Spend any real time in the gay world and you know there are many who take drag very seriously, from the elaborate routines to the familial ties.
Since this weekend is Mother’s Day, we asked a few local performers why drag families are important. It didn’t take long to realize it’s about a lot more than borrowing lipstick or getting input on a new gown.
“It truly is family,” says Muffy Blake-Stephyns. “Few people know me quite as well as my drag family. We complete each other’s sentences, we know just what to say or do to comfort one another. We have each other’s back.”
“We’re closer than your actual blood relatives,” says Alexandra B. Childs. “We sew, rhinestone, glue, paint, staple, smile and lip sync our hearts out for one another. Our drag family hangs out together in and out of the drag scene. Drag events are like a weekly family reunion for us with a lot more hairspray and sequins involved than most others.”
“Drag families are just an elaborate support system,” Ba’Naka says. “A sisterhood that is there for you when you need it.”
Drag name: Shi-Queeta-Lee
Boy name: Jerry VanHook
Drag mother’s name: Chyna Pendar’vis/Benjamin Smith
How did you meet? I met Chyna Pendar’vis (RIP) through a friend of mine, Don Pendar’vis (RIP). I was competing for the Miss Magic Pageant 1998, which I won singing live Whitney Houston “Your Love Is My Love.” The pageant is part of the Gay Softball league here in D.C. called Chesapeake and Potomac Softball League (CAPS). I painted myself for it and Don came over to help me and he said, “Girl you look a hot ghetto mess.” So he calls Chyna to come and do my makeup and clothes. I was always told the first drag queen that paints you and put you in drag is your drag mother. She taught me the ropes on drag life and the drama that comes with it.
What does she mean to you? She means the world to me. Taught me so much on life in the gay community. How to get booked for drag shows, how to host to get patrons excited to see drag queens perform. She was a pageant girl, so she guided me on how to compete as well. Chyna was a diva at her craft, also had a loving family that supported the art form. I had a loving family that supported me.
Drag name: Kuji Lee
Boy name: Kuji Mah Ajani
Drag mother’s name: Shi-Queeta-Lee aka Jerry VanHook
How did you meet? I met my drag mom at a nightclub called “The Edge” that used to be located in Southeast Washington near the Navy Yard Marine Base. Shi-Queeta-Lee wasn’t born yet (I don’t believe), so the first three years of our interaction was with Jerry. Later I ran into her again and she introduced me as her child, which I didn’t dispute. It was then that I began to carry the last name “Lee.” A few years later, the birth of Shi-Queeta-Lee arrived in D.C. and started hosting a drag show at the famous Bachelor’s Mill. I was infatuated with drag performances for many years that I began to secretly desire to hit the stage as a male entertainer one day and Shi-Queeta-Lee was the first to give me my start.
What does she mean to you? Shi-Queeta-Lee is and will always be the catalyst of our family. She is also a well-known public figure who has endured ridicule, harsh criticism, etc. within our gay community for believing that the drag-gay/bi/transgender community can reach higher ground if presented in a different framework that connects all genders, all races. She embodies diversities, complexity, independence, boldness, unconditional love, vulnerability, creativity and more. She never let anyone or anything halt her goals or dreams and she makes sure we as her family apply those same beliefs.
Drag name: Shelby Blake-Stephyns
Boy name: Jon Rybka-Wachhaus
Drag mother’s name: Veronica Blake (Rob Amos)
How did you meet: I had been doing drag for approximately two years and had become a member of The Academy of Washington, Inc. We had become close and when my previous mother and I had a falling out, she asked me if I would be her daughter because she saw so much in me that wasn’t being nurtured and needed to be. And the rest, as they say is history.
What does your drag mother mean to you? Veronica means the world to me. Many times I get so many ideas in my head that it’s great to have someone there to help you sort it all out to make you the best you can be. She can be tough as leather sometimes but she always has my best interest at heart.
