Earlier this month, we sent BCIT student Stephanie Bohn down to the BCIT Marketing Association‘s annual Fashion Fundraiser, to get a front row look at drag queen culture. While she was there, Stephanie was lucky enough to get some 1-on-1 time with a few of the models, to find out more about this curious culture and how they’re working to promote diversity and gender equity.
(photos by Dayna Weststeyn)
Can you tell me about yourself?
I’m 25 years old. I moved here to Vancouver from Toronto about three years ago and I am the MC for tonight’s event.
How did you start doing drag?
My first time doing drag was when I was 14. I dressed up like a girl for a dance and lip-synch competition. However, I started to get serious about drag after watching World Pride in Toronto. I saw some glamorous drag queens and thought “they’re amazing- just like celebrities.” I told my sister that I was inspired by it and wanted to start. She went out and bought me my first brush kit. After she spent money, I knew I had to commit.
Do you keep your drag personality separate from your everyday life?
I don’t think I do. My drag is just a more elevated version of my personality. I’m a little more outgoing and flirty. I don’t change my voice or anything. It’s still me, just more exaggerated.
Has your drag changed over the years?
Vancouver changed my drag because all the types of drag are forced into one small community. In Toronto, it’s more segregated; each area kind of has its own style. If I was still there, I would still be doing a more feminine drag. Instead, here I’ve grown out my beard a little more and really played up the idea of “gender f***ing.”
There’s a lot more talk about the differences in gender. Trans people are starting to gain acceptance. More terms are arising like ‘non-binary’, ‘gender queer.’ For me, drag is about playing with that fluidity and really working on blurring the lines between gender.
You mentioned that Vancouver drag is like a small community. Can you tell me more about that?
Well, the drag community is much smaller here than in Toronto. Everyone sees each other a lot because it’s a small community. We’ve really gotten to know each other and we’re very supportive of each other. We’ll go out to each others’ shows and cheer each other on. Drag is really starting to grow here (in Vancouver) and I think a big part of that is how supportive the community is here. It’s really flourishing and now you can catch a drag show on Davie every single night of the week!
Any important lessons that you’ve learned from drag?
A lot of people view drag queens in a very specific way, but drag it isn’t a dictation of who you are. Straight men have technically done drag; I first did drag when I put on a dress and heels to imitate a girl. It’s just a performance! Everyone expresses themselves differently.
Drag has built my confidence; it’s helped me to put myself out there. I used to be shy in larger groups. I used to wait until I was approached by others. In drag, I don’t have the option to do that – I’m in the limelight! Drag has really forced me to build my confidence; now I’m willing to go up and start the conversation.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m 22 years old, Jewish, and I say “Shalom, Hi” a lot. I’m a huge pop culture fan. I love exploring fashion and performing.
How did you get into drag?
I was with someone and they finally convinced me to watch an episode of Ru Paul. I hated it! Then later, I watched that episode again and fell in love. One queen really struck me. She said that when she finally came out she didn’t feel like she had the complete experience. So she started exploring more of what was out there. She loved fashion and make-up and eventually found herself in the world of drag. After listening to her experience, I decided I wanted to try drag out.
Does your drag have a certain style?
Some drag queens dance, but I don’t know how to describe what I do. I just move to the music and try to make it entertaining. My drag has a more political forefront. I feel like I have a voice in the drag community and I try to use it as often as I can. When I was in school, I really cared about gender and women studies, so my drag usually reflects that. A few weeks ago I performed to “Riot” by Azealia Banks at VNDS 2018. For the finale, I was stripped down to a bodysuit that read “never asking for it.” It was my self-expression on the #MeToo Movement.
Is your drag personality separate from your everyday personality?
At first it was. But as time passed, my personality changed; I started to accept my femininity more. I also became more comfortable with my masculine side. I used to hate my scruff, but now I love it! I really enjoy all of who I am now. I’m happiest when I’m in my sweat pants, on my couch and have nothing on my face. I’m definitely more accepting of myself now. I’m more confident when I talk in person, I love my body more, and I’m more accepting of my family’s religious background.
