One can’t help but notice the colourful attire of the drag queen in the corner of the packed bar. Once she takes the stage, the audience’s eyes are glued to the mass of big curly black hair and vintage dress that has made Miss Velveeta Spandexxx stand out from the beautiful, yet familiar Céline Dion lookalikes that can usually be found at Mado in Montreal’s Village.
With her performances stemming from musical theatre and classic Motown pieces, Miss Velveeta brings a fresh alternative to the Montreal drag scene. Her numbers are anything but ordinary — a signature move includes ripping her dress down that sent “her fake tits flying,” she describes. “I just bared it and the crowd went nuts. It felt so good; so liberating.”
Miss Velveeta Spandexxx, aka Jason Crawford, is a drag newcomer. Crawford was asked to dress up in drag for an auction following a guest lecture by vision-impaired artist John Dugdale. That was only a few months ago in November, and since then Crawford explains that Miss Velveeta’s persona refuses to stay bottled up.
“My old roommate had a wig and I started looking around [for outfits],” explains Crawford. “When I put them on [Velveeta] just came out. It felt so good to really physically embody that persona that had been growing all those years.”
Although Crawford only brought Miss Velveeta to life in Montreal, her name was given to him at age 19 back in his native home of Texas. Crawford was a member of a choir and at that point was not out to everyone. While at the organist’s rehearsing for a solo part, he suggested to Crawford to look into doing cabaret, stand up, or even drag. Scared about why the organist had suggested he do drag, Crawford initially shrugged him off, refusing. The organist responded that he should definitely consider drag and then said his name should be Velveeta Spandexxx.
“I’ve always known that was my drag name,” he adds. “I knew that a drag queen was growing inside me.”
The eventual move to San Francisco introduced Crawford to the Trannyshack, a club he describes as “anything but the normal Diana Ross and Barbara Streisand drag.” He knew that drag did not have to be female impersonation — no one on the Trannyshack’s stage was trying to be a woman. Seeing diversity in performers taught him that this was a high concept form of art. Many of these drag queens were amateurs yet somehow appeared to be professional with an edge.
It was in California that Crawford began to work on his PhD about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Interested in doing field research on social theory and queer culture with a performance and aesthetic aspect to politics, he met this queer group of spiritual individuals who defy the traditional gay mainstream values by dressing up as nuns. He explains that up to that point, there had been no academic writing about the Sisters and with so much history and gay culture in San Francisco, “it would be crazy not to write about it.”
With no support from his faculty at Berkley for a performance-based approach, Crawford decided to venture over to Montreal, having heard Concordia was a good institution to work on his thesis as a part of the interdisciplinary humanities doctoral program. Montreal became a great fit for Crawford who began teaching an HIV/AIDS course with a team of instructors and became involved the local radical queer community.
“Teaching is not just a job for me; it’s creating a space and inviting others to participate, which is more just and fair for people to share in,” he says. “The more opinions we hear in an educational environment, the more our lives are transformed — this has helped me grow as a teacher and as an activist.”
After seeing the drag performances at the Trannyshack and with the encouragement of his boyfriend Eric Johnston, another local drag queen named Sheniqua, Miss Velveeta was ready to come to life. Each time Miss Velveeta was ready to perform, Crawford experimented with different looks, accessories and genres of numbers. One example of Miss Velveeta’s eccentric appearances was for World AIDS Day this past year; she donned a painted red ribbon on her face but showed off a full beard with glitter in it.
And with a name like Miss Velveeta Spandexxx, who could not take notice? Crawford sums up her name as sexy and trashy — there’s sort of a trailer park element to it.
“That’s a big part of drag culture,” Crawford explains. “Mimicking white trash and redneck culture. These are Miss Velveeta’s roots.”