RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13 kicked off New Year’s Day and we’ve officially hit the halfway mark of the season. I’m here to discuss the season and encourage you to support your local drag queen scene because all those famous drag queens on the show start somewhere.
I headed to Urban Lounge for Love Sux, an anti-Valentine’s Day drag show put on by JRC Events and hosted by Tara Lipsyncki to talk about the show and how Drag Race impacts local drag. I hadn’t met Tara before, but she was gracious enough to give me a little bit of time before and after the show to talk with me and connect me with some of the other queens performing as well, Ana Lee Kage and Kay Bye.
**SPOILER WARNING: We cover RuPaul’s Drag Race up to episode 8 and RuPaul’s Drag Race UK up to episode 7. If you’re not current and don’t want spoilers, catch up and then come back.**
Alisha Ann: Tell me about Tara?
Tara Lipsyncki: Tara is a country-loving, figure skating Barbie type of thing, that’s my schtick. I [ice] skate professionally, so I’m kind of like Denali on the season. Cordero [Zuckerman, Denali’s boy name] trained here, I coached at the rink that he trained at. I don't do classic ice shows, so my focus is more like a club-cabaret type of thing, and yeah, that’s kind of me. I’m one of the few full-fledged emcees in the city, so I’m the one who hosts the shows, produces the shows, and all that.
AA: How long have you been doing drag?
TL: I’ve been doing drag for about 5 years, seriously though, [for] about 2 and a half [years]. When I came back to Salt Lake, there was a void of compassionate drag queens and so I was kind of like, ‘Well, we need an emcee that’s actually a compassionate person and not a b*tch, so let’s take that.’
AA: So you want to fill in the void?
TL: Fill in the void, which is what I do all night *unhhh*
AA: So, I feel like I kind of got into drag backward. I feel like now because Drag Race is so big, so many people get into drag from Drag Race, right?
AA: I got into drag, as I was telling you, because I did sound and lights for a drag show at another club for like a year. So, compared to how people used to find drag, just going to clubs, how do you feel like Drag Race has changed how people approach local drag?
TL: It’s a lot harder. Because what happens when you get the call to go on Drag Race, you’re given about 2 months [to prepare]. A lot of these queens clear out their savings, call the designers—so these outfits that you’re doing a runway in are meant for that—they are couture runway, it’s not a performance. So, when you come to a local show, and you’re like, ‘That’s not what I see on TV!’ Well, it’s because I’m actually moving. I’m not spending $3,500 on a dress. So today, I’m wearing all H&M, based on RuPaul’s comments on Drag Race UK. She said, ‘I don’t want f***ing H&M on my runway.’ B*tch, you couldn’t tell if I didn’t tell you, I look polished, I am pulled together from the earrings to the everything, I am H&M today. That’s kind of my thing [about] drag: drag is valid. Not all drag is good, but all drag is valid. Just be the best form of that you can.
AA: I think that’s my favorite thing about local drag. I think you’re right, everything on the show is so polished because you’re competing in a pageant.
TL: Yeah, it’s the biggest pageant in the world. Gay pageants are something I do, it’s polished to a level, but it’s a one-night thing. [Drag Race] is a month-long power pageant where you’ve got interview, talent, and runway repeated for 13 challenges over and over and over. That is a lot. And yeah, people spend $50, $60, $70, $100 thousand on their outfits for the show. That’s a mortgage, I’m sorry, I’m a local drag queen, I don’t have a mortgage like that.
Season 13 of Drag Race started with a twist, instead of all the queens coming into the werk room and meeting each other, only 2 queens came in at a time (3 for the last group) and immediately had to lip sync for their lives. The queens were told the winners move forward in the competition as the losers were sent to the Pork Chop Loading Dock (named after the first ever drag queen to be eliminated on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 1, Victoria Porkchop Parker) and were informed that they were headed home.
AA: Speaking of spending tens of thousands of dollars to be on the show, how did you feel about the first episode of the season and immediately sending these girls home, or at least thinking they were going home?
