The Block Beat multimedia series is a collaboration with The TRiiBE that roots Chicago musicians in places and neighborhoods that matter to them.
Gliding down the sidewalk in a neon-green wig, gold ball gown, and heels, Lucy Stoole cuts through the gray and gloom of a rainy May afternoon like a knife. As she gets closer, you can see what's perhaps the most notable piece of her ensemble—the one on her face. She wears a robust, immaculately trimmed black beard.
Lucy isn't the first drag queen to do so, of course—in the 1970s, for instance, a flamboyant performer known as the Bearded Lady regularly appeared at a River North club called Dugan's Bistro—but bearded queens have never been more than a small minority. Lucy has had to overcome a great deal of resistance, because many drag fans and performers are reluctant to accept what they see as a departure from female impersonation. RuPaul famously doesn't allow bearded queens on RuPaul's Drag Race.
Lucy is no stranger to resistance, though. "A lot of my drag persona has come from feeling somewhat discarded, or being on the outside," she says. Despite the obstacles and naysayers, she's amassed a devoted following. Born Tyrell Huey in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1985, she's now one of Chicago's best-known queens.
The Second City’s Salute to Pride (Not Safe for WERK)
A new all-queer variety show hosted by Lucy Stoole. Through 6/26: Tue-Wed 8 PM, Up Comedy Club at Second City, 230 W. North, $26-$36, 18+
Reader Pride Block Party
Live music, DJ sets, and more—including Lucy Stoole and an intergenerational cast of queens and kings teaching a drag history lesson. Sun 6/23, 1-9 PM, Marz Community Brewing, 3630 S. Iron, $10, all ages
Chicago Is a Drag Festival
With Lucy Stoole, Raja, Candis Cayne, Spikey Van Dykey, and others. Fri 6/28, 4-11 PM, Cheetah Gym parking lot, 5238 N. Clark, $25, 21+
As she speaks, Lucy is in a vintage shop, surrounded by clothes, jewelry, and furniture that were once cast aside and have been given new life. The symbolism isn't lost on her.
"I took what was left for me in the drag community and turned it into something beautiful," she says. "And that's kind of what you can do with a lot of the items in this store—take it and turn it into something completely different."
The store is Seek Vintage in Noble Square, and Lucy has been shopping there since it opened in 2010. Owner Chris Hunt is an old friend of hers, and for a couple years he was even her boss. In 2016 and '17, before drag paid her bills, Lucy picked up shifts at Seek—and she isn't the only one who's knocked on the shop's door in times of need.
"Not only just being, like, one of the best clothing shops in the city, it has also helped a lot of the girls through various sorts of whatever is happening in their life," Lucy says. "If it was an outfit or if it was being able to work a shift, Seek is that little spot in the community."
Lucy's face still lights up when she walks in the door. It's hard to say what excites her more—the inventory on the wall or the sight of Hunt, who's already pouring celebratory shots of whiskey. As Lucy tours the store, inspecting his newest additions, the two of them crack jokes and occasionally stop to examine a piece.
- Darius Griffin
- Lucy Stoole and her old friend Chris Hunt, owner of Seek Vintage
Lucy moved here from Pella, a town of about 10,000 people in Iowa, a year after her first trip to Chicago. On that initial visit, back in 2006, she stayed with one of her former fraternity brothers, who was performing as a drag queen named Sophia Sapphire. That experience set Tyrell Huey on the path to becoming Lucy Stoole.
"He was doing drag up here and living his fabulous gay life, and I just remember seeing that community and seeing something I had never seen before in it," Lucy recalls.
Though Lucy began performing not long after she arrived here, her drag persona wasn't yet fully formed. Her time with Hunt at Seek, both as a customer and as an employee, would eventually mold her into the queen that fans recognize today, but in 2007, she began with a different persona—Estuary Palomino. Looking back, Lucy sees those early efforts as uninspired; she was going through the motions, just starting out, doing what she thought she was supposed to do. Back then she didn't wear her beard, and her persona didn't capture her unique style and personality—which she describes as "filthy glamour."
- Darius Griffin
- “Chris pushed me to be even more creative in my drag.”
"It goes from having those very glamorous moments to, you know, sometimes just wearing bondage looks and stuff," she says. "But that's all a part of what encompasses what Lucy Stoole is in drag."
Lucy refined that style at Seek—and found the space necessary to rediscover herself. The community nurtured by the shop gave her the support she needed to grow after years of being shut out and torn down by people unable or unwilling to see her beauty. "Chris pushed me to be even more creative in my drag and to sometimes see things that I might not go for—looks that I might not think would resonate with Lucy that, um, ended up turning into her."
Tyrell Huey's journey to the filthy glam of Lucy Stoole has helped others reconnect with the beauty in themselves—especially Black and Brown queer folks in Chicago. To many of them, Lucy is an icon, a role model, and a maternal figure—a "drag mom." She also uses the platform she's built in drag to address issues that matter to her community. Lucy has gotten loud about the legalization of cannabis, about the steep ticket prices and straight headliners at the new Pride in the Park event, and about the persistent problem of racism in Boystown—she's been a public part of the backlash against Progress Bar's recent attempt to ban rap.
- Darius Griffin
- “That’s been the dopest thing, to see that this entire drag community and some of the queer community has been changed by some of the stuff that I’ve done.”
As a very visible Black, bearded queen, Lucy has helped normalize queens who might otherwise have been confined to the margins. She's one of several regular hosts at Smart Bar's weekly Queen! parties, which since 2012 have been celebrating house music and drag—and bringing in crowds that span all sorts of demographics.
"That's been the dopest thing, to see that this entire drag community and some of the queer community has been changed by some of the stuff that I've done," Lucy says.
She knows she owes a lot to Seek, where some of Lucy's first looks originated. She still plucks from the racks from time to time, looking for something to breathe new life into. "I just bought a beautiful Christian Dior jacket from here that's part of my drag persona now," she says. "I love being able to bring vintage stuff into the looks that I do. So this is like the perfect place for it."
Lucy is a full-time drag queen these days, and she's always on the move, whether DJing, bartending, hosting, or performing. Her schedule never seems to let up, and for Pride Month she's even busier than usual. On top of the three remaining installments of Queen! in June, she has several big events lined up. On Friday, June 28, she'll appear at the Chicago Is a Drag Festival, and every Tuesday and Wednesday night she'll host the new all-queer variety show The Second City's Salute to Pride (Not Safe for WERK). Last but not least, on Sunday, June 23, she'll emcee a variety show about the history of Chicago drag as part of the Reader's first-ever Pride Block Party. v