Take, for instance, the 30th cycle of Crash Landing on July 8 – with 15 drag queens, kings and straight up aliens battling it out, as organizers of the event held at Berlin Nightclub promoted. Jenny advanced to round two, which is Crash Landing: Puppets on Monday, July 22, at Berlin.
Crash Landing is hosted by T Rex and Nico, with startenders Lucy Stoole and Joe Lewis, and other local notables. The winner of Crash Landing receives $200, a gig at Drag Matinee, $100 worth of Arda Wigs, $100 worth of Sugarpill Cosmetics, a custom wig styling by Styled by Chamilla, and a custom set of nails from Boi Nails.
“Alex Jenny is special because she exists as a radical possibility in a world that would have us keep ourselves small. She heals through being witnessed; she demands to be worshipped; and she encourages others revel at their own altars,” she said.
“The first time I performed in drag was in college and it felt both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Exhilarating because it felt so natural, and right, and euphoric. Terrifying because I loved how it felt so much (that) I wanted more …so much more that it scared me.
“I decided it was too much to process and was hesitant to do drag again for years. I played within the masculine androgyny for a long time, slowly incorporating make-up into my routine, one product at a time and slowly adding more flashy pieces into my closet.”
She still has her first piece of women’s clothing, purchased from Akira on a weekend trip to Chicago while in college for Lollapalooza. She danced around at that annual summertime music festival for hours “before I realized that I wasn’t a man,” she said.
Jenny then came out as genderqueer, “and slowly unlearned what I thought I knew about my gender and embraced my androgyny more and more,” she said. “As I continued to explore my gender and embraced new radical possibilities, I began thinking about whether or not I could claim womanhood as an identity. I struggled for a long time to accept that I was a woman because I didn’t see many examples of women who looked like me or had a conceptualization of womanhood that resonated with me. I didn’t really want to medically transition or feel like I needed to and so many people still read me as a ‘man,’ so I struggled to reconcile the world’s prescriptive view of me with how I saw myself.
“However, once I was able to finally admit to myself and assert to the world that I am in fact I woman, despite how others might see me, I began giving myself more room to think about the possibility of doing drag. See, I was hesitant to do drag for so long because I didn’t want others to see me as a man dressing up as a woman. After putting in the work of embracing my womanhood, I felt ready to assert my womanhood through drag. Plus, I genuinely missed performing. I acted throughout high school and college, but grad school took me away from the creative arts for a while. So, returning to the stage was something I craved desperately. I still remember going to my first drag show in Chicago right after moving to the city four years ago: It was at Drag Matinee at Berlin, hosted by T Rex, and as I was watching the queens perform, I literally started crying in the club because I was so inspired by them. I wanted to boldly embrace womanhood and femininity just like those queens on stage.”
She took the leap this past January.
Now 26, Jenny has lived in Chicago for four years, and she calls Lakeview home.
She grew up in near Grand Rapids, Michigan, and her parents run a Chinese restaurant. “I grew up in the back of that restaurant, watching cartoons in the back office, folding menus, and helping where I could,” she said.
Jenny is a staff therapist for IntraSpectrum Counseling and, in 2014, married River Coello who works as a consultant, actress and poet.
“Alex Jenny is a Chinese Vietnamese drag performer who aims to create nightlife spaces as a place of resistance and healing for queer and trans people of color and femmes in particular,” she said. “As a trans woman who loves the parts of her that others might view as traditionally ‘masculine,’ like her facial hair, her art also hopes to highlight that womanhood is not just one specific thing and that cis womanhood in particular should not, and is not, held as the standard for trans womanhood. As a performer, she is intentional about healing through movement, expression, and the art of being witnessed in her authenticity. She is a powerhouse dancer who loves being sexy, confident, and sensual.
“Alex Jenny uses drag to assert her womanhood into a world that works to violently deny and erase her identity and her truth.”
So, who is Alex Jenny?
Alex is her government name and Jenny is her mom’s name, she explained.
“She chose the name ‘Jenny’ after coming to the United States as a refugee,” she said of her mom. “It is her chosen American name, which feels special to me (and a way) to honor what my mother taught me about new beginnings, resiliency, and womanhood.”
Alex Jenny made her debut in January at Plot Twist, a monthly show that T Rex hosts at Berlin with an open competition. “I decided to enter because it’s usually well-attended by people I knew in the scene, skews towards comedic and stupid numbers, so it felt like a safe, fun, low-stakes place for me to just rip off the band-aid,” she said. “I was completely terrified and so nervous to the point (that) I couldn’t really speak or keep any food down beforehand.
“Since my debut, I’ve definitely been focusing more on what I want to say as an artist through my performances. I’ve also become much more confident and feel like I’m starting to figure out what kind of performer I am. I feel more (confident) of myself and am ready to truly build a career in drag. When I first started, I thought to myself, maybe I’ll perform a few times a month on the side and it’ll be casual. However, since starting, I’ve realized just how badly I want to make others proud through my drag and how much I truly want to invest in this. I see the impact that drag makes on the world, and I want to be a part of that change.”
Jenny has performed at Berlin during Plot Twist, DURO, and Goddess, the Virgin Hotel at This Free Life events and HIGHFEMME, a party that she co-hosts, Meeting House Tavern during Enigma, Sidetrack during their RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties, Mary’s Attic during Hairy Queen, Beauty Bar during Fabitat, and most recently was the headline drag performer for Dyke March and Trqpiteca.
She also has go-go danced at Burlington Bar during Swoon.
