Bold & Beautiful: Heller Highwater
Performance & Theatre
After reading Stephen King’s “The Gunslinger,” Beaux Fox thought, “Space cowboys deserve better,” prompting the beginning of Fox’s drag adventure as Heller Highwater. In Highwater he would find a connection to something he’d been avoiding for years: his roots.
Now, Highwater regularly performs with Those Bitches at Club Try-angles in downtown Salt Lake City. His performances show glimpses of his sci-fi lifestyle as a space-dwelling cowboy. His on-stage presence blesses the Earth with each performance, showing the audience what he’s endured in space, as if they were watching a Dr. Who episode. Fox graces the stage as a person healing and living with disabilities, and is able to overcome the most difficult parts of life through performing as Heller Highwater.
The beginning of drag for Highwater began with a different character, however. After moving from Wyoming to Ogden, Fox’s friendships expanded, and he was confronted with a world of inspiring drag performers. “Luna Slipstream. She was the first drag queen I’d ever seen. Scared the hell out of me,” Highwater says, laughing. “She was like, almost seven feet tall — goth queen, full white makeup, cyberpunk — the first time I saw her. And I was dressed like a hobbit.”
Highwater, who knew how to paint a theater look since childhood, found special effects looks to be a comforting center in his repertoire. He expounded on this with his first drag character. While the looks were fierce, they constantly changed. “I struggled with my last character because I was always doing something different,” Highwater says. “I was rarely recognized outside of just my name, so I quit for a while because I realized that I had lost myself in that character, and I needed to kind of refine myself.”
In 2021, after exploring Utah and his own self-expression, Highwater ended up moving back to Wyoming for a short time. “When I had to move back, I didn’t really have a choice but to reconnect with those roots. I realized that there’s actually a lot to love there,” Highwater says. “I’m a cowboy deep down.”
“When I had to move back, I didn’t really have a choice but to reconnect with those roots. I realized that there’s actually a lot to love there. I’m a cowboy deep down.”
Eventually, Highwater brought that healing back with them to Salt Lake City. “I’m calling it ‘Reclaiming my Yeehaw,’” he says. By then, he’d experienced the boughs of long COVID symptoms — exhaustion and chronic migraines. In addition, he had suffered a foot injury, which made it hard for him to balance. These obstacles became a part of Heller’s drag character story — they made him a cyborg.
“I’m coping with real things that have happened in my life, so that’s a lot of [Heller Highwater],” Fox says. The idea for Highwater being a space cowboy also originated from a personal need. “I need the space to do whatever I want. So making him ‘in space’ offers an alternate dimension,” he says.
“I need the space to do whatever I want. So making him ‘in space’ offers an alternate dimension.”
Highwater described his first performance as somewhat of a real-life cowboy battle of coming out. “I came [onto the stage] as this beat-up cowboy,” he says. “Since he’s queer, he’s very loudly like, ‘I know I’m going to get beaten. There’s potential for this to be really dangerous, but I’m going to do this at all costs.’” The performance was somewhat of a metaphor for Fox confronting a self-truth that felt very dangerous. At the end of the performance, Highwater revealed himself in his full glory with a strip tease down to snakeskin and leather, and the crowd went wild.
After developing his character, succinctly self-described as “a scruffy yet effective folk hero,” Highwater took his act back to his home state of Wyoming. Through a deeply appreciated friend, Starling My Darling, Fox had the chance to perform at a drag show in Lander, Wyoming. After agreeing, he was hit with a petrifying feeling. “I’m about to go put on a mustache and stand in front of a bunch of … I didn’t know if they were going to be conservative,” Highwater says.
What awaited him was a crowd that needed him more than he anticipated. “People understood it more because they knew this man. Everyone knew this cowboy before. They’ve seen it, and wish that he could get out of his own fear,” Fox says. “So many people said, ‘I didn’t even know that someone who wasn’t a man could do drag,’ and I’m like, ‘I didn’t know that for a long time too. I’m glad that I could show you. You can do whatever you want.’”
“People understood it more because they knew this man. Everyone knew this cowboy before. They’ve seen it, and wish that he could get out of his own fear.”
Through a lot of bravery, Highwater has done it all on stage. One notable performance featured a drag crocodile, who he hilariously slayed in front of the audience. Speaking more to the bigger picture of his drag performances, Fox’s work helps to connect him to his roots and the LGBTQ+ cowboys before him. “There are queer veterans and cowboys that didn’t have that chance to be glittery,” he says. “It’s interesting to experience my own masculinity and then also be kind of healing that ancestral trauma.”
For more of Heller Highwater and his friends, you can find their latest work and performance announcements on Instagram via @the.starling.co, @mooseycal, @notta_genda, @mik_jager_69 and, of course, @come.heller.highwater.