Stuck in Vermont: Cambridge Resident Justin Marsh Brings Drag Queens to Rural Towns as Emoji Nightmare | Stuck in Vermont | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Stuck in Vermont: Cambridge Resident Justin Marsh Brings Drag Queens to Rural Towns as Emoji Nightmare

Episode 719

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Published July 11, 2024 at 7:30 a.m.


Justin Marsh is a queer fifth-generation Vermonter who grew up in Cambridge on their family farm and never left. They started wearing dresses at a young age, began wearing makeup in high school and came out as gay in 11th grade. In 2015, Marsh began performing as the drag queen Emoji Nightmare. Emoji travels around the state but makes a special effort to produce drag shows in smaller towns.

In 2017, Marsh cofounded the Vermont chapter of Drag Story Hour with Nikki Champagne, who is now known as state Rep. Taylor Small (P/D-Winooski). For the past few years, Emoji and burlesque performer Katniss Everqueer have been reading children’s books about gender identity and LGBTQ issues to groups of kids and their parents at libraries across the state.

Despite the popularity of TV shows such as “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” drag shows have become a flash point in the culture wars. Some Republican-controlled states have attempted to ban drag performances and restrict discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools; in Vermont, drag story hours have been canceled in Chester and Brighton after local protests. A bomb threat interrupted a White River Junction story hour earlier this year; on July 20, there will be another reading there called “Finish the Book.”

Seven Days’ Eva Sollberger spent a week following Marsh/Emoji around the state. Sollberger caught up with Emoji and Katniss at Phoenix Books in Essex on a Saturday afternoon to listen to children’s books with an enthusiastic gathering of families. That night, Emoji was at a church in Bethel for a Pridefest drag show that she produced, hosted, and, of course, performed in.

The following week, Marsh was back in their hometown for the Fourth of July parade. Marsh has often walked in this parade, sometimes as Emoji and sometimes as themselves. This year, they were representing the Cambridge Conservation Commission and promoting the mitigation of invasive Japanese knotweed. Marsh is an active member of their community and also works with the Cambridge Arts Council and the Cambridge Historical Society.

After the parade and festival, Sollberger met with Marsh on their family farm to talk about their journey and why they choose to be stuck in Vermont.

Filming dates: 6/29/24 & 7/4/24

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