By Charlie Senack
For the first time ever, a ‘crowns and tiaras’ drag performance was held at Parkdale Park.
It was part of the 20th anniversary ArtsPark activities held in Wellington West on June 17.
The day also featured various other performances on the Pat MacLeod main stage and an artisan market nearby.
Drag performances have become more mainstream in recent years, with their popularity promoted by shows like ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ whose 16th season premiered this January to record-breaking ratings.
It’s unclear when drag performances first started attracting crowds, but it’s believed drag balls started in Harlem, New York in the 1860’s. Earlier than that, women were known to dress up and perform as men during the Tang Dynasty in China between 618-908 AD.
In Canada, drag performances started sometime during the early 20th century, even though members of the LGBTQ2S+ community were not accepted.
During the Cold War, it was believed that members of the community could be blackmailed by Communists to turn over state secrets rather than be exposed.
In 1969, Ottawa’s most famous gay celebrity Paul Fournier, also known under his drag name Peaches Latour, was hauled in by the RCMP to “identify gays.” Despite recognizing many faces in the photo albums he was shown, Fournier refused to help law enforcement and was labeled “a traitor to his country.”
While acceptance towards the LGBTQ2S+ community and drag is more recognized today, drag is still widely misunderstood and often discriminated against. Drag storytimes for kids are often attended by protesters who chant homophobic and transphobic remarks.
Former Kitchissippi resident Eric Vance has been performing under the drag name Sunshine Glitterchild for the past three years. He participated at a drag performance at Zak’s Diner in Westboro on June 10.
Vance said he found an interest in drag seven or eight years ago after watching it on television, but wasn’t able to embrace it for a few more years.
“I started buying and investing in some drag items when I was living with my dad. He found out and put them in the garbage,” Vance recalled. “During the pandemic it was that feeling of the world ending, so that’s when I [again] thought it was my chance to try it. You look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself. It’s a cool experience.”
Vance, who identifies as a cis gay male, said drag is “his chance to sparkle.”
“It’s costume and it is transformation at its most extreme form. I fell in love with the art of it,” he said. “It’s so joyful and fun.”
His career in drag has picked up since first starting three years ago. With over 13,000 followers on Instagram, Vance was able to quit his day job and devote his energy to the art full time.
Westboro resident Cyril Cinder has been performing as a drag king since 2014. The Canterbury High School graduate grew up in theater and discovered drag while doing his undergrad about eight years ago.
After attending his first drag performance, Cinder knew it was his calling.
“I made a comment to some friends [that] if I had been born a man, I’d be a drag queen. They were a bit more clever than I was [and] knew about drag kings which I didn’t at the time,” Cinder said. “I immediately turned to google and started looking up drag kings. From seeing my very first drag show to being in my very first drag show was about two months.”
Cinder has been able to perform drag in various places including Tokyo, Japan. He said its art form is becoming more connected to its past roots as it becomes increasingly controversial.
“It used to be illegal to wear articles of clothing that didn’t match the gender that you were assigned at birth. In fact, in some places in the world, even in the United States, we’re seeing laws like that being reintroduced,” Cinder said.
“People have this idea that we’re doing something inappropriate or that we’re doing something wrong, incorrect or dangerous, which we really don’t agree with,” he added. “Drag can be fun, it can be funny, it can be joyful and it can be silly.”
Cinder said he gets the most fulfillment standing up for the LGBTQ2S+ community and human rights as a whole.
Eric Vance’s message to demonstrators is that each show is geared towards specific age groups that are clearly identified ahead of time. Their latest show at Zak’s Diner was tailored to a teen audience, with Vance noting “it’s nothing you haven’t seen in the latest pop star music video.”
“Watching a drag show can’t make you gay. Even doing drag doesn’t mean you’re gay,” Vance said. “Women can do drag and men can do drag. People are labeling it as sexual when it’s not. It’s an art form.“
With files by Millie Farley