By Kendell Yan
As international supermodel of the world RuPaul says, “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” But what about those curious and beautiful creatures who paint a face upon a face, and possibly even one more upon another? Who are the drag kings and queens that flip the script on gender and push the boundaries of the possible with powder, pigment, and lace? Who are these community leaders that carry on the legacy of gender heroes, such as Marsha P. Johnson (who threw the first stone at Stonewall in 1969), throughout LGBTQ+ herstory?
To take a closer look at the scene in Vancouver, I caught up with Mr/Ms Cobalt 2016 runner up, Shay Dior, while she was getting ready for her guest spot at The Barron Gurl Show. Originally from Toronto, Shay started doing drag in Vancouver in 2015 and has quickly made a name for herself as a creative and personable powerhouse. Often seen on the 1181 and Cobalt stages, Shay Dior is an enchanting Queen with a good heart and a fierce attitude. The conversation that follows was conducted mostly over the shoulder through a looking glass, as Shay was putting on her face.
Kendell Yan: So I met you around October last year, while you were dating ________ (no kissing and telling) and I think you had just started to really be booking gigs.
SD: I wasn’t really booking a lot; I was just starting. Actually, dating ________ kind of held me back because I would rather spend time with him than go to the shows…because he didn’t really care to go. After we broke up I went on this drag binge…Oh no! I forgot to shave my armpits. Oh well, I mean Isolde* doesn’t shave her armpits…
*Note: Isolde N. Barron is the Queen of East Van
KY: There’s more of that in the scene though, right?
SD: There’s more gender bending, there’s more like, not taking drag so seriously. Especially in Vancouver. In other areas I feel like they’re divided. I like that in Vancouver everyone is in one kind of community of queens, and kings, so we all kind of learn from each other, we respect each other, and we learn that it’s not…there’s not one way to do it. Take Rose Butch for example, one of my biggest inspirations in the city. Not a Queen or a King, this drag thing fuses together masculinity and femininity into one beautiful being of art and has the most articulate performances.
KY: Do you find that since you’ve been doing more shows and competitions, that your character has grown or changed or become something altogether different?
SD: Yeah. I was definitely someone who took drag too seriously at the beginning, I just wanted to be fierce. I think even the first couple times I did it, I did really strong numbers, like Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and the praise I got from it made me feel like I needed to stick with that standard. But through these competitions I just said no, I want to have fun with this.
A lot of it is just having fun, and also in a way being a beacon for other people. There are a lot of people in Vancouver that are very recent in drag, or want to do drag and so just being a sort of role model as well.
KY: It’s amazing, there are so many young Queens in the city. Did you perform at the Orlando Benefit at the Odyssey?
SD: Yeah I was at Faux Girls at the Junction before because I knew they were also donating and I wanted to help them out as well.
KY: That night Alma Bitches was saying most of the performers in the show had been doing drag for a year or less, and to be doing it for a charitable cause, that’s incredible. They are so talented.
SD: Well yeah, s**t like that makes me want to do drag even more. People need drag queens. We need these people who are willing to fight for our communities and give back.
KY: Well drag queens have always been big activists, and an activism that can entertain is powerful.
SD: We’re the ones that are on the mic, and the ones who are able to say something. Everyone is there for the drag show, but we can always speak up and show our support to create positive change.
KY: So Isolde is your drag mother?
SD: Yes, I’m Peach Cobblah and Isolde N. Barron’s drag daughter.
KY: A love child..?
SD: Well they’re husband-wives, and it’s great ’cause I’ve always looked up to them. They asked me at the most vulnerable time too, I had just finished the competition for Mr/Ms Cobalt, and I was announced second and at that point I didn’t even think I would make top three. I was announced second with my best friend Dynasty in the competition and I was just overwhelmed that when I got off stage I started crying ’cause I was so happy, and so proud of myself. They came up to me while I was crying, they were like “we think you’re amazing, we want you to be our drag daughter!” and I started bawling…they were like, “is that a no…?”