In addition, Alex Jenny host HIGHFEMME regularly, which is a party that celebrates all things femme and queer and trans authenticity, she said.
Alex Jenny also will be at ACTIVATE with A Queer Pride on July 18, then on July 19 at a This Free Life-sponsored event, Fresh Faces: Camp at Reggie’s. On July 25, she will be at Mary Contrary at Hamburger Mary’s, a new show that aims to highlight the diversity in the drag community.
“A highlight of my career to date definitely (was) winning Plot Twist’s half-time show and performing alongside Aunty Chan and Miss ToTo, two queens I really love and respect,” she said. “The other huge highlight is being the headline drag performer for both Dyke March and Trqpiteca.
“Dyke March is a grass-roots, volunteer-led collective of queer and trans folks who are black, indigenous, and people of color. They refuse corporate sponsorships, don’t invite police, and only highlight performers of color on stage. They are a celebration of queer and trans resistance and resilience. I’ve loved attending their events and it was the first Pride event that I went to with my mom. So, to perform for that crowd was so affirming and surreal.”
Long-term, Jenny said she wants to become a respected and established drag queen, with a solid nightlife presence here in Chicago, “so I can continue to uplift queer and trans people of color, femmes specifically,” she said. “I want to remind people that queer nightlife started off as a place of resistance and one of the only spaces where we could exist and love and support each other openly. Queer nightlife was fought for. People died so that we could have these spaces. Trans women especially led that resistance. So, nightlife should be a place (where) trans people especially can thrive. I also want to reclaim and decolonize drag as an art form that is does not exclusively belong to cis gay men. Drag was a way for so many trans women to survive in a world that would not employ them or fully see them.
“Additionally, I hope to create representation for Asian artists and Asian celebration. I want to create the representation I so desperately craved when I was younger. Above all, I hope to heal and help others heal through my drag career, and I hope to make room for other queer and trans people to explore their authentic selves.”
On Stage With …Alex Jenny
Drag Idols: “I really love and respect these Chicago legends: Lucy Stoole, T Rex, Sara Andrews, Kat Sass, and Aunty Chan. Lucy Stoole is someone who I look up to, whose presence makes spaces safer just by being in them. She’s also a fellow bearded femme, so seeing her succeed while maintaining her morals, politics, and intentional focus on uplifting the marginalized is especially inspiring to me.”
Chicago’s Drag Community: “Chicago is truly the best place in the world to be doing drag because everyone here is so talented, passionate, and inspiring.”
Best Part of Being Alex Jenny: “(Getting to) meet so many passionate queer and trans people who are changing the world each and every day just being their authentic selves and putting their art in the world.”
Worst Part of Alex Jenny: “Learning to adjust to the demands of performing and how expensive drag is. Truly, please pay and tip your performers because drag performers truly invest everything into our art.”
Real-World Work: “I work as a therapist, public speaker, educator, and licensed social worker, dedicated to serving LGBTQ communities and communities of color. I specifically specialize in trauma recovery, anxiety and depression, mindfulness, anti-oppressive practice, and racial, sexual, and gender identity development. I am passionate about LGBTQ and especially trans affirmative care, social identity development, racial and economic justice, social justice education, harm reduction, restorative and transformative justice, positive youth development, urban education, trauma-informed care, and sexual violence prevention and advocacy. I offer trainings, workshops, and lectures on a wide range of topics, as well as consultation services.”
More Work: Will be starting as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Chicago in January 2020, teaching a class on intergroup dialogue and anti-oppression training.
The LGBT Community: “I help the LGBT community through my individual healing work as a therapist. I talk about trans love and relationships through Alien Babes in Love, my multimedia project with my spouse River. I also work to celebrate trans people and push others to not just accept trans people but revere us.”
Career Goals: “I hope to continue finding ways to combine my healing work with my work in nightlife to create spaces where we can show up authentically as ourselves, because that is the most healing work we can do.”
HIGHFEMME: “River and I were approached by Barry Brandon, who runs a company called For All Humans (http://gopride.com/Zeuk/), to host a new party called HIGHFEMME. He approached us because he wanted to inject a sense of vulnerability and authenticity into the event and he was impressed by our social media presence and work as artists within the queer and trans community.” HIGHFEMME launched in June. “HIGHFEMME unapologetically celebrates femme authenticity, expression, and glamour. We welcome everyone and invite you to show up, show out, and make hypervisual our collective power. Together, we create a powerful experience, and a safer space, where we can all turn up the dial on our best selves. Electrify, elevate, explore. Embrace your HIGHFEMME.”
Alien Babes: “Please refer to ‘Alien Babes in Love’ as just simply ‘Alien Babes.’ Together, River and I are also known as Alien Babes (www.alienbabesinlove.com). We started this project because we desperately craved representation of a femme4femme, trans4trans relationship that we didn’t see elsewhere. We wanted to create multimedia stories about our relationship, marriage, and love in order to highlight that trans love was a possibility that we could strive for. Together, we write poetry, model and collaborate with photographers, host events, and hope to continue creating trans representation that celebrates the magic of being trans.”
River Coello: Is a queer and trans multidisciplinary artist from Guayaquil, Ecuador, living in Chicago. As an actor, River has appeared on various stage productions, having trained at Acting Studio Chicago, Second City Training Center, and the University of Michigan. As a writer, River’s work explores various liminalities of the human condition through a focus on River’s own identities and experiences, grounded in a deeply spiritual perspective. River has a poetry book, self/ser, coming out through Homie House Press in September. More details about the Kickstarter campaign will be available in August. http://gopride.com/Zeul.”