Five years ago, Dave Mackenzie Deveau and Brandon Gaukel took an underused Main Street bar and turned it into a gay ground zero for the East Side.
While venues disappeared along Davie Street and the gaybourhood ghetto lost its appeal for many 20-somethings, The Cobalt presented an entirely new, ultra-campy scene that packed in the homo hipsters nearly every weekend. What began with the QueerBash dress-up parties led to Apocalypstick’s Sunday night drag series. Then came Hustla, a monthly hip-hop happening and the 1990s/MuchMusic–inspired Electric Circus dance parties, which just celebrated their first anniversary.
Last month, a new event was added: Gay Agenda. But, unlike all the others, the inaugural Gay Agenda party on March 15 was a drag-free zone. It was all boys, all the time, with amateur boylesque performances instead of lip-synched show tunes.
It’s not that Deveau is against drag. Far from it. He is, after all, the man behind the one and only Peach Cobblah. His husband, Cameron Mackenzie Deveau, is none other than the Queen of East Van, Isolde N Barron. Together, they’ve got enough wigs, gowns and heels to give Cher’s latest farewell tour a run for its money.
“I’m reticent to even say this,” Deveau says somewhat sheepishly, “but it’s the honest truth of why this event exists: Eevery gay guy in the city has become a drag queen overnight.” He pauses, smiles and continues. “Sorry. Let me rephrase that: has become a boy in a dress overnight.”
He points to the breakout popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race as a catalyst that has heightened awareness of drag culture and made it cool again.
It wasn’t too long ago that an annual Pride Week event dropped its traditional drag performance at the urging of its ticket holders. No such request was made last year. Two years ago, Vancouver’s Next Drag Superstar competition had trouble rounding up two interested contestants. This year, there were 20 queens competing for the title and the top prize: VIP access to the RuPaul’s Drag Race premiere in New York City.
“If you’re a drag queen at, say, 1181 or The Cobalt, people come and talk to you,” Deveau explains. “They want to meet you. They’re buying you a drink. They tip you onstage. Why wouldn’t you want to put on a dress in order to get that adoration? So, for Gay Agenda, I thought why not cut out the middle man of bad drag and just create a space where the guests themselves can be the stars of the party?”
“It’s about reclaiming all forms of masculinity,” Deveau says. “We don’t need to be ‘masc bros’ to still be masculine and sexy.”
Requests for performers went out through social media and the grapevine. Before last month’s event, Deveau had seven confirmed acts and was already getting calls to reserve stage time at the second party, scheduled for Saturday, May 17.
One of those first-night booty-shakers was Julian Pradinuk. A regular at many of The Cobalt’s gay parties, Pradinuk says he’s done drag “maaaaybe twice” but was eager to get up and perform his striptease number to Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.”
“It was super fun,” he says. “I didn’t show any full frontal. Maybe I will at a later date, but you can’t give them everything right off the bat.”
Pradinuk says what he enjoyed most was the ability to just be himself and “rock his body” for an appreciative audience. Asked if he was ever nervous, he says not at all. “I like the attention and I love dancing. The only thing I was worried about was if my dick popped out. That did cross my mind.”
Deveau says that feeling of liberation was his motivation for the party. “Gay Agenda is my thank-you to these people who are always there when I do something,” he says.
“They’ve allowed [my drag alter ego] Peach and me to become something, so let Peach and me help them become something.”
With a stage full of glittering go-go boys, it’s easy to confuse the atmosphere at Gay Agenda as only for gym bunnies and CrossFit aficionados. That couldn’t be further from the truth, Deveau says. Like all of his events, the atmosphere he hopes to create is for everyone. “This is not a big six-pack circuit party. This is the antithesis of that. Me and my love handles will be in a wrestling singlet. It’s weird on my shape, but I’m gonna wear it!”
For Deveau, Gay Agenda is a return to the heady days of the early QueerBash parties, “where you wear something weird or you wear very little and just have a fuck of a gay time.”
The next Gay Agenda will take place Sat, May 17, 9pm–2am, at The Cobalt, 917 Main St.