Well hello there Brandi Amara Skyy! How are you doing this fine, albeit humid, summer evening? I hear Texas has lovely weather in the summer.
If you think death by fire is lovely, then yes. Yes, the summer is EXQUISITE! *laughs*
Death by fire really depends on who we’re talking about but this interview isn’t about politics. We’re here to talk about your new book, ‘How To Be A Drag Queen: A Guidebook For Female Drag Queens & Emerging Drag Artists”!
*Laughs* Well, it IS all connected … but YES! I wrote a new book, sans politics, albeit some people would say that an AFAB woman writing about how to be a drag queen IS a political act since, you know, “women” can’t do drag.
I’m not saying a word! I don’t want a Twitter lynch mob coming after me!
I’m pretty sure they’ll say it for you.
So now that we’ve teased your book, let’s talk about you first shall we?Where does your story begin?
My drag story began when I was 16 and snuck into my first gay bar in Corpus Christi called UBU. It was there that I saw my first drag show and feel in love with the art of drag. Aaron Davis was the first queen I saw and when she took that stage she was bucking the house down and doing back-hand springs in 6″ stilettos. I was hooked. From that point on , I’ve done everything I could to be a part of and to leave a mark on this community that I love so much. You name it, I’ve done it: Back up dancing, choreography, judging pageants, promoting…I’ve literally done it all.
What was it about the art form that appealed to you from the start?
I think for me it was a mixture of the performance aspect (like full on, full out 100% committed to the moment, in the moment) AND the gender that was being presented onstage. I never felt, even back then, that when I was looking at a drag queen, that I was looking at myself, that I was looking at a “woman.”. What I saw on that stage was something so outside the binary of what a “woman” looked like or was supposed to look like, especially in the mid 90’s. What I saw was something that existed outside those norms, that was full of excess, kitsch, camp, and queerness. That was very much something that I felt on the inside but couldn’t really express, or at least felt like I couldn’t really express, because I had been born into this “female” body and “female” was what supposedly was being presented onstage. So I was attracted to the way it brought up questions about who I was and how I wanted to present myself on and off stage. I was also coming out to myself at the time so Aaron, and queens in general, really represented that queerness that I was beginning to feel and be. Plus all the rhinestones, glitz, and glam didn’t hurt either! *Laughs*
What was you entry point to getting involved yourself in the world of drag?
After I had seen Aaron that first time, I kept going back to the show. I introduced myself and eventually we became friends. Once we became friends, I decided that what Corpus needed was more drag. I asked Aaron if he would let me film his transformation backstage and the show itself. I recorded everything, edited it, and then got it on our local Public Broadcasting Station. That was really my first foot in the door and once I saw the transformation I knew without a shadow of a doubt that drag was something I wanted to do, but even then I never really took the stage as a drag artist. I was belly dancing at the time and felt like that was where I was going to end up because I really believed that I couldn’t be a drag queen because I was a girl.
Back in 1996 the internet was just starting out. There was no Facebook. No RuPaul’s Drag Race. No Instagram. I had no idea of knowing that there was already a movement of female drag queens happening in San Francisco. When I got to college, I started playing with camp aesthetics and modern dance but it wasn’t really until 2005 that I really started fully exploring drag as a possible medium for me. By then I had moved to Dallas from Denton and started working at Resource Center (Dallas’ LGBTQ & HIV/AIDS community & health center). They had a fundraiser called Gaybingo and because of my background in drag and dance, I was put in charge of the halftime entertainment aka drag show. I thought I was going to be fully in charge but then out pops Jenna Skyy as co-director. She was just starting out too. And that was the moment that changed everything for me.
It all went to hell in a handbasket right then and there?
YEP! That was all she wrote. I’ve been pretty much broke since then. Drag is expensive! *Laughs*
Well that is the understatement of the century! Tell us about your first experience performing in drag.
That’s always a funny question for me to answer because I was obviously performing drag way before I called it drag. Because I was so afraid that I was weird, that I was the only one like me, or that people would look at me crazy for saying I was a drag queen, I didn’t really label all my performances as drag even though that was what I was doing.
