Remember last year when BenDeLaCreme eliminated herself on the third season of Drag Race All Stars and made herstory as the only contestant to do so on the main stage? Yeah, it was a gag, but… we’re not here to talk about that.
This year, the terminally delightful two-time Snatch Game winner launched her fourth critically-acclaimed solo show, Ready to be Committed, which follows her character as she embraces her inner bridezilla (sorta) for her upcoming nuptials.
“The fight for marriage equality has been a huge part of the conversation of the queer experience for a long time,” she tells us of the show. “Part of that conversation has always been, ‘This is a right that we all deserve.’
“Another part of that is, what does it mean to assimilate in this way? And engage in something that is a heteronormative marker that all homosexuals have been told that they need to do in order to be valued as members of society?”
In celebration of Ready to be Committed’s success, we caught up with the fan-favourite performer and discussed how her upcoming wedding has influenced the show, the current state of Pride and where she currently stands with Drag Race.
What have you been up to since the third season of All Stars?
A whole lot. Let’s see, I’m here in Province Town right now running my solo show, so the days are pretty chill before I have to go in, do soundcheck and get ready to do the show. I love being here. I opened in April and I run through all the way to Labour Day. It’s a nice long season and I don’t have to travel the whole time, which is great. Although in the middle I am going to be working in South America!
It’s obviously a lot of work but it’s work that I love. Like I said, when I’m in Province Town I am doing five shows a week, but for those two days I don’t have to go anywhere. I’ve been here so long, I have a bunch of friends in town, and I get to share a house with my partner, as well as Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales. It’s really nice.
To be a fly on the wall in that house…
[Laughs] That’s what everyone says but we are shockingly boring. I’ve got to tell you, they do nothing but play Overwatch when we’re home.
Oh really? They’re big gamers?
Oh my god, both of them, yeah. I’m not at all. They are frequently playing video games in the living room. I have not been a gamer since I used to play Ms. Pac-Man at the pizza place my parents took me to as a kid. That was the extent of my gaming…
How have you celebrated Pride this year? Other than watching Jinkx and Major Scales playing Overwatch…
I was just in New York, right before World Pride struck. It was so crazy to see. But then I got to be in Province Town for World Pride, and Province Town is just Pride all the time. It’s a really cool queer community, and it really is a queer Mecca, but much less commercial. That’s an interesting thing to think about. When I was in New York, there was so much discussion about Pride being commodified and commercialised, and there’s a lot of different things to that but it certainly, for many, takes focus away. There’s a lot of straight people attending Pride, which is great to have so many allies, but then there’s complicated factors in that. I couldn’t help but think while I was walking around, ‘What would Marsha P. Johnson have to say about rainbows on every billboard in Times Square?’ It’s complicated, but you can’t help but think of the tears in the eyes of those people who were throwing bricks for us 50 years ago. So much has happened in such a short period of time.
Do you think, with Pride being commercialised, that people forget it started as a protest, not a party?
That’s absolutely something I feel. As queer communities have become more accepted, representation has gotten even bigger. Of course, that representation is really important and vital, and I would certainly say that one of the best things that’s happening right now in mainstream media is Pose. Trans women of colour are clearly the people who are the most under attack in our community. So to have trans people writing, directing and telling their own stories – which has never happened on this kind of platform – humanises these people and is hopefully going to help people care that they’re being killed at disproportionate numbers. Drag Race is also wonderful because it exposes more people to the humanity of subcultures that weren’t seen before. At the same time, we’re becoming entertainment in a way that is easy for people to look at and say, ‘Ooh, look at the shiny fun thing with catchphrases!’ I think it makes us forget. We see Times Square laden in rainbows and Bud Light advertising to the queer community, there’s a lot of brands that are using queer imagery and the rainbow flag to market to these communities. But those brands aren’t doing anything to support the LGBTQ community.
Certainly, some are, but it’s like, where is your money going? You’re asking the queer community to give you all this money, but what happens with that? Are you doing something to give back to our wellbeing and our safety and our rights? There are some companies that are still contributing to conservative causes, and so that blindness is being cultivated in the culture at large, and I think that’s what is problematic. Especially young queer people who are being raised in a world in which on the surface, they’re being celebrated and oppressed and not dealing with some of the overt homophobia and transphobia that my generation were raised with. We have to be aware, no matter how many bright colours we’re being blinded with. The American government – and governments all around the world – are not doing anything. They’re peeling back our rights – we’re in more danger than we have been for a while. From keeping that spirit of political engagement of rebellion, of really paying attention to what is happening in the culture under flash and dazzle, that’s what Stonewall was about and that’s what we have to maintain. The partying is great, and I’m glad we’re celebrating our sense of pride and accomplishment, but it’s blinding people to what needs to be done. We have to remain vigilant because we haven’t won yet, no matter how many Pride flags are put out.
Like you mentioned earlier, trans women of colour face the highest risk of violence and murder, with 12 trans women being killed in the United States this year. How can we stop this violence from happening?
The first thing is educating ourselves. People either taking the time to know. Social media is filled with this information, it’s easily accessible. There’s a bunch of communities and we all have different levels of privilege and engagement. It’s easy, once you’ve reached a certain place of comfort in your life, to stop worrying about the people who don’t have the basic luxury of safety. Yes, we have marriage equality, but marriage is man made. Being alive is a basic human right. While marriage equality is incredible, there’s a certain amount of distraction now we’ve done it, like it is the ultimate symbol of acceptance. We have to remain engaged and spread the word. It’s our responsibility to stand up for people with less privilege and visibility. It’s our responsibility to talk about it in spaces, when you’re having a Cosmo with your group of privileged queer people. It doesn’t matter if there’s a trans person in the room or a person of colour, you have to represent them. It’s our responsibility. We needed that help before and other members of our community need that help now.
Your partner is trans – has this opened your eyes to the trans experience and discrimination they face?
I am very fortunate that I have been surrounded with communities that include trans people, and I am personally privileged to know many trans people intimately. I have many good friends who are trans and I have worked with trans people, so I actually feel like that awareness came to me during that part in my life. When Gus and I met, people frequently asked about my experience and his experience and him being trans and what that’s like. It wasn’t a big deal to me at all, it wasn’t really a factor. But merging myself in communities that included people of trans experiences and so many other experiences that were not my personal ones, of course hugely opened my eyes. It made me realise that I was only looking out for myself and people like me before that, and I have to say that I think I became a much better person. Before that, I was shallow and privileged and not thoughtful in ways that I didn’t know. Including different types of people in your life is going to make you a better person and therefore you’re going to be a happier person.
So let’s talk about Ready to Be Committed – are you bringing this to the UK?
There’s nothing on the books yet! I don’t know when it will happen, because my year, no, the next two years are already insane. I’m definitely going to make it happen – I need to tour it around the US as well. I’m really proud of it and the last time I came to the UK, with my last solo show Inferno A-Go-Go, the response was incredible. I do feel like UK audiences really get what it is that I’m doing as a performer, and I love having that relationship with them. I’ve learned so much about the UK tradition of drag, and how camp has been part of the UK queer performance scene, and it so happens that my aesthetic very much aligns with that.
Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
Well… my partner proposed to me this New Years Eve!
Yes! I’ve been meaning to offer my congratulations.
Thank you very much. It brought up a lot of different feelings for both of us, and we certainly talked about our intentions to spend our lives together and how marriage is for us. It is something we believe in. The fight for marriage equality has been a huge part of the conversation of the queer experience for a long time. Part of that conversation has always been, ‘This is a right that we all deserve.’ Another part of that is, what does it mean to to assimilate in this way and decide to engage in something that is a heteronormative marker, that all homosexuals have been told that they need to do in order to be valued as members of society? We’ve been allowed to build that own definition for ourselves and what our relationships look like, and that it doesn’t have to fit into those categories. For me, I’ve dreamed about a crazy big fantasy princess wedding since I was a kid, and never felt that I’d have access to it. So there’s the little kid princess part of me that wants that moment. The way he proposed, it hit me really hard, and I’ve always used my art and my shows to sort through things I’m facing in life and to really dig deep into that conversation. So I decided that I’m going to make a show where DeLa is planning her own wedding. The thing I love about my character is that she’s eternally optimistic and sunny-sided. She is those things to a fault, and so she never wants to look at what’s difficult. Of course, I do all this through puppets and parody songs and ridiculous jokes.
What message did you want to spread with this show?
My show goes beyond talking about just gay marriage. It talks about marriage throughout history and where it comes from as in medieval times, like when women were essentially traded for land. Current wedding culture is all about the economy, and spending the most money. There’s also this current gay culture, this phenomenon of reality television shows where gay men are supposed to fall over straight people to make their dreams come true. But to me, the message is: think about it all, don’t make assumptions, don’t make decisions because somebody else has defined happiness for you. That applies to marriage but also relationships. One of the biggest personal things that the show is about, is that in order to truly commit to a relationship and to another person, you have to be willing to face the reality that relationships don’t necessarily end well. Relationships are work and you have to put in the work. Commitment is scary and you have to be willing to go for the ride, even though you may break up one day. The reality is, one of you is going to die. Being in a relationship is about facing mortality and that is a hard human truth but it’s okay. When you just accept it, you can enjoy the love that you can experience along the way.
How has your partner reacted to the show?
[Laughs] He loves it! One of the things I love about Gus is that he’s able to hold so much complexity, and he’s so smart and so funny and so empathetic and so caring. All these thoughts are thoughts that he has, and I expressed them from my own perspective. He’s been on the road with me so he’s seen every performance of this show since it premiered and he loves it. Every time he sees it he says, ‘I have the same emotional response to it and I’m grateful that you are so thoughtful and think through these things in this way.’ Before it premiered, I said, ‘I’m really going to dig into this in a lot of different ways, and while I am going to marry you, my character is not on the same journey as me.’ I told him that she will probably not end up with someone at the end of the show, and that’s not a reflection on our relationship. He’s super supportive.
I’ve got a couple Drag Race-related questions for you – and I’m steering clear of All Stars 3! It’s just been announced that the show is set to have a Canadian spin-off, what other countries do you think will follow suit?
Interestingly, although I’ve travelled around the world for a long time, I haven’t travelled to a whole lot of other countries outside of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, certainly not many non-English speaking countries, which is something I’d like to remedy. So, I can’t speak from a place of wide experience on that. That being said, I can’t imagine there is a place on Earth that would not benefit from this. Every country is having their own struggles that need awareness brought to them, and this kind of humanising and representation is going to benefit everyone all over the world. The more widespread it can get, I think the better off we all are. Not only within our countries, but getting to see countries that don’t know about it.
I have to ask… Can we expect another comeback on Drag Race in the future?
[Laughs] I would not compete on Drag Race again, but I would love to on Drag Race again. I’ve sort of made my stance clear in terms of the competition aspect and how I want to engage in it. I would love to come back on. I love when queens from the past come on to coach for the challenges. I want World of Wonder producers to hear me when I say: I am the only queen in your history who has won two Snatch Games! So bring me in to coach!
Jinkx did it last season, so it’s not completely out of the question…
Yeah Jinkx did it, and obviously her Snatch Game was absolutely iconic. And then Bianca came in, and I beat Bianca! So I would love to appear back on the show in that capacity or something similar. There’s so many things I love about Drag Race, so while competing again wouldn’t be for me, I’d love to be involved in other ways.