TL: Going onto the show, you know there’s going to be a twist. As a fanbase, people that have watched the show for all 13 seasons, we knew there was a twist. I’m torn on it because that is like a gut-punch of like, ‘...f**k. I just lost everything.’ But! [RuPaul] has a good point, when we went into episode 3 when the [Pork Chop] queens did come back, [Rupaul] said many of the best queens went home first. Vanjie, Shangela, Porkchop is an international meme, all these things. Going home first doesn’t kill your career, it’s about how you navigate after that. It all comes down to you, Drag Race has nothing on you now, that is all how you’re marketing yourself.
AA: Yeah, for sure. Shangela is such a great example of that.
TL: Yes! Because she’s been back like 5 f**king times and she still can’t win!
AA: Yeah, I was watching that, and I know there’s a twist, and I know [the queens] probably know something’s going on, but I would feel like sh*t.
TL: It’s a highly produced show, it’s something that a lot of people don’t want to learn, that their favorite shows are produced. Like House Hunters, for instance, it’s produced by the same company that produces Drag Race, World of Wonder. They own the house before they even start filming, so the other two houses are just for show. For Drag Race, it’s the same thing, the girls are told, ‘Hey, X, Y, and Z are going to happen, we just need you to make a shocked face so we can put the little shade sound above it, just so we get your reaction.’ It is so scripted, and that’s where a lot of the fandom gets twisted in it because it’s not real. It’s a TV show.
Another big issue this season has been the harassment of Kandy Muse. Kandy is an Afro-Dominican drag queen from The Bronx. She, in her words, is in the competition to show that big girls can do fashion, too. Kandy has been outspoken during Untucked, the Drag Race aftershow that features the queens’ discussions while they’re backstage waiting for the judges to deliberate. At one point, Kandy and Tamisha Iman got into a very big argument backstage, in addition to Kandy having a fiery personality in the competition, on Untucked, and in the confessionals. Drag Race “fans” (people who act like this shouldn’t be called fans) have been harassing and bullying Kandy online and going as far as to send hate messages to Kandy’s mom on Instagram. It’s been a very intense situation, so I talked with Tara about the local drag reaction to how Kandy’s being treated. We also talked with Ana Lee Kage and Kay Bye, who are both queens of color, after the show about how queens of color are treated on the show and in local drag.
AA: I think with people, if [Drag Race] is their first interaction with drag, they do think it’s kind of like a real-ish thing, it’s ‘reality’ TV. I think you have stuff like what’s happening with Kandy Muse where she’s just relentlessly being bullied because she’s kind of outspoken on the show.
TL: That goes into the whole narrative, and that’s why it’s so important to bring people of color into this conversation. [Kandy] is getting The Vixen edit, where you have the loud Black woman and they’re aggressive, so they need to be quiet. That spills into the fandom, and it’s a huge issue. It needs to be addressed kind of harshly in terms of, ‘y’all are being f**king racist,’ call that sh*t out. [Kandy’s] edit isn’t great because of that, they needed a Vixen edit, and that’s not fair.
AA: I just think it gets insane to the point that [Kandy] posted something about people sending mean things to her mom. This is just a TV show.
TL: Yes! It’s a TV show. What I’m doing in the real world of drag has nothing to do with the show.
Ana Lee Kage joined Tara and I after the show to continue the conversation about how queens of color are treated on Drag Race and in local drag.
AA: Tell me about Ana Lee Kage?
Ana Lee Kage: Ana Lee! I would say that Ana Lee Kage is a, what is the word -
ALK: *laughs* I would say she’s a craft queen with a quick tongue. Does that count? I would say that fully fits who I am as a performer and as a personality, but I feel like I’m pretty much the same in and out of drag. I started doing drag because I was already making all of these stupid outfits, and I was kind of like, ‘well, I can’t wear this as a boy or as a girl, but I can wear it as a drag queen!’
