Even though I have gotten to know Ray a bit on Facebook and following his drag queen persona Donna Ria’s shenanigans I was still nervous the day of our interview. I sat at the Treehouse Coffee Shop at a table facing a large window over looking the street fidgeting with my notebook and pens when he swept in. I caught his eye and he came over. After our initial greeting with a hug I started out with, “I’m completely nervous because I’m weird and awkward.” This made him smile which I felt put us both at ease.
I told him I did have some questions I wanted to be sure I touched upon, but that I was more interested in getting to know him and his experience with drag culture. Ray is well known in the Philadelphia drag queen scene because he is a promoter who books many queens for shows around the city and promotes them on various social media sites such as Facebook. Most recently he booked Roxi Starr at Bob and Barbara’s Lounge which is not considered a gay bar.
Ray and Donna Ria’s story in drag starts back in August of 2014. Ray was out at night for the first time in drag and was unexpectedly pulled up on stage by none other than former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Mimi Imfurst (who I got to see at my first ever show). The theme of the evening at the Drag Wars event was the 1950’s. Mimi was decked out as Little Orphan Annie when she christened Ray’s drag character as Donna Ria. AND it’s all here on video!
While many drag queens sole source of income comes from performing Ray is in it for the fun. Though he describes himself as shy he loves the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy himself in this environment. He says that drag is helping him become less shy. He is not ever looking to compete on a national or international level, but will participate in Cash for Queens next Thursday, April 16 at Voyeur Nightclub to win $150.
We got to talking about different types of drag styles and how Ray sees Donna Ria forming. Donna is a comedy queen who does not shy away from terms like Camp queen or Clown queen. A comedian at heart Ray says he often has his patrons at the restaurants he serves in laughing and telling him he should be on stage as a comedian. His first ever performance at the show next week will be an upbeat funny 3-5 minutes which is usually standard for such a competition. Donna is an outlet for him to perform both in drag and as a comedian.
We went on to the topic of preparation for a show. I knew the makeup for drag queens is layered on, but I had no idea really of what goes into it. The base for any face is usually actual white cream clown makeup which creates a kind of blank slate for the art of the character face. Many drag queens seem to favor Kryolan, Ben Nye, or MAC Cosmetics as they offer excellent coverage. This fast motion tutorial gives an idea in a little over 6 minutes of what can take hours of makeup application. This video cuts out a few minutes of preparation in which eyebrows are glued in place with a glue stick and covered with foundation. Depending on the look a queen wants to achieve it could take longer or shorter than about 3-4 hours. Ray even mentioned a local drag queen who exclusively uses powder makeup from start to finish and can take up to 6 hours to achieve her look. Ray himself is still learning and does ask other queens to “paint his face” as makeup application is referred to. No matter who applies it Donna Ria’s look is one of exaggerated feminine and over-the-top clownish features.
Next he has to put on body. Achieving the look of a woman’s body on a man’s frame starts with tucking. (We’re gonna get real here folks, so now might be time to look away if you’re squeamish.) Ray politely informed me in the art of disappearing “manhood”, by starting with, “It all just goes back up where it came from”. It seems that many drag queens after tucking will use tape to hold everything in place as per the directions of this wikiHow tutorial with pictures (They are drawings, not photographs), but Ray and his cohort use a shaping garment called a gaff that can be purchased online on specialty sites like gaffpanty.com that cater to men wanting to create a more feminine silhouette.
The rest of the body is layers upon layers. For legs 3-7 pairs of tights hold in the hip and butt pads and make everything look smooth. Three black bras, a tank top, a corset to create a little waist (which is highly praised and coveted among some groups of drag queens), and finally a full shapewear tank top to keep everything in place. Then Donna slips on a dress and she’s all body-face-attitude ready to go! No wonder Voyeur Nightcub wasn’t heated the night of my first show in eleven degree cold. These queens are insulated!
Ray’s intentions in drag do not center in recognition or celebrity. He is already well known in the Philadelphia community, having even produced hand held fans (remember it gets hot in all that makeup), cell phone covers, and videos promoting drag queens. He ultimately wants to open his own restaurant and perhaps once a week the servers might be drag queens!
Because in the end: