She steps out of her apartment and struts down the streets of Toronto’s gay village wearing a long blue sequin coat and knee-high glitter boots. Pedestrians and onlookers can’t help themselves but to stare as the confident queen makes her way to her first drag show of the night.
She arrives at The Drink, a dimly lit bar and greets almost everyone there, consisting of mostly middle-aged to older men. As she steps on stage all eyes are on her again. The rest of her night is spent singing pop hits into a wireless microphone and entertaining audiences until the late hours of the night at village bars like Crews and Tangos, Woodys and other venues across the city.
From Whitney Houston to Nicki Minaj, Devine Darlin, 36, loves to put on a show that includes choreography, comedy, costume changes and full glam. Devine is a Toronto-based drag queen who has spent more than a decade donning dresses and singing on stage. A typical night for Devine consists of traveling from show to show throughout the city. Weekends almost always last until the early hours of the morning.
“They (society) always make it out to be that being gay, or the gay community, is so bad because they have this old school notion of what the gay community is, compared to knowing what it actually is,” says Devine, whose given name is Devion Farley.
“That’s what I was most afraid of: judgment, stigma, and what people would think about me.”
–Devion Farley (Devine Darlin)
She began doing drag after she lost a bet to a friend 12 years ago. The friend later became her “drag mother” — a more experienced drag queen who takes an aspiring performer under her wing and acts as a mentor.
Devine describes her drag as being “ghetto glam and ghetto fabulous.” She also just loves getting glammed up and bringing a versatile show to the drag scene.
Today, drag is prominent within the LGBTQ+ community. However, its origin is not actually explicitly tied to the community.
“If you go back hundreds of years drag always had a place in theatre, and it actually had a place in church,” says Brian Bradley, the author of a biography on Craig Russell, a Canadian female impersonator.
In the 1950s, drag became present and prominent within the Toronto entertainment scene.
“Drag only married with gay culture as the rise of the sexual revolution and gay liberation,” Bradley said.
Although in a city like Toronto that is known to be diverse and accepting, many queens do not feel safe walking through Toronto in drag.
“I’ve got to take off all my drag before I get onto the street because I’m worried about being assaulted,” says Juice Boxx, 30, a fellow Toronto queen.
During the late hours of the night, people’s judgment may become clouded either by alcohol, drugs, or sleepiness, especially near the clubs and bars where the queens often perform.
“4 a.m. is not a fun time,” says Juice Boxx. Drag queens may often attract the wrong attention from people who are out during the late hours of the night. These hours can become dangerous for almost everyone, but especially someone in drag.
“I was afraid to start doing drag, not only because I came from a Caribbean background and I was also worried about what my family would think. I was also afraid of people judging me about what they think I was doing, or what I was trying to do, or thinking that I wanted to become a woman,” says Devine.
Drag today has become an important outlet for the LGBTQ+ community to be able to resist society’s norms of masculinity and femininity.
“A lot of people sometimes are so self-loathing when it comes to their femininity. And I feel like sometimes when it comes to drag queens specifically, we celebrate our femininity so much we are not ashamed of it and we let it just flow out of us,” says Juice Boxx.
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