On Friday night, viewers tuned in to watch Woodstock native Gigi Goode, one of the three finalists on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” perform a final Lip Sync (For Your Life) Dance to earn the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.
In the end, she fell short, but just going this far on the 13-time Emmy Award-winning show earned Goode brand deals, Instagram partnerships and online fame.
Beyond the perks, becoming America’s Next Drag Superstar means attaining perfection in her craft, akin to an actor winning an Oscar or a basketball player picking up a Finals victory. And Sam Geggie, the individual behind Goode, nearly proved to be worthy of the title.
This season, Goode made show history by becoming the first contestant to win four challenges while never placing in the bottom two.
Goode’s mother sees her son’s performance as affirmation of the skills he has been developing since the age of 3.
Growing up in McHenry, Kristi Geggie had little experience with drag queens and gay culture. Her husband’s brother helped expand her understanding of gay culture, but even so, the two spent little time together, as he was estranged from the family.
After having two sons, Kristi soon became a quintessential boy mom and expected relative ease in parenting her third boy. However, she soon learned parenting child No. 3 would not be quite as conventional when instead of showing interest in football or basketball Sam spent his time making elegant toilet paper dresses for Kristi’s old dolls.
During preschool free time, Sam played with his girl classmates, oftentimes braiding their hair. When the class played dress up, Sam pulled gowns out of the dress-up box. And each Halloween, Kristi watched him gravitate toward costumes featuring dresses and long hair.
One day, during the car ride to preschool, Sam asked Kristi, “Mom, why did God make me a boy? I should have been a girl.”
While she was quick to reply, saying, “God made you perfect the way you are,” the comment added to the confusion she already faced over how to address her son’s unique preferences.
In the early 2000s, long before “Drag Race” hit the airways in 2009, understandings of gender and sexuality issues were far less developed than they are today. Caitlyn Jenner lived as Bruce, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” remained in effect, and the legalization of same-sex marriage seemed to be years away.
Seeking an explanation to the confusion surrounding their son’s behavior, Kristi and her husband turned to a professional to figure out what their toddler’s statement might mean. A child psychologist diagnosed Sam with gender identity disorder, a term used to diagnose transgender individuals which the American Psychiatric Association removed from its industry-wide diagnostic manual in 2012.
Had Sam been born in today’s social climate, Kristi doubts she would have taken him to the psychologist, but even then, she didn’t view Sam’s interest in traditionally female activities as signs of a mental disorder.
So, instead of heeding the psychologist’s suggestion to place Sam in weekly therapy sessions, Kristi learned all she could about the “condition,” and navigated exposing Sam to traditionally female and male activities in the privacy of her home, under her and her husband’s supervision.
“I think we were the ones that needed help,” she said. “[But] we felt like Sam was pretty well adjusted.”
In the years following, Kristi said every day was a struggle in deciding what Sam could and could not wear and play with. While Sam as a child thought little about the social ramifications behind his favorite toys, for Kristi and her husband, playtime meant reconciling the fact that a parent’s expectations may just in fact be an expectation.
This reconciliation took longer for Sam’s father. But Kristi soon came to terms with her son’s interests and saw in his drawings of women wearing elaborate outfits a glimpse into a future of artistic success.
As Sam grew older, the mystery, confusion and excitement surrounding his early behavior became less about his potential sexuality and gender identity and more about his talent for feminine art. On this season of Drag Race, Sam came out publicly as gender fluid.
But growing up, he always used male pronouns and primarily dressed in traditionally masculine clothing. In middle school, a student outed Sam as gay, confirming what Kristi expected for some time. So, with the mystery surrounding the future of a child diagnosed with gender identity disorder all but absolved, Kristi’s next surprise came when Sam entered high school and she learned he was performing in drag.
Kristi found out during dinner that 14-year-old Sam regularly performed in drag after his older brother “spilled the beans.” At the time, she didn’t really know what drag was and wasn’t sure how she felt about it.
