Straight Outta Long Island

“You’ve got to have balls to be a drag queen!” jokes Eric Torres during our Skype interview.

Technically, no. Figuratively, YES!

Eric, a Philly transplant from New York City, and his girlfriend Lindsay Barnett, agreed to talk with me about his involvement in drag performance as a straight man. Spit take? Double take? You read that right. Eric, a special effects makeup expert who has worked on such films as, “Resident Evil III” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”, jumpstarted his drag life after playing in a New York City theater production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. He created the role of Frank N Furter for two years, which in turn created his original drag queen character, simply called Erica. And before you start your doubting I made sure to ask the hard hitting question about sexual orientation.

TQC: So Eric, When did you know you were straight?

Eric: When I saw “Batman Returns”. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman gave me the first boner I ever remember having.

We’ve got that out of the way and can continue the narrative of his venture into drag in New York.

Sadly, his first attempt fizzled. It was not loss of interest or lack of dedication on his part, but an unwelcoming atmosphere that made his drag career go flat. The queens he was in with were not sweet on a straight man in their midst. There was an exclusive this-is-our-thing mentality that kept him from claiming the stage. This entertainment community is populated mostly with homosexual men. While this is true there are many outliers as well: faux queens, trans* queens, and at least one straight drag queen in Philly, Eric himself.

Eric sees the scene as an opportunity to express his theatrical side and employee his talents with makeup. So when he moved down from New York City to Philadelphia to help care for his brothers while his mom was ill, he realized there is a flourishing and evolving drag culture teeming within the Gayborhood.He began attending shows and testing the waters by showing up in drag. He still kept it separate from his dating life though. It was not a case of ever doubting his own sexuality or feeling uncomfortable in his own drag, if you will. In fact, he knew when the absolute right woman came along she would not mind and even be excited that he was a girl, sometimes.

That woman is 27 year old Lindsey. She is a doe-eyed ballroom dance instructor who Eric thought was super cute on OKCupid. He did worry, however, that she might wonder if he was gay, because of his choice of hobby. Luckily, they both were raised in accepting inclusive families with LGBT members. At first drag culture friends of Eric’s did not quite get Eric and Lindsey’s relationship.

“This is my girlfriend,” Eric might say.

“You mean your girl friend?” another queen might ask.

“No my girlfriend.”

“Oh, you’re straight?”

But that’s where the conversation ends. Eric’s heterosexuality has never been a sticking point of contention for him here in Philadelphia. Overall, it seems that not only do the queens of the Gayborhood appreciate all walks of life in the audience, we are all invited to share the spotlight on stage. Well, as much as drag queens are willing to share the spotlight that is.So now Lindsey and Eric attend shows together and she is his “drag husband”! There’s a turn of events for you!

When Eric becomes his drag persona though, is the most interesting thing about her that her boy-self is straight? Not by a long shot. Annie Christ, born out of Eric’s love of gothic themes, horror movies, and bands such as NIN is a dark diva with wicked sense of humor. She takes about two hours of makeup application to conjure up and will be strutting her stuff for the next few weeks on Team Bev during Drag Wars Cycle 6 at Voyeur Nightclub hosted by Mimi Imfurst. This broad can rock out to Taylor Swift just as easily as to Marilyn Manson and has some magic up her skirt you are going to want to watch for.


Preparing for my interview with Ray Miles, Jr./Donna Ria

As you read in my Research Proposal I knew of Ray without knowing I knew a drag queen. Ray is a regular at my dad’s diner and serendipitously our paths crossed in the Into the Woods Drag Show invitation on Facebook. I was finally making the plunge to see a drag show and he was the promoter for the event. After some back and forth on there I finally thought I might meet him at the show, but the frigid night I went he was not there.

We became friends via our personal pages on Facebook and he loved my blog post/review/narrative of my experience at Into the Woods. We spoke through Facebook Messenger a few times regarding getting an interview, but nothing seemed to work out. I noticed he was struggling at his job as a server and wanting to get out bad! He is a professionally trained chef who worked in Disney and runs his own catering business, Chef Ray’s Catering, besides booking shows for his boyfriend Larry Cook/Roxi Starr. Industrious only begins to scratch the surface in his character description.


The fateful sign

It turns out I had Ray on my mind one evening while strolling through the mall, as all my queens are constantly on my mind these days, and I saw this sign on an easel hiring for servers! Harvest Seasonal Grill and Wine Bar, an upscale self-described new American, vegetarian and vegan restaurant, was looking for staff for its grand opening. I almost rolled by, but thought, “What harm is there in taking a picture and posting it to Ray’s page on Facebook?” Well, long story short, I know, too late, he applied, interviewed, and was called and offered the job before he left the mall parking lot!

I didn’t necessarily do any of that because I thought it would tip Ray’s attention in my favor for an interview. He had already agreed. It was a matter of getting it scheduled, but what I learned from listening to my conscious and doing the kind thing was that I am approaching this just the right way, by being myself. Following Ray’s profile and soon after Roxi’s and then Donna Ria’s (Ray’s alter ego) has led me to many more queens and opportunities and has given me a clear picture to start with to find out who Ray is, who Donna is becoming, and the inner workings of drag.


The Queen of queens

I have also done what others might call more practical things in preparation for this interview. I have been attending shows in bars and nightclubs, watching RuPaul’s Drag Race every Monday night and live tweeting it, and following the drag queen contestants on that show as well as local, national, and international queens. I am reading articles about all aspects of drag performance from makeup, to padding, to performance choices like lip syncing, dancing, or telling jokes or all three and then some. I am planning to check out wigs and even try all this stuff out myself. I have created a guide of questions that I may or may not actually end up using in my interviews, but regardless the creation of which has gotten me to think about where I would like to start each interview. Though I know I have no plan as to where each interview will end up.


Donna Ria is ready for her close-up.

What I am finding most helpful, however, is connecting with people. I like their posts of pictures, premiere videos, and pithy quotes when I really like them. I comment, favorite, like, tweet, retweet, comment some more, reblog and connect. I have created some real bonds already even if they are online bonds. In Ray’s case particularly I had one date for an interview set up at a pageant show he was going to perform in, but then found out he wasn’t able to sign up to perform until April 9th. I was dogged while still being nice and polite and have now scheduled an appointment with him for Monday at noon. In general I have not only made myself familiar with drag queens and drag culture for the sake of research in this class, but I have become familiar in genuine appreciation of the hard work and artistry that goes into creating this beautiful illusion every night.