A Conversation With The Slug Queen
Kevin Baird, EDN
Jerril Nilson (Queen Slugasana) is the reigning Slug Queen of the Eugene Celebration, which is held every August in downtown Eugene. Aside from being a mother and serving on the board of directors at the Eugene Ballet Company, Jerril has been running a graphic design business from her home for the last 21 years. The flexibility of working at home has given her the freedom to pursue “silly things” like the honor of Eugene’s Slug Queen.
KB: Is the Slug Queen something you’ve wanted to be for a long time.
JN: Yes, I became involved with the Eugene celebration when it first started. I was in a group of parade enthusiasts. Back in 85’ we started to be in the Eugene celebration parade and our group was known as the Rickies. We have a checkered past as a group of people from a lot of diverse backgrounds. A group of friends who enjoyed being irreverent and making fun or light of the political situation in Eugene. We did that from about 85′ til 2003 . We became the reason people wanted to go to the parade. Because people wanted to see what we would do next. Around that same time when the celebration started, they started the slug queen almost in tandem. After the Rickies stopped being active it seemed like the logical next thing to do–run for Slug Queen or run for mayor.
KB: What did you do to be elected slug queen?
JN: I did a lot of homework. I interviewed old Slug Queens to figure out what other people had done to succeed and also to find out what they would like as a bribe. I decided to do a costume that was going to blow peoples heads off. I wanted to create something completely new from scratch. I got in touch with the Eugene ballet company. Went over to the costume shop, got a bunch of fabric and secured the services of a young woman who is a professional costume designer. She came up with the design of the costume. The headpiece was my idea. I had my hairdresser coil all the wires; it’s telephone wire. The costume was a big deal for me. I wanted to have something that was distinctive. The 8-foot train with the balloons was pretty hard to miss. I bribed them (the judges, which consist of the old Slug Queens and two celebrity judges) with really good food and wine and gift certificates. The way you are technically supposed to win is by voting and you get points by costume, talent and a random question. For my talent I enlisted friends from my yoga class to be my court. I borrowed a giant snail costume from the Eugene Ballet Company. The snail shell is very big and its on wheels. My friend, Ben Goodman, was my consort for the day. He wore bright-blue tights carried the snail shell. Everybody did yoga poses and a choreographed dance to “Everybody dance Now,” by C+C Music Machine.
KB: What emotions did you feel when you announced that you won?
JN: It was scary because they did say it was really close. I was just really relieved and really excited. I felt like everyone put in 110%. I didn’t feel like “O ya I did this. I won.” I felt very supported and I was glad I had so many people helping me. It felt like a real group effort. I didn’t cry because I had a lot of make-up on and it would have ruined it. I smiled a lot.
KB: Since your coronation what have you done in the community?
JN: I’ve done a lot of odd things. Were obligated by the position to appear in the Eugene Celebration parade. It was a very long day and it was very fun. Then you’re just milling amongst the crowd for the rest of the day. You can’t go five feet without someone wanting to take a picture. In October I did the First Friday Art Walk. In November I posed for live drawings at the Oregon Art Alliance, so people drew me and sold their works on the spot. For the Lane County Tourism Group I met a contingent of tourism writers from Canada at the train station. I greeted them as the official cultural ambassador of Eugene. The OOzquarade Ball was at the Mcdonald Theatre in May. We had an evening of food and entertainment. We had an art auction and raffle and we raised awareness for the School Garden Project of Lane County.
Any final thoughts?
JN: People have interesting conceptions of what a Slug Queen is. I was at a party the other day and someone said “I thought those were only transvestites.” There has been one transvestite and he was fabulous. You can be a guy a girl or in-between. The first Slug Queen was a man– a strait man who just happened to have a good sense of humor. We don’t call them Kings when they’re men; they’re still Queens.
I think it’s a great way to experience Eugene from the other side. That’s why I did the parades all those years. When you go into costume, when you go into disguise or people don’t know exactly who you are, you can interact with the public in a way that you can’t when you’re just yourself. That’s eye opening because you’re seeing people in a way that you don’t normally do because they are reacting to what they’re seeing, which isn’t necessarily you. It’s your costume and all your make-up. It lets you make a connection with people that you otherwise don’t have a chance to do.