Any tips on how others can be more accepting of what you do?
We were walking down there (by Habitat) and we saw a group of men smoking. Instantly, I thought “Oh god, here we go.” It actually ended up being a positive experience, they told us we looked good! Sometimes all it takes is an acknowledgement; the worst feeling in the world is being on public transit, in full drag and getting blank stares from everyone around you. A smile can make the world of a difference! Also, never touch a drag queen in public. The drag community gets treated like women in public. We get touched, wooed and poked… And it doesn’t always feel great. Consent is huge, and people need to learn to ask before they act. Finally, ask questions. You can always assume something about people, but you shouldn’t! Ask and then learn.
Tell me about yourself.
I am a full-time drag queen, which is a very strange thing to say. I own my own clothing company, I’m running for empress and I don’t really sleep.
How did you get into drag?
Before this, I was in pre-law. One day I went to my parents and said “You know what would be more fun than this? If I moved to Vancouver, went to fashion school and then became a drag queen.” That wasn’t actually how it went down. It was more of a messy flow of events.
I’ve always been academic and technical while also being sort of crazy and artistic. I’ve always had two separate sides which is great for me, but awful for the people around me. I’m someone that says yes to everything; it keeps me super busy. After the whole law school thing, I moved to Vancouver. I didn’t want to be a drag queen but my friends talked me into it after I quit competitive dancing due to an injury. Now, I have two weekly shows, am in drag almost every single night, and have started my own company. It’s chaos, but I love it.
It sounds like you’re as busy as a BCIT student! How do you stay motivated?
I’m resource-oriented. My parents always say: “it doesn’t matter what you do as long are you’re the best at it.” My goal is to constantly improve. I’m really proud of how my drag and my fashion company have improved and I’m motivated by those continual improvements. If I’m growing, I’m happy.
With drag, is there a certain message that you try to portray?
I’ve built up a reputation of an old school cabaret style. I also feel that as drag queens, we’re literally justice for the gay community. We’re definitely going to stand for political change, but we want to make people smile every once in awhile. When I’m on stage, my main goal is just to make at least one person in my audience laugh. I feel better when I come on stage and if I can share that feeling with one other person feel better, my act is done then I’ve done my job.
I’m also running for the position of empress in the city. So basically, that’s the head of a charity organization that raises money for one calendar year. If I got that position, it would be amazing to be able to give back to the community that has been so warm and embracing of me.
Do you keep your drag personality and your everyday life separate?
When I first started, I had two very separate personalities. In drag, I was Misty Meadow. The rest of the time I was Connor: an academic, technical, and conservative man that was a little scared of his feminine side. I think I kept them more separated because I wasn’t okay with doing this at first. Now, as the years have gone by, they’ve amalgamated. Now, it’s a little strange because more people know me as Misty than as Connor.
How did drag become a more permanent part of your life?
In England, as a child, I grew up poised and formal. Here, I’ve kind of transitioned more into an outgoing, North American style. I started doing drag when I was in Calgary, but when I moved here being a drag queen became even more permanent. In Calgary, I was Connor and then I started doing drag. When I moved here, I moved here as Misty.
Any tips on how others can be more accepting of what you do?
Come see a show and see that we aren’t that different! There doesn’t need to be a separation between us. I would rather someone come to a show and say, “you are the most unfunny person I’ve met and I hate your drag,” than come to me and be like, “I don’t like you because your gay.” The first one is an opinion and I know I’m not for everyone, but there shouldn’t be an opinion on being gay; it’s just how some people are. I think if you’re not comfortable with people that are in the LGBT community, you need to take a step back and find out what that underlying problem is. Rationalize the problem and define why are you uncomfortable. Separate the issue from the person! A lot of the times, people just have a preconceived idea of what being gay or what being a certain race is; they’ve never actually sat down and had a conversation with that person.