I didn’t ever think I would get a drag mom, nor that I would need one, but I think they’re great and I know they will help me grow as a performer in the city. I was doing Mr/Ms Cobalt for Peach’s and Isolde’s approval because I admire the way they do drag a lot. That’s why when they asked me to be their drag daughter I cried, I mean, that’s exactly what I wanted.
KY: How long have you known Isolde and Peach?
SD: My first show in Vancouver was Shame Spiral at 1181, but Peach wasn’t actually there, she had a family emergency, so I didn’t meet her until a couple weeks later…so that was maybe like a year ago today. Throughout Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar competition, I started to meet her a bit more. I started talking to her and signing up to events she was involved with. Watching her I realized she was such a great community leader, she’s not all about it has to be glam or it has to be this, it’s like you have to have fun. I like how she handles the community, always trying to reach out and always trying to do something good.
KY: I loved the concept you had for the first performance in Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar, the Grimes number.
SD: Really? I hated that! The concept was good but I didn’t execute it the way I wanted to. I redid it a couple times without all of the sound effects and it worked way better. They needed visuals and I just didn’t have them. But the concept I enjoyed, and making the costume. I just needed to make it easier to understand. I made the soundtrack very video gamey but if I had just used the laser cannons with the original track it would have been enough.
KY: Did you meet Dynasty in Vancouver?
SD: Yeah, I met him in November when I was doing the Bratpack/tribute to Tracy…the one at XY after Bratpack got cancelled at the Odyssey. They did the last one at XY it was a fundraiser for Valynne Vile who’s mother passed away to Cancer. I performed at that and that’s when I met Dynasty. He was watching the show, and had just moved back to Vancouver from London. Such an amazing performer. I had such a crush on him, and then we became really good friends. Yeah, actually Dynasty was the one, when we were first getting to know each other, he was talking to me about the bearded queens and just said like, I’m a muscular guy, I’m bearded, I’m a man in a dress…there’s no point trying to hide that. So I used to have two separate personas, and I wanted to be so fish, but now it’s like, no. I’m still a man in a dress and that’s fine.
KY: What’s your favourite part of drag?
SD: I love opening people up to drag, and getting them to understand it more. Getting people to try it. Even in the gay community there are ideas about it that just aren’t true. Like all queens are super feminine bottoms, or they’re just transitioning and it’s a stepping stone. But it’s not, it’s so much more open. It’s art.
KY: Do you think there are a lot of people who have that misunderstanding?
SD: Oh yeah, I do. Not a lot of people who are actually involved with the community, but people who revolve around it or are outside of it. That’s why I [get to know*] them first and then tell them I do drag later. Then they’re all like, “oh that’s cool,” and they start asking about it more. It opens up a discussion.
*edited for a general audience
KY: So that’s your true advocacy work.
SD: HAH! Well I guess so yeah, because after you establish a connection and then they find out you’re a drag queen they sort of think, “ok…well who is this drag queen?” They’re always into you until you tell them you do drag, and that’s why I don’t tell them first. It’s still the same as the whole masc for masc thing, that’s why there’s still gonna be that boundary. That’s why anyone on Grindr or social media says #mascformasc, I just say goodbye. If that’s your description, then I’m done. Dynasty was telling me the same thing, that it’s so hard to date as a drag queen because a lot of [men] have a different idea of it, a lot of assumptions. I’ve opened up a lot of people to the idea of drag, and I’m proud of that.
Shay will be at the Commodore on September 10th for Shine, a fundraising gala to show support for mental health and addictions; XY on September 22nd for Zee Zee Theatre’s AGM; the Cobalt on September 30th for Man Up; and the Displace Hashery on October 2nd for Sweet and Sticky, hosted by Katy Hairy and Evita Versace.
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.
Sign up for the Out In Vancouver newsletter if you are interested in hearing about more non-heteronormative news, events, and culture that are part of Vancouver’s colourful mosaic, and to get notified on the latest contests.