When the spotlight found Grace Gibson onstage at Lambda Center Houston, a star was reborn, in a sense. Gibson, who assumes the alias Hugh Stone when delighting crowds as a drag king, went on to win the Mister Lambda 2022 competition, cementing her spot in drag history. Today, the senior talent buyer for music venues credits her sobriety journey as a gateway into drag, the LGBTQ community, and an invitation to fully realize her queer identity.
The Houston native spent her early adult years enjoying the riches of life while indulging in the party lifestyle. In 2021, however, a run-in with the law ultimately led to a life-changing, court-mandated year of sobriety. “I felt super-isolated and just kind of miserable after my arrest. Everything that I had identified with and my social life was gone. I was very unhappy, and it all felt very out of my control.
“My probation officer suggested I go to an intensive outpatient program (IOP),” the outgoing professional explains. “I had never really been vulnerable with other people, especially people that were also going through tough things. I had never really listened to other people’s experiences. Suddenly, I was hearing stuff that really resonated with me. I always thought that everyone else was just better than I was at not drinking more than a few drinks a night. I blacked out more than other people, and I was so ashamed of that.”
After learning more about different programs and groups aimed at supporting those living a sober life, Gibson decided to check out an in-person recovery group. “I was coming up on 90 days sober, which is a big milestone in early recovery.” With meetings mostly still taking place via Zoom due to the ongoing pandemic, Gibson had a hard time finding a group that was open and available for her to collect her three-month sobriety chip—a tangible reminder for those in 12-step programs to take one day at a time. “I was actually really trying to avoid Lambda,” Gibson says laughing. “I was married to a man and I had never really thought of myself as straight, but I made a commitment to be in this hetero marriage.”
The infectiously friendly Houstonian rode her bike to Lambda, Houston’s LGBTQ 12-step recovery “clubhouse,” and the rest, in her words, is history. “The topic of the meeting that day was laughter,” she recalls. “All of these people with different lengths of sobriety were talking about how much fun they have in sobriety. Any hesitation about going to Lambda completely disappeared.”
Gibson found safety and a chosen family at the Center. “Whether or not I was gay wasn’t even on my radar anymore. Lambda was the place where I was going to stay sober.”
Eventually, Gibson, who has a musical background that includes performing in a yacht-rock tribute band in New York City, entered in the organization’s Pride competition, Miss & Mister Lambda. Members of the Center perform in drag and compete for the honor of riding in the Houston Pride parade. One year after getting sober, the newly divorced, freshly out lesbian decided that it was time to pursue the competition. “I went with the name Hugh Stone and initially thought how cool it would be to have a drag king doing drag story time with kids at libraries. I grew up around drag in Montrose in the ’90s, but I didn’t get to identify with any of it. I just kind of marveled at it. As a kid who was a performer really early on, I can’t help but wonder how seeing an AFAB drag performer would have impacted me.”
Hugh Stone ultimately took the Mister Lambda crown after executing a flawless, high-energy performance of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” that was met with boisterous applause. The drag bug had officially bitten. Today, Gibson, who has completed drag bootcamp and recently competed in the Game of Kings contest at Pearl Bar, has an apartment filled with various props such as her handmade drum set, foam wigs, and even a suit made of bubble wrap.
The artist has fully embraced her drag persona, and looks forward to continuing performing despite the senseless ongoing political attacks on the art form. “What I’ve learned the most from doing drag is that it truly is freedom,” she says.
Currently more than two years sober, she pauses before concluding, “Having a creative outlet with that level of intention is so rewarding. It has offered imperative growth and improvements to my mental health. It has impacted how I approach my day-to-day life in general. It’s helped me to be more comfortable in my own skin, and show up in my life as a more authentic and grounded version of myself.”
Learn more about the June 16 Miss & Mister Lambda Competition at lambdahouston.com.