“I struggled to understand how it could be OK to impersonate a woman,” she said. “After all, it’s not OK to impersonate someone’s ethnicity.”
However, after getting past the initial discomfort, she slowly started becoming involved in Sam’s drag.
Before creating Goode, Sam experimented with makeup, refining the arched eyebrows, plump lips and beauty-marked face that would become a Goode signature. Drawing on his early interest in styling American Girl Doll hair and designing doll costumes, Sam developed the 1950s-inspired look that served as a signature of the early Goode.
He started performing at The Other Side Dance & Night Club in Crystal Lake and soon caught the attention of his sophomore English teacher at Woodstock High School, Lisa Beard.
Along with teaching English, Beard works as a fine arts photographer, telling visual stories through conceptions of her imagination. At the time, Beard formed the idea to create a photo series exploring gender roles, the lives of women and gender’s place in society and culture.
And she saw Goode as the perfect model for the 1950s housewife who would take center stage in the series. After all, not only did he possess the makeup and hair skills to present himself as a sophisticated woman, but as a standout musical theater performer Sam had the talent and poise to tell the story Beard hoped to convey through her photos.
“He always has a confidence about himself,” Beard said. “As a student, I saw him think outside the box, and I saw his confidence when he was performing on stage.”
Over the next four years, Beard and Goode traveled throughout northern Illinois shooting at abandoned houses, factories and churches. One day, temperatures fell below 10 degrees, and Goode, in a dress and heels, worked with Beard for over an hour to capture the shot.
As the shoots became more elaborate, Beard soon called on Kristi, who has a degree from Columbia College in interior design and sews costumes for Woodstock Children's Summer Theater and Woodstock High School performances, to help create new outfits for the series.
Since the days of these photoshoots, which Beard titled The Yellow Glove Series, Kristi has played a part in creating most of the outfits that have brought Goode critical acclaim on the show.
Whenever Goode comes up with inspiration for a new look, she sends her mother a sketch and Kristi goes to work creating the outfit. “I have a dress dummy that’s exactly his size, so I can make stuff at home and FedEx it to California [where he performs now],” she said. “I have probably made him 30 or so outfits.”
As Kristi became increasingly involved in Sam’s drag, her opinion of the performance art started to change, and today her relationship with it feels quite different from the skepticism she held that day she first heard about it at the dinner table.
“I love it, and I really can’t articulate why,” she said. “Maybe it's because I see the drag queens getting so much joy out of the experience.”
And although she couldn’t have known during the early days of The Yellow Glove Series that Goode would end up reaching the pinnacle of drag, she always knew Goode possessed the talent to take home the crown. And others who watched Sam since his early days performing in McHenry County are not all that surprised of his newfound success as well.
Will Olsen, a Crystal Lake native and acting graduate of Illinois State University’s Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts, followed Goode on social media since the two were in high school back when Goode had less than 10,000 Instagram followers.
“I remember thinking, ‘This girl is going somewhere,’” Olsen recalled. “I’m not surprised at how successful she has been on the show.”
Olsen has watched the show and engaged with it over Twitter for the past five years. He said Goode’s unique aesthetic, humor, and stage presence make it hard not to fall in love with her. “She’s the whole package,” he said.
Today, Goode boasts an Instagram following of almost 700,000. And Kristi herself has a following of more than 30,000 people who watch her costume creation process from start to finish. Young queer people all across the world, from South America to Asia, reach out to Kristi for advice on coming out to their parents and dealing with the difficulties that come with not feeling accepted.
Sometimes their stories surprise Kristi, as it seems to her that the world has become a far more accepting place than the one Sam was born into. But when she does hear these stories, she reflects on her own experiences and hopes that the families will realize what she did – a parent’s happiness comes along with the happiness of their child.
“I just say to them, ‘One day your parents will accept that you’re happy, and one day when you have a family of your own you can make it however you want to be,’ ” Kristi said.