Joining me this week is Toyota Corona! She's a fairly new Chicago queen who won the first cycle of CRASH LANDING, Trannika Rex and Nico's talent contest at Berlin. (Photo by Meg Strobel)
Chad: So, my expectations were exceedingly high this week -- for both the Snatch Game and the juicy rumors I had read about the episode's lip sync. Neither ended up being quite as exciting as I had hoped. What was your impression of this week's episode?
Toyota: I thought it was a a good episode. Overall, I liked a lot of the impressions. I was so looking forward to whatever Bob was going to do. He's such a charismatic performer that it didn't even matter who he did. There are always going to be a few underwhelming performances
Chad: If a queen knows that comedy isn't her strength, what do you think she should do?
Toyota: Every queen has a gimmick, and they need to work it if acting/impressions aren't their forte. Whether it be using props or flirting or reveals. Kim blew me away with the commitment to that ridiculous character. At the very core, you have to know the person you're impersonating. Even if you're not witty, have at least a few references in your pocket.
Chad: I thought Kim made a really smart choice -- going with an over-the-top character who is funny from the start, just from her crazy appearance! I feel like Pearl would have been the wrong choice -- queens with low energy in the Snatch Game often go home, so impersonating such a character would have been risky!
Toyota: She definitely chose correctly out of the two.
Chad: I felt like Thorgy absolutely nailed the look and behavior of Michael Jackson -- to a creepy extent!
Toyota: You can tell she studied him and really put work into it.
Chad: I think what kept her from winning was the subtle, somewhat subdued nature of the performance -- the most effective aspect of her impersonation was Michael's soft voice, which doesn't steal the spotlight like Bob's louder characters did.
Toyota: Michael had a soft voice, but he also had a larger than life personality on stage. So Thorgy could have channeled a bit of the other persona if he wanted to make it bigger. I think Michelle or someone called out Bob for "showboating," which was a ridiculous critique. It's a competition for drag queens. That's literally our job. If you're fighting wig and nail for something, you're gonna try to make everything you do as big and flashy and memorable as possible.
Chad: Ha! I think that's a fair point. However, as a somewhat introverted person, I often want my artwork to stand by itself, rather than having to fight for it to be seen. Bob is that motormouth extrovert that can be a great ally and friend, but only if he lets you get a word in!
Toyota: Ahh I do understand that. I think the nature of the reality tv competition lens that their art is being shown through gravitates towards the grandiose.
Chad: Yes, definitely. And clearly, drag is a performative art! I'm FASCINATED by the friendship between Bob and Thorgy -- in fact, I think the show is doing a really great job this year of depicting the complexities of these queens' relationships.
Toyota: I agree. I think the whole season has been really fantastic because we're getting to know the queens as people, and I feel like they're doing a great job of humanizing everyone. Acid was pegged as a mega bitch, but everyone has a struggle, and you could tell the bitchiness comes as a defense mechanism. Same, I think, with Derrick.
Chad: Yup, I agree -- We saw Acid unload on Thorgy how she feels like such an outcast in the drag community.
Toyota: I think a lot of queens can identify with that. Because of social media, drag feels like a lot more of a community than it really is.
Chad: What do you mean? That tagging each other and liking each other's posts don't equate to an actual community?
Toyota: At the end of the day, the people on social media aren't at your gigs. They're not in the dressing room when you just performed your heart out for $3, and you're staring at the mirror asking if you should even be doing this. It's a lonely sport, sometimes. So I understand Acid's feelings.
Chad: You recently moved from Milwaukee to Chicago -- was it specifically to join this unique community?
Toyota: Absolutely. At Divas of Drag on Saturday, Trixie said Chicago is still the best place for drag in the world, and I believe that. There is so much art and talent and drive, and people here are at the forefront of this drag Renaissance. I was a public high school English teacher for 4 years, and I quit everything to be a part of this.
Chad: Yeah, that's quite a leap! One of the most striking elements of your performances has been your use of character, jokes, and (occasionally) props. So I think you're the perfect person to be chatting with for the Snatch Game!
