This Pleasanton teenager hosts drag shows in suburban East Bay – J.
The joke in Brock Uhl’s family is that he’s been doing drag since he was 4 years old. On summer days, his older sister and cousins would style him in dresses, wigs, and boas, put on makeup, and watch him strut as “Carina.”
Today, the 18-year-old Jewish high school student from Amador Valley High School is totally immersed in drag culture. For nearly a year, he’s hosted a monthly show featuring local drag queens in Dublin, a far cry from the LGBTQ epicenter of San Francisco. And he recently started performing in his shows as a platinum blonde, with a slight British accent. Anastasia.
On June 1, the first day of Pride Month, Anastasia will host “Drag World” at the World of Beer tavern. Then on June 15, she will also host “Queens of Casa” at Casa Orozco Mexican restaurant. (Pronouns change to “she” when referring to the persona of a drag queen.)
“Drag gave me space to let that other side of myself out,” Uhl said in a recent interview with Zoom. “It’s this whole new world where I feel like I can do anything and be anything. And it’s like reliving my childhood, not caring what everyone else thinks.
Born and raised in Pleasanton, Uhl celebrated his bar mitzvah at Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro. In middle school, before he came out as gay, his classmates bullied him about his sexuality. “People always asked me, ‘Are you gay?’ or tell me I was gay. I hated everyone telling me I was different and telling me who I was,” he recalled. “I wanted to tell myself who I was.”
As a freshman in high school, many years removed from his childhood dress-up days, Uhl began dipping his toe into drag. Her cousin Jaymie was a fan of reality TV competition “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which has aired since 2009 and helped bring drag into the mainstream. She would do Uhl’s makeup, then they would go out on the town and film the reactions of passers-by to Anastasia’s appearance during his YouTube channel.
There are a handful of Jewish drag queens who have made a name for themselves in recent years. The winner of season five of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, Seattle’s Monsoon Jinkx, was explicitly Jewish. (Monsoon is currently participating in Season 7 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars,” which can be streamed on Paramount+.) Miz cookie uses the slogan “Shabbat shablam!” Mom Of The Smallah is a Mizrahi drag queen in Israel, who has a small stage in Tel Aviv. Locally, San Francisco drag queen Miss Shugana makes her Jewishness part of her shtick.
Rabbi Irwin Kellerthe spiritual leader of the Ner Shalom congregation in Sonoma County, played for 21 years with the sick of Kinsey, a famous a cappella drag quartet. (The band have performed at Ner Shalom before and are expected to return in December.)
Keller, who quit drag in late 2014 when he started rabbinical school, told J. he sees parallels between drag and Jewish cultures.
“Both come from a certain minority experience in the United States, and they both represent a certain outside perspective,” he said. “And there’s a tendency to use that outside perspective generatively, to take a position of power and authority where you would otherwise be on the fringes.”
He added that he finds it exciting that there are young people like Uhl who “have the freedom, the skills, the social support and the entrepreneurial skills to do this beautiful, transgressive kind of work.”
Stacey Uhl, Brock’s mother, took him to his first drag show at the Alameda Comedy Club last May. He enjoyed it so much, she said, that he networked with local drag queen Ava Lashay and began hosting his own shows. “He’s a go-getter,” Uhl told J. “This kid doesn’t like to stop. He can’t sit still.
She noted that she and her entire family fully embrace Brock’s passion for drag. “I don’t know if he told you that in the yearbook he was voted ‘best makeup,'” she said proudly. (He is the first male-identifying person to be so honored at his school, he said.)
The shows put on by Uhl are family-friendly and include a mix of dancing, lip-synching and skits. He borrows speakers from his school for each show and is currently saving money to buy his own PA system. Interpreters charge a small fee, plus tips.
“My goal with the drag shows I put on is to make them normalized and everyday, rather than behind the scenes,” he said. “And it’s starting to spread, which is great.” About 90 people attended his last show in mid-May.
Most of the time, Uhl wears rainbow-colored clothes and a Magen David around his neck. After graduating from high school, he plans to attend community college and study hotel management while continuing to produce drag shows. He said he hopes to one day work at a Disney theme park as an event planner. “I’ve always been a person who likes anything I can do to help someone or make someone’s day a little bit better,” he said. “It’s the most important thing for me.”