Welcome to Drag: The performance art celebrating gender fluidity

The drag scene is thriving all across Ontario—from Toronto to Kingston

Rowena Whey gave insight on the Kingston Drag scene.
Supplied by Rowena Whey
I walked into Crew’s and Tango’s, a queer bar in Toronto, and my senses were flooded with light, glitter, wafts of vodka cranberries, and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” blaring on the speakers as a drag queen performed. 
Ivory Towers, a drag queen fashioned with caution tape as a bodysuit that matched their vibrant yellow hair, led an entranced crowd through the last stanzas of the song. Their stage presence was as powerful as their black thigh-high stilettos. 
When Helena Poison joined the stage in an incredible pair of ass-less chaps with rainbow fringe going down the pant leg, the two engaged in banter with the crowd members, all of whom hung onto their every word. 
Drag performers like Towers and Posion have had to create a space for themselves in an outwardly heteronormative and patriarchal society. 
The first renditions of drag culture trace themselves back to Shakespearean times when male performers cross-dressed to portray female characters. They travelled through the United States during the prohibition era where speakeasies provided solace for gay men to express themselves and explore their gender identity. 
Rowena Whey, a leader within the vibrant Kingston drag community and a practicing drag queen of six years, told The Journal what the culture means to her. 
“Drag is an art form where we perform gender, that takes a lot of forms,” Whey said. 
While she adopts a female presenting gender for her performances, Whey stressed that drag comes in varieties; there are drag kings and non-binary performers as well. 
“Drag is an all-encompassing art form,” she said. “Not only is it makeup, fashion, body contouring—it’s also dancing and singing and acting and comedy.”
Her first encounter with drag was in Edmonton at the Evolution Wonder Lounge where she was mesmerized and intrigued by a performer who would later be her partner. 
“I didn’t really know drag existed until I moved to Edmonton,” Whey said. “I started doing drag for Halloween one year, but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right.” 
Whey spent time watching makeup tutorials and making her own clothes for her drag persona. 
“When it came time to go out, I was in drag for 15 hours. If I could do that I could do it as a career,” she said. 
Whey talked about the lengthy process of getting ready for a show, from venue hunting to styling to makeup to hair. The work that goes into drag is all-encompassing. 
“They like to say that when you’re doing drag makeup, there’s this like wow moment where you actually feel like your transformation is complete,” she said. 
“For me, that doesn’t really happen until after my entire face—lips, lashes, like everything—is on, but my wig doesn’t have to be on, which I always find strange.”  
When asked to name who her biggest inspiration has been, Whey said Elton John.
“I love that he is an out and proud queer man, he’s not afraid to be flamboyant. He’s theatrical and out of this world and over the top. I always felt that really deep down.”
Catch Rowena live at the Grad Club and Daft Brewery on the first Wednesday of every month and the last Thursday of every month, respectively. 

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