So I always say that my first performance in drag was the first time I actually labeled it as such, and even then it was still uncomfortable and I was scared about doing so. It was at a Wizard of Oz Gaybingo and Jenna asked me to play Glinda opposite of her Elphaba to do Defying Gravity as part of the show. I said no at first and then she said, “Do you want to be a drag queen or not?” and I was like, fuck, this bitch got me. But that’s what we always did/do, we push each other to bring out the greatness in ourselves. So I said yes and did it and it was so fucking liberating. Even though I totally wasn’t nearly as dragged out as I am now, the point was that I finally claimed what I did as drag. When I had people in the audience praising my performance and saying I was the best Glinda they have seen, I knew there was no going back.
Wow, so you played the GOOD WITCH? That must have been a huge acting stretch for you!
YOU HAVE NO IDEA!! It was a stretch but i knew if I could do this, I could ANYTHING in drag!
So in the time since then, you have become quite the accomplished queen and even a titleholder! Did you have any negative response though in what many people in the community felt was a “gay man’s artform”?
Honestly, I feel like there’s more push back NOW then what was happening when I was starting. I didn’t feel or hear or experience any negative response here locally in Dallas because everyone knew me but when I left Dallas and toured as the first USofA Diva… YES! But what I found more often than not was that people were more curious and had a lot more questions than outright negativity. But it was still there. In the audience there were some queens who weren’t or couldn’t get booked. BITTER! But I have to say that even that face-to-face negative responses I got back then was never as bad as shit that people say online now. I think I’ve gotten more attacks online than I ever have face-to-face. Just shows you how gutless some people really are.
Look, I only wrote that one scathing article about you anonymously on Reddit……I mean….nevermind.
I KNEW THAT WAS YOU!! *Laughs*
How long did it take once you got started before you met other AFAB people who were interested in becoming queens as well?
Probably about a year, but that’s because once I’m obsessed about something, I GO ALL IN! I HAD to search them out because there really was no online community or nearly as many AFAB humans wanting to do drag as there are now. I actually started (and still maintain) the first website dedicated to female drag queens, the first Facebook group, and my MA thesis was the first full work dedicated to exploring our art form. So it took me about two years of reaching out and networking to find my tribe. Now we’re everywhere! *Laughs*
Literally! Somehow they even sneaked….snuck? Sneaked into my own drag family! Where do you the the rapid rise of female drag has stemmed from?
RuPaul. I think drag going mainstream has been the biggest and main reason for the rise in female drag queens.
So where did the idea for writing a how-to book come from?
It from the fact that I wish I had had something like this book when I was first starting out. To me and I think to a lot of people, drag is so much more complex and intricate than what you see on TV. Drag is a CRAFT and I wanted to write a book that honored that. Many of the queens I know got started by being another queen’s dresser in this apprentice-mentor type relationship. I was beginning to feel like the craft of drag was getting lost in the fame of it all. It was super important to me that these newer queens understood that if they ever want to be taken seriously in the art then they need to bring something to the party. They need to understand and know drag from all angles, not just the stage and a fierce mug.
I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of your book and it really was great and thorough (Get the book here). How has the response to it been?
It’s been UH MAZ ING!! What has been the most interesting is the diversity of drag artists who have purchased the book, from beginning to seasoned to female drag kings to kings to genderfuckers and other kinds of female-centric performers have bought it too, belly dancers and burlesque performers as well so that makes my heart happy!
I don’t want to take too much credit but I must assume a lot of that had to do with the blurb I gave for the book.
DUH! Your blurb SEALED THE DEAL! 100%
I knew it! For the right price kids, I do blurbs. I’m also available for weddings and bar mit vahs! But in all seriousness, after taking all that time writing a book, there is no way that you would have time or interest to possibly write another one, right?
Actually….. Look, my brain goes nonstop! Even before I had finished my first book, I was already working on another one. In my head, there has always been a trilogy of drag books I wanted to write. I got the first one down. Now…
Now comes “The Art of Tucking”! I can’t wait!
HOW DID YOU KNOW? I actually wanted to ask if you would write the forward for that? *Laughs*
I’ll run it past my business manager. But could you maybe give us a little tease about what the next one might be?
The second book is called “#WeAreDrag” and is going to center around the stories & experiences from within our community (female drag queens & other nontraditional drag artists) as well as give a her-story of female drag queens and will explore new definitions of drag. I’m really excited about it because hearing other people’s stories and experiences is just so inspiring.
