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Learning to slay: A photo essay about Wisconsin's teen drag queens

Learning to slay: A photo essay about Wisconsin's teen drag queens

Bailey Mosling, 15, describes himself as “painfully shy.” 

When Bailey becomes Nemo, the stage name he takes for drag shows, “it’s easier to talk to people.”

“When I’m backstage, people know who I am,” Bailey said. “It’s less awkward.”

Bailey, a transgender boy, performs regularly at shows at FIVE Nightclub in Madison. His friend Andy Schueler, 16, goes by Andi Withani on stage. As far as they know, Bailey and Andy are the only two drag teens in Wisconsin. 

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Montell Infiniti Ross, left, comes off the stage with a handful of dollars as Nemo changes costumes backstage at FIVE Nightclub. 

“I’ve definitely gained a lot of perspective,” Andy said. “Drag taught me that I should take up the space I’m given. It’s taught me to accept the feminine and masculine parts of myself.”

Bailey lives in Middleton with his mom, dad and older brother Logan, in a house with two dogs and four cats. Bailey was in seventh grade when he started his gender transition, and is now a sophomore in high school. 

He began weekly testosterone injections earlier this year. Bailey hates needles, but he’s starting to get used to it. 

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At left, Dana Mosling gives her son Bailey a testosterone injection at their home in Middleton. Bailey is fearful of needles but is gradually getting used to the weekly shots. Bailey, a transgender boy, has been taking testosterone injections once a week since January.

They’re allowed to perform in nightclubs if a parent is present. Both moms, as well as Bailey’s dad, sit right up front at drag shows to encourage the young queens with dollar tips (the traditional show of support). Adult drag queens have shared stories about the challenges of their lives growing up, and the lack of support from their own families. 

The teens “represent a time and space for all of these other adults, where they didn't feel like they necessarily had the support,” said Dana Mosling, Bailey’s mom. “They're able to see that support given to a teenager, and it's almost doing some inner child healing for them.”

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Cass Marie Domino helps her drag “daughter,” Andy Schueler (stage name: Andi Withani Domino) apply makeup before Cass Marie’s 50th birthday party drag show at FIVE Nightclub. 

Andy’s mother, Sarah Schueler, said they were “lucky” to meet his drag mom, Cass Marie Domino, who helped them build a strong community. Andi Withani’s full drag name is Andi Withani Domino, to signify their relationship. 

“I really work hard to surround us with the people that are going to be the most helpful to him,” Schueler said. “Not just in drag, but growing up and being a good person and being kind-hearted, loving everybody.”

Official details aren’t public yet, but Bailey was cast in an upcoming show on a cable network about drag kids, assisted by his “drag mom” Bianca Lynn Breeze (Madison’s own queen of drag bingo). 

Lately, Andi’s been performing to a new mashup of Kesha songs. Nemo does a routine to “Space Oddity” by David Bowie and “Space Girl” by Frances Forever, and another one to “Nurse’s Office” by Melanie Martinez. 

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Andi Withani performs to a mashup of Kesha songs (“Tik Tok,” “Take It Off”) at her 16th birthday drag show at FIVE Nightclub.

They both love watching other queens perform. When Andy turned 16 a few weeks ago, he celebrated with Nemo, with several adult drag queens in attendance. Bailey and his family have big plans for the future, including more all-ages drag shows.  

“When I was a kid, I loved Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, all of it,” Andy said. “Now I get to perform as those icons. That's really, really magical.”

— Scott Girard contributed to this story.

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Three generations: Andi Withani Domino, Cass Marie Domino and Channing Marie Domino get ready in the dressing room before Cass Marie’s 50th birthday party drag show at FIVE Nightclub. When drag "moms" mentor other aspiring drag queens, those queens take their last name.

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Andy Schueler applies false eyelashes in the FIVE Nightclub dressing room as he transforms into his drag persona, Andi Withani. “Drag taught me that I should take up the space I’m given,” he said. “It’s taught me to accept the feminine and masculine parts of myself.”

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Andi Withani performs to music by Madonna (the intro to her “Rebel Heart” tour, “Iconic”) in a homemade cage at Andi's 16th birthday drag show at FIVE Nightclub. 

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Dollar bills (appreciation tips from the audience) pile up on Andi Withani Domino and Cass Marie Domino’s dressing room counter during Cass Marie Domino’s 50th birthday party drag show at FIVE Nightclub. 

