Alex Simpson on the stage — and in life — was fierce, irreverent and unapologetic.
Performing under the stage name “Deb Auchery,” Simpson was Bend’s preeminent queer superstar, a ubiquitous figure in Central Oregon’s burgeoning queer scene. Her group the Cult of Tuck has become a staple in the scene.
But Simpson died in September at the age of 30 from diabetes. For Bend’s small queer community, her sudden death has left many reeling, unsure about how they will move forward in a city where it can be difficult to carve out space.
Simpson grew up in rural Alaska before moving to Bend to attend Central Oregon Community. There, she soon fell into performing in various dance and comedy shows, before branching out to try drag on her own.
Her mother, Markaye Simpson, said her daughter showed a love for performing and creativity from an early age.
“She gravitated towards anything that let her have creative license,” Markaye Simpson said. “It all was surrounded by her love for change, her love for artistry, her love for making a difference.”
That creativity was on display in the Cult of Tuck, a drag collective Simpson founded in 2018 with a large cast of drag queens, kings and other queer performers. For George Wainscott, who performs under the name Katrina Georgina, Simpson was a mentor who fostered their creativity and always provided positive feedback.
“At the end of the day, it was honestly about us as a family,” Wainscott said. “Without her here, I know that there’s a lot of people in the LGBT community that wouldn’t be where they are today.”
While Simpson left her mark on the stage, those who knew her best say they remember her mostly for her overwhelming generosity. Tay Frontiera, Simpson’s friend and coworker, said Simpson always took the time to listen and constantly checked on her loved ones to make sure they were doing alright.
Friends described her as an amazing listener. At the Pretty Pussycat, an adult store in Bend where Simpson worked, other transgender people would come to the stop to ask her questions, becoming a resource they otherwise might not have had.
Frontiera, who’s non-binary, said Central Oregon can be difficult for LGBTQ people, especially for those trying to find community. The region has no gay club and finding other queer people can be tough in a place that isn’t always welcoming.
“Bend is the whitest, straightest place I’ve ever been,” Frontiera said. “Bend, at least personally, always feels like it’s trying to push me out. I think being queer out here is just harder.”
One place Frontiera and others could find space though, was the various shows put on by the Cult of Tuck around town. They put on themed shows, like Halloween and April Fool’s Day, to packed crowds filled with raucous laughter and cheers.
Simpson also volunteered on the board of Out Central Oregon, a local nonprofit that hosts various LGBTQ events, and helped organize Bend Pride. For many, Deb Auchery was the center of queer life in Central Oregon.
Markaye Simpson said she didn’t realize what an impact her daughter left on Bend until her passing, when other drag queens began talking about how much she helped them.
“She was surrounded by people who had the same passion for making change,” Markaye Simpson said of her daughter. “She was so many things to so many people.”
Members of the Cult of Tuck told OPB they’re still discussing the group’s future, but that they intend to continue to honor Simpson’s memory.
“It’s going to put a fire under us to really try harder and advocate more and work really hard to build our community in the spirit that she started,” said Elysian Coil, a member of the group. “I think it’s up to us to continue it.”
While Bend’s queer scene goes through a period of change, there are those who hope Simpson’s death can help the community bond and continue the work that she started.
“Her being the face of the queer community is definitely going to be hard now that she’s gone,” Frontiera said. “But, I think this is the perfect time for everyone to rally and get closer together.”