AA: Earlier [Tara and I] were talking about how so many people find drag through Drag Race now versus finding drag by going out to a bar and hanging out with their friends. I wanted to talk to you about how Kandy Muse is getting treated on the show, like she’s an angry POC woman edit kind of thing?
ALK: So this dumb b*tch [Mya Dvrsty] and I were talking because the way that Mya and I— we don’t know each other that well—but whenever we’re around each other, she and I click really well and we’re both queens of color. The way that we talk to each other, other people around us, I don’t want to be the worst, but white people are sometimes like, ‘wait.. are they fighting, are they really having a problem?’ It’s so interesting to me that drag started with queer POC, in that raw authenticity of the person and everything, but anything that is displayed like that on the show, any kind of raw authenticity especially from a person of color, [the audience] tears it down. Does [Kandy] say some things where she’s pushing it? Yeah, but also, if it was a white queen saying it, [the audience’s response] would be ‘yeah girl, you say it!’ But just because [Kandy] is a queer POC it’s like a thing [on the show].
AA: I think that difference is really interesting, but it’s really cool to come to this [local drag show] because Tara has done such a good job of putting together a great cast of queer people of color. What’s your perspective on that?
ALK: I think a lot of promoters in Salt Lake City have traditionally only done white queens up until recently because they thought POC queens would only do ‘ratchet’ songs or they can only be branded as [ratchet queens]. People of color are asked specifically to do numbers that other POC people would do. [For queens of color] it’s not a free range of, ‘I want to do this.’ Meanwhile, a white person can stroll up and do Megan Thee Stallion. [...] I would say I still know performers [of color] who are still being asked to do [certain performances]. If Mya is half black, [the promoter] will say, ‘okay, I want you to do this number.’ I still think there’s some way that we can go with that, and I think this [show] is a good example because Tara has invited more of that, but I think a lot of promoters don’t.
This season of Drag Race also features the first-ever FTM transgender drag queen on the show, Gottmik, which has been a big deal for trans and queer representation. However, trans representation in the local scene is still lacking.
ALK: [Continuing] with the queer part, a lot of promoters are now, because they’ve been attacked for not bringing on trans visibility [in their shows], are doing that now. Not for the talent of it, just for the niche of it. Just because it’s not makeup. So, that’s also something I think is happening, but it’s not happening naturally. I’ve worked with the Haven of Hues, they are predominantly trans people, and a lot of them don’t get asked for gigs because they fill that niche of ratchet or underground. That’s not fair, because how are they supposed to show what they have when they’re not even allowed to be at these kinds of things?
Before the end of the night I also caught up with Kay Bye, a local queen who has been in the scene for about 5 years. Kay was one of the drag queens who performed at the show I used to work at, so we jumped right into chatting about the show.
AA: What do you think of how Kandy Muse has been treated this season?
Kay Bye: I’ve been very vocal this season with queens like Kandy Muse because people are giving her hate for being a loud girl. Here’s my thing, I’m a person of color, I know what it’s like to be a person of color and being told, ‘you’re obnoxious, you’re loud, you’re too much, you’re extra.’ I know what that’s like, so for Kandy Muse to be going through [backlash from her edit on the show] and meanwhile for Elliott with Two T’s [the show] is trying to create this role like she’s the odd girl out and nobody wants to be friends with her, that’s just what production is doing. At the end of the day, in the great words of RuPaul, ‘If them b*tches ain’t paying your bills, pay them no mind.’ There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff going on, Kandy Muse has been very vocal about it, which I appreciate, it’s very much the same as with The Vixen or Aja, they were very vocal.
AA: [Tara, Ana, and I] were talking about POC drag queens and representation because [...] the show always casts ‘roles’ for POC queens for someone like Kandy or Vanjie or Aja or Vixen.
