Originally Published October 2022
By Leah Morrow & Zoey Ross
“At the end of the day, even though it is a queer space it is still run by white men.”
This quote comes from the Guelph-based drag performer Tammy The Brown. Tammy is a queer person of colour (POC) working within the drag scene. Tammy has been doing drag for four years and performing in front of live audiences for 20 years. During that time, she has become aware of the underlying politics within the drag community.
“If you were to just stand backstage at a show and watch the queens come back and watch how much money they're pulling out of their costumes or holding in their hands from tips you will see every single time the kings, the alternatives, and the POCs come back with the least amount of money,” said Brown.
The queen lamented that it is harder for those who do not fall in the category of what she described as “cookie cutter” drag to book gigs.
“Let’s say there is a show of 10 performers. You'll have one POC and one drag king and the rest are all cookie cutter and white,” said Brown. “Yeah, it represents the population, but at the same time no it does not, especially in Canada.”
Brown said that it took her four years before she began to get paid for the work that she does.
“For the POC queens and alternative performers and drag kings as well it's 10 times harder for them, so you have to grind extra,” continued Brown.
Social media has become the quickest way for artists across all mediums to express themselves and share their work with people all over the world. As a performer, Brown quickly got acquainted with how important it was to create her own active brand on platforms such as Instagram and linktr.ee.
“If I wasn't really marketing myself and really trying getting out there, I probably wouldn't even have gotten my first show,” said Brown.
Brown believes shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race have pushed the “cookie cutter” agenda into the mainstream. As happy as Brown is that drag has become so accepted and celebrated, she believes that there is more to the art than what is shown on popular TV shows. In Brown's opinion, Drag Race only focuses on one perspective of what the world of drag is like. This leaves very little room for expansion within the drag spaces of smaller communities like Guelph..
“Drag Race gets into the minds of the regular non-queer person or the mind of the people who are not in the drag space and they think, ‘oh, this must be the norm’,” said Brown.
At its core, Brown believes that her drag and drag in general is art. The emphasis that is placed on femininity, on hair, and makeup on shows like Drag Race matter far less than how you express yourself through your drag. For Brown, it is the authenticity and uniqueness behind the queen that inspires and reaches people. This is what TV cannot or refuses to capture.
There are steps that Tammy would like to see taken within the Guelph drag community to create a more inclusive environment for all artists.
“I'm not saying don't go to shows. I'm not saying like you know, be a Karen and get angry, but hold people accountable.”
A few things Brown mentioned were calling production companies to ensure they are taking progressive steps in the right direction. She says you can tell companies that you would like to see certain POC queens perform or even ask why they don’t hire more kings to take the stage. You can actively seek out shows where there is clear diverse representation and support them rather than supporting shows with little to no representation.
“Pay attention,” said Brown.
In order for art to reach the people the people have to see themselves in it. The art of drag is not a linear path, there are many wonderful avenues one can take and it is important that space be created for all involved