The Genesis guide to Vancouver drag

Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar breaks down the scene, from Davie to the Drive

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      Every year in the bleak midwinter (February), Celebrities on Davie comes alive as 24 performers compete over four weeks to be named Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar. On March 2, Genesis emerged as cream of the crop—becoming the first person assigned female at birth to win in the competition’s 10-year history. They accepted their crown in a spangled bodysuit, with a face full of glam and dramatic black moustache.

      “It’s been so crazy,” they tell the Straight over the phone. “It feels like a lifetime ago, but also like no time has passed because I’ve barely left my house since then.”

      Genesis has been performing since childhood, but their journey into drag is relatively recent. They started burlesque four years ago, and drag only a year and a half ago.

      “Growing up in theatre, there were so many of the boy characters I always wanted to play that just would never be accessible to me because of the way that people perceive me,” they recall.

      Burlesque placed similarly binary, gendered expectations on their performance. “In the drag world, I can play any of those characters, or none at all, or create my own character… You can really make your own rules. It’s very vast and I think it allows for tons of creativity.”

      Previous winners of the event include Canada’s Drag Race stars (and Bratpack members) Kendall Gender and Gia Metric; Drag Race Down Under’s Anita Wig’lit; and local stalwarts like Jane Smoker and Kara Juku. They’ve got some pretty big heels to fill. So what better person to break down Vancouver’s drag scene?

      Genesis is the first person assigned female at birth to win Vancouver's biggest drag competition.
      Timothy Nguyen

       Vancouver’s scene

      In a word, Genesis says that the city’s drag scene is “diverse.”

      We start with Davie Street, the traditional home of cis gay night clubs, and where Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar took place.

      “You’re gonna see a lot of what you see on Drag Race, your more stereotypical, mainstream type drag,” they say, “which is going to be very beautiful, glamorous, top 40 music.”

      But even in the West End, you won’t just find twinks twirling to Taylor Swift.

      “There’s a really great group called Enby 6, that is all non-binary people and they within the group express so many different styles of drag every week within their shows,” Genesis says.

      And every Sunday, there’s Legends, presented by veteran queen Jaylene Tyme at the Junction. “That’s always an all-ages show, and Jaylene is a wonderful, wonderful person in the drag community who is very good at educating audiences about what’s going on.”

      If you want a bit of variety, look out for Kings and Things shows, which platform drag artists that do more masculine or gender-bending drag. There’s been more of these events popping up in the Village.

      “That’s something that wasn’t as popular a few years ago, there’s always been a bit of a stigma against people who are assigned female at birth doing drag, and it’s sometimes a lot harder for those people to get bookings or to get paid as much,” Genesis says. “But in the last couple of years, I’ve seen the tides changing and there’s more appreciation for those performers.”

      And, of course, there’s East Vancouver, traditionally home to all the queer and trans people who didn’t fit into Davie’s vibe.

      “There you definitely are going to find a lot more alternative drag styles,” Genesis enthuses.

      While the Warehouse, Eastside Studios' hub of sapphic nightlife, shuttered earlier this year, Genesis says the community will likely find new spaces to thrive in. (Since we spoke, Eastside Studios has announced its new venue, the Birdcage.) “There’s going to be lots of different shows popping up in different places as we look for a replacement for that,” they say.

      Further afield, you can find drag everywhere: shows are running on UBC campus, in Coquitlam and Maple Ridge. Breweries and cafes are hosting family-friendly, all-ages Drag Brunches, while classic staples like Drag Bingo remain elsewhere.

      The type of drag that happens at all-ages shows, especially Drag Storytime events, is deliberately calibrated to be appropriate for kids. More adult material remains gated to the 19+ club events.

      “You can find drag pretty much anywhere that you look for it,” Genesis says. “There’s so much to see.”

       Drag etiquette

      So, you’ve found a show you want to attend. Now what?

      “Consent is so, so, so, so important,” Genesis says. “Sometimes when people see people dressed maybe a bit more provocatively, or they’re onstage and really revealing themselves and showing a different kind of level of vulnerability, audience members feel like they sometimes have more of a right to touch those people.” Look, don’t touch, is the rule of thumb.

      Then there’s the matter of tipping. Head to an ATM to break out those fives—performers have put a lot of time and work into entertaining you.

      “Performers are doing this for free a lot of the time, or for a very small fee. A lot of us are doing this just out of passion and the love of what we do,” they say. “But it does cost a lot of money to do. And there’s so much preparation that goes into it as far as practicing dances, lyrics, wigs, costumes, shows—everything that’s involved takes so much work.”

      Genesis performs at Vancouver's Next Drag Superstar.
      Timothy Nguyen

      If you’re short on cash, that’s okay too. Like so many other kinds of art these days, drag thrives on social media exposure.

      “If you’re not able to tip, a really great way to support people is on social media: just by posting videos of them, following them, sharing their content. That’s often the way that lots of people get booked for shows,” Genesis reveals. “If [producers] see that someone is being shared a lot, then that can be really helpful in that performer getting more work.”

      Finally, they have a more serious point: people who appreciate drag need to step up to support it in the face of anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests. There’s “lots of vitriol” being spewed, Genesis says; and queer and trans people and drag performers should not have to fight it on their own.

      “Any way that you can show allyship to performers, particularly trans performers, performers of colour, is so, so important,” they maintain. “Not just saying they’re an ally, but actually being an accomplice and stepping up and showing support…People can show that they appreciate [drag performers] and are there for them and want to protect them and support them by being there physically, or speaking up online, is extremely important right now.”

       Dragging up

      What about if the mood takes you to try performing for yourself? As a (relatively) new drag performer, Genesis knows all about how to break into the drag world: they were in a single drag show before COVID-19 shut down performances.

      “So many shows are offering new performers opportunities all the time,” they say. “It’s very welcoming to new people to the scene, especially coming out of 2020 and 2021 with all the craziness [of the pandemic].”

      Some of the all-ages shows, like Legends, are very welcoming to performers young and old. It’s where Genesis made their true drag debut. “That is a space where lots and lots of people in the city have their drag debuts, get their first glimpses into the drag scene.”

      They also recommend 1181 as another spot on Davie that welcomes new performers. Their other piece of advice is just to see a whole lot of drag before you ever get on stage.

      “Going to a lot of shows, getting inspired by other performers, is the best way to learn both what kind of drag you want to do and what art inspires you,” they offer. “Then you also get to know who is hosting shows, who are the people to speak to. And it’s really nice to become a part of that community before trying to take your own space in it.”

      A superstar’s reign

      In the future, Genesis wants to move towards doing more in-depth shows. Some of their favourite numbers have been large-scale, like a performance as the Little Mermaid during the Next Drag Superstar campaign; or turning it out as Puss In Boots at a Shrek-themed night.

      “I definitely want to start hosting and producing more of my own shows,” they say. “My goal moving forward is quality over quantity. I would love to be doing more, bigger shows, and a bit more of a higher production value.”

      Genesis grew up doing musical theatre and currently performs with The Dimes.
      Timothy Nguyen

      The prizes from winning Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar may help them on that road: $2,000 in prize money, a custom outfit by designer Evan Clayton, and a variety of beauty products alongside a six-month contract with queer production company TFD Presents. But it’s not the glitz and glamour that motivates Genesis: it’s how drag makes them feel alive.

      “I had done drag one show prior to the pandemic and then obviously couldn’t do any performing for quite a long time. And I realized how much I felt like I wasn’t my true self when I wasn’t able to express that side of myself.”

      It’s Genesis’ world: we’re just living in it.

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