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story.lead_photo.caption Waltin Zomaya applies mascara to prepare for a show at Club Sway in downtown Little Rock. Zomaya performs about once a month at the club as Kassandra Kardashian, his drag character. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

On weekend nights, Kassandra Kardashian exudes confidence while she dances, heels clacking onstage, hair floating around her, blowing kisses to the audience.

The rest of the time, Kassandra is a fictional, two-dimensional character, confined to social media and the pages of a comic book. Her creator, Waltin Zomaya, 26, is a pharmacist with thick-rimmed glasses, black curls and an affinity for alternative realities-- the Marvel Universe, elaborate social media campaigns and drag.

Kassandra, who goes by feminine pronouns, was born out of a time of turmoil for Zomaya, who finished pharmacy school at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in May. He wasn't sure graduation would be an option, after an online photo threatened the success of his clinical rotations.

"I was able to live these two lives, and I graduated despite many people trying so hard to get me in trouble and out of pharmacy school," Zomaya says.

The photo in question was of him, shirtless and gazing out a window at the pale sunlight in New Orleans, bed sheets pulled up to his chest.

It was seen as overly provocative by his site administrator, a pharmacist who works with students but is not employed by the university. The administrator didn't want clients seeing a student working at the pharmacy in that state, Zomaya says.

Zomaya, whose parents are from Iraq, says his online presence served as an escape from life with a father who Zomaya thinks will struggle to accept that he is gay.

"As far as the photos and stuff like that, the reason I took it so personally is because my dad is foreign and is older, so he doesn't know how to use the computer or anything like that," Zomaya says. "I felt safe to do my own photos there, and it helped me battle my depression."

A long struggle littered with phone calls, emails and photos that were taken down and reposted ended with Zomaya's graduation.

At his graduation ceremony, he towered in white heels and wore purple eye shadow and a long blonde wig.

"I'm pretty confident we've not had a queen graduate from any educational institution and attend the ceremony in drag, and I think that that is just so legendary for Arkansas," says Jason Weist, co-owner of Club Sway where Zomaya performs.

Weist, who helped start Club Sway in 2010, calls Zomaya a "concept queen," referencing the tangled web of character development and history Zomaya has built around Kassandra.

Kassandra, portrayed in Zomaya's comics as the lost Kardashian, was living in Little Rock, eating spray cheese out of a can and watching TV when her mother came to inform her of her true identity. She answered the door to meet her newfound family member with a tendril of cheddar stuck to her chin.

A battle ensued as Kassandra fought to become herself and celebrities pushed back in what the comics refer to as "Kardashian Civil War," a reflection of what Zomaya says he felt in pharmacy school as he attempted to balance two worlds at odds with each other.

"I didn't know how to be myself anymore but with [Kassandra], she's being someone who she kind of thinks everyone wants her to be," he says. "And in a lot of ways, that reflects a lot on me in the drag culture."

Zomaya is one of about 10 queens who perform at Club Sway at least once a month. The club also hosts Open Stage Night the first Friday of every month during which old or new queens can perform, Weist says.

Kassandra has gone through several changes over the course of her existence. Now, she goes by Lady Kassandra the White.

"He is always just talking about the character's development and evolution," Weist says about Zomaya. "So, he's also Lady Kassandra, probably the queen that is the most layered or really depth of content."

Multimedia Platforms

While other queens have started expanding into multimedia, especially in their performances, Zomaya does more online to promote his character than most local performers, Weist says.

One of his first memories about Zomaya was watching the music video used to introduce the audience to Kassandra, Weist says.

"It was exciting for me because it's a digital age, and to have someone who I think really gets the vision for Sway and cares about it and is passionate about it and wants to put in time on creating LGBT content that is original, it is exciting for me," Weist says.

Zomaya's first music video features an original song and choreography; Zomaya did the editing and producing himself. It took about five hours to shoot and a few days to edit.

His first show was a Fresh Fish competition, which features a cast of entirely new artists. Weist estimates that there have been at least 70 new queens introduced to the central Arkansas drag scene through Fresh Fish.

Kassandra fits into Weist's vision for Sway as more than just a club. He wants it to be an experience similar to what it might be on the more liberal West coast.

"It's important to me to try to create LGBT spaces that are as close as we can match to the broader LGBT communities," he says.

Weist says establishing community and building up outreach is one step toward combating misconceptions about the LGBT community in Arkansas. Although he hasn't seen much outright discrimination of the queens, it is always in the back of his mind when they go out, especially if they are in full drag.

"When I'm with them, I'm always sort of keeping an eye out on the ground and making sure you know that they're safe," Weist says.

Twice after a night of performing as Kassandra, Zomaya has been followed by men who wanted his number. He is never quite sure if they know he is a man.

Drag in Arkansas

Weist says there are two other clubs in Little Rock that regularly do drag -- Triniti Nightclub and Discovery, which are connected to each other. A smattering of other clubs across the state also have shows such as C4 Nightclub & Lounge in Fayetteville and Kinkead's in Fort Smith.

Arkansas is also home to the Miss Gay Arkansas Pageant, which began in 1972. It is the oldest preliminary to the Miss Gay America Pageant.

The tag line for the pageant is: "Where Boys are Boys and Female Impersonation is an Art."

For a recent show, Zomaya gets ready at the club because his new apartment is not yet equipped with lights bright enough to apply the details to his makeup he wants for Latin Night.

When he arrives outside the club, he is in flip-flops and shorts and is in a hurry. It's about 9 p.m., and patrons haven't started arriving just yet.

He gets upstairs and flips open his makeup box. An array of lipsticks, containers of glitter and a silver hairbrush tangled with strands of long, blonde hair sit inside. When he starts to apply the makeup, Zomaya's demeanor changes.

He starts to lean further toward how he describes Kassandra-- a little more vain, lamenting over his ability to do makeup and a bit louder, shouting greetings at other queens as they come in. Within the confines of Club Sway, Kassandra escapes the comic books and comes to life.

"[Kassandra] wants to believe she's important and that she has a purpose," Zomaya says. "Because of that, she sometimes is willing to put her faith in things that may seem strange in order to make that a reality."

The queens address one another by their drag names and traditionally feminine terms like "honey" or "mama" while loaning makeup and bobby pins and sipping cocktails from downstairs, where the bar, stage and dance floor are waiting for the night to begin.

Kassandra's preparation process, which can still take an hour and a half to two hours, is shorter than some queens because she opts not to pad. Some queens strap soft gray material under their dresses to add extra curve to their hips.

Kassandra is careful with the colors and the amount of makeup she wears; it all fits into the story arc Zomaya has written for her. He says he still has surprises to unveil about Kassandra's past and her future.

Weist says in drag competitions, Kassandra has been criticized for being too complex-- it can be hard to understand the storyline and message through the haze of late nights and alcohol.

Zomaya wants to start performing at more clubs around Arkansas to test this theory.

"This is me, kind of in my second year of pharmacy school, kind of being who people wanted me to be, not necessarily being who I am," Zomaya says. "People don't really get that about the character yet because I haven't revealed that yet."

Waltin Zomaya created a comic book explaining the back story of his drag character — the lost Kardashian.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Kassandra Kardashian, also known as Lady Kassandra the White, performs at Club Sway on Dec. 23. The show, two days before Christmas, was called “Homo for the Holidays.”
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Waltin Zomaya, 26, as himself, prior to getting ready for a show.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Kassandra Kardashian puts the finishing touches on her costume before performing.

Style on 01/16/2018

Print Headline: Queenly pursuits: Drag star Kassandra Kardashian evolves from comic book persona to complex character

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