah. There’s a universalness to it, and that–and there are a million different forms of drag.
Interviewer: Well this was great, that was my last question. Um, I appreciated this so much, thank you.
Sheffield: No problem, if you have any other questions, let me know I’m happy to help. So yeah, good luck in your studies. Thank you.
Interviewer: Thank you so much, have a good day.
Sheffield: You too, take care. Buh bye.
Interviewer: You too. Buh bye.