A random snapshot by a photographer on the subway caused New York City drag queen Gilda Wabbit to go viral. Twice. First the initial shot proved popular on Instagram as a symbol of diversity in the Big Apple. Then a right wing website used the picture to represent what they felt was liberalism dark vision of the future although they were unprepared for the backlash of support that Gilda and the currently unnamed woman in the Niqab received. I was able to sit down with Gilda to get her thoughts on the picture, the role of drag queens under the current administration and to find out if her fifteen minutes are up.
Chiffon Dior: How does it feel to “go viral” as the kids say?
Gilda Wabbit: I’ve already had my strep test, and I think it’s just a little bacterial infection. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Oh, wait! The internet meme I was a part of! It’s honestly been a bit overwhelming. I’m having a great time being the glamorous face of “what’s wrong with America”, but I also have a responsibility to represent diversity with tact and eloquence.
CD: No pressure on you there! This has to be a bit like a roller coaster for you in that you got initial buzz when the picture was first posted but then it got a second life when a right wing group took the picture and made their own meme, which backfired spectacularly.
GW: It did! I find the clap-back hilarious. People are up in arms on both side, but my co-passenger and I just happened to be existing. And I’ve learned that sometimes the best way to resist our current political regime is to exist–be yourself unapologetically.
CD: Wait, what about the clap?
GW: No, no, I had the clap last summer after some time on Fire Island. The clap back! The way people on the left have used the original negative tweet and turned it around into a viral sensation supporting diversity.People are expressing that the woman in the Niqab and I are EXACTLY the future they want to see. It’s a blessing.
CD: Does the future really include that much “manspreading” though?
GW: *Laughs* That was a big lesson I’ve learned! When people aren’t complaining that I’m “confused about my gender” or that the woman next to me deserves the “oven treatment”, they’re upset that I have my legs spread around all the bags I’m carrying. So now, I tuck one bag below my subway seat, put one bag in front of me, and another on my lap. Stop the spread NYC!
CD: In all seriousness though, what do you think is the role of drag queens in the resistance to this current regime that is in power right now here in the United States?
GW: We have a platform right now, and we must use it for positive change. With the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the rise of Instagram, drag queens are experiencing a huge surge of influence. I’m personally advocating for the creation of empathy and understanding to lessen the divide between people of different backgrounds and cultures! But queens can advocate for so much. Some fight for trans rights, the equal treatment of people of color under the law, women’s reproductive health, the legalization of marijuana! If you’re a queen and you’ve got a cause, you should find a way to champion it. Especially right now.
CD: Did this experience make you stop and evaluate your own personal values and political opinions?
GW: It made me stop and think about how to approach them on a broader level! Now, I have to articulate them clearly and with intention. I’m not just a dude with no eyebrows in a voting booth, I’ve got a brand new swath of social media followers listening to what I have to say. And I have a responsibility to those who don’t have the opportunity to speak, to get it right, and to turn to them when they should be speaking instead of me. I’m not sure she wants her voice heard, but if the woman next to me in the picture sees this, I’d love to hear what she has to say. Her perspective is important too!
CD: Since that right wing site made this picture about the future, what are your hopes for the future?
GW: More sequins and spandex. *winks* But in all seriousness, a world where it’s not a big deal for me to sit next to a woman in full modesty garb. A world where everyone can look up during their commute and see colorful drag queens, women in Niqabs, and people of all sorts co-existing together! And, of course, for the trains to run on time! I can’t be late to drag brunch at L&W Oyster Co. on Sundays! Our 12pm start time is an early call for a creature of the night!
Fast forward several weeks later. The hype from the “future that liberals want” meme has slowed down and Chiffon catches up with much more….let’s say wistful Gilda Wabbit for her post-meme thoughts.
Hey there Gilda. Are you doing okay honey?
Oh, I’m doing…I’m doing just…oh I can’t take it anymore! I’m not so good.
I understand. Most people are disappointed in talking to me but you were the toast of town….heck, the entire liberal interwebs. Now you’re…..just another Wabbit. Did you see this coming?
I honestly didn’t! I’ve wanted fame and fortune since I was a child and I thought surely I’d achieved it. But there’s a reason they call it “viral” fame. Just like a cold, it’s gone as quickly as it came.
You always hear about the 15 minutes of fame but no one thinks it will happen to them. Just ask Milli Vanilli.
Who? Oh wait, weren’t they the queens who won a Grammy lip syncing?
Well…..sort of. I don’t have time for a history lesson. I’m here to feed the children your cautionary tale….I mean here to let you know it will get better.
It will? Truly? Because my Instagram follower count has dropped and the only people interacting with me on Twitter are my mom’s knitting group..
Well, I mean if THEY think you’re cool, that’s what matter right? Who needs the thousands of people hanging on your every word?
I guess so! I thought we did drag FOR the attention from thousands though. Now I’m just a regular cartoon housewife again, keeping the house clean and my neighbors *ahem* satisfied while my hubby is at work.
See? That’s very glass half full of you! I mean, so what if all the other queens in New York are calling you the Shia LeBouf of drag, right?
Wait, they’re calling me what?!
Shia LeBouf. I mean, sure that doesn’t sound great but only one one person has ever ruined the entire Indiana Jones franchise single handedly! Take it as a compliment. Sort of.
Are you saying I’m ruining drag? Is it because I only wear one wig?
I’ve probably said too much. They’re going to yell at me in the meetings.
The meetings?! What’s happening? I don’t know anything about this!