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Nemo’s mom, Dana Mosling, helps Nemo put on her drag costume backstage at FIVE Nightclub.

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Nemo, the drag persona of Bailey Mosling, changes costumes backstage during the 16th birthday drag show for Andi Withani at FIVE Nightclub. Bailey designs all of his own costumes.

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Nemo performs a number to "Nurse's Office" by Melanie Martinez at the 16th birthday drag show for Andi Withani at FIVE Nightclub. 

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Bailey Mosling (center left, in yellow) socializes with friends during his lunch break at Clark Street Community School in Middleton.

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Bailey Mosling attends a personal finance class at Clark Street Community School in Middleton. Bailey lives in Middleton with his mom, dad and older brother Logan. He started his gender transition in seventh grade. 

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Bailey Mosling waves to his mom, Dana, as he climbs silks during an aerials class at Madison Circus Space. Bailey, who performs in drag as Nemo, has also studied theater and dance. 

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Dana Mosling pets the family bulldog, Lily, while Bailey Mosling and his dad Luke do a David Bowie puzzle at home in Middleton. 

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Bailey Mosling hangs out in his room in Middleton. Nemo’s wigs, costumes (designed by Bailey himself) and accessories fill a shelf and space in the closet. 

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Family bulldog Lily steps over Sam King to reach Bailey Mosling at the Moslings’ home in Middleton. 

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Bailey Mosling celebrates a strike while bowling with his family, from left, brother Logan, mom Dana, dad Luke and his friend, Sam King, at Middleton Sports Bowl.

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Andy Schueler and his best friend Chelsea Haines drink two iced coffees each after roller skating at Skate Express in Watertown. Schueler and Haines stop at a coffee shop everyday, and the baristas know their orders by heart.

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Andy Schueler, center, roller skates at Skate Express in Watertown. 

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Sophomore Andy Schueler and his best friend, senior Chelsea Haines, share a slushy and take a break from roller skating at Skate Express in Watertown. 

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Chelsea Haines and Andy Schueler (on the floor) play with a skate trainer at Skate Express.

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Chelsea Haines, left, and Andy Schueler play Space Invaders at Skate Express in Watertown. 

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Chelsea Haines, left, and Andy Schueler collect tickets from arcade games and eat Takis at Skate Express in Watertown. Chelsea is a senior and Andy is a sophomore; their teacher jokes that that they're attached at the hip. 

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After roller skating, Andy Schueler and his best friend Chelsea Haines eat club sandwiches at Pine Cone Restaurant, a truck stop diner in Johnson Creek.

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Andy Schueler takes out a pile of dollar bills to pay for his club sandwich at Pine Cone Restaurant in Johnson Creek. Cash tips in the form of dollar bills are how audience members show support and appreciation for drag performers. 

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Chelsea Haines and Andy Schueler collect tickets from arcade games at Skate Express in Watertown. Chelsea, a senior, is Andy's best friend; the two are already sad to be parted when Chelsea goes to college. 

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Backstage at her 16th birthday show, Andi Withani reaches for the dollar bills her best friend Chelsea Haines gathered from the stage. 

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Andi Withani performs a number to Kesha songs at her 16th birthday drag show at FIVE Nightclub. 

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Andy Schueler quickly changes costumes during his 16th birthday drag show at FIVE Nightclub. 

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Andi Withani comes off stage while Nemo prepares to go on during Andi's 16th birthday drag show. Andi and Nemo are the only teen drag queens they know of in Wisconsin.

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Nemo, the drag persona of Bailey Mosling, performs at Andi Withani's 16th birthday drag show at FIVE Nightclub. Bailey has taken dance, theater and circus classes, and Bianca Lynn Breeze is Nemo’s drag mom.

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Nemo collects a five dollar bill from her grandmother during the 16th birthday drag show for Andi Withani at FIVE Nightclub. 

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Nemo and her mom Dana Mosling talk with an audience member at FIVE Nightclub. Parental support of the young queens is something the older drag queens often notice, Mosling said. “They're able to see that support given to a teenager, and it's almost doing some inner child healing for them.”

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Drag performer Montell Infiniti Ross acknowledges young drag queens Nemo (left, in blue) and Andi Withani (in stripes) during a drag show at FIVE Nightclub.

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