Toyota: Everything I do has an element of humor, and I have wanted to make people laugh from as soon as I could talk. It's been a crutch, a defense mechanism, an art medium, a way into job opportunities and now I'm making (a very little amount of) money from it!
Chad: Speaking of queens in bankruptcy, what did you think of Chi Chi's performance this week?
Toyota: I am absolutely enamored with Chi Chi, as I think most of the world is by now.Her Eartha Kitt was purrrrrrfect. The runway was also great because she: A) made that all in 6 hours and B) didn't wear a kimono. Kimono-Gate was so freaking uncomfortable. I was talking to Naomi last night, and she said they all thought it would be a look no one would do.
Chad: Yeah, I'm sure! It was just a really unfortunate coincidence.
Toyota: My question is why didn't anyone whip up something new?
Chad: Eh, I'm guessing the producers WANTED that drama -- like, "who wore it better?" But FOUR? It was somewhat interesting to pick apart the differences between their approaches -- Thorgy went for a very cartoony take, Kim did an authentic one, Naomi put on a red sheet and looked amazing.
Toyota: And Derrick's looked like a Mexican blanket from the flea market.
Chad: You didn't like it?
Toyota: Those blankets are fierce! I have a fuzzy blue one with a beautiful lion on it.
Chad: The artwork on Derrick's kimono absolutely slayed, but I felt like the overall look was flat.
Toyota: I'm definitely, definitely not one to talk about fashion. But I felt like it was tacky. Beautifully illustrated and crafted, but it was more "Madonna fan" than "Madonna."
Chad: I see. I wanted something more -- the wig was too simple, the makeup was too simple, the palette of the kimono was too simple.
Toyota: What did you think of her Britney?
Chad: I thought she was playful and fun as Britney. I don't really remember any actual JOKES, but she was a lively presence.
Toyota: There's been such a big build up about it. Like, is she gonna make it to Snatch Game? (Duh) Is she gonna do Britney? (Duh) She was lively, but didn't take the character to the over-the-top place that's needed to do well.
Chad: I thought she was firmly in "safe" territory, yeah.
Toyota: I don't agree with everything she says, but she's playing the game as well as she can.
Chad: I really like Derrick! I think she's trying her damnedest, but this just really isn't her game.
Toyota: I like her, too, and I hope her portrayal on the show doesn't hurt her.
Chad: What did you think of Robbie this week?
Toyota: As a Maxxinista, I had never heard of her character. So I think that put her at a disadvantage. And she was already feeling the pressure of being in the Seattle shadow of Jinkx and BDLC.
Chad: Yeah, I was dying to see her do Liza -- she's performed as her for years!
Toyota: That would have been so much better, even if it was bad. The recognizability would have helped a lot, and Liza has a lot more to play with in terms of gestures and mannerisms.
Toyota: Betty and Naomi were let-downs, so there was no surprise they were in the bottom two. Naomi should have done Celie/Whoopi. I don't know if it was editing, or if Bob got in her head, or what.
Chad: Yeah, that was disappointing! Naomi is talented, but SO YOUNG, and I can see how she would be intimidated by the more experienced queens.
Chad: So, we may or may not want to venture into this territory, but with something like the Snatch Game, what do you think about the queens impersonating characters who might be deemed problematic -- the mentally ill, accused child molesters, etc? And what about a lot of queens of various racial backgrounds coming out in kimonos?
Toyota: Oh geez, here we go! Let's do this. As far as problematic characters, I think it's okay if it's done correctly. RPDR/Snatch game is a pop culture microcosm, and so meta, and already such a critique of many of society's issues, so I like when a queen can dig into something in the world of the media and make it humorous. For the the first round of Trannika Rex, Nico, and Lucy Stoole's Crash Landing, I impersonated Kim Davis. She's a shit human and hurt a lot of people, but I got to turn that into something funny and turn the tables.
Chad: Right! I saw that! That was at the peak of her fifteen minutes of infamy!
Toyota: Mine too! Thorgy as Michael didn't skirt around any of his issues, but he also showed that this person was a human being, and a very talented, but damaged, one.
