#TBT: Vanity Fair
Welcome to a brief series of Throwback Thursday moments. We recently got access to some old pieces from long-gone Edmonton queer media and will be re-running some of them here. Keep in mind we are not editing these from their original source, so some material may be out-of-date. This piece is from Q Magazine, a local queer website that ran in 2011/12.
You’ve seen her on stage as a busty blond (Dolly), a sexy redhead (Reba), or a vodka-soaked brunette (Liza). Those are just three of the faces of Vanity Fair, candidate for Empress of the Imperial Sovereign Court of the Wild Rose and a true Edmonton Queen.
In the mid-90s, a young gay boy named David moved from Vegreville to the big city and was caught up in the Edmonton club scene. One Saturday at the Roost, David was picked from the crowd by Amanda Cherish, and was told he was going to be a queen. “Drag really picked me. I don’t recall picking it,” Vanity says with a laugh. Those early years were a blur, but her first name didn’t really resonate with her. It wasn’t until she was watching the antics of a trailer park hooker named Vanity on the Jerry Springer show that she did the math. Cheap hooker + Fashion Magazine = Drag Queen, and Vanity Fair was born.
It wasn’t long after starting drag that Vanity was ushered into the world of the ISCWR, the “court”. It was Natasha Fedaz that first reached out to her and it was a rocky beginning. Vanity recalls that the queen scene was very cliquey back then and she had a few mean pranks pulled on her, like cutting her music in the middle of performing. But Vanity is “a tough cookie and stuck it out”. In the years since, she has been Mz Gay Edmonton 12 and 22, Entertainer of the Year 2000 and 2010, and the current reigning Princess of the ISCWR as well as candidate for Empress XXXVII.
To Vanity, The ISCWR “is a group of real individuals who genuinely care about Edmonton’s gay community and volunteer and give what they can to give back to their community. It is comprised of members acquired throughout the years who may or may not feel like they fit in in other aspects of the community. It is a group of real people who are individuals and have huge hearts.” She recalls fondly that the ISCWR was one of the first groups to embrace her and take her in in Edmonton and is proud that as an organization, they continue to do that to this day, “welcoming everyone and anyone who wants to belong to something, express themselves and give back to others”.
Her main reason for wanting to be Empress of this great city is to give back to a city and community that has done so much to support her and make her the person she is today. She recalls, “I moved to Edmonton at the age of 21 from a small town and didn’t know the slightest things about gay life. Edmonton embraced me and through friends, drag and the ISCWR, I have become a well respected member of the community. I am not looking for fame or a big crown on my head, I have learned over the years that those things mean very little in the grand scheme of things. Over the years I have gone from a shy, quiet individual with very little self esteem to someone full of life and comfortable on stage addressing small bar crowds or thousands of people in Churchill Square at Pride. I would simply not be the person I am today had it not been for my experiences in Edmonton and with`the ISCWR.”
Those experiences have been many and varied, and have included some true highlights. Some of those proudest drag accomplishments occurred when Vanity and Binki created the Stardust Lounge. “We had talked and were both unhappy with the way the drag scene was headed in Edmonton and both knew we had the talent and the queens in our corner to make it better. We all put so much time and effort in to those shows and the Pride shows and i think the crowds really appreciated the effort. We elevated drag to a higher level in Edmonton and that is something I will always be proud of.” Since then, Vanity has striven to show up at ever show with that same level of quality and effort. The pride that the Stardust Lounge created in her is still there, despite the shows not continuing.
“With that said,” Vanity goes on to add, “one of my biggest regrets is that those days are over. Friends change over the years and sometimes drift apart. While I wouldn’t trade my life or friends now for anything in the world I do regret that we could not find a way to work together for the fans, Edmonton supported and embraced Binki and I from day one and they deserve the best entertainment the city has to offer.”
It has been a city that has truly embraced drag as an artform, although Vanity is saddened that it currently seems at a low. “I have seen Edmonton’s drag scene decline from a vibrant, large group of enthusiastic queens to a small group of talented individuals who are struggling to keep the scene alive. Edmonton used to be able to pack any bar in town when there was a great show going on, whether it was the weekly sundays shows at the Roost to the Court shows to the shows at Buddys. Each show had a loyal following that would come out rain or shine, 40 below or not to see the shows. Alot of changes in the community such as the closing of the Roost and the way other bars have treated queens over the years seems to have sucked the enthusiasm right out of us. The Roost is missed greatly and nothing has really filled that void in the community. we have great clubs now but nothing is like the Roost. I think we struggle too because the younger gays today don’t feel the need to only support and go to gay bars. When i came out you went to the Roost or Buddy’s because it wasn’t safe to go anywhere else. Now kids party anywhere they want so we don’t have a captive audience like we once did.”
Drag is not a cheap hobby either, Vanity is quick to note, and queens don’t get paid in Edmonton to put on the kind of mind blowing shows that the kids and bars want. That level of entertainment involves “a lot of expense and most queens are just not willing to undertake those expenses to do it. Edmonton is full of so many talented and unappreciated queens, some of the best in the country (you know who you are ;)) and sadly alot of them feel the scene now is just not worth the effort.”
The expense is not the only drawback to drag. Not only is there difficulty in finding a man, there can also be a lot of petty catty fights behind the scenes (and sometimes right on stage!). Vanity has learned to not really get involved, unless it pertains to her particularly. “It is all childish and unnecessary and can usually be stopped in its tracks if people just choose to be the bigger person and rise above it. Part of being the bigger person comes from realizing that being a drag queen or having a drag title is not going to make you or your life amazing. Your hard work and effort make your life amazing.”
Not many people know this but drag quite literally saved Vanity’s life. “I suffered through most of my 20’s with severe depression and anxiety. I was an insecure, shy young man with no self esteem or confidence. Drag allowed me to be someone else, forget my problems for a while, paint on a smile and face the world head on.” Over the years Vanity’s confidence and strength rubbed off on David and gradually the two of them merged into one person. “In the early days David and Vanity were two totally different people. Today they are very much similar and equals.”
One thing Vanity is sure of is that she would not be here or the man she is today without the bitch in her closet. Drag is a very important part of her life, one she could not imagine giving up for any reason, including a man. She has gained strength and confidence and now she wants to take all she’s learned, and as Empress, share that with some of the newer queens. She says that lately she has watched a new queen come to the scene who is following much the same path, and “I see her strength and confidence grow each time I see her out.” Behind all the makeup and wigs is usually a hurt little boy who has a story to tell. Not many people know or understand that – they just choose to judge instead of asking questions and trying to understand. That isn’t what drag is about for Vanity, not drag, and not life.
Editorial Post-Script: This piece was originally written when Vanity was running for the position of Empress 37 with the ISCWR. She went on to win that crown and is currently doing it again, as Emprex 47!
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Actual Story on YEGQueerhistory.ca
Author: Rob Browatzke