KB: [...] You have to think about the repercussions of what it takes and what it does to these people in their daily lives. With Kandy Muse, people found her own birth mother’s Instagram and are sending her own mother hate. B*tch, it’s a f**king reality TV show. This drama, what you see, and I’m very opinionated about the queens on the show, but I’m not going out of my way, I’m not bored sitting at a f**king keyboard saying, ‘I hate you, you’re disgusting, you’re a piece of sh*t, I’m going to burn you.’
AA: Yeah, whenever you post about it and I comment on it, it’s just kind of my general thoughts, but it’s not like I’ve seethed about it for hours. It’s always just, here’s kind of what I’m thinking about the show right now.
KB: You also have to remember that this was filmed months ago, almost a year ago. What you see on television is not everything [that happened], this is only a show that’s an hour and a half, this is two whole days [of filming] put into one and a half hours.
Back to the earlier conversation with Tara and me, local drag is so different from Drag Race and you get to see so much more with different kinds of drag, so I asked the queens what they wanted people to know about how to approach local drag versus watching Drag Race.
AA: It’s fun to talk about the show and get all tea all shade on it, or whatever, but I think the hard thing to translate for people if they’ve only seen the show and they’ve never been to like a local drag show is that this is just a TV show, whereas local drag is so much more diverse. You see every season there’s like one Utica, compared to local drag, there are so many different kinds of drag you get to see [in local drag].
TL: Oh my god, yes. Here tonight we have Edgy, who is a looks queen, looks the house down. You have Kay Bye who is a kick and buck, throws a performance every time, stellar. You have She’s Stupid, who is a brand new queen. Diversity in this environment is so important because we’re the ones cultivating community. When you become a drag queen, you inherently become a leader, you become a community leader. If you only put your reference as what drag is on a TV show, they’re chasing money, which is valid, go get that coin, but you have to also realize in today’s world, we’re the ones on the front lines. [The fans] have to treat us the same way they treat those girls. Just because they went on a TV show does not mean that they are more valuable than me, and that’s what we value here.
For the first time ever, another country’s Drag Race is airing at the same time as RuPaul’s Drag Race in the U.S., so we also talked about how Drag Race is different in the U.S. compared to RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
AA: I feel like you see that more, because right now UK Drag Race is running at the same time [as U.S. Drag Race] -
TL: It’s OVERLOAD.
AA: It’s total overload, but I feel like you see [the validity of local drag] on Canada Drag Race or UK Drag Race where you’re seeing these queens that are coming from their own local scene and they have maybe a little bit more of a perspective of [local drag] where [the U.S.] has had 13 seasons of American Drag Race where the narrative and the perspective is kind of fixed more [on the competition]. My opinion is that maybe the looks are a little bit more diverse and the perspectives are more diverse, I think Ilona Verley talked about that on Canada’s Drag Race.
TL: The community of UK Drag Race and Canada Drag Race is so much more like what local drag actually is because there are queens that go onto American Drag Race, that’s their echelon goal. You have the Valentinas for instance: ‘I am becoming an Instagram queen to get cast on a show to make money.’ They don’t do the local scenes, they never did, they never came up [through local drag]. So, that’s where we’re at in Drag Race in America, it’s not a representation of local drag anymore. No one here in Utah is a Utica, like throwing these looks and these polished performances and everything. She does that because she’s in a small farm town where she’s from and that’s all she does. That isn’t real [life] drag, all drag is valid, but it’s not the commemorative drag that you see every week here.
To wrap up our chats, I asked Tara, Ana, and Kay how people should approach their local drag queens and drag shows if they’ve only ever seen RuPaul’s Drag Race and if there’s anything else they wanted to share.
AA: What do you think is the best takeaway, if you were going to watch Drag Race and then you wanted to get into the local drag, what is the best approach?