I’ve said too much as it is.
**sobs into her petticoat**
Hey! That’s MY petticoat!
You didn’t need that, right?
Not any more! So in all seriousness, you’re not ACTUALLY despondent, are you Ms. Wabbit?
Absolutely not, but it is fun to role play, isn’t it?
I mean, after all, that’s what drag is about.
….and Dungeons & Dragons!
Don’t get me started! I could talk about Dungeons & Dragons all evening.
*Laughs* I may be the #SexPositivePrincess, but my true calling is #QueenOfTheNerds
I find that hard to believe that a classically trained opera singer could be a nerd.
I’ll tell you, even among classical singers, I’m considered super nerdy. I enrolled in an elective class about the development of polyphony in which we studied only the works of Josquin. And I got an A!
Only an A? Why not an A+?
I forgot to sleep with the professor before finals, alas.
I’m a grown woman, thank you very much!
Of course dear. So before you start talking more nerd stuff to me and I have to stuff you in a locker, let’s talk a little more about your 15 minutes, now with the added benefit of hindsight, shall we?
Hindsight is 20/20, after all!
Unless your insurance covers Lasik surgery.
Mine does! But I lose it when I turn 26…anyway, my fifteen minutes. Where would you like me to start?
Well now that a few weeks have passed, has your perspective on everything changes at all?
Oh absolutely! I’ve learned quite a lot–most importantly that internet fame actually means very little. Our NYC sister Sutton Lee Seymour texted me when it first went crazy and said, “Remember that the hustle continues after this. ‘Making it’ is an illusion.” And she was right! People may know me better now, but if I don’t deliver the goods, so to speak, they’ll quit paying attention.
Wait you deliver? Do you work for Seamless now? Or maybe……TaskWabbit?
ManHunt actually–I’m a chauffeur for people who don’t want to take the train to get their fair share of carrot.
So that was YOUR ad I saw on Craigslist?
It was written all over your face to be honest…..or is that contour?
If your contour can’t say, “Let me enable your NSA session with the trade in Brooklyn,” what can?
I honestly don’t have an answer to that.
*Laughs* Anyway, back to my fifteen minutes. There has been a lasting effect, although the actual fifteen minutes is up.
Oh, that’s just the lasting effects of my fifteen minutes in the sling at the last Underwear Party I went to.
This is a family site Gilda.
Mea culpa! I had the privilege of speaking to a group of high school choir students about working in the arts in NYC. And I was also flown down to my Alma Mater to speak to the Law School about diversity and representation in the media.
Well I mean sure, if you’re into the whole prestigious speaking engagement sort of thing.
Was that a read? But I am very excited about the speaking engagements. It’s a nice change of pace from getting twinks to buy shots and telling dick jokes. Though let’s be real, I love dick jokes.
You have layers!
I’m like an Opera Cake–many layers all adding up to one delicious hole! Er, whole. My apologies.
You had me at cake.
A carrot cake!!
Way to stay on brand Gilda. So do you think you have staying power as a meme, like the “Ain’t nobody got time for that” lady?
I don’t think the meme has crazy staying power, actually. Often the most successful memes are more laugh out loud funny then thought provoking. However, I think I can use the platform the meme gave me to build something lasting. I have a face now, and a message about living authentically in the face of discrimination and judgement. When you have something genuine like that to spread around, but you sell it with wit and a bit of smut, you’re guaranteed to find an audience.
“Wit and a bit of smut” should be on your business card.
Wit, smut, and the best damn vocals this side of the Hudson River!
Wait, not the Jersey side I hope?
Oh no! My fiancé wouldn’t allow me to convince him to move us to Jersey, even though it’s far more affordable. He prefers our current wabbit hole to a Jersey based one.
Like Mufasa said, “That’s beyond our borders. You must never go there.”
I think that’s why they haven’t let me into Brooklyn yet as well. Although can you imagine me in Brooklyn? I’d get into full high-opera drag and sing Dido’s Lament while burying myself alive. It’d be the MOST!
I get in trouble no matter what I say about Brooklyn so…no comment.
So I’ve seen–we best stick to thinking about the future wabbits want!
Which based on your busy schedule, I think what they want is to see you in action, in spite your 15 minutes being up.
Well, you can hunt this little Wabbit all over the city! Every Sunday I’m at L & W Oyster Co. with Gina Tonic for Sisters Drag Brunch. The food is to die for, and of course so is the drag. I’m also at Albatross Bar Mondays for #BrokebackBingo and Fridays for the Drag Race viewing party! I also work pretty frequently at other bars including Boots and Saddle, Hardware, and the West End. And yesterday I made my Pieces Bar debut during Had-It Happy Hour with Dusty Ray Bottoms. I hope to be back soon!
Is that all?
For now, yes! But fear not, I’m working on quite a few projects that I’ll be able to start announcing shortly.
You don’t need announce court mandated community service projects dear.
I plead the fifth.
That is what I told you to say in court but you don’t listen to me.
I know! The first thing you said after they read my sentence was, “Told ya so!”
I’m not usually one to say I told you so but it’s what you needed to hear at that time.
Thanks for being so good at giving me the hard truth!
Well I think its just about time to wrap this up but I’m excited that we got to talk again, even if you are nowhere near as famous any more.
Isn’t it nice to interview people on the F list sometimes? Thanks for having me ❤
Well I just interviewed Gina Tonic the other day so the F list is a big upgrade.
*Laughs* And with that, goodnight!