The lone, voluptuous figure of Bianca Fairchild saunters onto the dance floor wearing a tight, red, knee-length dress.
Her blonde-brown hair is teased high and the silver ring on her finger scintillates in the softly lit room. It’s performance time, and as Pink’s “Sober” begins to play, she perches a hand on her hip and opens her mouth to lip-synch.
It’s Saturday night at Charlie’s, a gay bar a block west of the Capitol. Fairchild hosts Drag Idol, a charity lip-synching contest held by the United Court of Austin, a nonprofit that raises money for organizations related but not limited to the health of people in the GLBTQ community. This year, Drag Idol raised $605 in donations for the Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis and suicide prevention services to the GLBTQ youth.
When Drag Idol comes to a close, Fairchild makes a quick escape to the bar’s kitchen. She rubs off her heavy face makeup, removes her prosthetic breasts and hip padding, snaps off the dangling earrings and becomes Chad Savells — a man in his mid-30s. Savells is a corporate services assistant during the day and an elementary education student at Austin Community College at night.
“While there are drag queens who do want to get sex changes, I’ve always enjoyed being a boy,” Savells said. “For me, [drag] is just a creative outlet. It’s like theater; I’m putting on a costume.”
As a child growing up in his hometown of Shreveport, La., Savells enjoyed joining his family on camping, hunting and fishing trips but also played with his cousin’s Barbie dolls. Later as a young adult, he briefly dabbled with drag, performing in talent shows and drag pageants. Savells admitted he wasn’t enthusiastic about it then because he was still figuring out what he wanted to do with his life.
Nonetheless, he kept his activities a secret. His relationship with his mother was already strained after his cousin revealed that Savells was gay. Although, nowadays, he still keeps in touch with his mother on a weekly basis, they avoid talking about his sexuality or female impersonation.
“My mom couldn’t accept it, and my grandpa disowned me,” Savells said. “I was always the black sheep growing up.”
After moving to Dallas and then Austin in 2004, Savells — alone and new to the city — decided to go socialize at the now-closed Rainbow Cattle Company, a Western-themed bar. The United Court of Austin was throwing a drag show and, after meeting new people, Savells decided to return to drag and join the organization.
“I’m such a shy and quiet person normally,” Savells said, describing himself as antisocial at times. “Being in drag is my way of breaking out of who I am.”
Unlike most nonprofits, the organization, or Court, is run similarly to a traditional monarchy, with an emperor and empress crowned each year. Savells, under the stage name Bianca Fairchild, currently reigns as the twice-elected 17th empress along with emperor Bobby Barnett. Although anyone devoted to the Court’s cause can be crowned, the emperor historically has been a man or lesbian and empress has been a female impersonator, Savells said.
“I’m lucky I can take care of myself on my own and have a steady job, but not everyone is blessed enough to support themselves,” Savells said. “This is my way of giving back to those who can’t.”
When not performing his duties for the Court, Savells spends most of his day-to-day life as a man at his office job downtown, taking ACC classes or doing homework. Opening his fridge, he pulls out a 5-hour ENERGY shot and swears it’s his source of survival.
Though Fairchild might be spotted at a bar for a charity event, Savells said he’s not keen on the bar scene or nightlife. With his busy schedule, he prefers spending free time relaxing at his apartment near South Congress Avenue. He jokes that the main lover in his life is Ringo, a friendly Norwegian forest cat that looks more like fluff than cat.
In his small, but tidy, living room is a dresser that shows the first indication of Savells’ drag life. Framed photos of Fairchild and other drag queens, trophies and glittering crowns line the shelf. One of the crowns, a heavy dark metal one crafted in New York, cost $500.
Savells gingerly picks up the crown and puts it on, turning his head side to side to demonstrate his poise at keeping it on.
Come August, when a new empress is crowned, Savells plans on retiring from female impersonation. An empress can pay up to $10,000 out of pocket for travel and other expenditures, Savells said. While he would like to stay active with the Court’s causes and still dress up every now and then, drag requires time and money he’s refocusing to his career plans. He hopes to transfer to UT in the fall of 2012 to earn his teaching degree.