By Kendell Yan
When Kendall Gender greets me at the towering glass doors of her Yaletown apartment she’s flanked by two members of her glamorous entourage, one of which is her drag sister and fellow Bratpack girl, Gia Metric. True to her brand, Kendall is both posh and humble in the company of her friends as we sit down in the apartment building common room to kiki about her recent win at Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar 2017.
Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar (VNDS) is a yearly five week drag competition hosted at Celebrities Night Club on Davie Street. Fourteen queens were featured this year, both new and seasoned. The queens were put into groups by the judges and given the unique opportunity to be mentored throughout the competition as they were challenged to showcase their best talents as gender illusionists. Kendall came out on top, crowned the winner, bouquet in hand, with flights and accommodation to the RuPaul’s drag race finale later this year.
“People come to watch the show at 8:30,” Gender says of the competition, “they see what we do for a few hours, but there is so much more hard work that goes into the show that people don’t get to see. Hours and hours throughout the week, it’s surprising I was even able to hold down my day job throughout the five weeks of VNDS.” This sentiment rings true for any drag queen, but it goes tenfold for those in this competition. The stakes get higher as the weeks go on, and rest is scarce for a queen who is hungry to win.
Kendall’s mentor was co-founder and CEO of the event production company, TFD Presents, Tommy D.
Much of the audience met Tommy’s criticisms with boos and regarded him as the Simon Cowell of the judge’s panel, but Kendall had nothing but high praises to sing of him. “Tommy does so much for this community, and because he loves drag so much he really shines a spotlight on it,” she tells me, “I’m so honoured to have had him as a mentor, his guidance and advice really helped me as a performer. He understands drag, he used to be a drag queen [‘there’s a bit of herstory for you’, she tells me]. He’s amazing and anyone who says otherwise is delusional.” This is a queen who sticks up for her community.
Kendall’s reverence of community leaders in the Vancouver LGBTQ2+ scene has informed her drag completely, as she says she always tries to help give back with her art, “It’s not just about dancing around and being pretty for me, it’s about helping people, either through charity work, fundraising, or spreading awareness about pressing issues in our community.” With her newly earned title, Kendall hopes to use her platform to support the Dogwood Monarchist Society charities, in addition to representing Vancouver at Canada’s Next Drag Superstar in Montreal. “I want to use my title to help people, that’s it.”
Kendall’s drag mother Jane Smoker, who hosted the competition this year, won the title of Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar in 2015. Excellence, it seems, runs in the family. “My drag family is so important to me, it isn’t something I take lightly. When I first saw Jane perform,” Gender says, “it blew my mind, and I knew that I wanted to do drag. Her and her boyfriend at the time took me shopping, did my makeup, and I performed at her show Cherry Pop at the Fox. I’m grateful for my sisters, my mom, and anyone else in my drag circle for their support. You need family to learn from, to grow, and that’s what I have.”
Kendall Gender is also lucky to have a biological mother who is as involved and supportive of her as Smoker is. She recounts to me that when she was little, maybe five or six years old, that she really wanted a dress to wear, and so her mom went out and got her one. Just before I met her, Kendall was on the phone with her mom discussing her plans for Canada’s Next Drag Superstar, and no doubt receiving endless praise from a proud mama.
You can catch Kendall Gender at The Junction every Thursday for Bratpack with her drag mom, Jane Smoker, and sisters Gia Metric, Valynne Vile, Lady Jem, and Cynthia Kiss. She will also be performing a spot in Vancouver Pride as part of her winnings from the competition, and no doubt an endless slew of gigs from now until then. Kendall is the queen to watch right now, a true diva with the heart of a leader and the legs of a glamazon.
The captain has just turned off the seatbelt sign, Kendall would like to thank you for flying first class with Gender Airlines.
All photos are courtesy of Bluebay700 and Kendall Gender.
Kendell Yan is a queer, second-generation POC who navigates the hyphen of mixed ethnicity LGBTQ2+ living in Vancouver. Kendell has a penchant for drag Queens and Kings that borders on obsession, and he favours events that encourage free expression, inclusivity, and love in all flavours.
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