Drag name: Muffy Blake-Stephyns
Boy name: Daniel L. Hays
Drag mother’s name: Shelby Blake Stephyns/Jon Rybka-Wachhaus
How did you meet? I met Shelby at a benefit drag show at Freddie’s Beach Bar. I had been doing drag for a number of years, but at that particular time I was going through some health challenges and was battling depression. She was just kind of the perfect prescription. She was incredibly caring, uplifting and made me want to continue performing. Over the next few weeks we talked pretty much every day. Before long it was official, I had changed “families” and Shelby became my mom. I think I can safely say that were it not for Shelby coming into my life, in all likelihood Muffy would have hung up her heels.
What does she mean to you? My drag mother truly means the world to me. I know she loves me unconditionally and that is something that is felt in return. If I need something, I know without a doubt that if there is any way my drag mother can help she will be there, no questions asked. I am truly blessed to have Shelby Blake Stephyns as my mama.
Drag name: Delila B. Lee
Boy name: Delonte’ Ladson
Drag mother’s name: Shi-Queeta-Lee/Jerry Vanhook
How did you meet? I met Shi-Queeta-Lee in 2009 at Town Danceboutique. And I was amazed of the illusion she gave as Tina Turner. She got me into drag by teaching me how confidence is the key. And completely being myself. I was very interested in becoming a drag queen. The desire to transform into a beautiful diva and lip sync on stage. I first performed in 2011.
What does she mean to you? A drag family is being together, supporting and loving one another. It should be treasured forever. Most of us don’t have supportive families because they don’t accept and tolerate our lifestyles. Having a drag family means knowing you’ll be loved unconditionally. I’m proud to call Mother Lee my drag mother.
Drag name: Ba’Naka
Boy name: Dustin Michael Schaad
Drag mother’s name: When they say it takes a village they weren’t joking! I don’t have one singular drag mother. From Florida to D.C., I’ve collected a harem of Mommie Dearests but the most influential have been D.C. icons Lena Lett and Kristina Kelly (David Lett and Chris Smith).
How did you meet? I met Kristina Kelly at Apex when I first moved to D.C. She was the first queen to give me a chance in this city. I began regularly performing with her at various D.C. venues: Apex, Omega, Remington’s, Be-Bar. She taught me how to paint a face and take the stage. As for Lena, she has never been my official drag mother but I’ve learned more from her than any other. From her I learned how to host a show and command an audience (hosting is 10 times harder than performing). Lena over the years has given me some of the best advice (not that I always listen — I’m hard headed) that I have ever received.
What does she mean to you? My drag mothers have been a source of wisdom, experience and comfort over the years.
Drag name: Hope B. Childs
Boy name: Steven Ramsey
Drag mother’s name: Destiny B. Childs/Richard Legg
How did you meet? I met my drag mother years ago when I tried to commit suicide. She and her husband picked me up and let me live with them. She helped me become the true me. I started in the drag scene as her dresser and anywhere she went, I went. Rhinestoning her shoes and outfits and putting her outfits together. I first started doing drag without her really knowing (not a good idea to doing something behind your mother’s back). She helps me with whatever I need.
What does she mean to you? She is my best friend she means the world to me. She’s not my drag mom she is my mom.
Drag name: Alexandra B. Childs (Miss Capital Pride 2012)
Boy name: Chad Phillips
Drag mother’s name: Destiny B. Childs/Richard Legg
How did you meet? I met Destiny at Freddie’s Beach Bar in Crystal City, shortly after I moved to D.C. and came out. Theater was always something that I enjoyed and drag to me is an extension of that. I had toyed with the idea of trying drag and voiced it several times to some people. The first time I was put into drag was by Destiny’s drag mother, Ophelia Bottoms. After that it was something that I knew that I loved and the creativity is endless. Destiny took me in and gave me advice and sources for items and ideas to advance in the craft. And here I am, Miss Capital Pride 2012 about to step down and I owe it all to my mother and the family that we call the Childs clan!
What does she mean to you? Destiny/ Ric is more than a drag mother. We have a friendship that is more than just lashes and lipstick. Destiny is that person who knows my look from across the room, the one who is honest enough to say “Girl, not that hair,” the one who magically has the Mary Poppins “bag of stuff” if we forget something or need something. She is a person who in or out of drag consistently gives back to the community and those around her.