Caro Aceves Ignites Community Connection Through Drag
Written by Vocalo Radio on September 14, 2023
Caro Aceves celebrates their identity as a queer Chicagoan by performing drag under the persona Kerosene.
For Caro Aceves, discovering a love of drag sparked an exploration deep into their own identity. Watching RuPaul’s Drag Race at 12 years old, as a queer, trans, Latinx person living in the Chicago suburbs, Aceves saw an attainable future for the first time.
Now, as a 23-year-old full-time drag performer, Aceves lives out the queer future they had envisioned. Getting into performing with friends two years ago, they’ve since taken center stage at spaces across Chicago including Berlin, Golden Dagger, Comfort Station and more.
“I never thought I was going to be doing this,” they explained. “I didn’t go into doing drag with the expectation of doing it full time.”
When performing under their drag persona Kerosene, Aceves often wears clown makeup and describes their performances as “very sexy, very dark, but also very silly.” They draw from their Mexican American heritage in their performances, incorporating Chicano aesthetics and music from artists like Vicente Fernandez. For Aceves, drag is not just a way to express their identity but to forge connections with the city’s queer community,
“It’s about sharing a kind of energy with an audience that can be really transformative, and just be having fun and singing to songs that we all grew up listening to,” they said.
For this segment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Caro Aceves, AKA Kerosene, discusses their origin as a drag performer, what drag means to them and more.
Introduce yourself, and describe your work in a few words.
Hi, my name is Kerosene, or you can call me Caro. I am a 23-year-old drag performer local to Chicago, and this is what Chicago sounds like.
Can you describe your drag persona to us?
It is very clown-like, very sexy, very dark, but also really silly. And that’s what I love about it, is that I get to play with a lot of different things with my persona. Where I get to put on a literal clown face, and have fun and be trans on stage. It’s really cool. I first started watching Rupaul’s Drag Race at, like, the age of 12. Like, hiding in the basement of my house at the time, binge-watching the series, taking it all in and digesting it for the first time as somebody who is still not sure who they were. At the time, I was still learning who I was as a queer trans person, as like a Latinx person in a predominately white suburb, and navigating all these different things. Drag became a comfort for me. It made it feel like I had a chance, that queer future is there, and you just have to grab it.
What is “drag” exactly?
I think drag means so many different things to different people. Drag, for me at least, is a celebration. It’s the opportunity to be out, and proudly so, with a group of other people who may or may not be out themselves. And it’s about sharing a kind of energy with an audience that can be really transformative, and just be having fun and singing to songs that we all grew up listening to. I draw a lot from my Latinx heritage, specifically my Mexican American heritage, and use a lot of imagery. I’ve been really diving into the Chicano aesthetics from Southern California. My grandma passed away just a few weeks ago, and I had family from Southern California come by, and to be around a bunch of Cholos again, after so many years of not seeing them, because life gets at us. But to see everyone again, to be immersed in that culture and aesthetic has been really reinvigorating for my aesthetic.
I’ve been doing a lot of, like, Vicente Fernández songs in my drag, which I love doing. I did a show at The Conversation a few weeks ago now. And I did a Vicente medley. It was just a bunch of different hits of his that a lot of us grew up listening to as kids.
For Aceves, performing drag is just as much as self-expression as it is community connection. Photos courtesy of Caro Aceves.
Where do you live?
So I’ve been living in Uptown for just about a week now! But I used to live here a few years ago. When I was living in Uptown the first time was when I first came out as trans and started hormones and doing drag professionally. So it’s been very full circle to be back.
How’d you get into doing drag?
I never thought I was going to be doing this. I didn’t go into doing drag with the expectation of doing it full time. I started it with a bunch of friends who are also drag performers now. And we started at a venue in Lakeview called the Golden Dagger. And we produced our very own shows there, not necessarily because any of us, I think, knew we were going to be doing drag for however many years we’ve been doing it now. We went into it because we needed money. And drag is a form of mutual aid, in many ways. And so we put on benefit shows to raise funds for people within our collective, to afford housing, to pay for groceries, to, like, survive in this world. And we used drag as a way of doing that. I’ve just been doing drag ever since. I think that was about two years ago now. It will be my two year anniversary in, I believe, October of this year.
Were you always a performer?
I never really did performing arts. I did play in orchestra for like 10 years, as a kid. And that was a crazy experience, to be immersed in a competitive artistic subculture of sorts. I think being able to engage in the arts competitively prepared me for a world that is, unfortunately, competitive. Drag is very tough, but it’s an amazing sport, for sure. And I’m very grateful to be a part of it.
Where do you perform?
Berlin is a home bar for me. It is Chicago’s very, very, very premiere, beautiful drag venue located in Boystown off the Belmont station. It’s where I’ve been able to meet most of my chosen family, where I’ve been able to spend nights crying and dancing and laughing and giggling and making out and all the other things that gay people love to do. And as of right now, Berlin is the only bar that is actively unionizing. But I know that these complaints are not isolated to just one venue, they’re working with an organization called Local Union One. They have helped unionize a lot of different folks across the like retail service industry. This is the first time they’ve ever unionized nightclub workers. Their staff right now is currently demanding that they get better treatment at Berlin.
Unfortunately, a lot of folks there have been struggling to pay rent because of unlivable wages, have been met with really unsafe circumstances, because of lack of safety and the environment. A lot of folks need healthcare, especially trans people. And those are not things that they get, unfortunately. And so the Berlin union staff, including door staff, bar staff, people who work behind the scenes of these drag shows that we love and attend, they are unionizing at the moment. And as a performer, I am ready to do whatever it is they want me to do in support of them, because I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them. And their lives are essential in our work.
All of us, I think, feel the weight of the world right now. Things are incredibly scary. Between the recession, the ongoing pandemic, rising hate crimes across the nation, it’s getting really scary, and we need to support each other. And right now, we aren’t really doing that. And so we need to continue vocalizing our needs, because we only have each other and we need to do better by each other.
How has Chicago played a role in your work?
Just being able to perform in the city, not just in Boystown, but in places like Comfort Station, or DIY spots in Humboldt Park, I get to really take and travel with my work. And to be able to do it in the city that I call home is a huge privilege. And taking my drag to different places in the city has allowed me to really deeply connect with the community here. It was through drag that I met other trans people for the first time, really, to be able to come to terms with my own identity, to gain access to basic resources and health care through this community. Being able to do it in the city allowed me to not only share myself, but allow others to share themselves with me. And that is something that I want to keep on nourishing through my drag.
Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.
Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia
Written introduction and transcription by Morgan Ciocca
Photos by Ari Mejia, edited by Morgan Ciocca
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