Chad: I mean, I really liked the performance, but I could see how someone would have a problem with him making light of what may have been sexual abuse.
Toyota: That's very true. There's always a question with artists--can you appreciate the art but despise the artist, or are they inseparable?
Chad: I hope people like my art despite me being a terrible human being.
Toyota: Let's face it, most celebs/artists have a facet about them that should not be glorified
Chad: So very, very true. Some of them even host reality shows about drag queens.
Toyota: Bloooooop. Are we going there?
Chad: If you have some thoughts you'd like to share on Ru's recent interviews and such, I'm happy to hear them!
Toyota: In all of my years of school, and also as a teacher, I don't feel knowledgeable enough to speak on this, but I am going to anyway, because I'm an American, and that's what we do. A few quotes from an interview with RuPaul and a follow-up tweet have incited quite a bit of controversy in our community.
Chad: About the inclusion of cis-women and trans performers into the Drag Race?
Toyota: Yeah, they're kind of different issues, but also kind of the same. Ru said that drag mocks gender, and trans people take gender very seriously, so while the general public thinks they're similar, they're opposites. Not the exact quote, but that's the gist.
Chad: Right, I think that's a fair summary of that particular point.
Toyota: And with that statement, he widened this already present "us vs. them" gap between gay men and trans women. It's driving a wedge between people and further boxing and labeling and other-ing, which are all things that the queer community doesn't need more of.
Chad: Right, well said.
Toyota: One side of the argument is that he's entitled to his experience and opinion, and we can't fault him for feeling the way he feels.
Chad: True. It's his show, he can cast whomever he wants.
Toyota: But as pretty much the biggest icon of our community, he's got a platform and a megaphone, so he should use that to help as many people as possible. It's not just about casting. It's this idea that all trans people take identity so seriously and "drag queens" don't. It's obviously not that cut and dry. It was just a small answer in a much longer interview, but the way he just easily dismissed the issue was painful. I know tons of queens who still take their gender and masculinity very seriously and only do drag as a job.
Chad: Right, and trans performers who have a lot of fun with gender norms!
Toyota: Exactly. The first people that come to mind are Sara Andrews and Kelly Lauren. They're both like, fuck your ideas of what you think I am and what you think about my gender. Really, ultimately, at the end of the goddamn day, drag should never be boiled down to genitalia.
Chad: That is a supreme point.
Toyota: And I didn't wake up thinking that, or start drag thinking that, but it became pretty obvious after working with amazing people on every point of the spectrums of gender and sexuality.
Chad: Exactly, you and I both know amazing performers across the spectrums, and we think, "They would be amazing on the Drag Race. And in fact, the Drag Race would benefit from including them and expanding its boundaries." And apart from the show, they're amazing, period. I don't mean to frame everything as, "They would be soooo good on that TV show!"
Toyota: That's what it boils down to these days, unfortunately. One of the only ways to get that world-wide exposure that these people deserve is on Drag Race. Of course, there have been entertainers who have made it big without Drag Race, but they're exceptions to the norm. The goddamn acronym for the essentiality of drag is CUNT for crying out loud! It's not Gender, Uniqueness, Nerve, and Talent.
Chad: Ha! Imagine!
Toyota: Ru can host GUNT with the fellow small-minded men who want to hold on to at least a little privilege. I get it. You fought. You struggled. You had to work to make drag what it is today, and you definitely blazed the trail. But, girl, you gotta see the bigger picture here. We are in this together.
Chad: Yeah, you can't expect to be a trailblazer and then get offended when others want to follow in the path you've made! ESPECIALLY when you've inspired so many varied people to do so!
Toyota: I just don't ever want anyone to be denied the joy that drag can bring. It's unlike any other type of art or performance.
Follow Toyota on Facebook andInstagram! Or find her at Bingo Brunch at Dive Bar every Sunday from 11-3. Get Ur Freak On is at Berlin on April 20th and every third Wednesday. She's competing in Shea Coulee's #FreshFace on April 13th and performing in "Gender is a Drag" at improvOlympics on the 18th. She's the special guest at the SAIC drag show on April 28th. (Illustration by Jen Wiley)