In the meantime, you apparently don’t enjoy sleeping because you also have a new season of your podcast coming up as well. Do you have any guest lined up for that yet? (Check out my appearance on Brandi’s podcast here!)
Sleep?!? WHAT IS SLEEP? Without giving too much away, I’m really excited because the guests this season are from a range of backgrounds. Some are draglesque and some are from the other end of drag, such as the people who take awesome drag photos, make costumes, and do other amazing things. AND I’m releasing an interview I did with four women back in 2012 I think, who have a her-storical significance in the female drag community!
Well that sounds amazing but I have to warn you. We have arrived at…..THE LIGHTNING ROUND!!!
OOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I’m scared! BUT READY !!!
Must have makeup item?
4 AM post show food craving?
The best part of drag?
Performance / connecting with the audience in that way
The worst part of drag?
Most surprising thing about you that people might not know?
I’m SUPER INTROVERTED. I’m really quiet and VERY, VERY shy when it comes to revealing myself offstage.
Queen you would pay the most to see?
OOOH do they have to be alive? If not, Divine. Hands down
I actually don’t have any. All my pleasures are out in the open!
Last movie to make you cry?
I think I cry at every movie. The last thing I saw that made me cry was Master Chef. Damn those dreams and personal stories!
Death Row last meal?
OOOHHH, I think it would have to be a cocktail. A last word. Fuck food. Give me liquor or give me death!
Netflix Binge recommendation?
How to Get Away with Murder. I know I’m late to the party BUT HOLY SHIT!
Disney character you relate to the most?
Alice in Wonderland
Final question, most embarrassing song on your phone?
OMG!! STARS ARE BLIND BY PARIS HILTON ALL THE WAY BABY!!!!
Okay, well….let me calculate these results. Okay, carry the three…..mmm hmmm. Okay, it looks like you’re going to narrowly survive…..THE LIGHTNING ROUND!
WHEW!! I knew i was going to be close, but … damn!
I was worried for a moment, but you pulled through.
Me too! I heard you were a beast but damn!
I’m a serious journalist here. I don’t pull punches.
Nope you ALMOST Barbara Walters’d me… ALMOST.
So one of the things I know we have discussed in the past is the importance of goals. What do you have left in the old drag bucket list to accomplish?
I think goals in drag are soooo important – and often, the area where i feel a lot of drag artist should be focusing on. When i was first starting out, I had two MAJOR goals: 1. become a bonafide pageant queen. This was WAAAAAY before USofA Diva existed so I had NO idea how I was going to do it, but I knew one day I WOULD MAKE THAT DREAM HAPPEN. 2. Be the first cis-gender Diva to judge Miss Gay USofA Nationals. The first one happened in 2014 when I beat out eight other queens to win the title and reign as the first Miss USofA Diva.
The second happened five years later — just this past May. The beauty of sitting on the judging panel this year was that, not only did I get to do it the year of my five year USofA-versay, but I got to sit on the panel with THE FIRST DRAG QUEEN I EVER SAW. The queen that started ALL of this, Aaron Davis!! MIND BLOWN. It was kind of like a bookend of sorts of an over twenty year dream. So really where does one go from there??
I guess that’s why i’ve shifted my goals from within the performance aspects of drag to those outside it — writing, recording our herstory as well as my own. i think one of my forever goals in drag is to keep finding ways to evolve my art — both onstage and off. But as far as goals to accomplish? i want to finish & publish these last two books in the series but perhaps more important than that I really want to leave a legacy for our community. i want to create a written herstory of where we’ve been and where we are going. And i want to continue to find ways to help people through my art. Oh, and to be photographed by Austin Young., meet Miss Piggy and have a Lisa Frank character designed after me. And world peace. Well at least strive for it in the drag community! *Laughs*
Well my dear, I think we have just about reached the end of road here today but I am so glad we got to sit down for a little girl talk tonight. I am such a colossal fan of yours and I can’t wait to see what it next to come for you. In the meantime though, do you have some words of wisdom to leave the WERRRK.com Universe with?
I’d like everyone to know that you work so hard on this site and in everything you do and i just want to say thank you for your energy and time in creating this space for us. But in all seriousness, do drag YOUR way and be the slay you wish to see, flawlessly!