Ask Me Anything: Mossy Stone
One year ago, Jeremiah Barnes finished up his time in the Air Force, moved to Indianapolis, and walked into Indy Reads to pitch the idea of “Drag Queen Story Hour.” Here, Barnes, the “Literate Drag Queen,” reflects on the journey he took becoming Mossy Stone.
When was Mossy Stone conceived?
Two years ago, when I was in the Air Force and stationed in North Dakota. It was a time in my life when I was pretty isolated and alone a lot. I read a William Wordsworth poem about a girl who lived in the middle of nowhere—no one knew who she was. Wordsworth wrote that she “lived unknown,” but that her absence made all the difference to him. That’s what I wanted someone to feel about me. The poem, “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways,” won me over in that moment, and its line about a “mossy stone” resonated with me.
Did you do any performance work while you were enlisted?
During my last year of active duty, I auditioned for Tops in Blue, a morale and entertainment unit. That year, I got to leave my normal station job to sing and dance and travel. We did 99 shows in 20 different counties on 73 different Air Force bases.
Any performance horror stories?
When I was in Tops in Blue, I was to sing the lead on “God Bless the U.S.A.” at the Armed Forces Day River Parade. It’s always held in San Antonio and is televised nationally. We were doing our show and it came time for my big moment and I completely fudged the words. Completely just made them up on TV in front of everyone.
What’s your ideal outfit?
I like things that are bold. I like bright colors and pastels. So, if I had the opportunity, I would want to collaborate with Sasha Velour’s designer, Diego Montoya. I’d want a beautiful, bustle-y gown, to feel like I popped right out of Hello, Dolly!.
What first drew you to drag?
The makeup! When I was little, I loved playing with makeup. And I’ve always been a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it didn’t start the fire. If I attribute it to any one thing, it would be Mrs. Doubtfire.
What inspired you to start a Drag Queen Story Hour?
As an English major, reading and writing are very important to me. I’ve journaled my whole life, and writing has been very therapeutic. From being homeless to being deployed, I’ve turned to storytelling to get through. I want younger generations to fall in love with reading and writing again.
How have people responded?
The reception has been phenomenal. Attendance has been steady. There are usually around 20 families that come.
What do you do when you’re not Mossy Stone?
I just bought a new home with my partner, Zac. I finally have my own drag parlor! I also teach kindergarten through seventh-grade technology at a local charter school.
Do you think about your students when you are performing or posting to social media?
It’s interesting that you bring that up. So, last year was my first year of really trying to be brave with drag, even though I have effeminate mannerisms and have always been glittery. Leaving the military and being able to go out in public in a dress was very scary. It required a build-up of courage. So, last year, I didn’t talk about it very much. I didn’t hide it, but I was worried that conservative, Midwestern families might not appreciate my brand of person. But throughout the year, students—as students are wont to do—surprised me and encouraged me. That’s why, when I post anything, I make sure that everything is above reproach. I ask myself, Would I care if my students saw it? They are my litmus test for if I’ve been appropriate or not.
At Drag Queen Story Hour, I remember you taking a moment to tell everyone there that they are special, and that they have a purpose.
Oh, yes. That’s from my heart. I believe we all have a purpose. One of mine is to help people love themselves more. I know that’s lofty and grandiose, but I really believe you can practically do that. I see drag as a way to serve. Obviously, it’s a form of entertainment, especially within the queer community. We’re relied upon for comedy, and you go to a drag show to laugh and be encouraged. That’s a service. That’s a ministry, even. And while I’m not up there talking about Jesus, I can try to love in that way. After all, Jesus was hanging out with the prostitutes and the fishermen and the ragamuffins.