TL: Every week, there is a drag queen hosting a viewing party, Kay Bye does one at Sun Trapp, hundreds of people do it on Twitch, watch them, go to their show, support local drag, and support local drag the way you would support a Ru Girl. You have to remember that when a Ru Girl comes to your city, they’re getting a performance fee, their hotel is paid for, and the costume that they’re using is a super expensive costume for like $3,000-4,000 that they’re using in every city. They’re doing the same 2 numbers in every city they’re going to. They don’t need your $1 tip, I need your $1 tip, Kay Bye needs your $1 tip, Ana Lee Kage needs your $1 tip, us local queens need that. That’s a big gig for us, when a Ru Girl comes, and JRC puts them on, that’s probably the most tip money we’re going to make that month because that’s just the way it goes, unfortunately. They don’t tip us at local shows the way they do [when a Ru Girl comes], so learning that there’s a respect level of how to treat us the same as your Ru Girls.
AA: What do you think people should know, if they are coming from watching Drag Race and that’s their only concept of drag, and they do come to a local show, what do you think they should know? What is the etiquette, what are your thoughts on that?
ALK: It’s so weird, I don’t know if I can answer this fully, but I would say that Drag Race is one thing. Trixie Mattel says it best, she says, ‘You can be good at drag and not good at Drag Race and you can be good at Drag Race and not good at drag,’ because there are a lot of queens who go out and do things that people want to see traditionally, but it’s not just about the look, it’s about the performance and the persona, the personality. It’s not just about what you’re seeing on camera. The basic answer I’m thinking of is that there are different kinds of drag, and it’s all valid. For example, when I started doing drag, a lot of people knew me as the craft queen and still now [making] my own things. I feel like I’ve had to pull away from that a little bit because people want more of the traditional decent hair—I mean right now my hair looks like a butch lesbian wig, but people want more of a traditional female. I would say that drag is not necessarily a female impersonation, drag is just an expression of a persona per se. There are different kinds of drag, and it’s all valid.
AA: Is there anything else y’all would like to say for my article?
TL: I guess I would just like to say that it is so important, if there’s one thing I want to take and leave on this community, it’s that my job is that I’m an emcee, but a good emcee opens the stage to other people and makes their voices the prominent ones. I am simply the act between acts, I’m the one weaving this thing together. Tonight, I wanted a very strong POC presence. I wanted to be the person like ‘great, I’m introducing this in and out, but it’s their stories that need to be told.’ My story has been told hundreds of times, hundreds of thousands of times.
ALK: You’ll hear it every single Sunday, the same boring story. *laughs*
TL: ‘Ugh, upper-middle-class white guy that dresses in drag,’ it’s a horrible story, but you don’t hear the story from the queer person of color that can’t tell their family they’re a drag queen. You don’t hear, ‘we don’t want a gay son,’ like those things. In our community, we don’t want to hear it. As white people, I would say [JRC Events owner] Jordan and myself are the only promoters that actually give a sh*t. I think there are other promoters and other venues opening soon that will be more open, but as of what is being produced as of this moment, it’s still racist bullsh*t, it’s still shows run by white cis men and that sh*t needs to stop. Plain and simple.
AA: Do you have anything else, Ana?
ALK: Gay people are over, it’s about trans people. I believe that firmly. Gay people, our story has been told a million times, we need to hear more trans stories, we need more trans representation.
AA: Anything else you want to say, about local drag or Drag Race, Kay?
KB: Black trans lives matter, follow me on Instagram and all social media, DM me if you want to follow me on Only Fans. Have fun, make good choices, and Kay Bye!
Bartender: EVERYONE NEEDS TO CLOSE THEIR TABS.
TL: And on that note, interview done!
AA: We’re done! We did it!
I’ll be back at the end of Season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race to talk more about the season and the local drag scene with local drag queens. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter, @_alisha_ann, for weekly updates on Friday nights.
You can also follow the queens on social media and support their local shows! You can see Tara and Ana every Sunday at The Real Queens of Park City, Utah’s only weekly drag brunch, at The Cabin in Park City.
Tara Lipsyncki: @taralipsyncki on Instagram
Ana Lee Kage: @analeekage on Instagram
Kay Bye: @theonlykaybye on Instagram