West coast diva Kendall Gender on representing Vancouver in Canada’s Drag Race: Canada vs. the World
After appearing on a season with her Brat Pack sisters, drag superstar Kendall Gender says she’s ready for the solo spotlight.
Kendall Gender has been a mainstay of Vancouver’s drag scene since she started performing in 2014. But she gained a whole new wave of fans last fall when she entered the werkroom on Season 2 of Canada’s Drag Race, announcing: “Gender is a construct. The only one that matters is Kendall.”
After making it all the way to the final three, the year since has been non-stop for the Richmond-born, Vancouver-based queen. Catching up with the Straight over video call ahead of her appearance on Canada vs. the World, she’s full of smiles and reflections on the nature of reality TV show fame.
“I always think of Drag Race like the Spice Girls,” Gender says. “There’s a Spice Girl for everyone, depending on what you like, what you don’t like, what kind of style you gravitate towards.
“I would imagine that I’m some people’s absolute favourite, and then I also imagine the opposite,” she says. “That’s kind of the cool thing about this show and this world, you can lean towards who inspires you.”
Gender went from being “a little bit more flamboyant as a child” to a 20-something exploring the local queer nightlife scene. In 2014, something clicked when she saw local queen Jane Smoker: “a younger, kind of cooler queen, doing this sort of sexy song.”
“Everything that I had ever wanted out of my life came to a head: living your popstar dreams on stage,” Gender says. “I think I did [drag] for the first time maybe a month or two after that.”
Smoker became Gender’s drag mom—a mentor who shows newer performers the ropes—and from there, Gender expanded her drag friends and family. Both performers are part of the Brat Pack group, which also includes Gia Metric and Synthia Kiss.
While Vancouver doesn’t have the country’s largest drag scene, Gender says it’s one of the most interesting and varied.
“The number one thing I would say about Vancouver is based on diversity. I think we really give a platform and a stage, and we’re always really pushing that there is a fully diverse cast,” Gender says. “I was raised in this scene, thinking that that was the way it is. But it’s not always like that across every city.”
That’s not to say the scene is perfect. As a biracial performer, Gender said she “felt a little bit like an anomaly in certain spaces.” She co-created a show called Visible in 2017 to give racially and culturally diverse drag artists a place to express themselves.
Over the pandemic, digital Visible shows raised thousands of dollars for Black Lives Matter. Subsequent performances have helped raise funds for Black and Indigenous healing, and a Black trans woman’s transition.
“A lot of the fabric of my drag identity is diversity, is expressing yourself whether it’s culturally or through gender or sexuality and that kind of stuff,” Gender says. “I think we have a really amazing space here to express ourselves in an unconventional way.”
When Gender made the leap from clubs to TV, she wasn’t alone: Metric and Kiss were cast on the same season of Canada’s Drag Race alongside her.
“It was such a comfort blanket in Season 2 to have my literal closest friends there, some of the people I’ve done drag with since its inception,” Gender says.
But when she steps onto our screens for a second time, it’s as Vancouver’s sole representative among four Canadian queens on Canada vs the World. The show sees nine drag queens from across Drag Race’s Canadian, American, British, and Australasian franchises return to compete for the crown. The show premieres Nov. 18 on Crave, and Kendall will be hosting a premier party at Celebrities with her drag daughters Venus and Kara Juku.
“I was ready to fight for my spot and take it,” Gender says. “The Brat Pack girls, we do so much together. When one of us gets an opportunity, it’s sort of like shining for all of us. It’s me today, and it’s probably them tomorrow.”
But that’s not to say there were no familiar faces. Gender knew of all the girls on the new season—and has a special connection with Down Under queen Anita Wig’lit.
“Anita actually used to live in Vancouver,” Gender says. “We used to work together at Topshop, like 10 years ago.”
Since its inception in 2009, Drag Race has expanded across the world. Earlier in 2022, UK vs the World aired with queens from Canada, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, and Thailand duking it out. The series was filmed in the UK, and fans speculated that there would be other international crossover seasons.
Canada vs. the World, as the second installment, was filmed in Canada and judged by the Canadian panel: drag queen Brooke Lynn Hytes, stylist Brad Goreski, and TV personality Traci Melchor.
Gender says, while she was proud of her performance on Season 2, she “definitely had some misses when it came to my runways, if we’re getting really materialistic.” But coming back for another season gave her a chance to show off a glow-up.
“Once you see yourself on TV, you kind of have a different perception,” she says. “I really took a lot more time when it came to my aesthetic choices this year.”
And while there’s a never-ending amount of new Drag Race seasons to watch, Gender says this one is worth the time.
“I think it’s going to be a really epic season with a lot of twists and turns, and a lot of unexpected things that happen,” Gender says. “I’m excited for people to see a lot of the fan favourites from all of the different franchises, and I just think it’s cool that we get to do it on Canadian soil.”
Canada vs. the World premieres on November 18 on Crave. Tickets to Kendall Gender’s premier party are on sale here.