Pride in Places: How the world’s oldest living drag performer helped create gay Portland

Darcelle XV on-screen

To date, Cole’s drag career spans five decades. In 2018, Portland-based production company 360 Labs created Through Darcelle’s Eyes, a documentary immersing you in the highs and lows of the club owner’s life through virtual reality. One moment you will experience Cole encouraging you that being happy keeps you young, and the next, you will be ambushed by a mob holding signs of queer bigotry. 

“In order to feel the love, you’ve got to feel the hate too,” said co-director Brad Bill to press about the dramatic paradox between Darcelle’s supporters and haters. By warning future generations of the negativity they might encounter by living authentically, then they will not be so easily discouraged or deterred by it.

Like the rest of us, Cole had to retire his wig and glamour and isolate himself during the pandemic. Though he got to make Darcelle XV his home, a place now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “What’s too much to handle is that I don’t have a purpose. It drives me crazy; it’s why I would never retire,” Cole said to local outlets. 

But it would take a lot more than a global crisis to keep him away from the stage. Darcelle XV managed to survive the economic woes and return to its former success with the eponymous performer at the center. 

You can catch Darcelle performing six days a week at every one of the club’s shows. Her presence remains to Portland’s drag community what Betty White served for Hollywood: an inspiration that forever will and always was. 

UP NEXT – Pride in Places: How the AIDS Memorial Quilt found a permanent home in San Francisco